Strategies for Innovation - Digital Promise

Strategies for Innovation

Over time, many variations of the design process have been generated, but ultimately there are key features that exist across all versions: Designers attempt to understand user needs, craft solutions to meet them, test the designs, and iterate in an ongoing cycle. In reflecting on work with districts in an instructional leadership role, we’ve reimagined the design cycle through the lens of visioning, learning, ideating, prototyping, journeying, and iterating. In most cases, we center students and their instructional needs as the users for which we design, but this process can be deployed to address challenges across multiple school contexts.

Visioning

We develop a vision for our schools and classrooms as equitable, powerful learning spaces
By thinking beyond our current circumstances and constraints
So that we can guide our design process, and inspire others to action
Strategies:

Outcome: A “How Might We” question to prompt action

Visioning, the foundational part of the process, sets the context for the design work and establishes the challenge that the teacher designers will work to solve. The visioning phase results in a design challenge that represents a problem to be solved, often in the format of a “How might we” question. Instructional leaders can utilize strategies such as What If exercises, learning inventories, or affinity mapping to craft a vision with their team.

What do the people in our community see as the problem to be solved?

What If exercises ask participants to consider the problem and generate as many potential “what ifs” as they can in a series of short, time-constrained sessions, but without concern for whether they are feasible; the object is to generate as many novel ideas as possible, which can later be evaluated and refined. For example, if prompted by the lack of student connection between their learning and the real world, participants might generate responses like “what if we could provide an internship program” or “what if we could use community members to teach some concepts in context?”; these responses can then be used to guide the development of a design challenges.

In learning strategy inventories, we ask teachers to reflect on what instructional strategies they currently use in their classrooms, and record how often and in what scenarios these strategies are used. These documents are particularly helpful in cases where shifts in pedagogical approaches are desired, such as a movement toward a more student centered classroom.

Affinity mapping is a collaborative process in which participants gather and group ideas by finding connections to the thoughts of others, and which is often facilitated by the use of post-it notes and lots of space. In teacher team scenarios, affinity mapping can be used to identify points of action that resonate across the whole group to facilitate buy-in from participants.

In a school context, visioning can be prompted by any number of motivations, such as testing data revealing a gap between math skills between student subgroups, or the district desiring to undertake a new curriculum adoption.

  Learning

We elicit the desires, needs and experiences of our students
By developing insights through observation
So that we can create learning experiences that meet the needs of all students
Strategies:

Outcome: Qualitative and quantitative data that informs our design

Learning isn’t simply identifying what is known about users, but rather actively seeking out ways of eliciting novel insights into their needs. Oftentimes we rely on what we think we know already or believe to be common sense without providing evidence; in the learning phase, we’re looking to generate qualitative or quantitative data that we can use to inform the design we craft to solve our challenge.

How do I maintain awareness of my biases and privilege in order to learn about my users authentically?

One strategy to obtain this data is to utilize a variety of one-way observation protocols, which can take the form of things like surveys, look-fors, or classroom visits. For example, if a teacher team wants to design a solution that addresses lack of student engagement in math classrooms, they might create a survey for students to complete in which they provide feedback on their lack of engagement. Teachers might also visit another classroom to observe students during a math lesson to take note of when engagement is highest or lowest. Interviews are a common two-way strategy, where a teacher might pull aside a student and engage them in a conversation about their math course, or ask a few pre-determined questions.

Another strategy for obtaining novel data from users is to learn from extremes, those who we might consider novices or experts; a parallel example would be “designing at the margins” when viewing our work through an equity lens.

In our math engagement example, we might consider targeting some data collection among those students who show the most engagement or the least, to ensure that we design for all needs instead of the average. These learnings can then be compiled across groups, analyzed and reflected upon as participants move into the ideation phase.

 Ideating

We design bold approaches to learning with consideration for desirability, feasibility and viability
By practicing divergent and convergent thinking
So that we can push our thinking beyond the typical and towards innovation
Strategies:

Outcome: Promising solutions to the design problem that can be built into prototypes

Ideating is the process of generating potential solutions in response to a design challenge based on what’s gathered in the learning phase. For ideation to be successful it needs a skilled facilitator to organize the process to encourage participants to reach innovative and unique conclusions. It should be noted that ideation is not a brainstorming free-for-all; rather, it’s carefully structured around divergent thinking (where few constraints are placed upon potential solutions) and convergent thinking (where the solutions with the most promise are selected and built upon).

How can I promote collaboration and welcome multiple perspectives?

The “What if” exercises identified in the visioning phase are an example of divergent thinking, where very little constraints are applied to potential solutions in favor of generating as many novel and interesting ideas as possible. Brainstorming and reverse brainstorming are structured methods for ideating that can lead to ideas that can be built out in the next phase, prototyping.

Building on the math engagement example above, we might lead participants into a reverse brainstorming session; in this session, rather than try to find the solution to the challenge, we engage the teacher teams in trying to cause students to be less engaged in mathematics instruction. From the possible causes, things like “too much lecturing” or “lessons aren’t presented in their lexile range,” we have new avenues through which we can produce potential solutions, such as including interactive mathematics simulations for students.

Prototyping

We quickly build our learning designs
By generating low resolution prototypes
So that we can deploy them rapidly and generate insights from users
Strategies:

  • Design Sprints

Outcome: A rough build of our solution that can be tested

Prototyping asks designers to create low resolution versions of their solutions in order to test out their ideas, based on the outputs of the ideation sessions. In the design world prototypes can take many forms, from three-dimensional mock-ups to marketing plans, but for educators this will involve some novel approach to the way they teach. It’s important to note that in this phase we are focused on quick, simple versions of our solutions that can be rapidly tested and refined. To this end, participants should be engaged in short design sprints, a modified version of what software developers use to create and test prototypes, though teacher designer prototypes will be tested and iterated in the next two phases of this process.

How can we ensure our prototypes are usable for a diverse range of users?

Through the process of the design sprint, we want to include the smallest set of features that solve our problem, and build just enough to learn.

Building on the math example used above where we want to include an interactive component to improve engagement, it’s unlikely we need to find interactive examples of every math skill, or revise an entire set of lessons to learn whether it is a successful approach. Rather, we can rework a single lesson by simply finding time to include an interactive in a non-graded way, and gauge student response before scaling our work any further. With a prototype developed, teacher designers can then move into testing the solution in the journeying phase of this process.

Journeying

We consider the full impact of our design on student learning
By evaluating our designs and mapping how student thinking progresses throughout the learning experience
So that our designs for learning are complete and have fidelity to our vision
Strategies:

Outcome: Feedback on our design that can be used to refine it

Journeying refers to user journey mapping, a process in user experience (UX) research that focuses on the activities and emotions experienced by a user as they interact with a product. When we center students as the users, we want to consider, at a high level, how they interact with our learning design. 

When preparing to evaluate prototypes and before deploying them to students, teacher designers can develop student personas to play test their designs. Personas are fictional representations of users (in this case students) based on data collected in the learning phase of this process. For example, a persona developed for use with our math example might be an above-average math student who often feels the coursework moves too slowly for her, and wishes there was a way to work more independently from the rest of the students.

What assumptions have we made when creating student personas, and how have our biases informed them?

With student personas developed, teacher designers can move into play testing with their peers. Play testing is precisely as it sounds: The designers “play” through their design solution. In a play test, one designer takes on the role of classroom teacher and teaches through the learning they have prototyped. Playing the role of students and assuming the personas they have developed, their design partners respond in real time to the instruction, providing instant feedback on the design solution and clarifying where it works and where it needs improvement.

Another option for teacher designers who want feedback on their solutions before using them in the classroom is to create a user journey map for the personas they have developed. By generating multiple personas, user journey mapping allows insights into how diverse students will interact with the learning design, and provide feedback to begin the iteration process. 

Using our math example, we might map both our user’s journeys through the instruction

Problem: Lack of engagement in mathematics lessons
Solution: Design independent exploration time with math interactives into a lesson

Phase
Lesson introduction
Independent “play” time with math interactive
Lesson lecture and practice
Exit ticket/formative assessment

User Actions

Students listen to the teacher explain the lesson for the day.

Students have 5 minutes to explore a math simulation and see how variables interact with each other.

Students listen and watch the teacher explain the solution process and work through example problems.

Students work through sample problems while the teacher rotates to observe student work and provide feedback.

User Response

Our emerging language learner struggles to pick up the full picture of the lesson due to language  processing time.

 

Our high achiever understands what the lesson will cover and experiences no issues.  

Our emerging language learner, who enjoys math, finds the interactive engaging.

 

Our high achiever feels like the interactive is a detour, and class should move ahead into instruction.

Our emerging language learner connects the example problems to the interactive. 

 

Our high achiever memorizes the problem solving steps as the teacher explains them.

Our emerging language learner appreciates additional explanation and one-on-one instruction.

 

Our high achiever asks directly for feedback on their work.

Opportunities

We can better support emerging language learners by providing more time or written context for the day’s activities, or providing them ahead of time.

We could provide choice in the activities for students who might want variation.

We could ask students to go back to the interactive to test ideas from the instruction.

We could structure the learning around small groups with more teacher supervision or one-on-one time.

Phase

User Actions

Lesson introduction

Students listen to the teacher explain the lesson for the day.

Independent “play” time with math interactive

Students have 5 minutes to explore a math simulation and see how variables interact with each other.

Lesson lecture and practice

Students listen and watch the teacher explain the solution process and work through example problems.

Exit ticket/formative assessment

Students work through sample problems while the teacher rotates to observe student work and provide feedback.

Phase

User Response

Lesson introduction

Our emerging language learner struggles to pick up the full picture of the lesson due to language  processing time.

 

Our high achiever understands what the lesson will cover and experiences no issues.  

Independent “play” time with math interactive

Our emerging language learner, who enjoys math, finds the interactive engaging.

 

Our high achiever feels like the interactive is a detour, and class should move ahead into instruction.

Lesson lecture and practice

Our emerging language learner connects the example problems to the interactive. 

 

Our high achiever memorizes the problem solving steps as the teacher explains them.

Exit ticket/formative assessment

Our emerging language learner appreciates additional explanation and one-on-one instruction.

 

Our high achiever asks directly for feedback on their work.

Phase

Opportunities

Lesson introduction

We can better support emerging language learners by providing more time or written context for the day’s activities, or providing them ahead of time.

Independent “play” time with math interactive

We could provide choice in the activities for students who might want variation.

Lesson lecture and practice

We could ask students to go back to the interactive to test ideas from the instruction.

Exit ticket/formative assessment

We could structure the learning around small groups with more teacher supervision or one-on-one time.

Persona 1: Emerging language learner, average achiever, enjoys math, mature
Persona 2: High achieving student, high level of parental involvement, college-focused

Iterating

We improve our learning design
By using the feedback from our testing
So that our students experience innovative, powerful learning in schools
Strategies:

Outcome: A new version of our design that can be re-tested and/or put into practice

Iterating is found across most versions of the design cycle, and refers to the process by which we learn from our prototyping and redesign based on those learnings. The results of play testing, along with the analysis of the user journey map, provide the teacher designer multiple instances of feedback that can be built upon to refine the solution to the challenge. A single instance of iteration is not likely to provide a final solution; teacher designers may need to continue to learn more about their users or ideate again before reworking their prototype and testing its usability.

How can we ensure we redesign for the needs of all users?

Building on our math engagement example, let’s assume our play testing revealed that while adding an interactive element was well-received by our low-engagement personas, our high-achievement personas felt like the addition of the interactive detracted from the focus of the lesson, or made instruction take too long. From this data, a teacher designer may choose to learn more about why the high-achievement personas reacted this way, or may brainstorm new ways to include interactives as an optional activity. Teacher designers should continue to learn more, ideate, prototype, and test until they feel they have a suitable solution to their design challenge that is deployable in a classroom setting.
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