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The Project

Pathways was an interactive web application developed for Sheridan College. Its purpose was to help students figure out what post-secondary trajectory was the right one for them; when faced with all the options students have, the choice can seem confusing and overwhelming! This tool was intended to distill all the choices based on the students' individual circumstances, and map out future choices from there - hence, Pathways.

I was responsible for every step of this project, from research and stakeholder interviews, to early development and information architecture, and finally to the creation of prototypes.

Pathways Research

The first thing I had to figure out was the pathways that were available - all the literal hundreds of paths students could choose between depending on their starting position and where they wanted to end up. In order to distill this information readily to a user, I had to have a good enough understanding of the options myself. This required scouring the college's website to identify all their programs (and the province's, for high school student-focused solutions), deciphering the acronyms, and figuring out when you'd need which program, along with identifying any areas of confusion I needed cleared up by a stakeholder.

After determining the pathways available, I organized them into four demographics: Sheridan students, high school students, students from other colleges and re-entry students. I then developed flowcharts to lay out the choices available to each group, and at what point they're available. At best, the flowcharts presented a bunch of confusing choices for students, especially students re-entering education.

Stakeholder Interviews

This project had a good amount of stakeholders; coordinators of academic operations, student recruiters, student pathway coordinators, employees at student services, and administration.

Despite the compounding amount of feature requests that occur with more stakeholders, they provided me with excellent expert feedback about the intricacies of credit transfers, admissions, and acceptances.

Web Traffic Analysis

Working for a college illuminated how much post-secondary education is indeed a business, with the same focus on market research. One of my initial tasks was to look at the web traffic of Sheridan's site, to determine how much traffic the transfer page was pulling to begin with, as well as find out important information about our users. A few things I learned:

  1. Users 18-24 had majority of sessions at 40%

    As assumed, this shows that highschool students are probably the largest demographic to be targeted

  2. Users 25-35 made up 29% of sessions, but were majority of new users at 30%

    There is a lot of opportunity for onboarding older students, if the site is adjusted accordingly

  3. Majority of users were desktop-based, but an ever-increasing amount of mobile users were emerging

    This, along with the large younger demographic, proves a need to move to a responsive website ASAP

Project Development

Once I had gathered enough information to feel confident, I began to think about how I could implement all the information into a web application.

Paper Prototypes

At this point, I'm starting to think about how the user will identify the start of their pathway, how they can feel confident while perusing their options, and how the final pathway will present itself to them. I'm also considering existing UI/UX patterns for long forms, which I've determined is the root categorization for the tool, such as using categories, incremental input, and conditional logic to minimize cognitive load as much as possible.

Iteration: Conditional Logic

The first version I developed generated the choices available to the user depending on what options they had selected already. Though it was low on cognitive load, it was also an opaque process that could leave the user wondering what would have been available if they'd made different choices.

Iteration: Incremental Input

This option went in the other direction from the previous iteration, being like a long form with every option visible. This had too much cognitive load, created pressure for the user to remember where they were at in the process, and was not visually reminiscent of a pathway, which was an important factor to some stakeholders.

Final Layout

The final iteration ended up as a scaled-back version that would be suitable for conversion to print and a quick deployment schedule, while contextually laying out the user's potential post-secondary decisions. The sidebar would feature a glossary and FAQs, which would be a conglomerate of all my findings pertaining to post-secondary trajectories all located in one place; it took me many weeks to track down all that information, might as well make it easier than that for the user!