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April 14, 2021 - No Comments!

Team Spotlight: Pantea Parsa

Welcome to our Team Member Spotlight! Every month we interview a member of our team and highlight their unique contributions to Backpack. We're a close-knit, interdisciplinary team, and we love to share how our experiences inform everything from UX research to visual design. Learn all about our approach to UX—not to mention staff secrets, hidden talents, and the things we can't live without.

Pantea Parsa, Designer

picture of pantea with orange and blue borderWhat was your first grade teacher's name?

Her name was Mrs. Ghadimi and we loved her very much. I remember that it was her last year of teaching and we were all sad that we can’t see her in the school next year.

What is your essential work-from-home comfort item?

I have a new wall calendar called Kitties for Social Justice. It’s been great to plan my week while looking at the kitty pictures that come with a socially conscious quote.

You were born and raised in Tehran, Iran. What do you miss most from back home?

I think one thing I miss the most from Tehran is my grandma’s house where I spent most of my childhood in.

What are you currently reading? 

I’m reading a book called Educated by Tara Westover. It’s the story of how she overcame her survivalist family to go to school. It’s really interesting so far and I like the way she describes things.

What's been your favorite moment working with Backpack so far?

During my first week at Backpack I illustrated a sea turtle as an avatar for a project. Our client really liked it and I later found out that the turtle was very sentimental and meaningful for them. It felt great that I am part of something so meaningful and impactful.

What's something you are currently learning?

illustration of kids playing

    Sneak peek of an SEL post-- coming soon!

I am currently learning how to animate using After Effects. This has been in my to-do list for awhile and I finally got the chance to learn it by creating illustrations and animation for a blog post about SEL in edTech products (coming soon!). I’m really grateful for my team that encouraged me and gave me the space to be creative and to learn new skills.

Follow Pantea and see more of her work on Linkedin. 

February 24, 2021 - No Comments!

Team Spotlight: Monica Sherwood

Welcome to our Team Member Spotlight! Every month we interview a member of our team and highlight their unique contributions to Backpack. We're a close-knit, interdisciplinary team, and we love to share how our experiences inform everything from UX research to visual design. Learn all about our approach to UX—not to mention staff secrets, hidden talents, and the things we can't live without.

Monica Sherwood, UX Research Lead

Photo of Monica

What was your 1st grade teacher's name and what was your favorite thing about them?

My first grade teacher was Ms. Danca. She was kind, fun, and inspired me to become a teacher. 

What is your essential work-from-home comfort item at the moment?

My cozy Backpack Interactive blanket of course! And my French press. 

What has been your favorite moment working with Backpack so far?

Forming the Backpack Teacher Council! As a former teacher, it’s been great to create connections with current educators and continually gain insights into their experiences with digital products. 

What are you working on outside of work?

Writing! My debut novel for middle graders, The Ice House, is coming out in Fall 2021! And practicing the ukulele. 

You write a lot about UX research for our insights blog, so what is one thing you wish product owners understood about UXR?

UXR allows teams to align their priorities, check their assumptions, and learn actionable information about what matters most to users. UXR can help empower product owners to make difficult decisions around prioritization and features, and justify those decisions to stakeholders. 

Follow Monica: 

Twitter
Goodreads

February 22, 2021 - No Comments!

What’s the Future of edTech in the Classroom? Two Teachers Weigh In

From tech to teaching strategies, educators are doing their best to reach students in remote, hybrid, and in-person classroom environments. They still face unique challenges, including flagging student engagement online and accommodating special needs in remote environments.

We talked to two teachers who are members of Backpack Interactive's Teacher Council, Dannielle Rivera and Daniel Nero, to find out which digital tools are helping them effectively reach students, how their teaching plans continue to evolve, and the future of education technology in their classrooms.

Dannielle Rivera teaches 2nd grade in a public school in suburban Southern California. Daniel Nero is a fourth-year English teacher at a Title I high school in Las Vegas, Nevada. These conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Integrating edTech into Remote Learning

How are you currently teaching? Hybrid? Remote only? How's it going?

Dannielle Rivera: I'm completely remote. I'm the grade level chair for my department. I created a Google website and told my teachers we were going to create tech tutorial videos so [students and parents] can access them on their own. The biggest feat [is] tech knowledge for parents and students. Now when parents watch [our tutorials], they're not messaging me like, "Oh, my gosh, I can't do this."

Daniel Nero: It's hybrid. Some of my students are in person, whereas I'm, as you can see, at home. But I could always jump into the building if I wanted to teach.

What was your remote teaching plan like last September? Which digital tools did you start out using?

DR: The first two weeks was just teaching the kids how to log on. I tried to premeditate those things. I made their Clever badges and attached them to pre-made folders. They're 7 and 8. As resilient as they are, I have to remind myself what is age-appropriate. To what extent can I push them?

At first, we were converting everything to digital worksheets. We would screenshot the page and make it a background on Google Slides. Then we switched over to Jamboard because on Google Slides, they couldn't annotate. We just had to learn over time.

DN: When I teach in person, there's a lot of paper, there's a lot of hands-on activities. And all of that disappeared when we switched over to remote learning. I had to digitize all of the texts that we're [reading].

A lot of the skills that we did on paper—like annotation, highlighting, taking notes, answering questions—all of that also became digitized, and I had a lot of trouble transferring those necessary skills to remote instruction because I had a hard time finding the tools to be able to do that.

I was using Google Docs, collaborative Google Slides, and Pear Deck, but I decided to cut back on a lot of these apps and try to make it as simple, consistent, and doable for the kids.

How has your remote teaching plan evolved?

DN: One thing that I brought into remote learning is socio-emotional learning. Because a lot of our kids right now are struggling, not only academically, but emotionally. A lot of things that happen at home are aggravated because they're stuck at home. I just wanted to check in on them and tie social-emotional learning to what we've read, or what has happened in the news.

Pairing Instructional Strategies for Remote Learning with Digital Tools

Which specific modes of teaching have you gravitated toward?

DR: For math, we use whole group instruction and independent instruction. Students are also given the opportunity to work collaboratively in small groups in Google Meet rooms. I've evolved to [using] Jamboard and the HoverCam. Jamboard is great, but there is just something about pencil and paper. They can either solve the problems and show their work digitally through Jamboard, or they can solve it on pencil and paper or whiteboard and a marker and take a picture of their work. After taking a picture, students then insert the image into their Jamboard assignment, which is linked to our Google Classroom.

Language arts is an orchestrated set of tasks and lessons, and we have a lot of moving pieces. It entails 1:1 assessments, whole group instruction, small group instruction, and group work through Google Meet rooms. Because we have kids that go to reading intervention groups or speech, we also have independent work.

DN: We mostly do synchronous instruction through Zoom. Regardless of whether the students are in person or not, they're on Zoom. On Fridays, we have one-on-one office hours, and students jump into the Zoom call based on [their needs]. Within the Zoom call we sometimes go into breakout rooms where we have small group instruction. So we're trying to mimic what we had in person, but in an online setting.

What activity, subject, practice have you found the most difficult to translate to remote learning?

DN: Discussions. I love to talk to students, especially if we're talking about the text that we're tackling. But because of remote learning, I feel like a lot of the students are very quiet, shy, or just not willing to participate. I truly miss discussions because I get to see the students' faces. I get to hear their voices. I get to hear their opinions. But in online settings, all I see are black screens sometimes.

Using edTech and SEL to Reach Struggling Students and Promote Self-Efficacy

What strategies or tools have you tried to reach students who are struggling with remote learning?

DR: Our special needs students are truly struggling. This is not the proper way of learning for them. My heart breaks for them. Because many of their parents have to work, the kids that are thriving are the kids who have a grandparent sitting with them.

While students are working on independent work, I open up another Google Meets room for students that are stuck or need help with a problem. This alleviates them from reaching their frustration level.

I've also adapted the lessons. When I try to meet with the parents of my struggling students, I really adjust their work. For example, if it takes four problems to complete an exit ticket or complete an assessment, I tell the parents, "You pick two."

I also like to focus on the social-emotional aspect. What should be the forefront of our concern is the social-emotional states of our students. That has to be a priority because if that is not in tune, then they can't do the academics.

DN: For the students who are struggling, or just about grade level, I put a lot of scaffolds in my lessons. Everything is scaffolded up to the assessment. I tell them that at the beginning of each class. "We're going to have this as the assessment today, and everything that you're going to do for the next hour, you're going to need to show me for your exit ticket."

How has remote learning fostered positive outcomes in your students?

DR: They're becoming more tech savvy. They've become more responsible in some ways, like taking ownership of their work. These are the kids that are succeeding. Obviously, a lot of things can become frustrating, so we've had our share of breakdowns. They've really had to learn how to self-regulate their emotions. I feel like their coping mechanisms have gotten better in times of struggle.

DN: Student accountability. On Pear Deck, I can see who is writing and who is not writing, and I would narrate on Zoom, "Awesome! Thanks, Ashley, for giving me your answer. I'm waiting on four more people to respond to this prompt." A lot of the students are also starting to become critics of their own writing. It's related to the students finding a way to sustain themselves in their writing and their reading. That makes me feel good. At least for me, that's my responsibility as a teacher. I'm there to guide them, but once they're ready to fly free, they can.

How edTech Product Designers Can Address Real Classroom Needs

As you consider returning to the classroom for full-time instruction, which elements from remote or hybrid learning would you continue to use?

DR: One of the things that I've learned is grace and being more gracious towards parents. I've always considered myself to communicate well with parents, but I feel like I've just learned how to talk to parents a little bit differently.

I would also take a lot of the tutorials that we do. Let's say a student is struggling, and a parent can't meet with me. I can record a screencast of a demo. I feel like you waste so much more time trying to coordinate or schedule meetings. You can definitely hold parent teacher conferences virtually. There are these families that bend over backwards to try to make it in the middle of the day when they can just pop on their phones and not have to deal with driving and stuff.

We are living in Google Classroom right now. And I'd definitely love to take that with me into the normal classroom. I was already using Google Classroom quite a bit, but now we have this archive of videos, so independent work in a classroom will look so different now. I feel like it will free me up to meet with small groups more.

DN: Consistency and the simplicity of my lessons. It's working right now, so it should work in the classroom with a printer and paper and all that stuff. I think it should be fun.

The strategy that I would hold on to even more is to just make sure that I put the students first. Sometimes I'll be doing my lesson, and the students are not responding or I'm having low participation, and I get frustrated as a teacher. I just have to keep reminding myself that this is our new normal right now, and we have no idea what's happening to our students on the inside or behind the screen, at home. So I just have to bring myself back down to reality. You don't know what's happening. And you have to give them that.

What's something that you wish one of your current learning products did that it doesn't currently do?

DR: I wish more of the products had SEL components ingrained into them. For example, when they're taking an assessment, iReady has them take a "brain break," like breathing exercises or stopping to do something active.

I wish more products had video tutorials for students and parents. I wish some of the programs had a live chat with customer service so I could solve problems faster.

I wish there was a way to set up my break out rooms in Google Meet, name them, and save the grouping settings. That way I wouldn't have to make new break out groups every single time.

DN: I would like to be able to link to a text in Pear Deck, so students could annotate that whole passage. Right now, I have to chunk the texts out into different slides. I also wish it had a student comment function. Only teachers can comment.

Using Teacher Feedback to Shape the Future of Education Technology

From onboarding parents to anticipating student needs, teachers are working overtime to ensure that their students are mastering content and staying safe, healthy, and balanced.

When edTech products don't rise to meet teachers' demands for flexibility or SEL content, they find work-arounds and tailor solutions to the needs of their own classrooms.

Product owners can still do more to understand how teachers use and adapt their digital tools. By conducting additional UXR, testing products in real or remote classrooms, and drawing on the insights of the Backpack Interactive Teacher Council, your next edTech product can help teachers meet even more students where they are.

Want more insights on how our Teacher Council can help with your next edTech product? Let's talk!

January 28, 2021 - No Comments!

How to Pivot Your edTech Product Directly to Consumers

As an edTech firm, you've already seen the push for learning products that work in the home. Does that mean it's time to adopt a new, business-to-consumer (B2C) strategy?

After all, you're used to designing products that help teachers facilitate a learning experience in the classroom. And you're used to marketing to administrators who want solutions their entire district can adopt.

The shift to a B2C strategy takes an entirely new mindset. In the direct-to-consumer model, you'll make or redesign learning products for an entirely new buyer—parents—that work in an entirely new environment—the home. This scenario opens up a new set of design questions, challenges, and rewards.

We're here to help you make the leap.

How COVID-19 Changed Traditional Classrooms and Classroom Technology

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of being able to learn anywhere—not just in a classroom setting. Thanks to remote learning, teachers have created greater continuity between technology used in the classroom and technology used in the home.

As a result, parents now understand they can have a more active role in their child's education. They'll take on that role as a more regular buyer and facilitator of edTech. Since students are now spending more time in front of screens, parents will want the hours their children devote to an app or a computer to be used for high-quality learning experiences.

With parents taking the lead in edTech consumption, the demand for highly engaging learning tools and digital experiences will only continue to grow. New digital experiences can even be student-led, or take place outside of a formal curriculum. While students won't necessarily engage with products that look and feel like school in the home, they can still learn from fun or engaging products.

Even as life returns to normal, these industry-wide shifts won't disappear any time soon. Traditional education publishers and edTech start-ups now have a good case for expanding their reach and putting high-quality content directly in front of consumers.

Here are three suggestions you can use to get started with your own pivot to the B2C market.

Lean on User Experience Research (UXR)

If teachers and students typically use your product in a school setting, you'll have to re-think your approach to both UXR and testing as you pivot to the consumer market.

We tend to think about schools as controlled environments, but individual homes are more of a wild card. Preparing to address this new environment should help you generate an entirely different set of questions about functionality, accessibility, and user needs. For example:

  • Are parents the buyer persona for your product?
  • Do they need their own portal?
  • How much onboarding support will a student need outside of a school environment to use your product effectively?
  • Will parents be the ones who provide that onboarding support?

In addition to researching and testing your product with both parents and kids, you'll have to cast a wider net in order to find the right number of subjects. Unlike testing products designed for a more formal educational environment, you won't have to rely as heavily on subject matter or teaching experts for feedback.

UserTesting.com and other virtual learning platforms can help you recruit the new types of users you're looking for. Use your company's networks to find as many people as you can without narrowing your field too drastically. You'll want to develop the right balance of both ethnic and geographic diversity to get the results that will be most helpful for your UXR process.

Address the Biggest edTech Concerns of Parents

Learning products have a completely different set of stakes in the home environment. Unlike teachers, parents aren't under the same amount of pressure to push kids across a finish line or encourage them to stick with a tool that challenges them.

Parents do, however, have a different set of emotional concerns than educators. From screen time to physiological well-being, parents have a heightened awareness of their child's relationship to technology in the home.

All parents hope their "student" user will stay engaged with a learning product for their own benefit. From a design standpoint, we encourage clients pivoting to the consumer market to embrace gameplay and problem-solving narratives. Consumer products can deliver rich gaming experiences that teachers wouldn't necessarily be interested in—or have time to incorporate into their curriculum. Consumer learning products can also incorporate fun activities with game mechanics, like DuoLingo, to keep students engaged as they learn new concepts.

With the rise of remote learning, parents also want their child's social-emotional learning (SEL) to stay on track. By placing a greater emphasis on the social aspect of your game or product, you can build community, even among young users. In school environments, the community component of edTech products is automatically safe and controlled. While this can be a challenge to address in consumer eTech products, building safe communities ultimately helps with SEL growth and addresses fundamental parent concerns about technology in the home.

Involve Marketing Stakeholders in edTech Product Design

From a marketing perspective, pivoting your edTech product from a B2B to B2C model could be a significant challenge. As an edTech company, you likely market directly to educators and administrators, which means you don't already have strong consumer marketing channels in place.

That doesn't mean your pivot won't work—just that you need to develop a different strategy to ensure your pivot is a successful one!

If you're considering marketing directly to consumers, it's important to involve your marketing stakeholders from the beginning stages of product design. Strong UX designers can provide your marketing team with basic guidance about how to reach parents, rather than an educator or administrator, with the right values-based language.

Parents need reassurance that their child will enjoy and engage with your product. After all, even when you're marketing edTech products directly to consumers, you're still selling a learning tool designed for skill development, rather than pure entertainment. By participating in early design meetings, your marketing team can think through parent needs and expectations as your product's features come to life.

Through competitive research and experience in the field, your designers might also suggest consumer companies that could make a good fit for distribution partnerships. You may want to bring in a consumer marketing company as a consultancy for even more rigorous support. Whatever route you take, the sooner you involve marketing stakeholders in the design process, the sooner your new B2C marketing and distribution strategy can take shape.

By embracing user experience research, cultivating a deeper understanding of your parent persona, and collaborating with your marketing team, you'll be able to pivot your product from B2B to B2C with ease. Now that edTech has changed for good, your company will also be ready to address the ongoing challenges of remote and hybrid learning with engaging, high-quality learning content. Learning can happen anywhere—but only if you design the right tools to facilitate it.

Want to talk more about the UX solutions that can help your edTech product take off in the consumer market? Contact us!