Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Prompt: At the beginning of each new semester or school year, teachers are faced with the challenge of remembering names for a large number of students. Design an experience to help an educator match faces to names, with the goal of shortening the time needed to reach complete, un-aided accuracy.
I like to start my work process by jotting down everything that comes to mind. This prompt hit close to home, since I worked as a graduate assistant and taught an introductory class in 2017-2018, and I know just how much of a pain it can be to try and remember certain students. My own insights, and those that I gathered from other teachers and educators, guided this initial process of brainstorming.
First, I considered the users.
What kinds of teachers would use this? K-12? College? Is there a significant difference in the amount of students or the way that differing types of educators would use this?
What is the major motivator for the teachers to want to memorize these names in the first place? Is it a personal desire to foster connection with their students? And, if so, is there any data to back up that this is a good way to do so? Is there pressure from the institution to do so?
How many students does the average teacher have? How many classes do they teach, on average, each semester/quarter/year?
What methods are teachers currently using to memorize names? Roughly how long does it take educators to memorize names? Is there an ideal time that they need to cut this down to?
And then, I moved to the guidelines of the product itself.
What is the scope of the project? The prompt doesn't deliver a guideline as far as an add-on to an existing platform, whether the product should be an app/website/etc. It also doesn't mention any stakeholders or resource limitations, so I considered these to be negotiable.
What are the best practices for memorization? The first thing that came to mind for me, were mnemonic devices. How can these be incorporated into the product? If the task is cumbersome for teachers now, then how can it be gamified?
How do educators get the content into the product initially? Do teachers have access to photos of their students through the school itself, or are they themselves going to have to populate this information.
Finally, I explored additional challenges.
Is there a security/confidentiality issue in having students names and photos on a teachers personal device? How do we protect the privacy of both the educator and their students?
Is pronunciation of names an issue? As someone that has struggled with a few unfamiliar names, I'm leaning yes.
It seems like a mobile application is best suited for this in a few regards, since it allows for more frequent access, as opposed to have to remember to make the time to sit down at a desktop to complete the exercises. How do I keep the onboarding process of adding in this content from being too tedious for educators to complete? Can I push them to import information on a desktop, and then complete the exercises on their smartphone?
Is there a way for educators to collaborate with other teachers in their school to share photos and names and cut down on the importing time? Does this create a security/confidentiality issue?
These questions needed some answers, so I turned to my personal experience and talked to some friends in the education field to start narrowing down. Since this was intended to be a brief design exercise, I kept it to a small sample size of five educators (and also happened to be personal acquaintances that live in my area, so there's some bias here for sure). There were several methods that folks employed to remember students, but the reason was pretty clear cut.
Educators want to learn the names of their students in order to create a more meaningful connection with them.
Current methods included a variety of introduction exercises, which often incorporated mnemonic devices. Some folks spent a full class period doing these, but the lack of repetition meant that some students names stuck, while others faded away. The time constraint of in-class exercises was a factor, because one day of memory building wasn't enough (not to mention other factors, like a student being absent that day, or joining the class a week into the semester). Educators also noted that students that stuck out due to good or bad behavior were often easier to remember, but the students that were less likely to participate and didn't require as much one on one attention were often forgotten.
Okay, so we know that these methods are falling a little flat - but what methods are the best to employ when memorizing names? A stroll through Google brought me to this Forbes article, which notes repetition, visual memory, association, connections, and focus. It also noted a study that shows teachers are right to think that the process of remembering a name is important, because when we hear our names our brains light up, and makes us feel better.
Since I was keeping it broad in terms of potential users, I had a variety of total students. While some worked with a small group, others had upwards of 50 students per class. A new pain point developed - keeping the product organized and effective.
There was a lot of ambiguity when I asked this group of potential users what they thought the security challenges would be. Some were provided images of the students through their institution, and felt they could import them to an app as long as they had it password protected. Those with younger students tended to not have the same access, and they brought up the same concerns I did. Could they take photos of their students without having a liability nightmare on their hands? They noted that the school had forms to allow parents to opt in or out of public photos that the school uses for their marketing purposes, but weren't sure of the individual ramifications for themselves.
My research didn't turn up a clear answer, either. It seems that in most places educators are allowed to take photos, just not broadcast them. Still, this gets into some legality murkiness, so I felt better covering my butt by incorporating a reminder to check with their institution and/or grab the proper documentation before taking photos of their students.
After gathering this data, I had to move back to the drawing board. What features were most important for these users and the task at hand? I narrowed down to a few key features, and the aspects of them that would be crucial to an ultimately successful product.
Ability to import class roster and photos:
Needs to have the additional ability to take photos for those that aren't provided with them
Potentially include a photo release form that teachers can download, print, and send home with parents for younger groups
Organize by individual classes, and prompt to add a description including the time and frequency of it's meeting times
Gamification with small rewards, challenges, and a more joyful experience than traditional methods:
Additional memorization tools:
Allow educators to add mnemonic devices, associations, or match the student to their desk space
Reminders that cue educators to play a game when they haven't checked in for a while
Password protection or a touch id to log in
I had a handful of other ways to make the product even more rich, such as having tips for memorization i.e. repeat the name to yourself 3 times. I decided not to include them as I went deeper, because I felt like this might just gum up the process and confuse or overwhelm the users. I decided that in the case of this exercise, focusing mainly on the gamification functionality would be key.
At this point, I started making loose sketches to think about what would and wouldn't work and how I thought the user could most efficiently move through the product. I settled on focusing on a mobile app, because I felt this would be more accessible for users. These sketches let me start framing user flow in my mind, and served as wireframes since the time constraints for this exercise were on the shorter side.
Mockups & Interactions
Finally, it was time to fire up Illustrator and Sketch to start making the product come to life, and consider the finer aspects of interactions. I used my earlier sketches as a guideline, but occasionally departed from them if the design started to call for it.
I chose to use a toolbar rather than burying things in a hamburger menu, thereby allowing users to quickly see what classes have been added (and access stats about them - but we'll get to that), choose quick games, view their overall statistics, and edit their profile information. When the user moves to start importing their information, they are asked for a basic class description and meeting time, and then prompted to import their photos and names from another location.
Since the individual process of taking and inputting photos seemed the hairiest, I focused on it as I moved into the design process. I wanted to cover the liability issue of taking photos of students, so before the app even prompts to access the camera, I added a pop-up screen asking the instructor if they have the permission of their institution and/or parents and allowing them to download a photo release form directly. From there, users are prompted to take a photo and then add in as much information as they feel they need.
Once students are added, the user has two clear call to action options; start playing a game to familiarize themselves with names, or continue to add in other class information. Tapping the class itself from the main class page opens up more details on user statistics, progress, and shows performance by students. A star system notes completeness, and tapping a students name opens to add in mnemonic devices and descriptors to help jog memory faster.
I did basic mock-ups of several games, moving as the user becomes more advanced. The game starts with a familiarity exercise set up like a flashcard memory game and, as they progress, moves them to choosing from several faces/names, and eventually matching multiple names and faces and having them type in a name from memory. At the first play through of a new game, tutorial bubbles pop up to give the user context on how to play the game.
After running through the class list, the user is shown their score changes and alerted to their weakest points, from there they can easily add in mnemonic devices and other descriptors, which pop up with the use of the 'hint' button.
As with any design exercise, there are a lot of improvements that I would like to make to this product if it were being completely finished. A lot of features got thrown out in order to focus on the prompt specifically, but I do wonder if the 'one time use' aspect of the app would be problematic. Educators are tasked with remembering new students once a semester at the most, and once a year at the least. Rather, I could see a tool like this being more functional if it were a part of a larger product for educators. Furthermore, I didn't dive into the prototyping aspect of the product in this exercise, and kept a pretty minimalist design so as not to eat up a bunch of time. Fine tuning the design and creating more engaging transitions could be the difference in a tool that educators forget about, versus one that they come back to for the gamification aspect.