A smartphone-based game that provides an educational and entertaining experience on the school bus.
Project Duration: 4 months
Teammates: Hannah Mernyk, Sharon Lee, Shipra Arora
Responsibilities: Exploratory and Generative Research, Interaction Design
Course: Redesigning the Yellow School Bus Experience
Each day, thousands of students in Allegheny County spend a significant portion of their time riding to and from school on yellow buses, with some students riding up to 90 minutes each way.
Though in-class curriculum is carefully developed for a student's educational growth, the same cannot be said for the in-bus experience, where students often report boredom, bullying, and unproductiveness.
Although Allegheny County spends nearly $150 million each year on the transportation program, most school buses have not gone through any major technological or systematic changes since the 1970s, with no significant efforts to improve the in-bus experience for students.
How can we make students look forward to riding the bus and create a more enriching experience, both socially and academically?
Taking into account the pervasiveness of mobile technology on the bus and in school, we designed World Lens.
World Lens is an educational, smartphone based game for students that is integrated with the school bus experience.
how it works
existing survey research
To gain a sense of the domain and identify student pain points, we began by analyzing an existing qualitative survey about the school bus experience in Allegheny County. There were around 250 responses (participants were students ranging from 3rd to 8th grade).
Problems that students frequently talked about on the survey included:
After synthesizing this survey data, we identified the following areas that we wanted to further explore via our research:
- Usage of technology on the bus.
- Although the survey did ask about technology, answers were unclear as to who was using it, how frequently they were using it, and the purpose of using it.
- Social relationships on the bus.
- How do cliques form? Why does bullying occur?
- The causes of boredom on the bus.
- How can disinterest be alleviated?
Follow up survey
To fill in the gaps that the previous survey did not address, we created our own survey to distribute to 110 Allegheny County students ranging from ages 9-13.
Insights we gained from this survey:
- Talking with friends is the most common activity for students on the bus.
- Many students use smartphones (around 50%). Common activities include: listening to music, playing games, and texting
- Verbal bullying is frequent: consisting of name-calling, teasing, etc.
- Students were eager to learn about a diverse range of topics not taught in school: some common interests included space, the ocean, and history.
Student Participatory Design Workshop #1
To better understand the students' visceral feelings towards the school bus experience, as well as to begin brainstorming ways to enrich it, we conducted a participatory design session with around 9 students ranging from grades three to eighth.
In this activity, we asked students to draw their ideal in-bus experience. Students were encouraged to think creatively: no idea was off limits.
From the student's responses, we identified certain themes:
- Because students were bored, they wanted new forms of entertainment, such as TV screens and VR applications.
- To make the bus environment less drab, students wanted more colors and engaging stimuli, such as dynamic lights.
- To reduce the chaos of the current bus experience, students wanted a way to remove themselves from noisiness, such as noise-cancelling headphones.
visioning & Brainstorming
Equipped with a good grasp of our domain as well as user needs and painpoints, we began a generative process, where we collectively brainstormed around 30 diverse solutions to our problem.
To narrow down, we then engaged in a collaborative visioning session, where we quickly brainstormed entire stories from the perspective of a person using one of our potential solutions.
After evaluating each vision's positives and negatives, we were able to further narrow down to three potential ideas at the end of the session.
Three initial Design Ideas
Idea #1: Educational Entertainment
- Tablets that show educational videos would be fixed to school bus seats.
- This solution would help entertain students, preventing boredom and the misbehavior that often accompanies it.
Idea #2: Enhanced Bus Environment
- Reduce chaos and discomfort on the bus via changes to the environment, such as soothing music and smells, softer, more comfortable seats, and calming, colored lighting (such as those in newer airplanes).
Idea #3: Smartphone AR Game
- Via the app, every student makes a pet that can interact with the pets of other students on the bus, encouraging positive social interaction and reducing boredom.
- Good behavior garners in-app rewards, reducing bullying and fighting as well as connecting the bus experience to the classroom.
After assessing each design idea, we decided to pursue the smartphone based AR game, since it most effectively addressed the problems and pain points that we had previously identified. In addition, this solution could leverage tech that is already owned by students and schools, reducing the financial and logistical burden that the other two design ideas could place on the school district.
Student Participatory Design Workshop #2
After narrowing down to the smartphone based game, we realized that some additional research into student's mobile game preferences, habits, and attitudes was needed before we could begin designing. We thus decided to conduct another participatory design workshop (7 students, ages 5-9).
In this activity, we laid out over 60 examples of game characters and environments and asked students for their opinions. Characters were categorized across various dimensions such as:
- Type of character (animal, mythical creature, object, human, etc.)
- The degree of animation (realistic, abstract, etc.)
Using these characters and environments, we then asked students to create a gameplay: actions they would like to do, objects they would like to interact with, challenges they would like to face, etc.
In addition to the participatory activity, we also talked to students about the mobile games they currently play, and what they like and dislike about them.
From the session, we identified certain themes about students' game preferences:
- Character Customization: By changing the character's appearance, abilities, etc., students were better able to relate to the character as well as express themselves.
- A popular character choice was a customizable human cartoon-like avatar.
- Dynamic, Challenging Gameplay: Students appreciated games that were 'adventurous,' where there was the ability to explore as well as complete challenges or quests.
- Rich Visuals and Aesthetics: Students liked colorful, dynamic game environments that were different to what they encountered in their day to day life.
- Popular environments included rainforests, space, and the ocean.
Brainstorming & GAMEPLAY Ideation
After gaining a sense of students' game preferences, we each individually brainstormed specific gameplay ideas (character, plot, challenges, etc.) and then came together to consolidate on a single gameplay.
We decided not to keep the AR functionality from our original idea, since that better suited the virtual pet model. Instead, we now envisioned the gameplay to encompass 360 degree viewing capabilities for certain environments, increasing the immersive experience for students and helping them maintain interest.
Having decided on basic gameplay, we began designing rough versions of screens for the first chapter of our game, which included identifying key tasks and interactions, writing an engaging narrative, and establishing a basic user flow.
Our teammate Sharon then converted these rough screen sketches into a high-fidelity digital format, designing the look and feel of the app and creating her own illustrations.
Next Steps & Future Considerations
To present our solution to the relevant stakeholders (school district officials, principals, bus drivers, etc.), we created a roadmap envisioning how our product could gradually be implemented by Allegheny County. Each phase has certain goals, as well as specific measures for success.
To ensure that this game could only be played on the school bus, school buses would need to be equipped with Wifi. Students would have to log onto a Wifi session, which would then time out after the length of the bus ride. Currently, Wifi on buses has already begun to be tested out in this district.