UX | IxD


A digital program and mobile application for middle school teachers and parents to collaboratively track and record student progress

The challenge



Student success is positively impacted when their parents/guardians take an active role in their education. Research has shown this benefits both academic achievement as well as increased self confidence. Our team was tasked with creating a digital tool that facilitates parent-teacher involvement in an effort to build relationships, instill trust, and foster communication.

Our design challenge was broken into 3 design sprints spread across 4 weeks. Each sprint focused on a different component of the UX design process.


Our approach


UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT SPACE


Before we began talking to users, we needed to look at what programs and apps were already aimed at connecting parents and teachers.

The market for education applications is saturated, to say the least, each app more specialized and niche than the next. And the metrics measured within the education field were exhaustive. There were apps that specified behavior, there were social media-based school programs, there were grades-only apps - you name it.

The three apps that stood out to us because of their metrics and popularity were:

  • Remind is a private mobile messaging platform that enables teachers, parents, students, and administrators in k-12 schools to communicate with each other. There are no additional features outside of message and read receipts.

  • Schoology is an online course management system that allows teachers to create and manage academic courses for their students. It provides teachers with a method of managing lessons, engaging students, sharing content, and connecting with other educators. Schoology does not currently include parents into the application.

  • Class Dojo is a behaviour management tool for the classroom. Each student has a profile, complete with their own avatar. Teachers can assign positive and negative points (or 'dojos') throughout the day. This application focuses solely on behavior during the day, and doesn’t connect grades or other classes to these postings.


While the current apps out there occupy the specific function and learning management system space, we identified an opportunity for a product with universal functions that is parent- and teacher-facing. There wasn’t something out there that collected and communicated more than one criteria for both parents and teachers.



There were already applications and programs occupying the grade space and the behavior-tracking space, but we had an opportunity in focusing on both.



My personal interest and experience in the education market equipped me with a high-level understanding of the administrative structure, and I was even surprised by the glaring hole between parents and teachers regarding grades AND behavior.

Our domain research and competitive analysis showed us that currently communication was sparse and unstructured, even across multiple channels. Additionally, we saw the content of communication between parents and teachers was scattered.

TALKING WITH OUR USERS


We needed to sit down with our users and identify some of the puzzle pieces of their relationship. To get up to speed with their perspectives, we focused on a few initial questions:

  • How much communication was currently happening?

  • What methods of communication were they using?

  • What were their perspectives of each other?

  • What do they want from the relationship in regards to their student’s progress?

We learned that teachers and parents have differing ideas on how much parents should be involved with their students. Typically the level that parents believe they are involved does not match the level teachers believe parents should be involved.



After conducting interviews, we needed to find the connections to move forward with our designs.


Also, parents trust and expect the teachers to take the lead on communication. Parents prefer to treat parent-teacher communication as an “as-needed” basis. To parents, an absence of parent-teacher communication can mean that everything is going well with their student and there is no need to follow up. If their child’s grades are good, this also contributes to this assumption that parent-teacher communication is not regularly necessary. On top of this, parents are trying to respect their kids’ independence and give them more responsibility as they become young adults.


Though teachers give students flyers and other forms of communication, that model relies heavily on the student passing this on to parents. Context is missed because communication between parents and teachers hardly ever happens.



However, this approach causes teachers to feel a lack of support from parents. Teachers think there’s much more to student success than grades alone and they want parents to see this. But with their current workload, it makes it difficult to communicate all the aspects that contribute to a student’s performance.

"The most frustrating experience that I’ve had is talking to parents about what’s going on with their child and there is no reinforcement to fix the issue, that really decreases my motivation to call that parent particularly."

We used these insights to develop the personas we’d design our product around:




It was clear that in order to build effective relationships between parents and teachers, they need a more effective communication channel to add context and give them more chances to actually connect.


Our designs


CONCEPTING


There’s clearly some context missing between parents and teachers, but we weren’t sure the best way to tackle this. We wanted our concepts to address four different methods of contextualizing the classroom for parents while still addressing teachers’ needs.

We sketched out four different app ideas:


Rather than using one concept over the other, we learned that all of our users would use a combination of our concepts. Both users like the ability to control communication preferences.

The strongest pattern we saw in our testing was that teachers would refuse to use anything that added to their workload. This meant we needed to do more research into what software or programs they are currently using within their school system.

"If it wasn't an additional thing I had to do, I would be ok with that. I just can't add another app or task to my list."


We explored the notion of plug-ins using the IMS Global Consortium and the Chicago Public School’s learning management system data but due to the constraints of our prompt, we needed something more robust for teachers than a web plug-in. This led us to look more in-depth at the systems currently in place within the CPS system. We found that teachers currently use at least three programs to input grades, contact parents, and organize their lesson plans.

This is where our opportunity was. We needed to combine what they’re currently using into one platform that also has the ability to translate their grade inputs into measurable feedback regarding student growth and progress.

PROTOTYPING


Knowing that we needed to supplement what teachers were currently doing, we decided to move forward with a desktop program. We also decided to simplify their current process of inputting grades, access student/parent contact information as well as each student’s file. Currently, these are all housed in three separate programs. Our program proposed that these all be tied together.

Because parents have vastly different schedules than teachers, we decided based on user feedback that a mobile application best suited their needs.




Though the interfaces and functionality differed, we designed these programs to interact with each other by sharing data and using automated processes. We set a benchmark by having teachers complete tasks that corresponded with the tasks parents completed. Each action performed on the teacher side was separately tested on the parent side. It was now time to see if our prototype held up with our users.



Parents want to know what's going on in the classroom, so they liked having access to grade updates as well as behavioral and social feedback.


Parents wanted the context of grades and behavior together. Not only does it help them better understand the grades, but it helps parents understand who their student is becoming as a person. These types of connections help parents feel like they’re taking an active role in their student’s development.




It was also important for parents to control when they received communication. We tested some parents who want notifications constantly, so they adjust their preferences accordingly. We also had some parents say they don’t want notifications, but they would check the information periodically throughout the week. Giving parents the control allowed for the application to cover a wide base of users.




When teachers looked at the student profile, they wanted to see more information about overall performance, not just their specific class. How were they doing in their other subject areas? What’s their schedule look like this semester? This would help teachers understand their performance in their class once they had the context of the student’s performance as a whole.


Teachers also want to send feedback about more than just grades. Behavior can inform grades, so having these functions as well as parent contact methods connected matches teachers’ mental models.






FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS


Given more time, we would further test our final prototypes alongside each other with parents and teachers at once. The testing for this function was preliminary and we would like to find more information on the usability from one prototype to the next as well as additional context needed from each side regarding student behavior and grades.

Additionally, I would like to explore how Reach would factor in administration and tutor use cases. These roles can play a part in student success. If Reach can alleviate some responsibilities on the administration or even tutors, would this allow for a stronger focus on student development and less so on bureaucratic tasks? What functions would these users need? How would these functions affect the current system between teachers and parents? Factoring these two parties into the equation would make Reach a much stronger tool to facilitate that success.