How Good UX Design Provides a Safe edTech Environment for Online Student Interaction

Monica Sherwood bio picture Monica Sherwood

We all saw how challenging it was for teachers to keep their students engaged during remote learning. If anything, it’s made us rethink the role of edTech in supporting peer-to-peer learning interactions and building classroom communities within digital products. 

Maybe you’ve already been tasked with creating more opportunities for students to interact with their peers within your digital tools. Or maybe you’re looking for new ways to incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) features into your existing products and need inspiration for the peer-to-peer aspect of collaboration tools. 

Whatever your user engagement goals might be for 2021, strong UX and design principles can help you make more valuable social interaction features for your users. 

By breaking down social interactions into smaller, more manageable units, you’ll avoid the privacy challenges and legal constraints that large, open-ended platforms present. You’ll also make it easier for teachers to manage and monitor online student interactions, all while keeping students who use your tools safe.

Helping Students Successfully Navigate Digital Interactions in edTech 

Educators value student-student collaboration tools because they offer ways to foster community in individual classrooms. These features also help students improve their SEL skills by working with their peers. But what happens when product owners want to introduce these same features to connect students from different classrooms—or different parts of the world?

Expanding your platform beyond individual classrooms will immediately bring privacy and safety issues to the forefront. If your goal is to support learning interactions between classrooms or create a large online community of student users, you must address state and federal privacy standards for students, as well as legal constraints around user-produced content. If best practices for building and maintaining social platforms aren’t followed from the beginning of your design process, your platform runs the risk of enabling real harm. 

Even though this process presents design and safety challenges, it’s possible to navigate these concerns safely. The digital platform, for example, offers a strong model for connecting individual learners to a larger digital community. Student-generated content is shared with guardians via the app. Family members then choose whether to share this content with the larger DIY community by signing a consent form; they even retain the ability to ‘approve’ each submission from their child. This added layer of informed consent mitigates privacy challenges and involves parents directly in the process of community engagement.

No matter how big your digital community is, the goal of any online learning tool with social features is to help students communicate with, and learn from, their peers. Whether your learning tool supplements in-person lessons or provides a digital space for students to collaborate remotely, safe, successful student interaction is the key to effective learning, high engagement, and product adoption.


How to Support Teachers Building Online Communities

As we build digital platforms and online communities in edTech, we must consider how well-equipped educators are to address online bullying, teach digital citizenship, and foster other forms of online community building. 

After all, without the support of busy educators, community-based products are less likely to be adopted and championed. Here are four ways you can support teachers on your digital platform—without adding to their heavy workload.


  1. Develop Simple Monitoring Features

Especially in secondary education environments, teachers need easy administrative tools for reviewing and approving student content before publishing it to the entire class. This might even look like lightly monitored AI chat to streamline a teacher’s initial screening.

In higher education, students are able to self-monitor more effectively. When students are able to flag comments or use up- and down-voting features, instructors quickly become aware of problematic content or positive classroom trends. 


  1. Incorporate Digital Citizenship Learning Content

Even in closely monitored environments, students need constant reminders of positive online behavior. By developing professional content for teachers about digital citizenship, we can support them as they model positive behavior for their students. 

But digital citizenship is about more than giving teachers tools to avoid bad student behavior. It’s also about helping students become supportive members of an online classroom. The more teacher-facing content your product provides to help teachers develop positive online environments, the more useful your product will be.


  1. Offer Detailed Student Reporting

When teachers can see more detailed information about student participation, it’s easier for them to understand classroom trends. Reports that identify forms of student engagement, from commenting habits to trending topics, give teachers tools to stage behavioral interventions, praise hard work, or simply further engage their class.


  1. Anticipate Educator Needs for SEL Features

In addition to designing subject-matter content or sequencing tools, consider how your product helps teachers address the SEL growth of their students

Teachers may wish to build in reflective prompts about process or collect student feedback that addresses community dynamics. They may even wish to pose questions to students and track student reactions. Prompts like “How are you feeling today?” or “How do you feel about this assignment?” can help students reflect on their emotional states and ask for support as needed.

Successful UX Design for Digital Student Communities 

In addition to supporting teachers through good UX, your product can make it easier for students to engage successfully with their peers. 

From profiles to trending topics, here are four best practices to keep in mind as you develop features for student learning communities within your next product.


  1. Design More Effective Student Profiles

Build a student profile for each participant. This profile should include more than the student’s name or student ID number. Consider mechanisms that create and track reputation, as well. 

As student users build their reputation within your platform, they’ll become more thoughtful about their online social interactions. When individual student interactions are tracked and logged, it’s easier for educators to hold students accountable for their behavior. It’s easier for students to self-monitor their behavior, too. 


  1. Develop Badges and Credentials

Reputation building is about more than preventing bad behavior online. Whether you use badges or other forms of credentialing, the “public” celebration of student achievement makes a positive reputation something to be proud of.

Credentialing also creates peer “experts” on your platform. Students can help one another in peer-to-peer online learning environments, or teachers can identify student leaders and group their classrooms more easily.


  1. Encourage User Feedback 

In order to safely build evidence of student participation in your digital community, encourage student feedback and ratings. We see these models work effectively in consumer products all the time, whether that’s Netflix’s most popular shows or the trending topics sidebar on Twitter. 

In an edTech context, student agency directly affects community building. From the most popular science projects to the best middle-grade reads, students find meaning in what their peers are learning and enjoying. 

Showing how these trends change in different contexts offers additional learning opportunities, too. Students will find new levels of meaning in discovering how the popular science project in their class compares to the most popular project in their school—or even their country.

Whether you show teachers that 20 students gave a digital book four stars or show students trending topics and projects across your platform, digital trends offer a safe and exciting way to build community for young learners.


  1. Offer a Range of Media Responses

Gone are the days of requiring 500-word student reflections. Digital media-savvy students may be able to communicate just as effectively through photography, video, or audio responses. 

Whether students shoot a commercial on their iPhone, build a diorama, or create a podcast, your product can reflect the legitimacy of multimedia responses for both teachers and students.

The most successful digital communities foster student engagement and set students up to learn from interactions with their peers. By anticipating how to better support the needs of both teachers and students in these interactions, you’ll ensure a safer classroom environment for everyone, while streamlining the administrative burden for educators. 

You’ll also help students become better digital citizens—skills they’ll need to succeed in online environments far into the future. After more than a year of remote learning and working, that’s a win-win.

Are you building interactive features into your student-facing products for Fall 2021? Contact us today to discuss how good UX design creates better digital environments for teachers and students.

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