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Final teacher and parent dashboard screens.

 

 

summary

 

 

Timeline: 4 weeks

CHALLENGE: Goalfish was a hypothetical, digital product. My team was hired (hypothetically) by the National PTA to design a digital product to build relationships, instill trust, and foster communication between teachers and parents of middle school students in all communities for the purpose of improving student achievement and outcomes across all relevant school activities.

PROCESS: My team and I realized that having gone through middle school and being a parent of a middle school student were two very different concepts. Since none of us were parents or teachers of middle school students, we started out with research. We conducted user research, competitive analysis and read a number of articles pertaining to parental involvement in the middle school years. We found some key insights that allowed us to move forward with initial design concepts. We found that during the middle school years, parental involvement declines significantly for a few key reasons: 1. There are more teachers per student, 2. The curriculum becomes more challenging, 3. Parents are often unclear of their role. Knowing this, we wanted to design a platform that would make it easier for parents to be involved that didn’t include the useless 10 minute parent/teacher conferences or another app that they had to download and then never use again. When testing our initial concepts, a SMART goal setting program, a quick activities program, and a communication portal, 66% of parents and teachers agreed that a platform that combined all three of those concepts would be ideal. Without “Frankensteining” the concepts together, we determined that the SMART goal setting would be the primary feature and the quick activities and communication portal would be the secondary features.

SOLUTION: In the end, we designed a platform that fostered meaningful conversation between parents and teachers of middle school students centered around the most important puzzle piece, the students. Our users were excited about the product and felt that it would fit into their current workflows with ease. We were commended by our panel of guest design critics for thinking outside of the box and not just designing another generic communication tool.

 

[Click HERE to view some key screens of Goalfish.]

(I designed all desktop screens.)

 

 

for more detail and visuals on this project, keep on reading below!


 

I was one of 3 UX designers tasked with designing a digital platform to build relationships, instill trust and foster communication between parents and teachers of middle school students. The transition from elementary to middle school is a tricky time and it is important to make sure that parents and teachers are involved, and stay involved, in the right way as the student navigates through the years.

We focused on a design that would help to facilitate parental involvement during the crucial middle school years. We had four weeks to research, prototype, conduct user testing and iterate. This project taught me how to develop a design process and how each step and deliverable has an impact on the design decisions.

 

Understanding the landscape

 

 

In order to better understand the current communication techniques between parents and teachers, we first turned to domain research. One key discovery was that parental involvement declines significantly during middle school years, exactly when it is needed most (Addressing the Decline of Parental Involvement in Middle School).

There are a few main reasons for this which we sought to understand.

 
 
 

We next took a look at some competitors in the parent/teacher communication space. We found that there were a few digital products out there for younger students such as the popular, Class Dojo. There were also some products that focused strictly on communication, such as Class Messenger.

 

 

Class Messenger had an overwhelming amount of chats
and some basic heuristic troubles

Class Dojo is friendly and endorses positive student behavior however,
it is meant more for students in elementary school

 

Our research showed that these products gave parents and teachers an overwhelming amount of notifications and conversations to sort through. On top of that, it was just another app they had to download or portal that they had to check for messages. Out of all of the competitors that we looked at, we felt that our closest competitor was Remind 101. Remind 101 allowed for one way or two-way communication between parents and teachers. It gave users the option for “push notifications” so they could be notified of a new message without having to even check. It also kept users up to date on upcoming assignments and events at school.

 

 
 

We conducted a SWOT analysis on Remind 101 in order to identify why it worked and where it could be improved. This helped us determine where our product could fit in

 

 

Deeper Dive

 

We spoke to parents and teachers of middle school students who described to us their current communication methods and tools. We heard that their current communication is seldom effective, there are too many tools out there that don’t fit into their current workflow. Also, parents were often unsure of how and when to get involved at this age; they wanted their children to learn to be more independent.

 
I had administration constantly trying to get us to use new tools every year and after awhile I was just done with it you know? I didn’t want to just learn to use a tool for a year and then never use it again, especially when it wouldn’t integrate with anything I’m currently using.
— Becky, Old School, Middle School Teacher
 
 
When I do parent/teacher conferences I have 7 minutes with each teacher. You walk in and they turn on the fire hose of trying to get everything in and you don’t even have a chance to ask any questions. I didn’t find them helpful at all.
— Julie, Working Mother of a Middle Schooler
 

We synthesized the information from our research and determined that there were some common goals and frustrations present for both parents and teachers.

 
 

We used a specific color for parents, teachers and domain research which gave us a clear picture of which goals and frustrations parents and teachers share

 
 

 

A clear frustration was that parents and teachers were both constantly strapped for time. They didn’t have time to download and learn the new communication tools the schools were implementing every year. On top of that, working parents with busy schedules were unsure of how and when to get involved with their students. At the same time, teachers had so much going on that they often only contacted parents when there was an issue at school.

We ultimately chose 1 teacher and 1 parent as our primary personas simply because we had the most research to support their stories. For this specific project, though defining personas was a part of the process, I felt that we could have kept them at higher level archtypes in order to encompass a wider range of users such as ESL parents and teachers in lower income neighborhoods, who were also included in our group of personas.

 
 
 
 

We spoke with an SME, Amy Nowell who is the Director of Research at Leap Innovations, an education innovation hub bringing personalized learning technologies and innovative practices in classrooms of all levels. She helped us to understand that if parents and teachers can see the value for their students, they will be more likely to embrace a new communication tool. Also, while grades and GPA talk is important, communication about a student's personal development is more beneficial in building relationships and promoting student growth.

 
 
So many times, parents and teachers will only reach out when a student is doing poorly in a class. While there is value in that, it is so much more important to talk about how a student is doing socially and personally because that could have a huge effect on everything else.
— Amy Nowell, Director of Research at Leap Innovations

Defining the problem

 


It was clear to us that parents and teachers of middle school students need a platform to foster actionable conversations around student problem-solving skills in order to build autonomy. Defining a specific problem derived from our research took some time, but it helped me to develop a clear vision and goal for our product moving forward.

 
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Designing, Testing, and Iterating

 

 

In order to solve for our problem and design something “new” for users, we used key insights about what worked from our research and interviews to guide us in creating 3 unique concepts. I specifically built out the "quick activities" concept.

 

DreamFeat – SMART goal setting for students

Active 6-8 – at home activities and tips for students

See See – formatted messages through push notifications to users' preferred devices

 

 

We conducted concept testing with parents and teachers in order to validate our assumptions about the features that we strongly believed would help foster stronger communication.

 

 
 

We spent a day Guerilla testing in order to get a wider pool of user feedback
on our concepts

 
 

 

Key Feedback: 4/6 parents & teachers agreed that a website that combined goal setting, quick activities and a method of communication would be ideal.

As a team, we expected feedback similar to what we got. Without "frankensteining" the features together to design a single product, we aligned on which feature should be most prominent and which features should be secondary.

Our solution was Goalfish, a platform that builds a framework for meaningful communication between parents and teachers of middle school students through SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) goal setting. We chose the name Goalfish because: 1. By having “goal” in the name, unfamiliar users already have an idea as to what the product entails and 2. Since it was a product for younger students, we wanted to keep it short and friendly.

 
 

We also researched the possibility of our product plugging into the school’s current LMS system in order to solve for the “fitting into the current work flow” frustration. We learned that the easiest way to do so would be through APIs. We would address this possibility in our future considerations.

For the first phase of this product, we decided to design a responsive website. Our research showed that parents and teachers are typically never using just one device throughout the day so having access to Goalfish on any device is ideal. They also mentioned multiple times that they didn’t want to have to download another app.

 
 

In designing for multiple audiences, I learned that it is important to keep the designs consistent while keeping in mind the different features necessary for each audience

 
 

 

We tested our prototype with parents and teachers to ensure that the product we created would enhance parent/teacher communication without deterring from their current workflow.

We took the feedback from our first round of testing and made some key iterations.

 

 
SMART goal.png
 

 

While we realize we still have many rounds of testing and iterating to go, in testing our product after a round of iterations, teachers rated Goalfish a 4.5/5 and parents rated Goalfish a 4/5 on a Likert scale. Parents and teachers loved that they were given a platform to promote useful conversation around the students’ personal growth. Secondly, they felt that since they were able to choose a preferred method of communication, Goalfish would fit well into their current workflows.

 

Final Product

 


After 4 weeks of continuous research, prototyping, testing and iterating, my team designed a user-centered product which enhanced parent/teacher communication. We presented our final design to a panel of guest critics who praised the thoughtfulness in our goal setting and activities features. They appreciated the fact that we didn’t design yet another strictly communication tool and gave some meaningful context to the conversations.

 

 
 

Our final product gave parents and teachers a platform to have meaningful conversations around the students personal development, while giving students the autonomy to create and control their own goals

 

 

Next steps

If we had continued on with Goalfish, we definitely had some future goals of our own. We planned on conducting further testing specifically on the revised 15 minute activities and the effectiveness of the new on boarding screens. We also wanted to build out the student platform where the goal creation happens. Students would have the ability to track their goals and update them along the way. Their portal would also have the communication center built in so that they can message their teachers directly and build autonomy. For API integration into a current LMS platform, we know it’s a possibility, however, additional research needs to be done with a development team. Finally, we want to continue research for our secondary ESL persona and explore the possibility of implementing automated message translation based on parent language preference.

 

Working hard: powered by Snickers and Post-its

 

In just 4 short weeks, my team created a hypothetical product that excited users. This project taught me that while each step of the design process is important, there are certain steps that may be more enlightening or have a bigger impact on our end result. For example, research and competitive analysis had a major influence on the main purpose of Goalfish. We realized there was a void in the market for a product that addressed the unique challenges faced in the middle school years and fostered communication around them. On the other hand, while it was important to understand and empathize with our users, I felt the user pool we worked with was too narrow to create strong enough personas that we could take with us throughout the entire process.

I felt I grew as a designer as I was able to recognize how each step had an impact on the process and why. I learned that everyone in a team brings something to the table and it’s important for me to learn from my teammates on steps where I may not be as strong. I finished this project feeling prepared to tackle the next phase of work with actual clients.

 

 

4 weeks worth of research in Post-its. Now let’s move on!