1.3 Cultural probes

What was the goal and who are the users?

In this phase of the design thinking process, we are going to create a cultural probe package related to our topic. Our goal with this is to gain insight on students’ experiences, thoughts and feelings towards the university and its lectures. We also hope to learn how the information flow process in the lectures might be improved.   

The users of the probes will be bachelor students at Østfold University College. We picked out 5 students, who we thought would be good representatives for our target users. 

How we thought the probes would help us achieve the goal

By having the students share their experiences with the lectures at the university college, we can get them to open up and give personal opinions on how well information is conveyed by the lecturer in lectures. 


First, we gathered together to have a brainstorm session for about 1 hour for ideas on what the cultural probes could be. After the brainstorm session, we ended up with 4 probe ideas and created these. The probes were delivered in person by each group member and each group member was responsible for one cultural probe package. When delivering the probes, we made sure that we had an informal behavior, as we did not want the testers of our probe to feel pressured when completing the probes. The members were also responsible for collecting the probes. 


For higher quality picture: https://imgur.com/a/0Sp8ws7

What was most insightful/inspirational?

The drawings from probe 1 were inspirational as this was a very open task and this forced the users to come up with their own creative solutions. When looking at these drawings, where we asked our test subjects to draw about their school day, we noticed that they had been thinking outside the task and gave drawing of things outside the school, which affected their school day indirectly. This gave us inspiration to also start thinking outside the box when thinking of ways to improve the information flow between lecturer and students. There are other places and ways to improve the situation inside the classroom indirectly, through other positive experiences. 

Probe 1:

For higher quality picture: https://imgur.com/a/9t9jgng

Probe 4 was insightful since we saw a clear pattern in where students like to sit in their lectures. The majority of the students chose to sit between the center of the classroom and the front row. This tells us that lack of participation in class might not necessarily mean that the students do not put enough effort in class, but rather other things such as lecturer going off topic as we found out in probe 2.

Probe 4:

For higher quality picture:  https://imgur.com/a/PLKEBcE

Probe 2:

For higher quality picture: https://imgur.com/a/WLxudbp

What surprised you the most?

In probe 3, two out of five people rated Canvas as good, and one rated it neutral. This surprised us as we thought students’ opinions on this would be more negative, due to our own experience. After discussing this result, the group was more open to ideas/solutions involving website interfaces as Canvas was rated highly. 

Probe 3:

For higher quality picture: https://imgur.com/a/J67rSJP

We were also surprised about the small differences in opinions of where the students prefer to sit in lectures. As stated above, most students prefer to sit in the front half of the auditorium but not in the first couple of rows.

What probe results will help you with future designs?

The results from probe 2 can be very useful as these directly tell us what the students like about their lectures and what needs to be improved, and this is important to know when we are going to come up with an idea for a product in the ideate phase. Probe 4 is also helpful for this, as one of the three main challenges we learned about from doing a literature search, class size, is linked to this. From probe 1, we learned by looking at all the drawings that an idea for future designs didn’t have to be directly involved in the lecture itself, but could help indirectly. This probe helped us thinking outside the box.

In the expert interview, we learned that in big courses it is hard for a lecturer to have direct communication with all of the students. To replace this communication they add student assistants to be of assistance for the students instead. When we look at probe 3, we see that no one is satisfied with the replaced communication that the student assistants provide and therefore are left with a disconnected feeling towards the course. This can be a huge disconnect in the information flow between the students and lecturer. Just this one result from probe 2 can help us think of future designs to better this problem. 

All of the probes have potential to help out in the planning of future designs in their own way, but the second probe will maybe have the biggest influence.