Homework Help

 

The Princeton Review, Homework Help

The Princeton Review's Homework Help allows you to connect to a live tutor for help in over 40 subjects, anytime, anywhere. With over 15 million sessions completed and 5,000 students helped every school night, Homework Help allows you to conquer college or high school courses with 1:1 help and boost or maintain a strong GPA.

Roles: Product Strategy, User Research, Creative Direction, User Experience Design, Visual Design

 
 
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Background

After we began this project Tutor.com finished the acquisition of The Princeton Review. The result was a shift from an updated Tutor.com app to a new online tutoring app under The Princeton Review brand. 
 

The Challenge

The current mobile app for Tutor.com was developed by a third party vendor and was limited in functionality and not popular among customers. A number of competing, mobile-only tutoring solutions have already entered the market but lack the depth of subject expertise, number and quality of tutors that Tutor.com offers. How can we create a more compelling and capable native app so that our students increase their usage and grow new subscribers? 
 

 
 

The Research

Our team conducted over 50 mobile sessions, covering a range subjects and grade levels from middle school to high school to AP, helping us gauge the user journey and experience firsthand. We came out of this with a few takeaways: overall, all the tutoring sessions got us answers to our questions quickly, the experience from that perspective was pleasant and they were all very helpful; the interface wasn't optimized for 4.7" and 5.5" screens, only 4", resulting in blurry elements and text; you couldn't use the camera so you had to type in certain questions - this was hard for certain math equations, biology, and physics questions; uploading documents (for example, for proofreading) was hard - you had to email the documents to yourself, download them on the phone and then upload them in the app; whiteboard wasn't interactive - you could only see what the tutor was writing on it, but couldn't interact with it; the color scheme was low contrast and hard to read - while it was "on brand," the text was washed out against the bright orange background; finally, the app was incredibly unstable and would sometimes crash and we wouldn't be able to reconnect to the same tutor again after re-opening the app. 

 
 Screenshots from a mobile session

Screenshots from a mobile session

 

After conducting our research and compiling the team's feedback we moved to interviewing users of the service. We talked to 20 users from different grade levels focusing on their experience, why they used the app, user behavior and what was most important to them in a mobile-only tutoring app. 

Going over the feedback we found a number of common themes appear.

  • Users were turned off by the app's instability - caused them to go back to the web experience
  • Loved the idea of mobile tutoring - able to get help anywhere, not tethered to a desktop
  • Expected to be able to use their cameras and possibly microphones to communicate with their tutor (video, taking photos of problems, talking through problems)
  • Because they couldn't use the camera, they relied on the whiteboard, but images displayed on it were blurry and pixelated (a back-end issue)
  • Because they had to rely on the whiteboard so much, they wondered why it wasn't interactive - only the tutor could add to it (on the web version you were able to interact collaboratively) 
  • Didn't really use mobile tutoring for things like essay writing or proof reading - they were more likely to do that on the desktop when they were typing or editing papers
  • Contrast/eye fatigue wasn't a big issue
  • Three most popular subjects were Math, English Science

None of these friction points were surprising, but they reinforced our assumptions, established empathy for the student, and allowed us to prioritize the development.
 

 
 

The Design

Certain constraints with our tech stack meant modifying the whiteboard to be interactive on the phone would require a complete rebuild of back-end and the desktop student and tutor experiences. We didn't have the engineering resources available so early on we wanted to test camera-only functionality as a solution and a way to simplify the experience and interface. On the business side we believed a 'try before you buy' option for new users was critical to increasing growth as well as the ability to purchase minutes within the app. 

User Flow

 
 Initial user flow sketches

Initial user flow sketches

 Initial user flow sketches

Initial user flow sketches

 Final user flow (click to enlarge full PDF)

Final user flow (click to enlarge full PDF)

 


Prototype
We realized early on that we needed a functional prototype in order to receive the best feedback. Clickable prototypes are, in the end, "dumb," in the sense they can't interact with real data and we'd never be able to replicate students sending questions to real tutors. We created an iOS build in Xcode that connected to our servers and deployed it to our student testers to conduct tutoring sessions.

 
 


User Testing & Feedback
After sending out the prototype we followed up with phone interviews and brought in some students to our office, recording their phones as they created tutoring sessions and discussing their experience afterwards. The feedback we got from our testers was almost all positive. They loved the simplicity of taking a photo, describing the problem and getting help immediately. Current users didn't miss the whiteboard functionality and new users didn't see the need for it with the camera. 

Refinements
After three cycles of user testing, feedback and updated prototypes to fix bugs, add visual fidelity, and add functionality (accounts saved onto our servers, Apple Pay and PayPal integration were added, ability to access the camera's library) we arrived at our MVP. We launched in the App Store and a few weeks later in the Google Play Store. Subsequent point releases squashed bugs, optimized performance, added new payment options for purchasing minutes, and a referral system that rewarded users with free minutes for getting friends to sign up.