• Introduction• Solution Overview• Design Process• Research & Synthesis• Ideation• Design & Iteration• Reflection


Learning Management System for Project-Based Learning
Received iCorps Funding from National Science Foundation

Learning Media Design Course @ CMU
Winchester Thurston High School
5 Months | Sep. 2018 - Feb. 2019
Team Member
Xiaofei Zhou, Qianhui Sun, Sarah Schultz

My Contribution

  • Planned and conducted user research
  • Designed storyboards and learner experience map
  • Designed wireframes and created prototypes
  • Conducted user testings
  • Final visual and UI Design

We took part in venture competitions with the project and received iCorps Funding from National Science Foundation, which has been reported by CMU HCII official website.



How might we create a better learning experience for the students in Project-Based Learning courses?


Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a student-centered pedagogy in which students usually acquire knowledge by working on a project and solving real-world problems in groups. Nowadays, Project Based Learning has gained wider recognition nationwide and is becoming increasingly widespread in US secondary schools.

Problem Space

After a series of research at Winchester Thurston School, a private school in Pittsburgh and a pioneer in the PBL course nationwide, we defined the problem space in PBL courses we want to solve.

Easy to Lose Track

Unbalanced Share of Work

Hard to Be Assessed

In PBL courses, it is difficult for students to identify their tailored learning goals and keep them in mind along the whole process of project making.

Collaborating in a group, there’s often an unbalanced share of work for each learning goal.

It’s difficult for the students to get a fair grade based on how much contribution they have made in teamwork and what they have achieved.

Solution Overview

To tackle with the problems above, we designed GoTracker — a learning management system that provides students a better learning experience in project-based learning.

The student-facing interface is featured with:
•  Learning management system specifically for PBL courses
•  Tailored and hybrid learning goal setting for each group
•  Learning goal tracking through documentation
•  Automatic progress bar generation in support of formative assessment and self-reflection

Learning Management System

•  Students can see all the PBL courses they take

•  Students can see all the steps they need to take in a PBL course, from writing project proposal to getting the final grade. The next step can only be unlocked after they finish the previous one.

Tailored Learning Goal Setting

•  Each group sets their tailored learning goals on the platform and waits for teacher's approval & comment

Goal Tracking Through Documentation

•  Students upload their daily work onto the platform, align it with the corresponding learning goals, and tag the executors in order to keep track of their learning goals.

Automatic Progress Bar

•  As long as the teacher approves their daily work and its alignment with the learning goal, a progress bar will be generated automatically for each executor.

•  Each group member can see the achievement their group has made and their own contribution for each learning goal.

Research & Synthesis

Before concept generation, we did three rounds of research in order to
1. Understand project making practices: what is the ideal process and what is hindering it?
2. Understand teachers and other stakeholders: what are challenges in implementing and popularizing project-based learning courses?
3. Understand students: how is the current learning experience for students in PBL courses, what are the major breakdowns?

Understanding Project Making

The purpose of the first round of research is to understand the ideal process of students’ project making practices and the challenges they face. We interviewed 4 PBL expert students with various backgrounds, and concluded the workflow of their project & portfolio making practices, their pain points during the process, and the insights we got from this round of research.

Key Insight

Process documentation plays an important role in project making practices, but students don't always do it well due to lack of habit formation.

Understanding Stakeholders

The purpose of the second round of user research is to understand the situation of PBL courses in WT school:
• How they are implemented?
• What is obstructing its implementation and popularization?
• What are the challenges from the perspective of different stakeholders?

We consolidated the qualitative data with affinity diagram and created a diagnostic map to synthesize the findings, analyze the causes and consequences of the problems the stakeholders are facing in PBL course, and put up potential solutions for them.

Key Insight

Students may need evidence for the progress and achievement they have made during the process of project making in order to encourage themselves when they encounter difficulties and feel frustrated.

It’s difficult for the students to keep track of their learning goals during project making process due to the unawareness from the beginning of the project and lack of targeted and in-time feedback from teacher along the process.

It’s difficult for the teacher to assess each student’s performance due to lack of evidence of each one’s contribution and improvement along the whole process, which is the key pain point for the teacher of PBL courses.

It’s important to showcase students’ improvement and achievements through PBL both for their parents to accept this innovative method of pedagogy and for them to apply for university

Understanding Students

The purpose of the third round of user research is to understand students’ behaviors and experience in project-based learning courses from their perspective.

To understand the learners in context, we observed a PBL class in WT school and sent out a survey to students who had previously completed project-based learning courses at Winchester Thurston School, and received feedback from 10  students.

Classroom Observation
Key Insight

Students need to have a more balanced share of work for each learning goal in team working in order to have new gains from project making instead of just doing what they are already good at.

Students lack targeted and in-time guidance and feedback from the teacher due to the varieties of their projects, and the limited time in class. Teacher also need some time to keep up with their progress.



With the problem space defined, we conducted a brainstorming session and came up with more than 20 concepts. After that, we discussed and refined the concepts into 10 storyboards.

Speed Dating

We presented the storyboards to one of the stakeholders to validate the concepts. After the speed dating, we concluded the stakeholder’s feedback and analyzed the features of our storyboards in 3 dimensions: value,  feasibility, compatibility.

Selected Features

After a detailed discussion, we narrowed down our concepts and decided on two key features of our solution: tailored learning goal setting for each group and reflective documentation to track the progress.

Mapping the learning experience

With the two key features in mind, we created a user journey map and a service blueprint with our solution, and combined them into a learner experience map, which explains in detail the scenarios of PBL, how the students interact with each other and with the teacher in the context, what problems they face and how our product helps them in each stage of a PBL course. This mapping process helped us flesh out the detailed features student-facing interface, and guide the future work to design the teacher-facing interfaces of our product.

Design & Iteration

Prototype & User Testing

Based on the learner experience map, we made the low-fi and mid-fi prototypes successively, and conducted two rounds of user testing with more than 5 participants in total. The goals for each round of user testing were different:
1. With the low-fi prototype, we mainly intended to test the value of our solution, whether and how well it solves users' problems.
2. With the mid-fi prototype, we aimed to test the workflow and get insights on how to create a better usability for the users.

Design Decision

We made several iterations based on user testing findings. After the course, I also made some iterations on my own. Below are the highlighted design decisions we made along the process.

Through user testing for the initial design on the left side, we found that it was confusing for users to figure out the sequence of the steps they should take for each course, even though the next step could only be unlocked after finishing the first step. Besides, users would like to know what would be their next tasks in advance before finishing the first steps.

That is why I made the design decision to make the steps for each course vertical to better indicate the sequence, and to abandon the wizard design pattern, allowing users to click into each step to learn in advance what the next steps will be about.

Our initial design for the goal setting page was 3 tabs for guideline, goal setting and feedback, whereas through user testing, we learned that participants intended to browse the guideline and set learning goals at the same time.

That is why I made the design decision to make the guideline and the learning goal setting on the same page with the side by side layout. This change improved the information density, showing more information in the less space, yet more concise at the same time.

We made several iterations based on user testing findings. After the course, I also made some iterations on my own. Below are the highlighted design decisions we made along the process.


I devoted a lot of time and passion to this project since the subject of PBL aroused my interest. I can see the value of this innovative pedagogy and I want to play a role in its evolvement and popularization. Our team even took part in a venture competition in CMU with the project and received grant from National Science Foundation.

Room for Improvement