Education in a "Distanced" World

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Illustration of parents, teachers, and students at home on computers

Applying design thinking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on education

As the end of summer approaches, parents, teachers, and students experience a multitude of emotions in anticipation of the upcoming school year.

The 2020 school year, however, is primed to bring about unprecedented challenges. Nationwide, schools are continuing to struggle to adapt in a world shaped by the current global pandemic.

According to the nonprofit assessment organization NWEA, teachers are likely to see an even broader array of achievement gaps when schools reopen.

As Kevin Huffman, partner at national education non-profit City Fund, told The Washington Post, virtual learning in the age of COVID-19 is messy—at best:

Years of research shows that online schooling is ineffective—and that students suffer significant learning losses when they have a long break from school. Now they’re getting both, in a hastily arranged mess.

Applying Design Thinking to EdTech

As a user-centered digital product consultancy, DockYard used design thinking—executed through three, one-week design sprints—to engage parents, teachers, and students. Through focused user surveys and interviews, we aimed to better understand the unique distance learning challenges they each face.

Design Thinking Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. - Interaction Design Foundation

Armed with those insights, we conducted a collaborative EdTech Workshop with select research participants to identify potential solutions to improve education in a COVID-19 world.

Our Findings

Through our user-focused design sprints, we uncovered common pain points, benefits, and opportunities from parents, teachers, and students with experience navigating the challenges of distance learning in the wake of the pandemic.

Here’s what we learned:

Education in a "Distanced" World Infographic. 68% of all respondents say virtual learning will never be as effective as in-person learning. Top benefits of online learning include: 80% of parents like self-guided nature of online education. 100% of teachers like ability to community with students directly. 100% of students like ability to set their own pace. Top challenges of online learning include: 88% of parents cited motivating their kids. 75% of teachers cited making course material engaging in a digital format. 80% of students cited getting tools to work properly. Respondents shared the following advice to their pre-pandemic selves: Parents said to experiement with schedules (then stick to what works), create a space for learning, and get reliable internet/devices. Teachers said to pick one platform, take breaks from screens, and prepare families. Students said to make a schedule, pay attention, and show up. Software used in the virtual classroom include: ABC Mouse, Blackboard, BrainPop, Brainpop Jr., Canvas, Class Dojo, Clever.com, DreamBox, Edpuzzle, Edulastic, Epic Reading, Flip Grid Freckle, Google Classroom, iReady, iXL, Khan Academy, Kids A-Z, Lexia, Loom, Oak National Academy, ParentVue, PebbleGo, PowerSchool, Raz Kids, Read Naturally, Scholastic Kids, Scholastic: Let’s Find Out, Schooltool, Screencastify, SeeSaw, SplashLearn, WebAssign, YouTube Videos, Zoom. DockYard is a digital product consultancy. We specialize in user-centered web application design and development. Using progressive technology, we help ambitious brands accelerate digital product innovation. Thi research is a culmination of insights gleaned from parent, student, and teached survey respondents, interviewees, and EdTech Workshop participants.

Reimagining the Virtual Classroom

While there is much uncertainty around the future of education, one thing is clear: distance learning needs to evolve quickly to meet the needs of families and educators.

We invited select participants from our research group to join an EdTech Workshop focused on finding solutions for the most common challenges facing the future of virtual education.

Here is a snapshot of the solutions participants felt would have the biggest impact on reducing friction for remote learning:

Parents

Ways to help parents…

  • Supplement education: Participants agreed that gamification of learning would complement course work and help combat lack of student motivation and attention. They suggested schools offer board game assignments or pay for subscriptions to educational gaming platforms to engage students.
  • Balance work and childcare: To create more structure—and help working parents balance priorities—participants suggested implementing calendar and scheduling tools at home to set parameters around “work” and “home” time for families.

Teachers

Ways to help teachers…

  • Learn and use remote technology: As evidenced by our research, there are a sea of edtech tools available to educators today. While it is great they have options, it can also be challenging for instructors to learn how to use each tool effectively. Participants agreed that school systems should designate a “peer trainer” to become an expert on the tools selected by their administration. These trainers can then help train and troubleshoot with their colleagues.
  • Update teaching styles: Curriculum that works in the classroom does not always translate well to remote learning. Participants determined that educators should be required to receive remote teaching certifications to help them adapt their lesson plans for the digital classroom.

Students

Ways to help students…

  • With engagement and participation: Parents, teachers, and students themselves all cited staying engaged in the virtual classroom as a major hurdle for students. To address this, participants recommend educators provide a centralized knowledge hub to make all tools, lessons, and resources easier to use and access to remove roadblocks for participation.
  • Replace in-person socialization: Across all research groups, individuals expressed concerns around the lack of opportunities for students to socialize with their teachers and peers. Participants encouraged more 1:1 student tutorial sessions with teachers, “open office hours,” and small group breakouts with other students.

Take a deeper dive on additional challenges, opportunities, and solutions we discovered with each of our research groups:

Deep Dive on Parent Findings Deep Dive on Teacher Findings Deep Dive on Student Findings

The Future of EdTech is Web

The education sector is in the midst of a necessary, albeit difficult, digital transformation. Through our research, we heard many stories of parents, teachers, and students struggling to identify the right tools to use, learn how to implement them effectively, stay engaged, and maintain connections with their peers.

Web technologies have the potential to empower edtech providers to meet and exceed the needs of everyone involved in virtual learning, from administrators to kindergarteners.

So, why the web? With web-based technologies, edtech providers and their users experience a variety of benefits.

EdTech companies leveraging web technologies, such as Progressive Web Applications (PWA), experience:

  • Faster delivery and maintenance as compared to native applications;
  • The ability to skip long, complicated, and costly app store approval processes; and
  • Simplify development and reduce spend through use of a single code base.

On the user side, web applications can:

  • Deliver more consistent experiences across diverse devices and operating systems;
  • Offer enhanced reliability (even with low latency); and
  • Deliver content more seamlessly and at faster speeds.

Web applications are also designed with change in mind, meaning edtech providers can more readily adapt to meet the ever-changing technology/feature enhancements users demand.

DockYard has partnered with educational leaders like Harvard University and McGraw-Hill, as well as industry disruptors like IntelliSpark and Learnivore, to define, design, develop, and deliver the next-generation of digital edtech products via the web.

Learn more about our experience accelerating digital innovation in education.

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