Prototyping for Better Communication

Students Use App Prototyping to Develop Communications Solutions
Dr. Bethany Barker
Senior Lecturer, School of Communication
At a Glance: 
  • Organizational communications students created app prototypes to address communications challenges.
  • Design thinking and app prototyping concepts helped students anchor their ideas to real-world practices. 
  • Students developed skills for cross-functional collaboration with technical teams, a necessary skill in many of their future careers.  

Dr. Bethany Barker’s organizational communication students aren’t the first ones you’d think of when you hear ‘app prototyping assignment’, but a new spin on a traditional assignment has helped them to apply their in-class learning to build creative solutions to the challenges faced by modern organizations. 

Traditionally, students in Dr. Barker’s course study a local organization, examining their communications challenges through the lens of the concepts they’ve learned over the course of the semester. They then present their proposed solution to the class. 

“I was noticing that a lot of times, students were suggesting a technology-based solution,” said Dr. Barker. “They would say things like ‘if we had an app for employees to report to us directly’ or ‘if we could somehow push out a survey to all of the employees’  and the ideas were good ones. It made me curious if we could just make apps the direction.”

Dr. Barker collaborated with the Digital Flagship team to reimagine her assignment with a focus on building an app prototype that would address the communications challenges of their chosen organization. Digital Flagship team members reviewed design thinking concepts with the class and helped them develop a deeper understanding of the process for creating an app.

“You just kind of saw the room light up and they just had so much fun thinking about these crazy out-of-the-box ideas,” said Dr. Barker. “They were really able to connect to the course materials more clearly. They had a direction. It wasn't open ended. Beyond just coming up with recommendations they were creating a deliverable to help their organization.”

The assignment gave students the opportunity to learn the basic concepts behind app prototyping, skills which Dr. Barker sees proving useful in their future careers.

“This assignment is really only asking for the basics, not a fully coded app,” said Dr. Barker. “It’s a basic prototype but it shows you how to talk to others who are in another department and who are using different technology. Through this assignment they can start getting comfortable with that kind of communication across areas of expertise.”

Throughout the project it was apparent to Dr. Barker that students were more engaged and connected to the concepts they were applying. 

“It was really cool for me as an instructor to see just how invested students got in this project,” said Dr. Barker. “They were able to understand that these aren't concepts that we're learning in an isolated space. These are concepts that you take with you, hopefully for your life and for your work.”

Try it Yourself

The Digital Flagship Mobile Design Lab offers consultation and can help you consider how technology could add value to an assignment or activity. 

Visit the Teaching and Learning Resource Center to find helpful guides for digital tools provided by the university and workshops you can attend to learn more about leveraging technology in your course. 

Looking to consult with someone in ODEE? Fill out their contact form to get in touch.