Desirée Chek

Creating Confidence and Connection Through Student Onboarding

Overview

Moving Forward Family Services (MFFS) is a non-profit that provides counselling and social work practicum opportunities for counselling students. They’ve been taking in more practicum students every year and with the increased number of students, they are finding that their onboarding process has logistical issues and is not supporting students well. I worked with stakeholders to identify the pain points of their onboarding process and ways to strengthen it.

Role

Service Designer
Workshop Facilitator
UX Researcher

Duration

3 months
Aug 2021 – Oct 2021

Client

Moving Forward Family Services

The Problem

With a growing number of practicum students, Moving Forward Family Services (MFFS) needs to optimize their onboarding process.

The Constraints

MFFS is a volunteer-run organization. Human resources to facilitate student onboarding and orientation are very limited.

The Solution

I facilitated a workshop with stakeholders where we brainstormed potential solutions and created a roadmap outlining the changes they will implement in their organization. I then created expectation setting documents for new students and supervisors as well as an improved information architecture for their online orientation content. 

Goal Setting

Setting Project Goals With the Executive Director

I started by meeting with the executive director of MFFS to discuss the pain points he has seen and identify where we could strengthen their onboarding process. The executive director and I identified three main goals for the student onboarding:

  1. Help students feel more confident and prepared
  2. Make the onboarding process less overwhelming
  3. Proactively deal with issues so students don’t feel alone
 
This meeting was a great chance to connect and ensure we were on the same page. Throughout the process, I was able to go back to these goals to check that I was headed in the right direction. 

Interviews

Exploring the Student Onboarding Process

I conducted interviews with six students and one supervisor to gain insight into the organization and understand the practicum process from their perspective. The interviews gave me an opportunity to connect with students and many expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet face-to-face and discuss as I was the first person affiliated with the organization they had met through a medium other than email. This was the first clue that Moving Forward was lacking connection with their students, an issue likely brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What I Discovered

Students can’t find information on the website, so they send lots of emails to staff. Sometimes they wouldn’t recieve replies or they would be directed back to the website to find the content.

Better communication about roles, responsibilities, and expectations is needed so students feel prepared and supervisors can better support students

The orientation feels quite long, overwhelming, and disorganized


During the interviews, two words kept being repeated by students: confidence and connection.

How might we make students feel confident and connected?

Stakeholder Workshop

Creating Alignment Among Stakeholders

With the above question in mind, I facilitated a workshop with the executive director and the two employees who helped with student orientation. 

I started by outlining my goals and expected outcomes of the workshop:

  • – share user research and fill any knowledge gaps
  • – brainstorm and prioritize solutions
  • – get stakeholder buy-in and reach consensus on the next steps

 

Next, I put together an agenda to reach these goals. We started with an empathy map to set the tone for the workshop. Then we worked on a service blueprint to get the full picture of the orientation process and map all the touch points, pains, and gains. We brainstormed solutions and then organized them in a prioritization grid.

Empathy Map

We started with an empathy map exercise to encourage the workshop participants to start brainstorming and get into the right headspace for the rest of the workshop.

digital whiteboard with an empathy map covered in colourful sticky notes and three cursors

Service Blueprint

A Breakthrough moment for us was discussing the service blueprint. It was the first time my stakeholders had seen their onboarding process laid out like this. They were so excited about this that they asked if we could share it with students and supervisors so they could have a better understanding of their organization’s processes.

service blueprint outlining the steps in the student orientation process

Project Roadmap

The stakeholders and I brainstormed potential solutions and prioritized them on a decision-making matrix. We then created a project roadmap with goalposts for when these changes should be implemented.

The student-supervisor fit is an open and ongoing dialogue

-SUPERVISOR

Opportunity #1 Support new students and supervisors with clear documentation

In the workshop, we had a lot of discussions about supervision for practicum students. The executive director explained that the student-supervisor relationship was the foundation of the practicum process. At this point, I realized I needed to go back to the research phase and interview a supervisor before moving on to the next steps. You can review my research findings by clicking here.

I created two documents that will be sent to new students and supervisors. The first outlines the role and responsibilities of the organization, the students, and the supervisors. The second helps students and supervisors understand the practicum process and suggests questions they can discuss in their first meeting.  The stakeholders enjoyed how the service blueprint clearly outlined the process and wanted to share it with students and supervisors, so I designed a simplified flowchart of the practicum process for them.

Usability Testing Outcomes

Save time by reducing the amount of emails sent between the organization and students

Provide structure for the first supervision meeting

Reduce student’s anxieties around supervision and the practicum process

Reduce student’s confusion about practicum requiements

Opportunity #2 Help students find information with a user-friendly information architecture

Original Information Architecture

MFFS’ original information architecture split the student orientation content into two tabs: counsellor page and counsellor orientation. Since there was so much information, I chose my main focus areas, seen below, based on the most frequently asked questions as reported by stakeholders. 

Improved Information Architecture

I conducted a tree jack exercise and used the results as a baseline to test my iterations against. I designed a card sorting exercise and based my initial information architecture on the results. After two more tree jacks exercises, I landed on the version below. This is a zoomed-in view showing just the changes I made to the information architecture.

Tree Jack Testing Outcomes

Task: where would you find a description of the supervisor’s role?

Original Information Architecture

Frame 115

Improved Information Architecture

Frame 116

Where would you find information about the client intake process?​

Original Information Architecture

Frame 119

Improved Information Architecture

Frame 120

Where would you find the group supervision schedule?

Original Information Architecture

Frame 117

Improved Information Architecture

Frame 118

My Learnings

Do a lot of prep work to be prepared for meetings with stakeholders

I prepared for every meeting with stakeholders by writing down my goals for the meeting,  the topics I wanted to cover, and the questions I had. This preparation went double for the workshop. I spent a lot of time preparing for the workshop, anticipating questions, and making sure my intended outcomes were clear.

Take control and lead your user interviews, workshops and usability testing with a strong introduction and agenda

It was very important that I had an opening spiel for every meeting, workshop, and interview. I found what worked best was to introduce myself, the project, and what I hoped to achieve with our meeting. I could then quickly suggest an exercise or question to start with. This helped me keep meetings on track and on time.

Most good things happen outside your comfort zone

This project was definitely outside my comfort zone. It was my first time doing service design and working with an organization added an extra level of pressure. I think this lead to the greatest learnings for me. I feel much more confident in my abilities  to manage my stakeholders and communicate my design decisions to them now.

© Desiree Chek, 2021