Fostering togetherness in hybrid learning environments

An explorative participatory design project at the Umeå Institute of Design in collaboration with Akademiska Hus.

How might we foster collaboration between students in hybrid learning environments?

Challenge: Difficulties in creating group dynamics

With the shift from on-campus education to predominantly hybrid education, the learning experience of students has completely changed. Group dynamics have altered, and with them, the way students engage in group work. Remote students feel marginalized, and on-site group members sometimes find it challenging to integrate them on an equal footing, which negatively impacts their teamwork.

Approach: Creating togetherness through collective decision making

With this project we aim to create moments of togetherness that emerge from collective decision-making in the group. Additionally, hejsan enables better integration of remote group members by giving them more presence and separating their visibility from the digital work environment through an additional tool.

Time: 5 weeks, 2021 Team: Christoffer Pedersen, Mina Rostami Tools: After Effects Context: Student project at the Umeå Institute of Design Collaboration: Akademiska Hus.

My role: Throughout the project, all steps and decisions were a collective team effort. We spent a lot of time testing the interaction between the tangible components and the digital interface until we came up with an intuitive solution. In addition to preparing and conducting workshops and interviews, I focused on creating animations to visualize the concept.

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Mental spaces for different purposes

Devices students normally use for remote calls are primarily used for many other purposes, such as watching videos and social media. This is a major factor for distraction, as these interactions are conditioned behaviors along with whatever apps are installed on them vying for attention. By creating a space solely for collaboration, we can leverage changes that allow for greater group dynamics without distractions.

Changing spaces

The collective change of space dial is a response to the loss of a common space. It enables to change to a preferred space for a preferred action. The idea is to foster a sense of collective consciousness through music and collective decision making when changing a space, to enhance the feeling of togetherness by enjoying the same experience.

Presence Blur

When a group member or the group needs to lower the number of distractions the presence blur slider can be used. In order to fully activate this function, all the connected devices have to pull down the slider.

Impact area of hejsan

The process of designing hejsan

The design process was iterative and research-driven, with participatory practices and co-creation playing a crucial role in generating relevant insights.


We had the opportunity to attend several online coding workshops at the Umeå University. We were able to gain insights into the structure as well as how students interact with each other in groups and in presence of the teacher.

Online coding workshop with HCI students from Umeå University

Learning about the challenges of students and teachers in hybrid situations

We conducted interviews with 16 students and 4 teachers. In doing so, we gained insights into how hybrid situations affect both teachers and students.

Interviewing teachers about their challenges in hybrid classrooms
Talking to students

We then summarized, sorted, and prioritized our findings in order to narrow the topic into two focus areas, which we then explored further with the students in the next steps.

Sorting our insights

Getting stuck in explorations

We often explored ideas that crossed our minds, yet we realized we were staying too much in the digital realm by trying out tools such as interactive whiteboards, attention cameras, etc. Once we took a step back and went through our findings again, the project took a turn.

Brainstorming sessions with our target group

During our sessions with the students we brainstormed about ideas and wishes within our two focus areas. Working with the students allowed us to better understand their current situation as well as learn about their creative ways to improve their group work.

Rapid prototyping to quickly test early assumptions

We started to make our ideas tangible by building several prototypes in order to test them in a quick manner.

Validating prototypes

As we tested our prototypes, we realized that we needed to refine our features to make them intuitive for the user. However, we also noticed that people enjoyed the playful nature of our tool.

hejsan fosters togetherness in hybrid learning environments. 🤝

What I have learned

• In the beginning, we had great difficulty communicating with each other and finding the right language. We learned to consciously work on our internal communication by finding the right language and giving ourselves and each other the space to be seen, heard and understood.

• Co-creation with target groups requires a high level of motivation from their side. They need to experience the impact of the collective work or another drive to keep being motivated. We realized we had to come up with creative ways to ensure motivation remained high.

• Planning with so many people involved requires a high degree of organizational skill.