Using Human Centered Design to develop tools for teachers

A huge part of delivering effective technology for classrooms, is the understanding of “What job is someone going to get done using this tool? Is it going to make their lives better or worse?” Asking this question starts a very important internal discussion around Empathy with your user and eventually into better design.

On May 1st, 2014, just such a tool, was created by our now Director of Engineering, Rahul D’souza, at home on his day off. While Zaya’s Platform already had a content management tool, he created what would be a much better way for teachers to integrate, personalize and assign learning materials to students! This story features some of Zaya’s earliest developers – Rahul D’souza, Gopal Ojha and Ashish Tiwari, who combined years of engineering and design experience with a creative idea to make an app that would make content management easy for any type of user!

Curello (Yes!! It is inspired from Trello, we all are power users) is an app developed at Zaya Learning Labs to help educators create and manage digital learning resources on our Personalized Learning Platform. In this article, Rahul describes how his approach of  Human Centered Design let him develop a simple curation tool for teachers.

What was the key problem with curation tools including the one Zaya built?

They key challenges that any curation platform needs to address is –

1.Discovery of relevant content.
2.  Ability to assign it quickly.
3. Ability to track the progress and efficacy of that content as it gets used by students. 


Where we went wrong the first time – lacking EMPATHY; we designed our product assuming that teachers and curators will have all the time in the world to learn our tool, browse till they find the content they need and then go through a very cumbersome process of tagging, labelling and creating courses.

I found this a genuinely bad user experience as it took our curators more than an hour to curate a course. More time than teachers have!  The design of our first version screamed out to your teachers – We don’t care about you. Very predictably the usage of the tool was low and we tried to compensate this by providing more training. It just didn’t work.

How did you change your mindset once you understood your user better?
We changed our focus from adding more features to reducing time to get the job done. This was the only thing that mattered to our teachers.

Our first task was to reduce the time it took and improve the design of the page. Reducing the time taken to carry out the mechanical task of rearranging and restructuring the course structure, would allow the curators to spend more time on more productive tasks like creating quality question banks, which is where they should ideally spend their time.
By this time we all were power users of Trello, a cool tool we used to manage multiple projects around Zaya. I liked the simplicity of the UI and UX. It struck me that the very same ‘TO-DO’ list concept design of Trello could be used for making our SCUTL (Subject-Course-Unit-Topic-Lesson) structure. But we had to go a step further to introduce elements specific to education like- efficacy, engagement, assessments into each lesson or card.

Curello 4

Learning Objects:  Each card on Curello is defined as a learning object which incorporates all the features and parameters that would be useful for a teacher to CREATE content, ASSIGN plans, ANALYZE data and students’ performance. 
Any new content added to Curello became an Object which was easy to DISCOVER using our universal search and gave teachers a quick preview before they could assign it to students. 

What made this tool really simple to use?

The tool allows users to do a ‘Universal Search’ i.e. searching through all the contents like courses, assessments, lessons & media files is now made extremely easy with one stop solution for all the search queries. We are currently using Solr for our search requirements.

Every action on this was now a simple “drag and drop”. Teachers could search and drag objects and create lists of multiple levels (something not possible on Trello).


Curello 5

Curello dashboard is now a one stop shop for creating an entire course. You can create each learning object from one central location. The learning object also has metadata which is visible to the user so she is aware of its contents.

Saving Time
Teachers can easily take one Course and make multiple copies of it. Each copy can be personalized by simply deleting a Object or Adding a new card to this copy.  This saved our Curators and teachers a lot of time as it made Personalization very quick and easy.

The whole user experience is now better than before and is quick.


What’s next for Curello?

The next step is to add analytics to each learning object. This would help the teacher get a birds-eye view of where each of the students stand with respect to each learning object (lesson). The colour codes indicate usage and progress by students in her class.

Curello 3

Also, each course will be more like a playlist of lessons.

System generated Personalization would create a playlist for each student with a personalized set of lessons tailored to match the learning needs of the student. This list of lessons will be based on the knowledge map and user profile of the child generated from analyzing both his performance and behavioural data on the platform.

When each student has his or her own playlist it becomes easier for the teacher to know where the student is going wrong. The individual playlists also allows the teacher to add to the list of lessons as required for that individual student. Expect to see it beginning of 2017.

When you think about the role of a teacher in the classroom, she is essentially making decisions about what each of her students needs based on her interaction with them. By giving her a tool that allows her to use this ‘intuition’ or ‘perception’ accurately, she is likely to increase the positive effect of her relationships and interaction with students, leading to more effective learning for her students.

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