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June 16, 2021 - No Comments!

How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop for edTech Products

EdTech is in the middle of a major transitional moment, and the stakes for education have never been higher. 

To make matters even more complicated, we don't yet know the full impact the pandemic has had on both teachers and learners. From learning loss to the effects of social isolation, students may face an uphill battle in the classroom next year. 

Meanwhile, teachers' relationships to technology have changed. There's still so much more to learn about their professional needs and expectations when it comes to edTech.

Even as we're operating under plenty of unknowns for Fall 2021, product owners are anxious to address lessons from the pandemic. You want to move quickly, while schools and educational leaders are open to new, disruptive ideas about educational technology. 

Unfortunately, this pressure-cooker environment makes it difficult to innovate. But design thinking workshops can help you and your team change the way you think about the education vertical.

By creating a meaningful space to iterate, plan, and collaborate, these workshops align stakeholders across your team. Whether you'd like to develop new product features or establish more meaningful service processes, design thinking workshops lead to innovative solutions that will meet the challenges of this moment.

 

Collaborating with Stakeholders During the Workshop

Before you dive into the unique challenges and use cases of edTech personas, it's important to get the right people in the room and cultivate a sense of openness.

This likely means inviting a broad cross-section of stakeholders from your company to the design thinking workshop. Welcome representatives from sales, marketing, and content strategy to participate and share their perspectives. 

The broader your group is, the easier it will be to align every department on your goals for the product. Asking for up-down votes can be an easy way to get direction from stakeholders and find out what resonates early in the process.

Creating a relaxing, open atmosphere is also crucial. From a design perspective, open atmospheres allow team members to brainstorm and throw out ideas that might not work. But this sense of vulnerability can be important for addressing larger issues at the company, too.

For example, some teams have difficulty discussing equity, including diverse perspectives, or bringing in culturally relevant material to edTech products. By creating a welcoming, open atmosphere in your design thinking workshop, it will be easier to have these discussions and make diversity, equity, and inclusion a tangible part of your business or content plan.

How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop for edTech Teams

Unlike consumer products, edTech products have unique use cases and user dynamics. It's important to consider the needs of teachers and students from the very beginning of any design thinking workshop. 

With user research, market research, and other design and testing artifacts, you can create a shared baseline for your team to work from. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Consider your personas

edTech personas, including teachers, students, and administrators, have unique challenges in and out of the classroom. How will your product address or consider:

 

  • Equity and diversity
  • Families whose first language is not English
  • Issues around technology access and fluency
  • Classroom technology limitations

 

Hopefully your team has conducted initial user or market research on the areas that will impact your edTech product. The more your team understands your personas, the easier it will be to generate ideas for an edTech product that addresses the unique needs of your users.

 

  1. Incorporate results from user testing

Observing users "in the wild," whether that's an in-person or virtual classroom, is crucial to unlocking the features of your edTech product. 

Do teachers use your product on an iPad, or share it on a smartboard? Do they need to toggle between presentation and use modes? What other details are specific to the classrooms of your particular users?

By helping all the stakeholders on your team understand these details, you'll build a better product. You'll also create the potential for stronger marketing materials and customer support.

 

  1. Understand the nuances of edTech use cases

Provide your workshop team with a framework to guide their creativity. The more they understand how your product is used, the easier it will be to develop creative solutions during the workshop.

For example, imagine you're developing new features for a reading product. We already know there are many ways to teach reading during the school day. These modes include small group and whole-class instruction, individual reading time, and at-home reading assignments. How would your product support each of these different teaching modes?

By helping your team to imagine the full user journey within your product, they'll be able to identify solutions that help teachers and students throughout their day.

 

3 Variations on a Design Thinking Workshop

Any good design thinking workshop needs goals. But you might be surprised how versatile the outputs for your workshop could be. 

Maybe your desired output will be a new product idea. You may even get as far as building a rapid prototype of a specific feature! If you've invited the sales team, you could even develop a new sales approach in a breakout room.

By making time for happy accidents, you can stay open and receptive to different types of output. Even if the end result is a little "messier," you might hit on something that meets your teams' goals in an unexpected, even innovative, way.

Here are three examples of workshops with different high-level goals and outputs. Which workshop model might fit your team's needs?

 

Workshop #1: Developing a new feature

High-level goal: Solving a specific problem, like developing a brand new feature for an existing product, or integrating social features into a digital learning tool. 

Potential Output: A feature set, rapid prototype, or flow chart.

By the end of a design thinking workshop with a narrow goal, you'll wind up with a great idea for your product. But don't be surprised if team members come up with additional solutions that add value. 

Stay open and encourage all team members to listen closely. You'll want to capture every solution and creative idea you hear, even if it doesn't address the goal of the workshop directly. You can always come back to these ideas later.

 

Workshop #2: Dreaming up a new product

High-level goal: Transforming existing source material, like a print math curriculum, into a digital product that engages students.

Output: A new sales or service design that helps your team organize around your new product and the resulting relationships to your customers. For example, how will your sales team engage differently with school leaders to promote this product? 

This type of output will likely raise larger questions, too. Do you have the ability to change your vision for sales internally? Or do you need to work with an outside organization for additional support as you transition to a new sales model?

 

Workshop #3: Seizing a market opportunity 

High-level goal: Address how the shift from leveled reading to decoding reading will affect your company's goals for the future.

Output: Undetermined. For this kind of design thinking workshop, you'll likely go into the meeting without a specific output in mind. 

It's best to stay open to all the solutions you hear throughout the day, whether that's designing a new product or pulling an old one off the shelf. You might even need to queue up another design thinking workshop!

Whether you're brainstorming ways to fill a gap in the market or developing specific features, design thinking workshops are versatile enough to help you make progress on a variety of product- and business-related goals.

In order to stay relevant to the teachers and learners who depend on your products, keep making time for creative touchpoints with your team. We'll continue to see massive changes in edTech, and design thinking workshops can help you respond to those shifts. You might even be able to stay ahead of them!

Now's the time to integrate design thinking workshops systematically into your workflow. Contact us to learn more about holding a workshop at your company!

June 10, 2021 - No Comments!

Translating Teacher Suggestions into edTech Product Features

When you work in a specialized industry like edTech, you get comfortable with the lingo. Product owners and UX designers use terms like "adaptive" or "responsive" all the time, for example—and we know what we mean. (Products that use analytics or AI to respond to student activity, for starters.)

But when teachers use the term "adaptive" or "personalized" to describe edTech product features, they can often mean something quite different. Since there's no official Teacher-to-edTech Product Owner Dictionary (not yet, anyway!), it can be difficult to understand what teachers really want. 

Even if you've held incredible feedback sessions, misunderstandings can lead to lost time designing around real user challenges and other frustrations.

In order to make the most use out of your user testing, research, and feedback, here are three common responses we hear in conversations with users—and how you can translate them into product features teachers will actually want to use for their in-person and virtual classrooms.

When Grouping Features and Manual Updates Cause User Frustration

What a teacher says: "It's really frustrating to have to update my virtual class list or create groups manually."

What a product owner or designer might hear: "In order to do this, I'd have to re-evaluate the entire permissions system within our product, or re-consider how our rostering system is structured within the app."

What the teacher most likely means: "Automated grouping or classroom management features help me save time. If I can save the group I used last week, I don't have to spend as much time on tech set-up."

How to address the concern: If you're hearing these kinds of comments, take a step back. Boil the comment down to the specific problem, so you can work a solution out with your development team

This might even mean setting aside a proposed solution from a user, like, "I want grouping to happen automatically." Your user might actually be requesting something happen "automatically" because they want to save time. 

Once you understand the nature of your users' problems, you'll likely be able to come up with a time-saving solution that works. (And that won't require a massive overhaul on the back end.)

What Teachers Really Mean By "Differentiate"

What a teacher says: "I want something that differentiates for me." 

What a product owner or designer might hear: "We should work on our product's accessibility. Maybe in the next phase, we could roll out audio features or voice recognition."

What the teacher most likely means: "I wish this product could address content sequencing by finding the appropriate level of difficulty for each of my students." 

How to address the concern: Ensuring that your product uses voice recognition and other inclusive technology whenever possible is important. In fact, we always recommend building digital tools with accessibility in mind.

In a pedagogical context, however, to "differentiate" means to tailor instruction to meet individual needs. Teachers do this in the classroom all the time by grouping students, providing additional individual support, giving visual guides, revisiting topics, or trying different teaching modalities.

Differentiation is certainly related to student accessibility and personalized learning. But teachers who make comments about differentiation are most likely thinking about digital tools that use AI to adapt to a learners' needs. That could look like a content sequence that changes based on students' in-app performance or an additional content review based on student progress.

When a digital tool "differentiates" content for individual learners, teachers have more time to focus on classroom instruction. Your digital tool has an opportunity to help busy teachers work more efficiently and effectively.

How to Interpret Teacher Requests for Automation

What a teacher says: "I hate having to sort through all my students to find out who finished an assignment and who hasn't."

What a product owner or designer might hear: "That sounds frustrating, but fixing this issue could mean re-designing our existing platform to provide up-to-date notifications. There will be major implications for the entire site!"

What the teacher most likely means: "I want to eliminate extra administrative work, like emailing students or checking in with parents when assignments are missing." 

How to address the concern: For teachers, reporting features are often not just about student performance but in-app usage. Are students using the tool at home? Have they completed all their assignments?

When you understand what teachers really want from reporting features, it's easier to set up the back end in order to prioritize real-time updates. Teacher-facing products can easily integrate code or AI to make teachers' lives easier. 

In order to automatically send reminders to students with missing assignments, for example, first work with your developers to create an analytics feature that updates in real time. User research can help your team determine when teachers would find notifications most useful, or when they might be overwhelming. Once you've come up with a solution, rapid prototype testing ensures that your new feature aligns with what teachers need. Have you accurately addressed their concerns?

No matter what type of user feedback you collect, user testing always reveals whether you've accurately translated teacher suggestions into useful edTech product features.  

Over the past year, teachers have come to expect more than ever from edTech products. Now that they understand edTech products can "differentiate" student content in real time or perform other high-level tasks, they'll express these needs in user interviews. 

They just might not use the same terms as edTech designers. They might even express an idea for a solution that sounds complicated on the surface—but that points to a problem that can be solved simply.

The more we all work to understand the shifting needs and user dynamics of teachers, the easier it will be to translate their generous comments, suggestions, and feedback on our products into the features they really want.

Are you still parsing through teacher feedback in order to roll out new features for your learning tool? Drop us a line and tell us how we can help!

May 28, 2021 - No Comments!

Educational Resources for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month & Beyond

This is part of an ongoing series about edTech industry shifts in at-home learning. You can read our related article, "Educational Resources for Talking to Your Kids About Race and Anti-Racism," here.

As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month comes to an end, we wanted to share resources and stories that we’ve enjoyed throughout the month. These resources are dedicated to helping teachers, parents, and edTech product owners learn more about Asian-American history, read more work from Asian-American voices, and better understand our experience.

Below, you'll find books, films, and curriculum guides for discussing the Asian-American experience in the classroom and in homes. We hope that integrating Asian-American history into the classroom extends past May and is adopted year-round. 

As a Filipino-American, I've discovered these resources from talking to members of my own communities. The term "Asian-American"—let alone the entire “Asian Pacific Islander” grouping—is a large umbrella with a complex history. For example, the Philippines alone has 120+ different dialects spoken throughout the country and an uncountable number of cultures among its 7,640 islands.  We've even long debated whether we are Asian, Pacific Islander, or our own ethnic group.

I acknowledge that most of these resources are from the Asian-American community rather than the Pacific Islander community. Any gaps you may notice are my own. We welcome any additional resources from our readers and will continue to add to this list as often as we can!

The recent rise in crimes against Asian-Americans has also sparked many conversations within the Asian-American community about racism. Seeing members of our community on TV as the targets of hate crimes is new and difficult to grasp. Many of us are used to feeling invisible and struggle with asking for help, which can still be seen as a sign of weakness. My friends and I have also talked about feeling guilty about taking attention away from other activist movements like Black Lives Matter. Below, you’ll also find resources that we’ve shared in our previous article about having conversations about racism with students and young children

To the Asian-American community, we feel you, we hear you, and we are with you as you continue to navigate these conversations and advocate for your safety.

On a personal note, I hope you are able to find solace in these stories, feel heard, and connect more with our culture. It’s been quite the experience navigating how to best handle everything going on. Many times, I wanted to brush it off to avoid feelings of shame. We are learning together, and I hope that if this is weighing heavily on your heart, too, that you’re able to find moments of self-compassion and joy on your journey. 

You are not alone, and you are enough.

Written by Cassandra Balbas

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Cassandra Balbas is passionate about designing tools that empower and support educators and students. While working at UC Irvine, she worked closely with students to create inclusive visual design, make student resources more accessible, improve mental and physical health, and foster a well-rounded university experience. In addition to working with college students, Cassandra has worked in product design, nonprofit design, and marketing. 

 

When she isn't designing, you can find Cassandra roaming bookstores or prepping Etsy orders for her shop where she sells Fil-Am inspired stickers, “We Are Sun-Raised”. She also volunteers with the Asian Mental Health Project and is happy to discuss any questions you may have about the organization, upcoming projects, and its mission to end the stigma around mental health in the Asian-American community.

 

For Educators:

Curriculum and Lesson Plans from Asian Americans Advancing Justice 

Curated lesson plans to help teach Asian-American History.

 

Creating the Space to Talk About Race in Your School

A series of articles to help teachers create a safe space to have and encourage discussions around racism in their classroom.

 

Grades K-4:

Here are links to purchasing books from AAPI-owned bookstores, including Bel Canto, Arkipelago Books, and Philippine Expressions Bookshop.

 

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

A beautiful picture book that navigates a young girl’s journey to embracing, loving, and celebrating her Asian features.

 

Superheroes are Everywhere by Kamala Harris

The Vice President shares stories from her life to inspire young children to take action and improve the world around them.

 

A Kids Book About… 

We love this series! They have books about Racism, Systemic Racism, Shame, Immigration, and Diversity, just to name a few. 

 

How to Teach Kids How to Talk About Taboo Topics

In this TED Talk from 4th-grade teacher Liz Kleinrock, the educator shares how she teaches kids to discuss difficult subjects without fear.

 

A Unit to Teach Kids About Microaggressions
This lesson plan will challenge your kids to identify microaggressions and stereotypes about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (or, BIPOC), regardless of how harmless these comments may seem on the surface.

Grades 6-8:

PBS Special on Asian American History

This 6-part docuseries highlights Asian-American history through stories of resilience.

 

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

Gharib, who is half-Egyptian and half-Filipino, speaks to the Asian-American experience and how she navigated the all too common question of “Where are you from?” 

 

Grades 9-12:

“Fe” by Bren Bataclan

This graphic memoir explores the dynamic and relationship between a young gay Filipino and his mother. It is so beautifully honest, and I love that the author discusses issues such as hoarding, which is common in immigrant families.

 

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Chinese is synecdoche for Asians the way Kleenex is for tissues,” writes Hong in her searing essay collection about immigrant identity and the exploration of Asian-American consciousness. Her term “minor feelings” represent the shame, suspicion, and melancholy that she and other Asian Americans feel as they pursue "the American dream" of wealth and success, instead of feeling joy.

 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Novelist Jacob catalogs a series of pressing questions about identity from her young son in this moving graphic memoir. 

 

America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

A heart-wrenching story about Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan’s journey from Binalonan to the US, as he strives for the American dream during the Great Depression.

 

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

Explores the history of Asian Americans.

 

The Farewell

This 2019 film from writer-director Lulu Wang chronicles a Chinese-American family as they navigate a tragic diagnosis.

 

Minari

A Korean-American father uproots his family to pursue the American dream in rural Arkansas in this Oscar-nominated film.

 

Organizations To Follow:

Stop AAPI Hate 

https://stopaapihate.org/
Twitter: @stopaapihate

 

Asian American Justice + Innovation Lab 

https://www.aajil.org/

Instagram: @AAJIL_org

 

Asian Mental Health Project

https://asianmentalhealthproject.com/

Instagram: @asianmentalhealthproject

 

Asian Mental Health Collective

https://www.asianmhc.org/
Instagram: @asianmentalhealthcollective

 

AAPI-Owned Businesses:

Bel Canto Books

https://belcantobooks.net/
Instagram: @belcantobooks

 

Arkipelago Books

https://www.arkipelagobooks.com/

Instagram: @arkipelagobooks

Eastwind Books

https://www.asiabookcenter.com/

Instagram: @eastwindbooks

 

Maomi Bookstore

https://www.maomibooks.com/

Instagram: @maomibookstore

 

Townie Books

https://towniebookscb.indielite.org/

Instagram: @towniebooks

 

27th Letter Books

https://www.27thletterbooks.com/

Instagram: @27thletterbooks

 

LibroFM

https://libro.fm/

Instagram: @librofm

 

A Good Used Book

https://agoodusedbook.com/

Instagram: @agoodusedbook

 

Femme Fire Books

https://femmefirebooks.com/

Instagram: @femmefirebooks

 

Giant Robot Store

https://www.giantrobot.com/

Instagram: @giantrobotstore

 

Waucoma Bookstore

https://www.waucomabookstore.com/

Instagram: @waucomabooks

 

Books and Bites

https://www.etsy.com/shop/BookmarksAndBites

Instagram: @booksandbitesroc

 

Other Resources We Love:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Anti-Asian Violence Resources

‘Model Minority Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks

 

Other Action Items:

In addition to sharing age-appropriate resources with your kids or students, consider tackling other action items and activities, like:

 

  1. Supporting Asian Literature
    1. Request AAPI works for purchase consideration at your local library
    2. Add Asian Lit to your local Little Free Library
    3. Tell publishers how much you’ve enjoyed their published AAPI books and want more of these kinds of books
  2. Raising discussions around the Model Minority Myth.
  3. Initiating discussions with your child and asking them if they’ve seen or experienced moments of racism in their schools, friends, loved ones, or within themselves. Encourage them to share any moments when they believed they might have been racist too. Part of the process of becoming an ally is unlearning the unconscious biases we grew up with. Challenge your kids to set goals and expectations to help combat these thoughts. Speaking about racism should not be limited to marginalized communities.


Thank you for taking the time to use these digital resources to learn more about the Asian-American experience. I’m excited for you to enjoy them and thrilled that you’re interested in learning more about our story. 

May 14, 2021 - No Comments!

Two Ways to Support User Journeys in edTech Products

As we begin to apply lessons from remote learning to new product roll-outs, edTech product owners have a unique opportunity to evaluate how user journeys have changed. With a more nuanced understanding of users' new learning environments, you'll be able to design products that support your users' day-to-day experiences in post-pandemic classrooms. 

User feedback throughout remote learning has also clarified the technological needs of teachers and learners. The increased use of digital learning tools has made all of our users more sophisticated, discerning, and engaged edTech consumers. Redesigns for existing tools must meet this new set of demands and expectations.

Buckle up! Everything in edTech is about to change.

Why the Pandemic Changed edTech User Journeys

The pandemic changed the trajectory of edTech user journeys in ways big and small. 

School schedules are more flexible than ever, and students have far more choice about how they complete projects. Educators are also more sophisticated about how they approach classroom tasks and digital learning, including how they combine technologies to facilitate that learning. 

This means that the universe surrounding your product has fundamentally changed, too. Educators are no longer using individual edTech products in isolated ways. Your edTech product is, in all likelihood, being used in concert with many other products, making integration a key need. If your product is a platform built for school use, user relationships to your product look more like a B2C model than they ever have in the past.

The relevance of future edTech products depends on how well product owners navigate these major shifts in the user journey, from learning environments to individual user needs. In light of these changes, Fall 2021 is the perfect time to refresh your approach to conducting user research and challenge the typical assumptions you start with in edTech product development. 

Here are two areas where we think product owners should revisit user research ahead of Fall 2021 product roll-outs:

Embedding Project-Based Learning Features into Your Learning Tools

We know that student collaboration and project-based learning have an outsized impact on learning outcomes. But the rise of remote learning demonstrated why educators need product owners to embed these approaches directly into their digital learning tools.

Re-thinking the UX design of your collaboration tools in this way requires digging back into your learning content. This could mean re-examining tried-and-true content or lessons already vetted by subject-matter experts. It could also mean re-evaluating user flow and changing how your content is delivered, from teacher-student facilitation to peer learning models. 

When you've already built and tested content designed for one method, it's no small feat to re-imagine it within a different context and for different users. Good UX design teams can look at teacher-student content and help product owners translate it into content that works more effectively for flipped classrooms or peer-to-peer learning environments. 

Although this might seem like an expensive investment, developing better UX for peer learning drives both student and teacher engagement. And as the edTech market becomes more crowded, it's even more important to build meaningful digital learning experiences that extend beyond digital workbooks, virtual lectures, and online quizzes.

Your new approach to peer learning environments can also be quickly validated with lightweight user research and rapid prototyping. Whether you're building project-based learning features, asynchronous online grouping and collaboration tools, or embedding SEL tools into existing content, rapidly building and testing features is an inexpensive way to test new approaches to delivering tried-and-true content. 

With a targeted, lean UXR strategy, you'll ensure that your peer-peer content not only works in a digital format but also meets the needs of future classrooms.

Addressing New edTech User Expectations with Short-Form Content 

It's no coincidence that educational TikTok posts and YouTube channels became ever more popular during the pandemic. Short-form learning content engages users in their curiosity, shapes their expectations about content, and broadens the concept of who a learner is, how they learn, and when they engage with content.

YouTube Channel "The Sci Show" offers easy-to-digest science  content for teens.

Product owners can apply these lessons to digital tools by producing high-quality, short-form learning content of their own. Short-form digital learning content addresses new user expectations while providing multiple engaging pathways to learning. From a production standpoint, short-form learning content is also easier to produce and repurpose for other channels, including just-in-time support for both teachers and students.

If you know that short-form content will drive future products, you should be prepared for how this decision will affect your UX and design strategy. From solutions for search to more personalized dashboards, your learning content should be highly personalized to the user’s journey and easy to browse. 

The more targeted each piece of content is, the more you'll be able to surprise and delight your user with UX and design decisions that support their needs and interests. As industry leaders like Khan Academy have demonstrated, short-form content is ideal for supporting students who need additional support. Videos and other learning aids are capable of breaking down complex concepts into foundational steps. Teachers can supplement their existing instruction plans with high-quality, short-form content and create targeted interventions more quickly. 

In student-facing products, learners think creatively, stay engaged, and exercise additional agency by choosing the types of content that appeal to them. Because digital learning tools are also able to gather data about learner interactions, students can receive content suggestions that personalize their user flow.

Additionally, educators themselves are likely to consume video content on their phones or in between other tasks, a finding supported by our existing user research. These viewing habits make short-form learning content an ideal component of teacher-facing products that offer professional learning, too.

We're at a unique turning point in the edTech industry, and we're never going back to old ways of thinking about digital content or designing digital tools. As you reimagine your user journeys, consider how these shifts are likely to affect your approach to learning content in new and existing products. 

Whether you create new, short-form content or shift teacher-student content toward a peer learning model, your UX team can help you find and test the best solutions for your users.

Are you thinking about making a change for Fall 2021? Contact us today to discuss how new user journeys have shifted your product and feature priorities.