Three Tips For the Student Experience

Contributed by Tori Mazur

It took 11 steps to record a video in Seesaw.  That’s what we noticed in 2017 when analyzing what our kindergarten students needed to do (user flow) when using the app in our elementary school digital learning environment.  (Note: app developers consistently make changes to an interface over time so the number of steps involved in 2020 is slightly different.)

Basic Flow of the steps to post video in Seesaw from the persona of a student
Screenshot originally part of a graduate paper for N.C. State (Mazur, 2017, unpublished).

It seems so simple once they get going and learn the steps involved, but we found success in breaking those steps down in the classroom.  Going at a slow pace, checking that we were on the same page (figuratively, of course), and discussing what notification/pop-up messages may mean and how to react to them.  That’s going to look different now.  It’s actually quite amazing how quickly they learn the flow.  So why take the time to break down how many steps are involved in an edtech product that allows students to show what they know?

All Design Begins With Empathy for the User

During this time of teaching from and learning at home, we have to keep the user experience (UX) at heart.  How well students, parents and educators can navigate the barrage of app-ortunities right now is key in how successful our attempts are at communicating, connecting and learning.  As educators of English learners, we have even more obstacles with language on top of user flow issues.  Here are my Top 3 Tips from my experience over several years as an Instructional Technology Facilitator.

Tip 1: Know What Device Your Users are Using

Poll Question with text cut off
Screenshot of a message sent with clipped imagery through Talking Points

This may require a simple poll, but it’s so important to know as you design learning.  The experience of the Chrome Operating System in a school of Chromebooks will likely feel different to your students using an iOS device at home even if you are using the same digital resources.  If you are designing slides from a desktop and your students only have access to a smartphone, you may need to adjust your aspect ratio for a smaller screen.  Knowing what our students have access to isn’t just about whether they have internet or not.  I use Talking Points for parents who only have access to SMS texting and I have no idea if images even come across. When we find out, we can make the experience as smooth as possible. The last thing we want when do connect to students, is to give them a reason to be frustrated and disengage.

COVID-19 Case in Point

I polled the small number of families in my Talking Points class.  I thought I was so smart, creating a visual with icons from thenounproject.com in case families were unclear about what I meant by mobile versus desktop.  Then I saw how the image posted and half of my labels were cut off.  Good thing I included them in my description for translation.  Remember, not all products translate text on images, which are often not read by screen readers either.

Tip 2: Once You Know, Test It Yourself

Once you know whether you’re targeting mobile, desktop or a combination in the homes of our families, that’s not enough.  Many products have a preview feature or you may want to temporarily download a mobile version of the app because they will present menus and choices very differently.  If you have created a Google Site, take advantage of the Preview buttons for both portrait and landscape.  At the very least, test it out to see just how different your page looks across devices.  User Experience Designers often compete for screen space on mobile versus desktop versions of the same product.  Ever searched for a feature hidden in the navigation menu, or what some people call the Hamburger?  (More about mobile navigation menus here).  If you know where things are hidden, you can spend time with students and families on navigating the interface and buttons.  This will set everyone up for success sooner rather than later.

COVID-19 Case in Point

Zooming with a newcomer student, I joined the call from my phone to demonstrate visually how to pinch the screen to expand and shrink it.  When sharing my screen, I knew that the image I was displaying may still be too small for her iPad (see Tip 1).  I wanted her to be able to zoom in and out as needed.  While demonstrating, I asked her to repeat the words with me along with the gestures.   Maybe she already knew how to do that based on home experiences, but with Entering levels of English Proficiency in speaking and listening, I could not take that for granted. 

In our next Zoom session, I showed her the navigation choices in Epic so she could Explore, Search and check the Mailbox for books to read and listen to on her own.  Taking the time to walk her through the menu is well worth a lesson in itself. 

Tip 3: Be Predictable

In the “Before Times”, we had our procedures in places.  Maybe not in the first 100 days, but by mid-March students knew what was expected.  I had only been at my new school as an ESL Teacher for four weeks when we were sent home.  Even students I only met with a handful of times knew that we started with a circle and a talking piece.  They knew what to expect each time we walked into my classroom.  Our routines provide structure and stability.   This is so important while learning from home, so design your lessons with predictable structures.  Are they used to Google Docs?  Continue using that format, but check what it looks like on a phone! Any graphic organizer/table you insert may still not be on the page. (See Tip 2).

COVID-19 Case in Point

When meeting with my newcomer on Zoom, I share my screen with the same Agenda format and Language Objectives on a Google Slides as I had been doing in the classroom.  Providing that familiarity hopefully lowers her affective filter, but also helps her brain process information on her screen.   My presentation Redesign Slides for Student Minds, adapted for the TALGS Conference earlier this year, focused on creating slides to ease cognitive load for students because “people learn better when multimedia messages are designed in ways that are consistent with how the human mind works and with research-based principles.” (Mayer, 2003).  We should be as consistent in our design as our building-based routines because interface consistency has been shown to have positive effects on learning and long-term retention (Johnson, 2010).

We don’t know how long we will be teaching from and learning at home.  But keeping our students’ user experiences at heart can help center our work and offer some comfort in consistency, by design. 

Johnson, J. (2010). Designing With the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines. Morgan Kaufmann.
Mayer, R. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media.  Learning and Instruction. 13(2), 125-139.

Published by together4els

In-service teachers from across the State working together for English learners (ELs). This network offers ALL teachers of ELs the opportunity to explore resources and interact with colleagues to discuss and reflect on EL education using a collaborative structure for professional growth. EL Teacher Network Leadership Team – A group of in-service EL teachers from across the State working together to plan opportunities for ALL teachers who work with English learners to explore resources and interact with colleagues to discuss and reflect on EL education using a collaborative structure for professional growth.

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