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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!

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


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.



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
Twitter: @stopaapihate


Asian American Justice + Innovation Lab

Instagram: @AAJIL_org


Asian Mental Health Project

Instagram: @asianmentalhealthproject


Asian Mental Health Collective
Instagram: @asianmentalhealthcollective


AAPI-Owned Businesses:

Bel Canto Books
Instagram: @belcantobooks


Arkipelago Books

Instagram: @arkipelagobooks

Eastwind Books

Instagram: @eastwindbooks


Maomi Bookstore

Instagram: @maomibookstore


Townie Books

Instagram: @towniebooks


27th Letter Books

Instagram: @27thletterbooks



Instagram: @librofm


A Good Used Book

Instagram: @agoodusedbook


Femme Fire Books

Instagram: @femmefirebooks


Giant Robot Store

Instagram: @giantrobotstore


Waucoma Bookstore

Instagram: @waucomabooks


Books and Bites

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.

May 5, 2021 - No Comments!

6 Easy SEL Features for Remote Learning Products

When you think about online products with SEL features, what comes to mind? Most likely, you picture a popular mindfulness tool, like the Headspace app, or an edTech tool like BrainPOP. (In our user surveys, teachers never fail to mention the online platform's ever-popular "brain breaks.")

While mindfulness techniques and technology breaks certainly help students develop SEL skills at home, teachers use the term "social emotional learning" differently than most product designers. For educators, incorporating SEL into the classroom means helping students build the social and emotional skills they need to participate successfully in learning environments. This covers a wide range of abilities, including developing strong communication skills, setting individual goals, and taking responsibility for one's actions.

Right now, edTech product owners have a unique opportunity to change their approach to online SEL and better serve the needs of teachers. In fact, your student-facing products already have many features or examples of UX text where you can support SEL growth right away.

Don't retrofit SEL into your product or roll it out in the next phase. Save yourself time, money, and hassle by designing with an SEL mindset from the beginning. You'll win over teachers who already support your product, and make a more valuable tool.

How to Design SEL Features That Teachers Really Want

While some UX solutions for SEL features take longer to design and execute, other design and copy changes are easy to implement in the short term. 

Whether you design subject-specific or content-specific apps, incorporating SEL features should be top of mind as you build. You'll be rewarded with higher levels of user satisfaction and more teacher buy-in for your product.

Here are six meaningful ways you can address SEL growth in your products today.

1. Develop a supportive content strategy

Voice and tone can make or break your product—especially in edTech. If your content team hasn't mindfully considered how you communicate potential error cases to younger students, you may even cause unintentional harm. 

For example, overly technical error messages might indicate to an L2 student that their language choices are wrong, even when they aren't. Similarly, unclear directions or directions written for a more advanced reading comprehension level could overwhelm or discourage young students.

In addition to writing more mindful error notifications, consider how teachers communicate with their students. How can UX copywriting reinforce a student's growth mindset in every interaction? Every product touchpoint, from activity directions to highlighting incorrect quiz answers, is an opportunity to provide students with positive reinforcement.


2. Design affirmative, warm UI

edTech is only now starting to move away from cold, industrial visual design. Whether you're showcasing student achievements or showing students how far they've progressed through your experience, your UI should be friendly, authentic, and genuine.

In addition to color and design, consider incorporating imagery that channels emotion, complements positive UX copy choices, and reinforces a student user's efforts and achievements. Non-verbal cues, like animating a smiling character after a student completes a task, are strong signals to students that they're on the right path in your experience. These small UI decisions model the link between perseverance, effort, and progress, helping learners develop critical social-emotional skills.


3. Anticipate teacher-student touchpoints

In order to help students build self-awareness and self-management skills, teachers often begin their days with an emotional touch base. They also use verbal or non-verbal cues throughout class to help students become more aware of their feelings. By incorporating similar cues and touchpoints into digital learning tools, you can support SEL growth in edTech, too.

Non-verbal cues are especially helpful for students who have difficulty reading emotions. When apps include visual cues that emulate human contact, students see appropriate emotional models for sadness, frustration, and happiness. This tactic is at work in plenty of consumer products already—just think about how happy that DuoLingo owl is when you go on a streak!

4. Improve onboarding experiences

Teachers often onboard students to new products as they learn about the product themselves. When digital tools anticipate the needs of students during the onboarding process, it takes the burden off of teachers and eliminates student frustration or confusion.

If you're designing a product meant for young learners, consider using a visual overlay to help students focus on the most important task on each screen. You might even incorporate a voice-over to provide sequential narration, or use visual cues that follow a student as they move through the experience at their own pace. These UX and UI strategies provide immediate feedback for learners and reinforce their successes throughout the experience.

5. Create synchronous activities for remote learning

Now that so many students and teachers must learn remotely, planning synchronous activities helps create a collective classroom experience. Whether your product collects up-votes in real time or provides space for student-created content, you'll give students more opportunities to develop their social skills in remote environments. Even if we return to the classroom full time, teachers appreciate the added flexibility of being able to shift between synchronous and asynchronous activities in digital tools.


6. Help students develop more agency over their learning

Learner agency and decision-making is a crucial component of SEL growth. Product owners can support this by providing students more opportunities to take charge of their digital learning experiences. This might look like giving students the chance to set their own goals within an app or offering a wider range of genres or topics to choose from in a digital reading platform.

From affirmation and error messages to onboarding experiences, you're already building a digital tool with opportunities to strengthen student SEL skills online. Why wait to roll out SEL features in the next design phase? 

Incorporating a growth mindset into your digital tools pays off immediately. When you incorporate SEL features into remote learning tools, you support the needs of real student users—and make it even easier for teachers to adopt your tool in their classroom.

Are you developing SEL features for your new product? Contact us today to find out how we can help.