User Experience (UX) service

User Centred Portal student research

We facilitated the embedding of user research expertise in the User Centred Portal team.

Working as part of the User Centred Portal team, we conceived and delivered a series user research activities, each building on the last, that increased our understanding of how students interact with the concept of a single location for all information about a course.

The findings helped the team understand that there were significant differences between where effort needed to be directed to address technical proof-of-concept requirements and priority student requirements. This new user insight helped support the case for the project to reappraise its focus.

The client

The research supported a collaboration between Digital Transformation Initiative (MyEd team) and Service Excellence Programme (Student Admin and Support), represented by:

  • Richard Scott (Project Manager)
  • Marissa Warner-Wu (Portal Service Manager)
  • Lisa Dawson (Project Sponsor)

The challenge

The overarching goal of this project is to develop a new student portal, aligned around user needs and behaviours.

During the period being considered by this case study, a key priority was to look at the digital space where students are expected to complete administrative tasks with a view to identifying routes to encouraging more proactive self service and thereby reducing impact on University staff time.

The Service Excellence and Digital Transformation teams wanted to better understand the current problem dynamics in this area, and to determine students needs and expectations in terms of a future digital experience.

What we did

Before undertaking any new user research, an overview of existing research was undertaken. Identifying gaps and lack of robustness, the User Experience consultant set out to address these gaps by validating existing assumptions and exploring the topic in a broader sense.

In total, the research engaged 35 (mainly undergraduate) students from across the University’s three colleges.

Round 1: Usability testing

An initial round of usability testing investigated the context in which students would usually carry the tasks that we were focussing on, and the biggest pain points encountered.

We observed students as they tried to complete tasks such as:

  • viewing course information
  • accessing learning materials
  • submitting assessments
  • viewing assessment feedback

Round 2: User interviews

One-to-one interviews with students were then carried out to help us develop a deeper understanding of the context in which students are interacting with the MyEd portal. We focused on the key user requirements for online learning tools, the frequency of these user journeys and any potential functionality not currently catered for in MyEd that may be useful for the students (in terms of them completing administrative tasks).

Round 3: User workshops

We then undertook a round of four workshops to understand how student needs change over the course of the academic year. In these sessions, students worked collaboratively to develop timelines of the important activities that they had undertaken during the previous academic year.

Round 4: Validation of user stories

At this point in the research, a backlog of user stories (intended for an agile development process) had been developed based on both the user research to date and on business analysis activity that had been happening in parallel.

Working with the business analyst, we ran a workshop with students which helped the team check whether they had correctly interpreted the research so far, and how students grouped and prioritised the user stories.

Outcomes and benefits

The UX Service’s work highlighted a significant difference between where technical proof-of-concept effort needed to be directed, and areas of digital service provision that would be of greatest value to students.

This user insight was a significant contributing factor in the decision to pause the project to allow a reprioritisation of activity.

While a pause in the project is disruptive, the impact on the long term goals of the project are positive.

The project team can now work with greater confidence towards digital services within the portal that meet student needs and expectations.

By undertaking this research, the project team have reduced the risk of prioritising development of features that students don’t value. Looking beyond the lifespan of the project, the ultimate delivery of more useful and easy-to-use digital services for students will reduce costs for the University as a whole, and ensure greater levels of student satisfaction.

The outputs produced to summarise the user research insight supported communication both within the project team and to the Project Board. These outputs now help form the basis for a revised project plan.

UX techniques used


Experience mapping

Validated user stories

Client quotes

Working with user researchers has been, for me, the most enjoyable part of this project. The students enjoyed being involved, and we received great feedback from them. I can see a great deal of value in the persona and journey map deliverables that go beyond the scope of this particular project.

Richard ScottProject Manager

Involving the UX Service in this project gave me confidence that the voice of the student was being more clearly heard and objectively represented. Distilling the insight into student personas and a map of their experiences made communication clearer, and established common ground on which stakeholders could make better-informed decisions.

Lisa DawsonProject Sponsor

Bringing a UX Consultant into the team challenged our thinking about the direction of the portal in a positive way, and helped us to better balance our decision making between the needs of the service, the user and the technology.

Marissa Warner-WuPortal Service Manager