Prototypes & First Concepts

Our early brainstorming workshops helped me think about my problem in a new way. I was able to step outside of the immersive research I had practiced and come up with some unconventional ideas that provided a new platform for thinking.

One idea was a guerrilla mobile teaching station that could visit schools and provide instruction for teachers who want to use new methods in their classrooms. Another idea was to set up weekly coffee meetings for like-minded teachers. I wasn’t sure that any of these ideas would be the right direction, but that they would at least inform my next iterations.

Experience Prototype – Knowledge Transfer

I created an experience prototype to better understand some of the concepts I was thinking about. I wanted to investigate how knowledge is transferred across real world social networks. How much fidelity and accuracy of important facts and resources would be lost?

The prototyping exercise showed me how information can be transformed as it passes through numerous people who all have a different way of understanding the content. The results informed my decisions ongoing, knowing that I would have to include some static resources as a foundation for a conversation around new teaching methods.

Design a mobile teaching workshop that shows the value of design to one teacher and enables him or her to share design
with peers.

Find out how knowledge is created when information is shared between people in a peer-to-peer format.

How I Prototyped
To simulate the experience of sharing knowledge across many people I created a system in the style of the classic game Telephone. I shared the knowledge I have with one person, who then shared it with someone else. And so on. I asked the last person to share his knowledge back with me to close the loop and provide comparison.

For my lesson, I wrote a quick outline to cover high-level topics around the importance of design in the classroom, covering five areas:
What is Design?
Philosophy of Design in the Classroom
Value of Critique
The Design Process
An Example, using an ecology lesson in a Biology class

I recruited volunteers from the studio to act as Biology teachers in my prototype. I first spoke to Derek, who then taught Dave, who taught Russ, who taught Tina, who taught Clint, who taught me. By the end of the chain, very few of the details were the same. However, a few high level points remained:
Hands-on, tangible
Approachable by students with many different learning styles
Failure is important in learning to create more solutions
Design process, including investigation, observation, problem definition, solution/concept creation, prototyping and reflection
An example using the process (though it was not the original example I presented)

Insights from my Observation
People ask questions for clarification, and typically the response adds complexity to the initial concept. If not complexity, it is a diversion, or an extension of what has already been said.

When people ask questions they’re building upon the initial layer of conversation.

People fill in the gaps with their own imagined details; your existing knowledge is intrinsically combined with what you hear. This was evident in the way people recounted the story. Each participant made up details of the imagined lesson plan, curriculum, and students they would be teaching.

Impact on Design Decisions
Based on the transgression of conversations, feedback I received from participants, and what I observed:
Teachers need to own the material to be excited and clear in communicating it to others.
Small chunks – make it approachable, not a whole curriculum redesign, but suggestions for a single lesson or project.
Provide a consistent resource for them to return to. (Many participants felt disabled by not being able to recall all of the important details.)
Give teachers a framework in which they can tell a story in their own language.


I presented two concepts for consideration at the end of November. I decided to pursue one of those concepts for my final presentation on December 20.

From my November 29 Presentation:

“I’m making… A service that enables teachers using design-based education to share their ideas, experiences and projects with a community of other innovative educators.”

1. Create a Toolkit

Teachers transform existing lessons into a design-based instruction framework.

2. Build a Community

Motivated educators who want to learn and share their work can virtually meet up. A body of resources will build over time.

Final Concept

I felt like I was forcing a single idea to become two separate concepts, and much of the feedback I received from the thesis panel reflected that sentiment. Moving forward, I combined my two half-ideas into one whole, more powerful idea.

From my December 20 Presentation:

1. A teacher’s primary goal is to improve his or her effectiveness in the classroom.
This is the definition of being a good teacher!

2. Teacher effectiveness is measured by student performance.
Measured by test scores usually, but also other intangible qualities.

3. A teacher adapts her teaching methods to best engage students.
According to the class size, curriculum, learning outcomes and individual preferences.

4. Her teaching methods inform the type of classroom experience her students will have.
A successful experience is one where students feel engaged.

5. The classroom experience provides feedback for the teacher to iterate on future lessons, and it can be shared with a community.
The quality of the classroom experience also impacts student performance!

Check out the full set of storyboards!

At the end of the semester I was glad to be finished. I had a decent idea to move forward with, even if it wasn’t exactly how I imagined my thesis to be. I didn’t look back over winter break as I let my initial thrust of ideas ruminate while I relaxed during Christmas vacation.