The use of Experience Sampling Method (ESM): A case study in enhancing personal productivity of nursing school students

Student’s work:

J. Leung, Y. Yang Yao, S. Cheung, T. Cai
Course: MDes graduation project
Involvement: Chair supervisor
Partner: Tuen Mun Nursing School – Hong Kong
Period: January 2016 – May 2016.

Key words: personal productivity, nursing school students, experience sampling method, daily life practices.


Learning productivity is conventionally defined as how efficient students are in achieving their academic goals and students’ emotion has been shown to positively correlate to their learning productivity. In this study, the daily study habit of the Tuen Mun Nursing School (NS) students in Hong Kong was studied to explore design opportunities to enhance their personal productivity while in the school environment through the methods of Experience Sampling Method (ESM) and User Interviews.


NS students have a vague idea of what constitute productivity to them. User Interview is unable to uncover deep level of thoughts and emotions on productivity and their intrinsic drivers or needs to facilitate their productivity. User Interview relies on retrospective recall of information. The quality of recalled information is inconsistent and not holistic.


The benefits of ESM filled the shortcomings of user interview. Therefore, ESM is chosen to have a deeper understanding of the NS students’ study routine and habits to uncover design opportunities to enhance their productivity at the NS.

Research strategy

ESM is conducted in the course of five school days across two volunteered Year 1 students from Tuen Mun NS. A prototype comprised of a tangible object and a digital input to collect qualitative and quantitative data of the participants’ emotional response, subjective and objective reflection of productivity as they experience them throughout the day in a self reporting manner.

Design concept

The design concept of the tangible object component of the ESM tool was a pencil case, which is more convenient due to students were not allowed to use mobile phone during classes. This is also an essential accessory for student’s everyday life so that the tool would be in sigh at all the time without missing the prompting questions when the reminder light is on.

Four essential questions were developed as nudges to trigger self-reports by using the tangible object, with three questions about productivity and one about their current emotion. With the use of Whatsapp, an additional photo was requested to show their location and activity providing in-situ context to their answers.

Prompting interval parameters

With the use of Surveymetrics (, a digital input was designed to complement the answers given by the participants with a tangible tool. This digital input was used only for the first and last entries to collect data outside of school for the convenience of the students not having to bring the tangible object home and as their preferred means of data entry.

Sample Screens of Digital Input Component of the ESM Tool in Both Desktop and Mobile Versions Using Free Web App, Survemetrics (

The insights resulted from the interviews showed that six frequent emotions were the most frequent by students in describing their daily life experiences at school. These emotions were represented as iPhone emoji(s) on the tool’s interface.

Tool interface

Results and analysis

The user interviews were audio-recorded, translated into English, and then transcribed. The information was analyzed following the technique of affinity diagramming. For the ESM prototype, raw data collected from three input sources: a) the tangible object, b) digital input, and 3) WhatsApp was analyzed using grounded theory.

Raw Data Extracted: (Left) From the tangible tool’s SD Card; (Right) from Surveymetric.
Data analysis from participants
Participants’ quotes