June 10, 2021

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!

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Published by: Monica Sherwood in Digital Strategy