About the project:

Make School began as MakeGamesWithUs. I joined the founders as the first full-time employee shortly after they went through Y Combinator in the winter of 2012. This story is about how the team and I created the Online Academy, a MOOC that we built to complement the company's in-person programs, the Summer Academy and Product College.

Product specifications

Based on our user research and business strategy, our core plan was to simulate certain elements of our in-person academy where student interaction and engagement are the strong-suits.

We decided it would be best to handle common technical support questions with a white-labeled Discourse forum. We wanted to make sure we had common questions answered for students in a proven and well-known format.

Also, we partnered with a 3rd party 1-on-1 technical support company and arrange a great discount for our students.

And so, by essentially outsourcing our technical support, we were that much freer to concentrate our development efforts on the main goal, increasing student interaction and engagement.

Ultimately we decided a chat/messenger app was most appropriate. Chat allows synchronous communication and would give students a "live" presence. This was to be the primary feature of the platform besides the tutorial content itself; and, much of the marketing effort was based on us providing this collaborative/social environment.

Specifications Overview: • Break up students into groups ("Pods") of about eight • Pod members can see each other's progress • Enable Pod members to ask/offer to help one another • Chat window to include default chat rooms and the ability for students to direct message each-other • Include link to the Discourse forum for common bugs and asynchronous communication • Include link to our 1-on-1 technical support partner

Core Components

Student workspace / app layout

Since students typically have Xcode open when they're going through tutorials, the content in the app is mostly left-justified.


Dashboard With Chat


Mobile responsive not required.

Peer Support / 1-on-1 Chat

We wanted to encourage students to help each other. When the chat button is clicked, a direct message chat window is created (see below).

Tutorials Page

Developer Hand-off

A developer added a checkbox to the left of the content as the way a user marks their progress. This initial location gave up lots of horizontal screen space and required the user to go back to the start of a section to mark it complete. Also, when the box was clicked, the text was greyed-out, making it hard to read if you needed re-learn something. I moved the checkbox to the bottom of the section and when clicked, it adds a line along the left side of the section.

Results in Numbers

300 students paid $100 for the Online Academy. 71 students (or ~24%) completed all of the tutorials. 18 (or 6%) pushed a game to the Game Showcase page. These were modest numbers but solid in comparison to most MOOCs (where the completion rate is on average between 15%-20%). We considered this a good start for v1.

Feedback and Design Decision Conclusions

I think the chat room achieved it's primary goal of making people feel like they were part of a community. Many student's questions were answered and conversations were had. Instructors were able to participate which gave Make School a solid presence.

The chat room became a great place for user feedback. In a few days I was able to fix any UI/UX issues that students were having.

I think we were on the right track by splitting the students up into pods, but we fell short on mentorship/guidance. Students wanted some structure, like a weekly pod meeting with a Make School instructor.