Content and User Experience

Content Prototype

Which questions to ask?

It’s essential to ask the right questions to get teachers thinking critically about their work in the classroom. Based on my self assessment I had some ideas about what the questions might be. However, I’m not a full-time teacher and I don’t work with students and administrators everyday. I couldn’t be sure that my research and projections were correct.

I created an interactive prototype with the goal of discovering which types of questions would yield the desired responses from teachers. I was also curious to discover what teachers would talk about and how they would interact with each other through an online conversation.

Full documentation of the prototype is in Appendix B.

Findings

The best questions for getting thorough and thoughtful responses were the ones that focused on the “why” instead of the “what.”


Takeaways
Only three of my participants were able to answer on a regular basis. In their feedback some of them expressed disappointment in themselves for not being able to participate more regularly. Also the “weird week schedule” was blamed for lack of participation.

Most of the teachers reported to me that the questions were relevant to their teaching practice. My own insight is to include more questions that ask about thematic content, rather than specific examples, which will ultimately lead to more prescriptive answers.

On the fifth day one of the participants responded to another one in discussion. It was exciting to see her reference his response, knowing that she had read what he wrote and was building on it. This is the type of interaction I would like to encourage throughout the community I will build.

Content

Based on my research and prototype findings I came up with a list of categories and questions to be used as content in the service. I envision this database of questions to grow and change over time as teachers interact with the service.

A full list of suggested content is in Appendix C.

South by Southwest

March 11–15, 2011
I was excited to revisit Austin after half a year away. I was looking forward to seeing my friends and visiting the places where I spent my summer. Being in Austin for South by Southwest was an entirely different experience than living there normally. The city was completely taken over by tech and music entrepreneurs, and downtown was filled with the energy of the tens of thousands of visitors to the city.

I stayed in Austin for eight days during our school’s spring break. I had planned on getting a small quantity of work done while I was there but ended up not doing much at all. The conference itself was a mass of people, and the sessions were filled with mildly disappointing, safe ideas that I’d heard through some other channel before. The event was not the novel spectacle that I had expected to see.

In the end, taking a week of vacation in the middle of thesis was a risk that paid off. It allowed me to re-energize once again and collect my thoughts in new ways. And the food was amazing!

Wireframes

I was ready to get pixels on the page after spending months thinking about and planning my service. Creating the first set of wireframes helped me find a lot of gaps in my thinking about the interactions and flow throughout my service. I typically think through a system top to bottom, and in making wireframes I discovered some of the most useful work was in sketching and thinking about interactions in detail.

One of the major challenges I encountered was the differentiation between private and public content on the site. In my initial thinking about the problem, a teacher would write private self-reflections each day. These would be separate from public questions asked to the community on the website. In my mind I envisioned the two very clearly differentiated. It was not as clear in my early designs. I needed to starkly differentiate the two types of content by creating distinct experiences of introspective writing and community posting.

Visual Design

The hardest part of creating a brand around my concept was coming up with the right name for the service. One of my early ideas was using the word “flourish” to describe the way that teachers would grow as a result of their interactions with the community through the service. A friend suggested the word “cultivate” instead, signifying the act of curation in support of sustained growth.

I created a logo and a fresh, inviting color scheme using red and green inspired by apples. I added shades of blue to anchor the complementary colors and set a cool, calm tone.

I designed a few of the key pages for the website and iPhone app using the visual identity as a guide.

Summary

After months of thinking and creating artifacts that represent my system, I distilled all of my research and ideas into a summary of the service I designed.

Cultivate is a community for educators that creates opportunities to engage in critical self-reflection and work together to improve teaching practices. Within the educational community, early adopters of new teaching practices are trying creative, innovative methods in their classrooms every day. Cultivate enables educators to develop a reflective practice around teaching, leveraging the power of the community to provide inspiration and solutions to common problems. As new teaching methods gain popularity, Cultivate benefits the entire educational community by creating a resource for shared learning.