EML In Real Time: Yousra Alfarra

Meet Yousra, a 3rd year cognitive systems major at UBC. For Yousra, working at EML helped her discover a passion for UX design and project management in the feild of educational technology. To find out more about Yousra’s role at EML and how she gained valuable skills in UX design, photogrammetry, and more, check out the interview below!

Hannah: What is your role or position at EML, and what would you do on a typical day in your position?

Yousra: That’s a good question- I always think about it, like, what’s my job title, and I feel like it’s really hard to just be doing what your job title says in EML. I am not sure if that’s only my experience or if that’s also other peoples experience, just because it’s a lab and it’s more of a community based environment. Sometimes it might not be in your job title, if you already know how to do it and someone is asking you for help, you would just do it, and this is something I really appreciate. But I guess the main thing I like to say [I do] is interaction design, which is basically working on anything related to how the user interacts with that tool that we are working on, because here at EML we’re working on educational tools at the end of the day. So just thinking, how would the prof interact with this tool, what kind of features do we want to include, or how will the students interact, what kind of menu do we want to design? Other than this visual design side of things, I also work on usability testing. So let’s say, once we have developed a tool, we test it. Does the feature really do what we want it to do? What does the user think? Because at the end of the day we are developing all of this for the user, which is in a lot of cases the prof, or also the students.

H: Nice! What specific projects are you working on right now?

Y: At the moment I’m doing UX design for Fossa Finder. Actually we’re going to be conducting user testing this week.

H: What would you say you value the most about EML, or what is your favorite thing about the work that you’re doing?

Y: I really love the mission of the lab, that it’s using technology for good, and the good in this would be to make education more interactive, more fun, especially for students. Education is also something I love, I like school, and I mean that’s also why I came all the way from Palestine to Canada, really just for school, that’s why I left my family. So to be able to work on projects that make other students’ lives easier, is really cool. I know for Fossa Finder, we’re working on this Pterygopalatine Fossa, and basically there has been no tool that was made to really let students explore that part of the fossa opening. So I’d imagine if I were a dentistry student, I would really enjoy something like our project, you know? The fact that we’re working on such cool projects, and we’re changing the way people learn is really cool.

H: What are some of the skills that you’ve gained working at EML?

Y: Well definitely photogrammetry, I was heavily involved with the photogrammetry project in the summer, and also earlier in the fall term. I literally didn’t know what photogamattery meant when I was assigned for the product, but now I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience in terms of photogrammetry and capturing specimens and knowing about specimens from different facilities and stuff. I really enjoyed the fact that I didn’t know anything and now I know a lot about that. Same thing with UX, because I started at EML as a volunteer last January and from then to May, I was working with Interactive Orchestra, with Sean and Dante and Alice, so I really just learned a lot from other team members and just asked questions. I think this was a very valuable experience, because if that was not the case then I would not have been hired for the summer and also the fall.

H: What are some of the challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced working at EML, and how have you overcome them?

Y: Good question, I would say this is more Covid related- about working from home, especially something like UX design, it’s always better done in teams where you’re constantly getting feedback and changing things as you’re getting this feedback. So sometimes you get tired of being on your laptop all day, or maybe you want to ask people but then it’s just like, maybe it might be too much communication so you just have to trust yourself on it. And then knowing when you should ask for help, and when you should do it yourself. This has been a little bit of a challenge.

H: What is the process of doing user testing online?

Y: I mean, let’s say for things like visuals and stuff, usually I just work on it and then I meet with the project lead, in this case Jaymie just to finalize. Jaymie also has extensive experience with UX design, so that’s been good. For things like usability testing, this is definitely better done in person because there’s just a lot of more information you can get when you can see the person. But we’re trying to do interviews in Zoom instead, so it’s not impossible, but you just have to be creative and adaptable.

H: How do you like the community at EML?

Y: I would say my favourite part of EML would be the Wednesday check-ins, because it’s not work-related. You get to really know the people which is something I value, just in any workplace- I want a workplace that’s exciting and also just a place where I know people. And it’s nice to hear about people’s thorns and roses. During the week I keep thinking ‘what are my thorns?’ ‘what are my roses?’. I also like how Daniel always says that it is a fail free environment. I think it removes a lot of anxiety as a student trying to figure out what career to do, so I really like that. Overall, people are fun and friendly.

H: How has your time at EML influenced your future plans, academic studies, career goals, or even just your hobbies?

Y: When I first joined, I didn’t actually know I was that interested in education and the integration of technology and education. I just knew I was interested in combining psychology with technology. And I knew UX is the way to do it, but I had no experience with UX. Now that I’ve been at EML for a year, I know that I’m really interested in UX and project management. And I think I got to know that through conversations with older folks like Jaymie, so this is really valuable. I had a blurry vision I feel but now I have more of a clear vision that yes, I want to do experience design or product management, which are both similar, in the field of educational technology.

If you’re interested in getting involved with EML, check out our student opportunities here, come to our drop-in hours, or send an email to emergingmedia.lab@ubc.ca.