*The product name Dory is inspired by the Dory, a royal blue tang fish who is always adventurous and optimistic, always willing to help others, and always manages to fearlessly navigate difficulties from Disney's Finding Nemo.

My Role

Formative Research, Ideation, UX & UI Design, Interaction Design, User testing, Digital Prototyping


Feb 2021 - Aug 2021


Michael Eisen, Yimeng Hou, Alice Li


Miro, Figma, Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop, Procreate

Dory is a digital platform that empowers middle school students to recognize and safely communicate their feelings. It helps teachers better assess and encourage students' engagement in remote and blended learning environments.

In this 6-month collaborative capstone project, I led a team of designers with diverse expertise through robust primary research and an iterative design process.


“Every single class period every single day, ask a question and get crickets... One day, in my second period, 23 students turned their cameras on and I literally cried in front of them. It brought so much joy, just to see their faces but that's rare like that happened once.” — Cynthia, 8th Grade Science and Biology

Student Engagement is Low

Missing Visual and Auditory Feedback

Re-thinking the Education System

Remote learning environments have magnified the problem of students' disengagement for a variety of reasons including students feeling more self-consciousness, lack of structure, and growth mindset.

Many teachers have reported that they are facing great challenges to engage and evaluate students effectively in remote and blended learning environments because of missing multi-sensory levels of communication beyond a webcam.

Though many problems have risen after the switch to online instruction, remote learning has turned out to be a good option for students with diverse and special needs and offers more adaptability and flexibility.

How Might We...

Help 6th to 9th-grade teachers assess and encourage student engagement in remote and blended learning environments?

Dory helps middle school teachers...


Evaluate students' engagement

Teachers can quickly evaluate students' engagement by understanding how students are feeling (through emoji reactions) at the moment. This visual feedback gives teachers information that they can adapt on the fly.

Facilitate conversation or class activities

regarding the feeling of the class by viewing the shared mood space where students' moods are displayed in a circular layout.


Guide students build a growth mindset

by asking students to think retrospectively and deeply about their learning journey through a self-reflection activity 

Have a holistic view of

how students are doing and identify any possible pattern in a list format


Build stronger relationships over time

by clicking into an individual student's page to view more detailed reflection and leave notes


Stepped into ambiguity, we gained a deeper and holistic understanding of the problem space through a robust research process.

We believe in the power of education and even more so with technology. But with all the struggles/problems with educational technology and remote format reported due to the sudden COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we perceived it as a wake-up call that it might be time to re-think the complex nexus of technology and education. Our research has revealed reasons that contribute to students’ low engagement and we see an opportunity for leveraging the online platform and technology to better support teachers.



[Fig 1] Take a peek at our research report

This research report outlines our research processes which include literature review, SME interviews, field observations, follow-up interviews, contextual inquiries, and competitive analysis, our salient insights, and principles that will guide us to the design phase.

Subject Matter Expert (SME) Interviews

  • S1 - Professor at UW Information school
  • Andy (S2) - Teacher Educator at School of Education at UPenn
  • S5 - Visiting Researcher at MIT for Remote Learning Education
  • S4 - Assistant Principal for Seattle Public Schools
  • Randy (S3) - Assistant Director for Learning Tech at UW Information School
  • Mike (S6) - AI Software Innovation Manager at Intel Corporation
  • Dana (S7) - Founder of Leo AR EDU

Participants: 7 subject matter experts in the field of education including one university professor, two education consultants/researchers, one school administrator, and three educational technologists.

Duration: 45 mins - 60 mins via Zoom

Goal: Get an in-depth understanding of the problem space by obtaining multiple perspectives such as the administrative or educator's perspective regarding the challenges of the current educational system posed by the pandemic and the role technology can play in future education. 

Insight 01. 

Teachers struggled to identify and understand students’ unique interests and needs in this environment, impeding their ability to establish and grow unique student bonds, bonds that could encourage engagement.

“If a kid plays a sport and you're their teacher or they do some kind of activity and you could go watch them do it, they'll love you forever and they'll feel really great and they'll talk to you about it and you'll connect in that way… You also listen to them, not just what they say, but all the different things that you can get from them that they give off.” —— Andy, Educational Researcher

Insight 02. 

Creating a well-thought curriculum is a refining process that requires teachers to take into consideration the context where learning takes place, and with whom. In this process, technology serves as an empowering tool to allow teachers to have more configuration of curriculum design.

“So a lot of my prep begins first with thinking about learning objectives, thinking about pedagogy, thinking about student identity, student goals, and trying to really imagine a course that actually synchronizes and helps reconcile all of those tensions between who students see themselves as, what their aspirations are, what the purpose of this class is in their life, what kinds of knowledge I can bring to them that might help sustain their goals, or support their goals, or change their interests or knowledge or identities.” —— Amy, University Professor

Field Observation & Contextual Inquiry

Through Field Observation, we joined classes with students and...

  • Understand online interaction between students and teachers
  • Collect behavioral data through observing both teachers and students’ behaviors and workflows
  • Observe how technology is used in the remote learning environment

Through Contextual Inquiry, we asked teachers to...

  • Learn about teachers’ working environment and teaching tools used frequently
  • Understand the process of how teachers prepare a remote class
  • Serve as a backup plan in case we couldn’t get any opportunity to observe a classroom



[Fig 3] All Observation sessions took place in Google Classroom


[Fig 4a, b, c] Teachers' working station in-home (upper) and at school (lower)

Insight 03.

Remote learning environments have magnified the problem of students’ disengagement for a variety of reasons including students feeling self-consciousness and lack of structure.

"It could also be teaching eighth-graders they're very self-conscious in the online environment and nowhere near as self-conscious in person." —— Cynthia, 8th Grade Science and Biology Teacher

Insight 04.

Teachers had to use different criteria to evaluate student engagement due to the limitations imposed by online education such as missing multi-sensory levels of communication beyond a webcam.

“We're not right there. We can't walk past their desk, tap on them and get them back focused again.” —— Colleen G., 8th Grade Math Teacher

Insight 05.

Teachers can harness educational technology to create more adaptive learning environments that fulfill the needs of students who previously struggled in person. 

 I’ve noticed that for some of those kids, just being able to type and to think in and give themselves time to think about what they're writing before they hit send makes them feel safer than raising their hand and having to talk out loud in front of everybody.”  —— Abigail, 6-8 Grade Math Teacher


Drawing inspiration from the enlightening research findings and our 5 important insights, we formed 3 design principles to serve as a guardrail that helped us achieve desired design outcomes.

Encourage Student Engagement

Our design should provide ways for teachers to evaluate student engagement that are suitable for remote and blended learning environments. (Driven by Insight 4)

Environmentally Adaptable

Our design should be adaptable to any environment, for students who are attending in person or virtually, synchronously or asynchronous, individually or as a group. (Driven by Insight 2 & 5)

Enable relationship and Unique Bonds

Our design should enable the growth of personal relationships between students and teachers. (Driven by Insight 1)

This document lays out all important aspects of Dory’s design which include architecture, models, & systems, and visual systems for the interface design to help developers build the product.


Ideation - Initial Design Idea


For Teachers

  1. We imagined the solution would provide teachers some analytics to better understand students’ performance.
  2. It would allow teachers to grab the contextual information behind students’ certain behaviors.
  3. It should be a powerful tool that helps teachers to facilitate in-class activity and then evaluate the engagement level. 

For Students

  1. We hope that the tool can give students more agency in controlling their own learning process and be able to help them build stronger relationships with others.
  2. We want to ensure students are having fun while using the tool, we want the product to be playful and fun.

Initial Quest Idea


We made the pivot!

“How can the solution support the entire classroom experience and individual learning journey?”
— Ryan

“Not just about fixing assignments, how can we managing relationships between students and teachers beyond using traditional assessments?”
— Scott


Final Design Idea - Dory


We believe that asking students to do self-reflection would allow them to think retrospectively and have a better understanding of themselves and allowing teachers to get access to their reflection provides a more contextual understanding of what is going on in students’ life.

We also leverage the RULER method, which is a systematic approach to help people better unpack and express their emotions. 


Dory Key Function 1: Create a Reflection Prompt

Dory has the flexibility allowing teachers to determine the period of time that students need to do self-reflection based on their teaching plan or pedagogy, such as weekly, biweekly, or after each unit.

Each self-reflection contains one or more reflection prompts for students to answer, and teachers can decide the number of prompts they would like to include in one reflection. While teachers create a prompt, the system will also provide suggested prompts for them as a recommendation or inspiration. Teachers are also allowed to create customized prompts. Besides, teachers can view previous prompts if they want to reuse a question.

Dory Key Function 2: Self-Reflection Activities

Teachers like to use different self-reflection methods under different scenarios and purposes. Therefore, we designed two reflection activities which 1) In-Class Activity and 2) Take-Home Written Reflection. For each reflection activity, students will be prompted to choose an emoji based on their mood. There are four different types of emojis. Each emoji represents a category of moods:

  • The pink emoji represents unpleasant and high energy emotions, like frustration
  • The blue emoji represents unpleasant and low energy emotions, like boredom
  • The yellow emoji represents pleasant and high energy emotions, like excitement
  • The green represents pleasant and low energy emotions, such as tranquility


Dory Key Function 3: Mood Space

Mood Space is a shared common space where both teachers and students can get access. It shows the overall classroom moods in a circular layout. The circular visualization divides into four quadrants and each quadrant has its own emoji representing a category of moods.

Whenever a student completes a self-reflection, a color dot will appear in the mood space in the corresponding quadrant according to the emoji selected by the student, and at the same time, the selected feeling word will be displayed in the white round square next to the emoji. The number next to the feeling word shows how many students have chosen it. 

Dory Key Function 4: Student Reflection

Student Reflection page gives teachers a cleaner list of what each student submitted with the emotional label. This page presents a more organized and holistic reflection chart and therefore, easy for teachers to notice any pattern. Based on teachers’ own preferences, they can sort the chart by emojis (emotions) or by time. Also, teachers can export the reflection and the chart into an excel report to keep as a record, make it printable, and easy to share with parents and the school admin.

After having a holistic view of how students are doing, teachers can go to an individual student’s page to view more detailed reflections and leave a note for the student. Based on a student’s reflection, teachers can give guidance, such as words of wisdom or encouragement to the student. In this way, we hope that students and teachers can better understand each other and build stronger relationships over time.



Next Steps

  1. Expand to a multi-classroom experience so teachers can collaborate
  2. Develop a dashboard page for insights and big picture trends relating to moods and reflections
  3. Develop self-reflection prompts for teachers to reflect on their own teaching journey
  4. More user testing with more teachers and students
  5. Develop playful iterations of the student reflection flow to encourage self-motivated reflections