Michael Ligier
Michael Ligier

athena - project overview

Athena is a product concept for teachers to better manage their students in an effective way that helps students learn exactly what they need to learn. While I'll mostly be talking about this from a design perspective, this semester I'm looking to build out a working prototype and perhaps develop it into a larger project overall. This project focused a lot on research and was a challenge because I had never designed any analytics tools before. As such, I'll discuss some of the problems I saw, ideas that I came up with, and of course, some of the final designs. 

initial readings & problem

After my experience working at Udemy, I became very interested in the ways that technology can enable education and how it can help alleviate some of the problems that exist both throughout the world and in the US. Following that internship, I decided I wanted to learn more about our education system and how it differs from those of countries who score higher on international standardized exams.

As such, I read a book called The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley who compared students in the US to those in countries such as Finland, South Korea, and Poland. What I found interesting is that teachers in Finland seem to care very deeply about not letting their students fall behind whereas in the US, it's a little bit different. This book was what inspired me to create an idea based off of personalized education and I'll dive a bit more into the problem in the next section.

problem

What really resonated with me in my initial readings and research was how we segment students at a very young age and teach them different material based on their current skill level, rather than the level that they should be at. For example, in elementary schools, oftentimes students are broken up into different reading or math levels. The students in the lowest reading levels will get easier readings that are adjusted to their level whereas the more advanced students will get more complex topics. While this might sound good, it actually results in students in the lowest groups never catching up to students in the highest groups.

So the question that I wanted to answer was: how can we give each student material to help them all achieve a baseline standard? How can we personalize education for each student so we can help them improve in the way that's most effective for them and focus on the areas that they need the most help in?

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user research

I was curious as to whether or not the problems above existed and to what extent they did. As such, I sent out a survey to teachers in schools both in California and New York City to get some responses. Additionally, I arranged some in person interviews with teachers to get a better understanding of the problem. 

Survey Results

The survey results were precisely in line with what I've read about the education system in the United States. Teachers overwhelmingly mentioned that they spend the most amount of time correcting exams over anything else - sometimes spending hours or days grading papers. 

Furthermore, many do not tailor their lesson plans to student levels because of the class sizes and actually, contrary to what I originally thought, focus most of their attention on students that are doing well rather than struggling. 

solution

The solution that I eventually came up with was a way to personalize education and streamline the grading process for elementary school students. A teacher would administer an exam (in mathematics for example), then the teacher would upload the exam to the platform with the answer bank and the tests would be automatically graded. 

After this, each student would automatically have their scores analyzed and uploaded to their personal profiles. This would alleviate much of the time that the teacher spends grading papers and doing data entry.

Finally, the teacher can also print custom worksheets that are generated based off of the student's weaker areas. For example, if a student scores low on the multiplication section of an exam, their personal homework assignment will feature more multiplication problems. This solution provides an easy way for teachers to offer personalized education without having to add too much work onto their own plates.

 

sketches

Analytics chart designs

One of the interesting aspects of this project is the need to make this analytics tool and dashboard easy to use and understand for teachers who might not be as familiar with technological tools. The charts that are displayed need to be simple, yet effective and as such, I've come up with a few samplings for each type of main chart: line charts, bar charts, and pie charts as well as many iterations of the overall dashboard design.

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chart design

Line chart

When coming up with a design for a line chart, I wanted to create something that was extremely easy to understand at a glance, but also can provide the user with more information upon request. 

With this in mind, I decided to go with a simple line chart that featured dots at each of the points that were easily visible. Furthermore, I played around with options such as leaving the area under the line chart white and making it the same color as the line, but this balance with a lighter shade of purple allows the line to still be read easily while making the chart look more full as a whole.

From an interaction perspective, the user can also scroll over any of the dots in order to pull up information specific to that data point (in this case exams). The user can also customize the amount of data points they'd like to see and switch between a view of all exams and a view of the previous five exams.

 

Bar chart

For the bar chart, I wanted to create a basic bar chart that's relatively standard and features light grey lines in the background to get a better idea of what the average score on each exam was. To get detailed information, once again a user can simple scroll over each individual bar. The bar will then turn darker and the information in the header will change to the appropriate information. 

 

dashboard design

Overall Layout

The layout of the dashboard for teachers had to be easy to use, neatly organized, and very informative. Keeping this in mind, the overall layout of this dashboard is compartmentalized into different content areas.

The side bar contains the main navigation for a teacher including student, exam, calendar, and notification views. This is in a different color to indicate that it's a static component and is separate from where all of the content will live. 

On the right side, there is a header area which tells the user what section they're on as well as a constant upload documents button so a teacher can upload exams and assignments to be graded.

On some of the screens, the overall page is split into two sections, again compartmentalizing the information so that it's easier to digest. Furthermore, each chart or table is confined within it's own box and header area so make it very clear and organized on the page.

Classroom Overview

In the classroom view, there are tabs on the overview page to easily go from one area to the next - the current page is indicated by a colored bar under the title. Each one features lots of analytics that a teacher might need. On the exams tab, specific statistics about what questions were harder than others are available and color coded so that teachers can get a quick glance at the analytics of a particular exam.

Student Overview

The student overview section features an in-depth breakdown of a student's performance and also allows easy access to other students records in the sidebar, allowing teachers to navigate between students with ease.

 
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linkedin hackathon results & next steps

I wound up working on developing this a little bit more with a team at the LinkedIn hackathon over this past summer. We worked for 24 hours to build out a working prototype that could actually read in basic exams, assign scores to students, and provide all of that information in an analytics dashboard.

I mainly worked on the design and front-end while other team members handled the backend and machine-learning aspects of this project. 

In the end, our team got 2nd place at the hackathon, showing that there is potential for a technology that can help teachers advance their students in the classroom.

The next step in this project is to develop a more stable prototype over the course of this next semester and begin user testing with schools in the NYC area. I'm looking forward to working on my development skills with this project and pursuing a solution to a problem that I care very deeply about.