What I did
UX research, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing
Our project from DESIGNATION was to improve communication between parents and students. We gained experience applying the design thinking process to the creation of the app InterAct.
Research showed parents getting involved in a student’s education increases performance. We had to come up with a way to improve student-parent communication that worked for both parties.
Through talking to users we found a solution that worked for both parents and students. Students wanted their parents more involved in what they were learning, but parents didn’t know how to be more involved or were too busy. We created a mobile app that allowed students to upload their work so parents could see it and provide positive reinforcement. Both parents and students liked the idea and felt it would allow them to communicate in a way that worked for them.
Exploring the domain
We searched for sites that provided educational services to schools. This allowed us to better understand how parents and students were already communicating. We started our research looking at the following companies:
We analyzed each site to see what they offered for parents and students. Class Dojo, Fresh Grade, Seesaw, and Skyward were the best sites we looked at because they supported parental involvement by allowing parents to see students work. Blackboard and Power School didn’t support much parental interaction at all. Users could only check grades for classes and assignments.
We noticed the best sites for parental involvement weren’t geared toward high school students. The visual design of these sites is for a younger audience. They also required teachers to upload content which takes student freedom away. We did not find a site high school students could buy into which supported ways for parents to get involved.
Understanding our users
Understanding the student-parent relationship would be a vital part of our research. We decided to talk to high school students and parents as our primary users. In addition, we talked to teachers, since they interact with both parents and students on a daily basis. We also sent a survey to students and parents to get additional information on their relationship around education.
We learned that most high school students want their parents to get involved with what they are learning. We understood what getting involved in a student’s education looks like to parents.
“I want my parents to see the amount of work I put into getting that grade.” – Timothy, Student
This quote struck a chord with me. I thought this idea was getting to the core of what a student wants from their parents about education. From our research, most parents looked at grades and nothing else. Almost no thought went into the work students did to get the grades their parents demanded. With this in mind, we decided that this would be the core feature of our app. We wanted to give students a way to provide context to their grades, while bringing their parents into the learning process.
“They want to be more involved, but they don’t want to interfere with my studies. If there were other ways though, they would want to help out.” – Christina, Student
Some parents want to be more involved, but don’t know how without interfering with their kids’ personal progress. We determined our design needed to accommodate many ways of communicating. Parents and students needed to be able to decide what way works best for their relationship.
“A lot of parents are single parents and have to work. Sometimes the welfare of our child’s education is sacrificed.” – Michelle, Parent
This was a common theme we noticed throughout our interviews: the lack of time that parents had to get involved in their kids’ education. Our solution had to allow for quick interactions to fit these parents’ schedules.
“I think some of them would like to be more involved, but I think they just don’t know the means to get involved.” – Anna, Teacher
This quote is something we heard a lot in our interviews with parents and teachers. Schools didn’t do a great job of educating parents on how to get more involved. We had to find a way to educate parents on the issue.
My initial assumption about students and parents could not have been more wrong—our interviews and survey results showed students wanted their parents more involved in school.
Based on our research we needed a student and parent persona. Understanding the frustrations and motivations of our users would be key going forward.
Whitney has overbearing parents who never appreciated the work she does at school. We found that parental approval was a necessary element for increased success. Students wanted to show their parents how hard they worked. Through our research we heard from teachers that most parents only check grades on the parent portal. Rarely do they get more involved unless something is wrong.
Whitney is a good student and puts in the work. There are points throughout her day where she is anxious or upset. She worries about getting a grade her parents won’t be happy with. We identified some areas where we could improve her life by providing more context to her work. This fosters better understanding between Whitney and her parents.
Lauren is busy but cares about getting involved in her son’s academic career. She is having a hard time finding a way to get more involved with her son. We had to allow for different ways to communicate, so Lauren could find a way that works for her son.
Lauren cares about her son’s education but lacks an effective way to communicate. She gets a notification from the school about a recent grade. She tries to contact her child, but he doesn’t answer. Through this journey, we identified areas that we could help Lauren with her issues. We can give her multiple ways to communicate so she can find one that works for her family.
Synthesize and define
Getting to the problem was not easy for us. One of my teammates suggested doing the “5 Why’s” exercise to help narrow our focus. We started with a general statement of the problem and asked why until we reached the underlying issue for both users.
That exercise led us to the following conclusions:
- Students wanted their parent’s approval of their work at school.
- Students wanted more involvement but didn’t want to lose any of their independence.
- Parents felt disconnected from their students due to lack of time or ways to get involved.
We determined students wanted increased involvement in the learning process. Parents needed a way to get involved that fit their lives and communication styles.
We created a few guidelines to help us in designing our solution. Ineffective communication was the biggest pain point among our users so we needed to make sure it was the center of our design process.
Our focus on improving communication with our concepts would help solve the issues facing students and parents.
Refocusing our efforts
At this point we realized we needed to rethink our competitors. We looked at sites like Fresh Grade and Class Dojo but based on the problem we needed to solve they didn’t match up.
We changed our focus and looked at apps like WeChat, Instagram and Medium. These sites allowed for users to upload different types of media for users to see. We also looked at the app Digit for its text message notification features. This provided a new perspective for what we needed to do next, create concepts that put these insights into action.
My idea allowed for students to upload text, photos, and videos of their work. For parents, they would get notified when there was a new post and they could comment or like the work posted. This idea came from students in our research who wanted to show their parents the hard work they put into their grades. Video content was the main focus of my concept. Another feature was something we called Grade Delay. Students were able to delay a grade notification for up to 24 hours. This gave some freedom to students to choose when to notify their parents about a grade.
The grade delay feature was received well by students. They felt it gave them the opportunity to explain things to their parents if needed. We sought to use this feature to give students independence and build trust with their parents.
The main feature of the concept was the ability to leave audio comments in response to uploaded work. Other features included the ability to sort by classes and a calendar for extracurriculars and assignments.
The calendar and extracurricular features of the second concept were liked by parents and students. They said it was easy to forget about upcoming events or assignments, so this feature would help them keep up with their kid’s schedules. The audio commenting feature was a favorite among parents, who felt it was a better way to communicate emotion and build the relationship through supportive messages.
The last concept prioritized educating users and notification features. The main feature of this concept was a chatbot that aided parents’ communication. It would offer suggestions on how to respond to work based on previous interactions. It also served as the engine for notifications. Users could set reminders of upcoming assignments or be notified when work was uploaded.
The chatbot feature was confusing to users in its current form. The notifications feature of the chatbot was well received. Parents said it was easy to forget what was due or dates of tests, so getting notifications about that would be useful.
Overall the main feature of the app, uploading student work, was well received by parents and students. Students felt it gave them the opportunity to show their parents the hard work they did at school. Parents liked that they were more connected to their student’s school work and allowed them better ways to communicate about school with their kids.
“This would solve the problem of having no idea what my 13 year old is up to at school.” – Christa, Parent
This was one of the goals we had for InterAct. Parents found that using InterAct would increase their ability to keep up to date on their kid’s progress.
We put our refined prototypes into the hands of users too see what they would think. From these tests we decided on the final feature set our app would have.
Uploading content: This was the primary feature of our app, allowing students to upload their work in the format of their choice. Students could leave messages and reactions on assignment posts; parents were able to comment via text and audio while also being able to like posts. In testing, both parents and students thought this would be useful. This feature was designed so Whitney could help her parents understand the work she puts into her grades.
Calendar: Both parents and students needed a single place to track upcoming assignments and events. In further testing, this proved to be a very valuable feature for parents and students. Our users said this would help them remember school events and assignment due dates.
Customized notifications: Users found the chatbot confusing and were never sure what it could do. However, users did like its notifications feature, so we condensed the chatbot to customizable notifications for parents.
Audio Commenting: This feature came from looking at our competitors. It helped users who were unable to communicate well in English interact with their kid’s work. We saw it as a feature that helped users like Lauren communicate emotion better than with text.
“Talk about it later”: Originally called grade delay, this feature was well-received by students, who appreciated the independence of being in control of when parents see their grades.
In our testing, the chatbot didn’t perform very well with our users. They had trouble understanding what a chatbot is and what it could do for them. With more time, we’d test new versions of the chatbot a help users understand its purpose better.
Another future opportunity is to turn InterAct into a Learning Management System by including teachers. Though that dilutes the core experience of the app, it expands into other subjects and features that are still very important to the parent-student relationship. This would require much more research and testing, but our team found it to be an interesting future for InterAct.
After our research and testing, we created a solution that both students and parents found value in. They both felt that InterAct would help them communicate in a way that fits their unique relationship.
Throughout this project, I gained considerable experience in multiple areas. I learned how I would synthesize research more quickly and effectively by being more organized with our affinity diagram. I greatly increased my proficiency creating wireframes and prototyping with Axure. I would take this improvement and a new way of approaching research into my next project, AnySpace.