Design-Based Computer Science Research



Snapshot is an interface filled out and presented by the novice researcher to his/her mentor at the weekly research meeting. It assists students with project ownership, communication, and reflection. Snapshot is a component of the Research Planning System (RPS), a system that assists novice researchers plan their research better and build regulation skills to lead their project effectively. This system is the result of my design-based research work as a part of the Design, Technology, and Research (DTR) section of the Delta Lab at Northwestern University.

Current Snapshot Input Design

Current Snapshot Input Design (made in Sketch)

Role ― Designer, Researcher, and Developer

I am leading this independent design-based research project with Bomani McClendon. As part of DTR, I do everything and anything related to design, technology, and research. This can range from making mockups in Sketch, Wizard of Oz testing, to graph algorithms, to gathering evidence to prove research claims.




Research Overview

We have been working on this project for more than a year and have taken various pivots throughout our work. Below I will describe the design process behind Snapshot, the design we are currently working on. If you would like an overview of our research process and the Research Planning System, then please click here.


We noticed that novice researchers in our lab did not have great research plan; the plans were not detailed and did not focus on doing important work to further their research. So, we interviewed them to understand their planning process, in particular their pain points. Here are some relevant quotes:

"We rely a lot on Haoqi's (mentor) feedback for a plan for what to do next."

"Prioritizing between stories [goals] when I view multiple [goals] as essential to my project and research goals is difficult."

DTR In-Class Survey on Planning

In-Class Survey

From this we learned that novice researchers struggle to regulate their research work and planning on an overall level. As a result, there is a tremendous load on mentors to guide projects. From these insights, we developed our overall research question to guide our design process:

"How might we help build self-regulation skills in novice researchers, allowing them to more effectively conduct self-directed research in environments with low mentoring resources?"

Solution - Snapshot

Snapshot is a presentation and reflection interface for novice researchers to present their work during research meetings. The three objectives Snapshot assists novices with are 1) providing an outline to lead research meetings, 2) promote clear communication with peers and mentors with guiding questions, and 3) affordances for reflecting on their work.

A novice fills out the four sections of the Snapshot before his/her research meeting - Summary of Previous Work, Learnings from Previous Work, Reflection on Blockers, and Plan for Upcoming Work. There is a sidebar on the right side of the screen to provide instructions and best practices for answers. Finally, this work is translated to a presentation document for meetings (see the diagram).

Snapshot Input

Snapshot Process


We have done five preliminary tests in weekly research meetings, and results are good so far. The novice researchers are definitely taking ownership of their project and communicating more clearly what is really important for their project, showing promise of gaining these regulation skills. The difficult part is to get novices to do deep reflection on their research work. This is mostly likely because deep reflection is a hard cognitive task and is not natural for/practiced by novices.

A weekly DTR research meeting

A weekly research meeting

Next Steps

We are planning to implement Snapshot as a fully working system using Meteor + React. Then we are going to run a study on novice researchers in our lab or design-based project teams. We hope to measure that Snapshot is an effective tool in reaching our goal of building regulation, project ownership, and communication skills for novices. After this we will work to complete the Research Planning System (below).

The Research Planning System

The Research Planning System