Bentley Graduate Students “Hack” Boston Public School Bus Experience
By Meredith Mason
Each day, the Boston Public School district transports around 29,000 public, private and charter students to and from school. Whether alone on a big bus, or squished in double seats with backpacks and lunch boxes, students are left to figure out how to occupy their time on what can feel like an endless ride. The average route for students is 20 minutes, but for some, their ride can take as long as three-quarters of an hour.
The potential opportunity that exists for thoughtful engagement on the bus ride is something that has never been explored before. This thought is what inspired Bentley’s User Experience Graduate Association (UXGA) to to host a “hackathon” in partnership with Boston Public Schools’ Experience Lab and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics to inspire change in the tired bus system.
Why a hackathon?
Most well-known in the world of computer programming, a hackathon is an event that typically lasts several days and brings together a group of people who are tasked with finding new solutions to a complex problem.
Spearheaded by Human Factors in Information Design graduate students Rachel Graham and Nicole Gerhard, Bentley’s hackathon was designed to come up with innovative ways to make time spent riding the bus more productive and engaging for every Boston Public School student.
In an interview with WBUR, Graham explained that, during her initial research, she spoke with a seventh grader who rides into school with only four other children and said that the most exciting thing he does on the bus is talk to the bus driver.
“I asked him, ‘What are the other students doing?’” Graham recalled. “And he said, ‘They stare at the back of the seat in front of them.’ That mental image, for me, confirmed the opportunity we had for creating a better experience in this space.”
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The creative process
Open to all Bentley Human Factors in Information Design, MBA and Information Technology students, the two-day event took place on the Bentley’s Smith Technology Center. On day one, teams of five students were given access to previously gathered data on ridership, mentors from the HFID program and from Boston Public Schools.
Marketing Professor Andy Aylesworth closed out the evening with creative warm-ups, ideation techniques and problem definition exercises to make sure all the teams were ready to start “hacking.”
By Saturday night, the teams completed their hackathon and winners were announced. The winning team combined technology and safety by proposing “bus leaders” on every bus to promote anti-bullying, and monitor screens installed on the backs of seats to give students a chance to follow where they are on their routes, or to report when they feel unsafe.
The second place winners focused on a creative solution using physical, tangible objects rather than technology to promote discovery on the bus.
Boston Public Schools says they will most likely take into consideration ideas from all of the teams at Bentley that were generated during the event.