facilitating active participation using synchronous communication in class lectures

In large universities, such as UCSD, the communication is one-way from the professor to the students. Many students are losing interest during lecture and going to their laptops for distractions. Mustaske looks to use a live chat room to help facilitate in class lectures, where a student can feel safe to ask questions without being judged, and the professor can meet their goals of helping large bodies of students learn. We believe that with Mustaske, we are not trying to replicate physical proximity with technology, but rather facilitate and meet needs not met with even physical proximity, as mentioned in Jim Hollan's paper.

This project was a combination between two projects-- Flunkless, which focused on user research, and Mustaske, which focused on development. I personally chose to develop my design skills through multiple iterations.


Final Presentation Slides | Website | GitHub

role: UX Researcher, UX/UI Designer, Front-End Developer

collaborators (design and research):

Vlad Bakhurinsky, Michelle Wang, Jared Defigh, Meena Kaushik, Hui Ping Lee, Lucas DePaula, Alex Peterson

collaborators (development):

Kyly Vass, Brandon Falk, Tanner Turner, Daniel Lee, Jose Valdez, Chris Tetreault, Nick Gibson, Robert Kronebusch


Students were frustrated from having to keep track of their numerous tools used for collaboration and coursework.

TAs and professors were frustrated that students are not paying attention to essential information, and therefore wasting more of the teachers' time.

We noticed in our classes, there was a lack of a single platform that could support the academic needs of students, which includes having easy interaction with teachers. Our original idea was to explore how could we facilitate better collaboration between students and communication with teachers. We mainly looked Facebook, because at the time, Facebook was more accessible to students.

initial findings

We conducted user interviews with students, TAs, and professors on the various tools they used for their academic needs.

We started by conducting user research with field notes and video / screen recording with our users asking them to tell us about their goals and pain points. We asked them with how they currently used Facebook as an academic tool (if they did, or why they didn't), and other tools they used for academic purposes, which included TED, blackboard, Google Docs, etc. How do the current learning management tools fall short with meeting our users' academic needs? We wanted to potentially create a new LMS (Learning Management System)

We created an affinity diagram and personas based on our user interviews.

Initial Findings


Everyone had different people they needed to communicate in different ways, but everyone wanted to send out communication as easily as possible, check communication easily, and know what communication to focus on answering. Students wanted to communicate with their TAs for a quick response, and TAs and professors wanted to mass communicate quickly about changes or important things to remember.

privacy & fear

Everyone cared about not intermingling their personal life with academic life. TAs and professors didn't want to come off as biased, and students didn't want their personal lives to affect their grades. TAs and professors often resorted to changing their names on Facebook so no student could find them. Students were also afraid of approaching TAs and professors with questions, with fear of judgment that the students were not "smart," so they liked anonymity.


Students wanted to meet other people in the class, and the teachers wanted to encourage more collaboration between students. Students also wanted easier ways to form "study groups".

finding and notifications

People wanted to be notified of only important information, and to find the information they wanted faster. This was shown when they emphasized hating being bombarded with unnecessary emails, or being unable to find the material they were looking for.


Everyone hated having to learn new interfaces with different tools, and having to check multiple platforms. Professors are usually older, so they didn't want to have to learn a new technology/platform.

user testing

Based on our research, we created designs to show to users to see if we were on the right path.

We collaboratively created wireframes and prototypes on the features and problems our users presented, and even voted on our team's designs.

However, their feedback was about our idea and designs showed that it was questionable if users would actually switch over and use our platform as a new LMS.

During our second round of interviews, people were not completing understanding what the purpose of our platform was for. They kept suggesting more features, and not really finding much value in what we already had in there. They questioned why they would need to use it, such as saying "I'm confused. Do I use this with my other platforms?" Also, as we found in our initial findings, older people, like professors, were usually unlikely to want to switch over and relearn a new system.

It became clear that in order to have users switch from their previous options, it had to be 10x better, which our product could not be.


We were challenged to revisit our research to meet user's needs that have never been met before by creating a new product.

Our research had shown that different parties were simply trying to communicate with one another. However, other parties weren’t listening, such as fear of judgment, or there was too much clutter to focus on the important things. We saw that current Learning Management Systems were nonsynchronous communication, where the professor would post things later after the lecture, but there was no current product to facilitate in lecture communication.

Based on our research, we decided to go with a product to facilitate better communication and engagement between a large group and a single professor using synchronous communication, keeping in mind the types of people our students were.

This product would not replace lectures, but simply facilitate it for better communication between any large group and a single speaker. This highlights Jim Hollan's paper "Beyond Being There", where it states that technology's purpose is to meet needs not even met with physical proximity, rather than trying to replicate it.

This idea resonated better with users, because it was a simpler, and a completely new idea, which solves some of their pain points. This definitely resonates with our initial research findings about Communication, Privacy, and Finding.

user needs + design solutions


I wish we had more time to test out our designs and new idea with more people, but unfortunately, there was not enough time.



Students tend to forget their questions, if they weren't already inmidated by the professors.


Post your questions as they come to mind

Students often feel intimated by professors, but have mentioned that having a technological barrier makes students feel more safe to ask their questions. Professors also just want to make sure their students' questions are answered.



Students love helping their peers by sharing materials. Teachers love it when students are passionate about the subject and are engaging with what they are learning.


Share related links that you stumble upon, or pictures of notes



TAs and professors often find repeating questions, and it's hard finding the important questions in the clutter


Vote on the questions you want answered

TAs are often frustrated by how they have to answer the same question over and over again-- especially those that have already been answered during class. With the voting, other students can upvote if they also have the same question, so TAs and professors will know what questions need to be answered.



Professors are unsure if they have been confusing, since silence and lack of questions does not equate understanding.


Checkpoints to gather instant feedback on students' progress

Students have mentioned that they are often confused, but are too intimidated to ask their question in front of the whole class and in person. Also, students may not necessarily know what question to ask if they did not understand the professor.

competitive analysis

Based on our competitive analysis, there are no current applications or tools that fulfill the needs that we found, nor did something similar to what we imagined (at the time).

It'll be difficult designing something different when it has never been done before. Piazza offers a nonsynchronous communication Q&A platform, Facebook does not support effective and easy communication between our users for educational use, the iClicker only has options A-D for questions the professor offers (but not the students), and Blackboard's (TED's) usability is extremely poor and does not offer synchronous communication.

design decisions + development

I worked on redesigning and communicating with the development team to figure out how this could come to life.

Redesign - Design Decisions

focus on facilitating the questions

I wanted to focus on the idea of "facilitating in class lectures" only, to focus the product first. Therefore, I decided that we needed to highlight the questions. The most important are the top questions asked, so professors can see what students really want to know. Students were also interested in the top questions, so they could anticipate if their questions might be answered. The next was an easy way for people to see questions coming in and out, so students could vote on what they are interested in knowing.

all else should not clutter our focus

I stripped out the class selection from the previous design, since your main focus during a lecture is not switching to another class, but the questions being presented. While checkpoints were important, they weren't what professors and students were focusing on 100% of the time. Also, during our research, we noticed checkpoints were commonly used in small spurts, but was not referred to commonly throughout the lecture.

This video represents our development team's thought process for our product. The second iteration design and product is located at, and our code base is here.

design iteration 3

After some growth design wise, I decided to redesign Mustaske again! Also, through our research, a lot of students only brought phones, so mobile was a necessity to the students.


Although it's not the best user experience to create new ids for students to use to join, creating accounts would have added more technical complexity that we did not have time for. I would have preferred students had accounts, where they could easily join existing rooms for their classes. However, I thought the IDs were a good choice, considering our constraint.

Desktop - Professor View

creating a room

views of the rooms

creating a poll

Desktop - Student View

joining a room

views of the rooms

answering a poll

searching questions

Mobile - Professor View

Mobile - Student View

personal takeaways

Innovation is not from a lone genius cooking ideas up in their room

I think the most important thing I learned from this project is that design must first and foremost be user-centered, rather than aesthetics being first. Also, I always thought that great inventions and ideas came like a light bulb to inventors, but I found that new inventions are based on research on user data and needs, and ideas are usually built up over time. This project opened my eyes to see that UX design can change the world in so many different ways, such as connecting students to professors, or changing social issues through research and design.


More Testing, Measuring Success

As mentioned before, I wish we could have tested our new ideas and screens with more users ahead of time. Now, after the first iteration is live, I would love to test our product in the wild, where professors and users would use it in their classrooms. My guess is that students will also be tempted to just type their question without checking if others had already asked the same question-- potentially we could create a search of keywords while students are typing their question? I am also worried that students might have a hard time concentrating on the lecture, note-taking, and trying to keep up with all the questions coming in.

The goal of this product is to make it easier for students to ask their questions and to learn, and for teachers to have an easier time answering questions. I would use 1) any increase in grade averages over time, and 2) less interactions between TAs and students (less emails and less people coming to office hours) if the grade averages stayed the same. The first is difficult to prove that it was the app the showed the significant improvement, which is why it needs to be the only changing variable, and done with a large sample of classes. With time however, while that will help maintain the same variables (with the same class), improvements could also happen because the professor or TAs improved.

  back to work