An overview set of product and design work for the first student- and teacher-facing version of a middle school ELA digital curriculum
The Amplify Curriculum product is a digital platform that delivers completely new, interactive, Common Core- aligned English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. The curriculum inspires students to read more deeply, write more vividly, and think more critically. It first launched in August 2014 and supports middle school grades (6-8).
Note: at the time, the platform supported two additional curricula (6-8 Math and 6-8 Science); my role was focused first and foremost on ELA. While not my focus, the fact that the platform needed to remain simple, intuitive, and cohesive for three distinct curricula—regardless of the feature set being developed—was never far from my mind during my work.
I began my journey with Amplify Curriculum as a product owner (called a technical product manager at Amplify), responsible for overseeing development work for teacher & student experience features. During this time I set direction for two development teams and was able to successfully bring the product to launch (August 2014) and two subsequent releases (October 2015 and January 2015).
The feature sets I delivered during my tenure included core functionality:
Global navigation, including access to the ecosystem of supporting applets
Four levels of the product's hierarchy (an overview of the full school year; a view of the contents of a unit; a sub-unit overview; and the brief overview of the lesson itself)
Primary lesson-level navigation, which allowed teachers and students to move through any given lessons
All teacher-facing support components, including:
A contextual instructional guide filled with tips for the teacher when teaching
A space for key behaviors to look for in the classroom to gauge whether students are on- or off-track
Access to bar charts that visualize student responses to poll questions
An area where the teacher can start class, see who is / isn't currently connected to class, and a tool for disabling the student's tablet in order to grab attention for a real-life teacher moment
A retrofitting of additional navigational elements in support of state adoption bids
Improvements to the system's grade book, including a light redesign and some key functional improvements
After pivoting into the design department to focus full-time on user experience design work, I was quickly tasked with working to solve a wide variety of usability pain points we'd noticed over the year since launch, participating in ideation sessions with other designers to identify the best possible solutions, and acting as the lead UX designer on our initiative to layer differentiation into the ELA product. I've described several of these initiatives below.
Student work is autosaved every 60-seconds but the system does not indicate this visibly to the user. Students are afraid of losing their digital work and, as a result, use the "Hand In" button—the equivalent of giving work to the teacher—in order to save work in progress. This creates confusion for the teacher because she cannot distinguish finished from unfinished work.
Increase visibility of system's autosave status and, thus, reduce student reliance on handing in work as a means of saving it.
Change the logic underpinning autosave, making it more instantaneous, and surface persistent and clear messaging whenever the system autosaves student work. Flow shown below.
Lesson navigation (aka the lesson map) consists of a series of icons meant to represent pedagogical routines/activities that occur across lessons. Unfortunately, these icons mix metaphors (some are types, like "writing"; others are modes, like "in pairs") and do not provide sufficient context to the teacher and her students to facilitate easy movement.
Enhance lesson navigation to improve way finding and clarity of intent behind each included routine/activity.
Adjust the lesson map to: display clearer routine/activity type information; utilize a consistent set of modes; include the learning moment's title for contextual support.
The content for all three curricula (ELA, Science, and Math) was developed with simple content guidelines that were not optimized for our digital platform (which has changed frequently over time). This led to suboptimal authoring choices that, with better guidance, could be addressed in our CMS.
Create content guidelines that are both platform-wide and curriculum-specific, taking into account the nuances of each of the three curricula. Codify these decisions in a set of visual and written guidelines and ensure they are made available to all appropriate teams.
Hold multi-day HCD workshops with ELA, Math, and Science teams during which exemplar content is reviewed, teacher and student journey maps are created, and pain points are converted into opportunities for improvement. Further clarify content hierarchy by suggesting improvements that reorganize critical pages and enhance a user's ability to understand the system and its content architecture.
The Amplify ELA Curriculum contains hundreds of content-rich lessons across many units. In some cases, field feedback indicated that teachers were having difficulty (a) understanding the lesson flow and (b) recognizing which elements are the most important, which are optional, and/or which are coming up next.
Give teachers a simple user interface that allows them to quickly understand how a lesson flows, where they should be spending their time, and what is next so they can react appropriately during class.
Adjust each lesson's brief (i.e. its overview) to include a visual lesson map and activity details; include the visual map persistently (but discreetly) throughout the lesson; and provide a one-touch quick view in the lesson itself that contains all activity details found on the lesson brief.
Feedback Report Ideation
The Amplify Curriculum espouses a program in which the teacher is frequently providing formative feedback to the student via the platform. Since much of this is tracked in the system, it made sense to display it in a meaningful way to the teacher so that she can optimize her limited time, ensure that she is very familiar with the student work, and allow each student to receive frequent, direct, and personalized feedback.
Provide the teacher with a visually clear way to determine whether she is meeting her target goal of six (6) pieces of feedback per student per unit of ELA content.
Include a new class-level rollup report that will: depict summary information (path to goal) for the teacher; call out students in high need of feedback; visualize the data over time.
My sketches (below) were created for a mini HCD workshop in which various designers met to ideate; the final solution was most similar to #5.
Differentiated instruction is the way in which a teacher anticipates and responds to a variety of student needs in the classroom. To meet student needs, teachers typically modify the content (what is being taught), the process (how it is taught) and/or the product (how students demonstrate their learning). Being a digital curriculum product, Amplify ELA is able to pull all three of the aforementioned levers in order to meet students where they are (e.g. if they are struggling or excelling) and move them forward toward strong achievement.
To reach our goals, the core team (on which I was the lead UX designer) undertook a six-workshop HCD series during which time we initiated the process, gathered research, ideated solutions, detailed the best among them via iterative prototyping, and evaluated the results.
Create a simple way for ELA teachers to direct students to learning activities that target their specific needs and determine if progress is made. The solution should be: easy to use, engaging for students, scalable, flexible, and showcase the power of digital.
A feature set that includes a student grouping mechanism that allows teachers to adjust the content presented to students; a clear student interface; appropriate visual iconography; simple and fluid navigation; and some level of onboarding outlining a "day in the life" of a typical teacher using our differentiated curriculum. The solution should also recognize the realities of the classroom in which devices may malfunction and network connectivity may be sporadic. Many of the teacher-facing interactions I prototyped in InVision (for rough proof of concept) and then Axure (for nuance).