Dwelltime is a University of Manchester spin out company that helps students collaborate on group assignments and learn from an authenticated knowledge base. The knowledge base is made up of micro-articles and offers academics a unique forum to debate and bring their work to the wider attention of others.
When I met with the team, they had clearly outlined their goals and intentions for the product. To take things forward, the team needed:
- Design research — to qualify their assumptions, and establish a deeper understanding of their customers
- Prototyping — to render their ideas into wireframes and storyboards
- Interface design — to be developed into front-end templates
- Usability testing — to evaluate and improve the above
Solving a motivation problem
After talking through the idea with academics, we discovered that they didn’t feel motivated to contribute to ‘a new website’. They talked of being busy, writing for journals, researching new areas and they already had a teaching load that consumed the rest of their time.
To remedy the motivation issue, we created a series of storyboards that articulated how we might help academics showcase:
- Their areas of research and teaching
- A full list of their publications — with affiliate links to purchase the books.
- Recent contributions and debates hosted on Dwelltime
- What they were interested in — for example; consulting opportunities, media engagement, corporate work
We pitched this narrative to a separate group of academics and the response was much more positive.
Academics are authenticated by other academics. You can think of it as peer-to-peer authentication — promoting quality work and academic rigour.
Knowledge articles contain a maximum of 1000 words that zero-in on a specific topic or opinion.
Providing a space for students to collaborate on writing notes for an assignment, the workspace also surfaces relevant articles from knowledge. The algorithm that underpins this performs keyword matching as the students are typing.
One of the main gripes academics have with students’ work is wrongly formatted references.
To help students do a better job, we made this feature.
- 28,000 users within the first 3 months.
- Our usability testing revealed some major problems in our interface designs. Fortunately we had access to students at the University of Manchester to test iterations. Following several iterations we unpicked the usability issues with better interface copy and more appreciate affordances.
- As part of our customer research, we found students were seeing less negative feedback for submitting badly formatted references.
- Academics from across Europe are contributing to Dwelltime Knowledge.
- Academics are seeing an increase in the amount of paid consultation they receive. This is important for research-led institutions, where academics are expected to contribute earnings to their department.