Computer Science Students developed culturally-specific website templates to attract international tourists

Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant

Deirdre Lawless

Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info

 2nd year u/g students on the BSc in Computer Science International. Module is called ‘Software for the global market’ (basically web design).

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

MyStreets – a social enterprise offering guided tours by people experiencing homelessness. 

While the brief for the students was co-designed with MyStreets, unfortunately the organisation closed down just after the start of the semester due to the impact of COVID restrictions on tourism. As a result the students didn’t ever meet the community partner, although they drew on their website and on the information that Deirdre had collected from the meeting with the partner when planning the project. 

CERL project title(s)

Designing websites for the global market, to increase tour bookings. [There wasn’t a formal title for the project, this is more of a description] 

What they changed about their programme/course in relation to CERL

Deirdre ran a CERL project rather than a hypothetical project, to increase student learning and support them to consider the user experience (UX) more. Students worked to develop ideas for possible variations to the MyStreets website, tailored to particular cultural preferences of different tourists.

Deirdre worked with MyStreets to develop a project where students would explore whether changing elements of navigation, layout, imagery, colour and languages in presenting their tours might help increase bookings from tourists. The idea was for students to develop concepts that My Streets could bring to a website design company they had links with, for them to incorporate into their website. 

Deirdre changed the module continuous assessment, to give students the choice of group work on the MyStreets project, or individual work on a similar guided tours website. They tackled 2 aspects of culture in different countries, and language associated with that. 

Deirdre gave the students a choice because there can be a huge resistance to group work, and this group didn’t really know each other due to working from home because of COVID restrictions. With COVID restrictions in particular, Deirdre didn’t want to force them to do the group CERL project, as they would have to arrange to meet online, and some had said they would not want to give presentations etc. 

On reflection Deirdre would give them a choice again next year although she would try to be more persuasive in person. She feels there’s nothing worse than someone feeling intimidated and others in the group feeling they’re not pulling their weight. If she was to think about making CERL  compulsory, she might introduce it at the end of the previous year of study to prepare the students. 

This approach also feeds in to Universal Design for Learning Principles by offering choices. 

Tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria, …

The goal of the module is to show students that when you’re working in a global market you’re working with people from different cultural backgrounds, and culture impacts on your expectations of how information is presented, how you process and interact with it. It’s a significant challenge for designing the user experience.  

How was it taught:

·        number of students

·        student groupwork or individual,

·        how they worked with the partner,

·        how the project proceeded,

·        any reflection done with students,

·        evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,

·        Could or should we follow up with students?

·        tech used

·        Anything else interesting?

17/32 students on the module decided to work on the MyStreets project. 

Also moved from an partial LeanUX approach to a full LeanUX approach, and a think-make-check cycle, where the checking part involves working with actual end users. The full LeanUX canvas ( forces designers to look at the website, think about the users and what they’re experiencing, and then hypothesise along the lines of: if they do X, it will achieve Y for users. The LeanUX canvas also requires students to think about what are the most important things they need to learn now, and how they can learn these as quickly as possible, with the least amount of work, which is a really helpful tool to get them thinking about what the business problem is – it was amazing how many of them didn’t understand what it was.  

Every week they did constant reflection through the think-make-check cycle, students were given time to work on this.

What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

The students really liked that fact that this was a real project, tangible, that their work could potentially support people’s pathways and enable another community.

It really forced students to think about things from other people’s point of view, which was great for their development, particularly as they were non-technical people.
Students all now have an artefact that they can show –  demonstratable work that they can bring to a potential employer to show what they can do.

Deirdre felt that as a group they were able to collectively achieve what individually they might not succeed at. Even the students working individually on the non-CERL projects also benefitted from the very clear structure and focus that was planned because of the CERL project.   

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?

Although the partner isn’t around any more, Deirdre has a set of recommendations and examples for them that she could give them as a package.

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

Deirdre didn’t ask students to keep a reflection journal, and she would do this next year, and also keep one herself. 

Deirdre would also get the students to fill in each part of the LeanUX template, in particular the ‘now what do we know and what do we still have to learn’ section – either at the end or even throughout the project, just to make that learning really clear.   

Deirdre would get the partner to record an introduction before they meet the students, so that when you’re trying to persuade the students to get involved, they can find out about the partner. 

When running a technical CERL project, Deirdre recommended offering as much technological scaffolding as possible to the students, so they can focus on the work rather than dealing with annoying niggly bits – ‘I can’t get this to run, I can’t get this library to install’ – and leave them to focus on building the interest part. 

Any challenges and how you overcame them


Unfortunately MyStreets folded just at the start of the project due to COVID challenges. They had to keep the students going without input from the partner. You worry with CERL projects that partners might disengage or disappear, but you can still achieve what you want to achieve even without them being there as much as you might like, the students were still able to do lots of learning. 

Just around April as the students were coming to the final part of the work, the MyStreets website that they had been drawing on was taken down. Luckily with the internet archive they were able to go back and find older copies of the website. 

Working online due to COVID was a challenge, combined with it being a first run of a CERL project in this module. It required more explicit feedback and guidance to the students, being online, than you might need if you were in the room together, as they can see other groups’ work, and also hear feedback being given to other groups. It took more time also to ensure they had a chance for 1-2-1 conversation if needed. Deirdre tried to get them involved as much as possible, making joint agreements with them, as to what they were doing and how, sharing templates etc. Students needed support to make sure they made it through and didn’t miss things. While it took more time than previous runs of the module, Deirdre felt she might have spent more time feeling frustrated on previous runs of the module, than on this CERL project. 

Any good quotes?

‘You worry with CERL projects that partners might disengage or disappear, but you can still achieve what you want to achieve even without them being there as much as you might like’ – this might be really helpful for anyone considering starting a CERL project.