A Concept Design Idea for a University Student Dashboard

Recently I have taken a small detour at work back into service design from my current work. You can read more about the circumstances in this blog post. I have been working with Juha Martikainen and together we have designed one possible concept for the future Aalto student portal.  I have enjoyed the experience very much, and Juha has been a pleasure to work with.

We have been working in a quite limited time box. We spent about 3 hours coming up with our initial concept design and Juha spend a few hours refining it into a more presentable form (I will post pictures of both). I think this type of limited time approach works well because the field in question is very familiar to us, otherwise more time would have been needed.

Before I can go into our concept design I have to give you a little bit of background information to set the stage…

The Context

This is very simplified representation of the context in which we designed our concept for the “Aalto personal gateway” service. It will hopefully give you enough understanding about the related systems to help you understand our solution.



“OTM” is the working name for the next generation student registration and student credit system. It will allow students to registrar to be preset for the semester plan their studies and register for courses at the beginning of the semester. It is also the system where the teachers will submit the credits and grades the students get from successfully completing a course.


AVLE stands for Aalto virtual learning environment. It is the place where students do most of the day to day online learning activities like:

  • Download reading material for courses
  • Do online activities like complete course questioners
  • Submit personal or team assignments
  • Read news items related to course like “There is a new assignment for course X”

Other Tools

There are of course plenty of other online tools that are used to facilitate and support learning like email, calendar and collaboration tools (like wiki’s and Office 365).   It is not important to single them out. We just need to understand that they exist, and there is a quite a few of them.

APG – Student Dashboard

APG stands for Aalto personal gateway.  It will hopefully offer students:

  1. A personalized and unified view into all the important study related news  and calendar events
  2. Act as gateway and offer links to all the other study related systems
  3. Offer shortcuts to my currently active courses
  4. Motivate students by offering visualizations of a few key  measurements related to their personal study progress
  5. Offer a simple and pleasant user experience

Our Concept

Now that we understand the context it is time to share our initial concept design. After a few hours of working at the whiteboard and documenting our work with PowerPoint (hey, what else it is the Swiss army knife of modern work;)  our idea looked like this:


Although picture is worth a thousand words, I will never the less briefly explain the most important elements of the user interface. Hopefully this will clarify their purpose and what information they will represent to the user.

Event calendar

This element will visualize all the important study related events for each individual student. It has two sub elements: 1) Todays events, 2) Upcoming events.

The following list illustrates what type of events will be shown in this interface element:

  • Registration deadline for semester
  • Registration deadline for the course in my study plan
  • Upcoming exams
  • Upcoming deadlines on my courses (for example exercise DL)
  • Majors school events

News feed

This user interface component offers students a personalized study related news feed that is collected from the “AVLE” and “OTM” systems.

  • News feed from OTM
    • Registered successfully to semester
    • Registered successfully to course
    • New credits from course X registered
  •  News feed from AVLE
    • New material/deadline/assignment in course X
    • You completed assignment X with score 7/10
    • Tomorrows lecture is canceled/change of venue

Study progress meter

The purpose of this component is to motivate the student by visualizing their progress by three key measures. The visualization will compare their results with the average of other students and the university “targets”.  This elements represents our initial ideas for utilizing gamification for student motivation.

  • Activity in last 30 days
    • “Speed meter” type of visualization of activity in last 30 days
    • Activity sources
      • What I have done in AVLE (completed assignment, commenting on page, etc)
      • What I have done in OTM (course registration, new credit points for completed course, updated study plan)
      • Speed meter result is own activity/general activity scaled to 0-100
  • Study progress this year
    • How many study points do I have this year
    • How many study points is the average this year
    • How many study points is the target
  • Overall study progress
    • What percentage of my studies have I completed
    • What is the average completion in the same time
    • What is the target

My course list

This element offers a list of links to the courses that I have registered to. Each course  in the list has a link to:

  • The OTM page for the course
  • The AVLE page for the course
  • Optional other link? – teacher preference  is OTM

Links (personal and general tools)

This component consists of two sub elements:

  1. “My links” – List of my personal links (can be added/modified/removed from this user interface). Examples:
    1. Facebook
    2. Student guild X
    3. Hobby link Y
  2. “General links” – links to the tools that the university offers the students.
    1. Top tools
      • Email and calendar
      • Course registration
      • Course work
      • Collaboration tools
      • Chat

      Other tools… (expands to cover other tools)

Although this pretty well documents our ideas Juha spent a few hours with Photoshop to make our design a bit more presentable and came up with this image:


Additional Ideas

I discussed the concept design with my wife Lotta and she had an interesting contribution. She had recently read that although gamification techniques in general work quite well there is a risk in comparing peoples results to the average result. It can cause “regression to the mean” for the top performers. I guess this is based on unconscious thinking like “Oh, I am doing a lot better than the average so I can take it a bit easier”. Fortunately Lotta also had a solution. By using a more advanced gamification ideas like badges for excellent results we can also motivate the top performers. This “badges for excellence in different areas” thinking offers significant potential for the student portal in other areas as well, but I won’t go further into the topic in this blog post.

Juha also had an excellent idea about integration the presence information of the university IM-system into the student portal, but we agreed to keep it out of the initial design in order to keep it simple.

Please give us feedback and share your ideas about how to design a good student dashboard and remember that this is just an initial concept design for one possible solution.


About teemut

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5 Responses to A Concept Design Idea for a University Student Dashboard

  1. jukkasoft says:

    Dynamite initiation! I’ll keep checking this one. How about (brainstorming… perhaps this is more to the sweat venture capitalists section within Aalto) logistics? How much students would benefit from shared-something, that being, shared delivery costs etc for materials? Does the portal support or can it support this kind of thing or would it be wise to just draw the line between these?

    • teemut says:

      You have a really good point that makes me feel a bit contradicted. I see the importance of supporting this kind of services in the student portal because they fill real needs and create a sense of community. I think the role to build such services lies on other parties (like you pointed out), but we definitely should support this kind activity by offering the infrastructure that would make this kinds apps easy to build and encourage people to do so. On the other hand traditional portlet type of portals are not that great from a usability point of view… this is a interesting problem to think about. I would appreciate any tips if you or someone else has seen good implementations or has interesting ideas how to approach this “contradiction”.

  2. jukkasoft says:

    Reblogged this on Jukkasoft's Blog and commented:
    A really interesting project around Aalto University and service design.

  3. Ashwini Syal says:

    Well documented effort , good somebody thought about it , I am ready to use it when completed in BETA testing count me in.

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