USU ITLS students Michelle Jensen and Aprel Mendenhall are pictured with Salih Cem Kumsal, Training Technologies Staff Officer from NATO and one of the judges who awarded the team 1st Place at the 2019 AECT Design and Development Competition sponsored by NATO ACT.

A duo of Utah State University graduate students claimed first place for their design of an “microlearning” app in an nationwide contest for NATO.

On Oct. 22, Aprel Mendenhall and Michelle Jensen clinched the Association for Educational Communications and Technology’s Design and Development Competition in Las Vegas. Mendenhall and Jensen, both online students enrolled in USU’s Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences program, designed Knowing NATO — a prototype of a microlearning app for training new and current employees at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“It was really exciting,” Mendenhall said. “We’re really proud of what we designed. … To be recognized for our hard work and our innovation was really rewarding.”

Mendenhall and Jensen included socialized elements, as well as user-generated information into the app, according to a press release. Mendenhall said NATO officers would use the app to learn, share and connect.

“Part of our plan was to create this socialized app that motivates people to submit video snippets, articles, podcasts, infographics to share with others,” Jensen stated in the press release.

Mendenhall said AECT proposed the problem for the competition in February, but she and Jensen started working a solution in April. Jensen said though they may have told themselves they were casually fulfilling collegiate requirements, but the team was actually quite competitive.

“When it came down to it,” Jensen said, “we were in it to win.”

Mendenhall, a mother of four, said her children helped the development as user testers. Mendenhall said she would confer with her 17-year-old with print-paper versions of the app’s design. Mendenhall’s kids would give feedback about what did or did not make sense with the layout of the app.

“My kids really were my beginning test subjects of usability,” Mendenhall said.

After the win, Mendenhall and Jensen were approached by the NATO officer in attendance, who invited the team to present their solution at the NATO Training Technology Conference in Virginia Beach in 2020. But what happens next for app is unknown. Mendenhall said if their ideas were ultimately picked for development by NATO, she and Jensen would be involved in some way.

Mendenhall said she was happy to represent USU and to encourage other students to participate in similar competitions in the future.

“We’re two moms from Utah County,” Jensen said. “That we would get the opportunity to design something that would influence something as big as NATO is pretty surprising and exciting to us.”

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