I was a UX researcher and Product Manager for this project. I led both foundational and evaluative research projects, but for this portfolio, I focused on the foundational research, which found the potential users’ needs and guided the project direction.
I used interviews to understand teachers’ life and pain points. I found 1) Teachers have too many extra responsibilities and not enough time. 2) Teachers want to prioritize investing personally in their students’ growth. and 3) Teachers have many secondary priorities, such as lesson planning, that limit their ability to fully invest in their students.
Then, I used a survey to understand how teachers do their job now. I found 1) Teachers use Google products to create classroom materials. 2) Teachers create slides and then create worksheets. and 3) Teachers want someone to do it for them – automate the process of creating materials.
These two research projects guided product direction. My team considered how we might take advantage of existing functionalities in Google Drive to improve teachers’ material creation process because they are already using google products. We chose to create the Google Docs add-on / that enables teachers to convert Google slides to worksheets.
Product Team & Timeline
MateriALL is a digital tool for K-12 teachers that uses their existing slide decks to auto-generate new worksheets.
It is Google Docs Add-on that the teachers can use to extract information from the Google slides they have to create a worksheet. MateriALL uses NLP to automate formatting and makes lesson planning less time-consuming for teachers.
MateriALL was built as a final project for my master’s degree – Master of Information Management and Systems. The whole project was 2 semesters long – 8 months. For the final project, my team was supposed to come up with the topic and idea as a team and build a product or a project.
MateriALL was designed and built by four members – a UX designer, a software engineer, a UX researcher who focused more on data science, and me, a UX researcher who focused more on the UX side.
In 8 months, we were able to successfully deliver the final product. I conducted interviews, a survey, concept testing, and usability tests throughout the project. This post focuses on the ideation phase – interviews and a survey. Interviews helped us narrow the scope of the problem, and a survey helped us decide what to work on.
- Existing research and tools often centers around students.
- Products and artifacts are very student-centered.
- This leaves an integral real-world user out of consideration – THE TEACHERS.
Since the final capstone project is open-ended, my team started by coming up with the problem space that we wanted to focus on. All members were interested in education, but rather than the student’s side, we agreed on the fact that the existing educational innovation is student-centered and leaves an integral real-world user out of consideration – the teachers.
So, we were more interested in learning and improving teachers’ experience.
I was one of the two researchers in the interview project. Another researcher and I worked together to develop the interview guide, moderated and took notes for the interviews, analyzed, and shared the result.
At the beginning of the project, my team only had a broad problem space that we wanted to focus on: helping teachers do their jobs easier. With this problem space, we did not have a thorough understanding of teachers’ lives, so the purpose of this interview project was to understand teachers’ pain points in general and narrow down the scope of our final project.
To understand teachers’ pain points and narrow down the scope, we had three research questions.
- What are teachers’ biggest pain points?
- What do teachers care about the most?
- How do teachers feel about their work?
To answer these research questions, I decided to do the interview because we wanted to learn more about teachers’ life and their pain points, in general, to help them do their jobs easier. My team was in the discovery phase where we still didn’t know exactly what the problem we were trying to solve was or how to solve the problem.
I chose to do 30 minutes remote interview sessions with K-12 teachers in the United States. We didn’t limit the grade level because the scope of the problem space is similar across the grade levels, and we did not have enough information to narrow down the grade level. However, we limited to teachers in the United States because the educational system is different in other countries. And we recruited teachers through our own network and social media with these criteria and had 5 teachers for this phase. The interview was done in a week
In these interview sessions, the teachers were asked to walk through the process of preparing a lesson, how they spend their time, what kind of resources they use, and how they customize the resources. The questions also included what they consider when creating classroom materials, the tools they use to create materials, the kinds of materials they use in class, and the difference between graded and non-graded materials. The interviews ended by asking them about their biggest pain points as teachers.
Results & Analysis
During this research phase, I moderated and transcribed interviews, and organized the key findings from each interview. Later, the whole team gathered and did affinity mapping to analyze the interview data together.
There were three key findings from our interviews. The first is that Teachers have too many extra responsibilities and insufficient time.
“When you’re a teacher, it’s actually more like five jobs instead of one job.”High School Physics Teacher
All teachers mentioned they don’t have enough time to focus on their students because they have so many different responsibilities. One teacher described it as like having “five jobs” since they have to plan the lessons, make the material, teach class, evaluate it, deal with parents and school, and so on and so forth.
The second key finding is that among all these responsibilities, teachers mentioned that their top priority right now is focusing on students’ socio-emotional learning and teaching students just how to be a student in a classroom again after COVID.
“Because of the COVID pandemic, we’re focused right now on students’ socio-emotional learning, and learning how to be students in a classroom again.”High School Biology Teacher
Some of the teachers we interviewed were teachers in Title I schools (which means at least 40% of students are low-income). And they especially reported difficulty in supporting their students’ growth. Teachers said that it takes a lot of energy to make students focus in the classroom as the students are not used to being in the class anymore.
Their schools do not expect teachers to worry about the pedagogy and the content. Schools and teachers are trying to more focus on socio-emotional learning and teaching students how to be in the classroom again after years of online school.
But we found that teachers have many secondary priorities, such as lesson planning, that limit their ability to fully invest in their students and their socio-emotional needs.
“All those resources that I make myself, like the Google slides on everything. I wish I had someone to make it for me.”Elementary School Teacher
Many teachers we talked to currently borrow resources provided by other teachers and the Internet, but teachers still want to customize them to suit their own teaching styles, and this is a very time-consuming process. Most of the teachers reported that they spend extra hours after school and even on the weekends preparing classroom materials. For example, an elementary school teacher said she wishes she had someone to make all her resources like Google Slides for her – not just generic slides, but materials that really suited her teaching style and her students’ needs
Analysis & Conclusion
At a high level, there were three findings:
- Teachers have too many extra responsibilities and not enough time.
- Teachers, especially those in Title 1 schools, want to prioritize investing personally in their students’ growth.
- Teachers have many secondary priorities, such as lesson planning, that limit their ability to fully invest in their students.
These findings led us to what to focus on.
Since the project was in the short term, from brainstorming to the final product, my team had to come up with an idea that was feasible to achieve in a short time. Also, we are not education professionals, so we could not start a project about creating a new pedagogy or a new curriculum.
So based on the research, we decided to tackle the secondary priority: preparation for classroom materials – so that teachers would have more time to spend on their first priority: students’ growth.
After the interview research, the question that led to the next research was: How might we save teachers’ time so that they have time to support their students? To answer this question, I decided to do a survey to understand teachers’ current situation.
After the interview project, we decided on our goal to make the lesson planning process more streamlined so that teachers have time for other responsibilities. To achieve this goal, we had to understand how teachers do those jobs now.
I was the sole researcher in this survey project. I created the survey, formalized it, and distributed it with the team’s support. I decided to do the survey to understand teachers’ lesson planning process and verify our qualitative data from the interviews. I looked for more participants and a more diverse group of teachers to collect data from and tried to learn the trend of the teacher’s lesson planning process.
With those research goals, the research questions of this survey study were:
- What takes the most time in lesson planning?
- What order do teachers take when preparing lessons?
- What are the tools and resources teachers use?
And I thought the survey was the best way to learn this information about the lesson planning process in our limited time.
The survey was an approximately 10-minute long online survey created through Qualtrics. I tried to make it short because I knew that teachers don’t have time. At this point, we got some funding for the project, so we were able to incorporate a raffle for gift cards.
The audience included K-12 teachers in the United States and distributed through our network and social media. These target users were the same as in previous interview research. It was distributed on LinkedIn, Slack, and online forums and was open for 10 days. I got 54 responses.
The survey started with screening questions that asked them whether they were a teacher in the united states.
To get a general understanding of the respondents and see whether the trend differs, I asked about the subject they teach, grade levels, years of teaching, and types of schools they work at.
Then, I asked more lesson planning-focused questions like how long they spend time lesson planning, the most time-consuming part of preparing lessons and materials, what kind of resources they use, what kind of materials they use in class, and digital or physical tools they use, and the most important thing to consider when they create materials.
And then for further research recruitment, I asked them to leave their email.
So for the result, some teachers said 1-2 hours per week, but most teachers answered that they spend 3-5 hours per week and even 6-10 or more than 10 hours per week to prepare their lessons and materials. This did not include the classroom time they actively teach and the time they do other school work.
In the survey, I asked about the most time-consuming activity in their lesson planning process, and the answer was creating worksheets, creating slides, and creating exams.
I wondered whether there would be a difference in their work depending on the years of experience, so I further looked into the years of experience. Most of the interview participants were younger and newer teachers, so, from the survey, I wanted to see the difference between the newer teachers and more experienced teachers.
And the trend that they spend more time on creating worksheets was actually more noticeable among teachers with less experience. That means, less experienced teachers spend more time on making worksheets, whereas more experienced teachers don’t.
According to the survey, first, teachers are spending a lot of time on lesson planning, which aligns with our interview findings. Second, creating worksheets takes their time the most. And lastly, I found that new teachers spend more time preparing their worksheets
From the interviews, we found out that new teachers don’t have classroom resources from previous years, which more experienced teachers have. So newer teachers have to create their own from scratch or customize their resources to match their own teaching style, and this made them spend more time creating materials to use in the classroom.
Based on my research, my team came up with a more specific question that led us throughout the whole project.
How might we make the lesson planning process more streamlined so that teachers have time for other responsibilities?
To answer this question, we had to understand how teachers do their work, and luckily, I asked enough questions to understand teachers’ lesson planning process.
In addition to the previous findings, understanding the current situation regarding teachers’ lesson planning process was very important to improve their work.
From the survey, I found out that many teachers use google drive products (google slides, sheets, and docs) to organize and design classroom materials. In addition to google products, teachers also use Microsoft products and Kahoot, which is an online synchronous quiz platform that they use during class.
In the survey, I asked teachers to order the steps / that they go through when preparing a lesson to understand the process of their lesson planning work.
Many teachers started by setting up learning objectives, matching lessons to state or district standards, then creating slide decks using Google Slides, and then making classroom materials / such as worksheets and quizzes using Google Docs. And at last, they create tests.
To conclude, teachers use Google products to create classroom materials. Teachers create slides and then create worksheets. And we learned from interviews that teachers want someone to do it for them – automate the process of creating materials.
With these insights, my team considered how we might take advantage of existing functionalities in Google Drive to improve teachers’ material creation process because they are already using google products. With our limited time and resources, we found a solution without inventing a new wheel.
That’s why we chose to create the Google Docs add-on / that enables teachers to convert Google slides to worksheets.
With the research that I did, my team finalized to create a Google Docs Add-on that uses teachers’ existing slide decks to generate questions and format worksheets that they can use in their classrooms.
With the research, MateriALL is made for K-12th teachers, particularly those in Title I Schools, new to their careers and who do not have pre-existing classroom materials from previous years of teaching.
To sum up, from the interviews, we could conclude that the biggest problem that we wanted to solve was that teachers don’t have time. The interview project helped narrow the scope of the project from just “we want to help teachers” to “we want to save teachers’ time”.
And from the survey and interview, I could conclude that teachers need a tool to help them plan the lesson and create their classroom materials efficiently- which was teachers’ specific needs.
Finally, from the survey, I could learn that newer teachers spend the most time creating worksheets and using Google drive products. So, it would be best if we could take advantage of the existing tool and create a Google add-on.
My team was a team of grad students with limited time, experience, and resources, so it was essential to narrow down our scope and figure out what we could do and what to work on, and my research projects helped the team to achieve that.