Participant 1: Middle School Parent / Personal Care Assistant (Teaching Assistant)
Participant 2: Middle School Student (in person)
Participant 3: Middle School Student (virtual) **OFF CAMERA
Participant 4: Middle School Teacher **PHONE CONVERSATION
For my focus group I ran two sessions because the teacher that I had lined up for the Zoom conversation had to drop out at the last minute. I had a phone conversation with another teacher individually to gather more information and a different perspective.
The zoom focus group session was with a middle school parent who is also employed as a PCA (personal care assistant/teaching assistant) at the middle school where I work, her daughter who is a middle school student, and another middle school student who is learning virtually. The virtual student was not comfortable being filmed, so she remained off camera.
The first half of our conversation seemed to focus on the student perspective. It took some time for them to warm up and they seemed nervous to say that they were struggling and that they did not love the virtual experience. From both the in person and the virtual perspective, learning was not as interactive as they would like. There are too many programs and it is difficult to know where to be and when. The students both agreed that it was confusing at times and that it was hard to submit assignments from programs outside of the main learning platform (Canvas). In Person student said that she liked the organization of One Note but disliked the lack of instructions in the notebook. She said exporting and submitting assignments from OneNote into Canvas was not always easy. She preferred when the assignment was outlined in Canvas with an embedded Google document. That is the easiest to submit. Both students agreed that video or written instructions are helpful. They also expressed frustration with the lack of engagement. There is a lot of downtime as the teacher lectures most of the time and goes back and forth trying to get virtual students and then in person students to contribute to the discussion. They both said that they wished they could interact more within the virtual environment. The Virtual Student says she hates being online and wants to feel like she is in a classroom.
The students left the conversation after about 20 minutes and the Parent/Teaching Assistant delved deeper into her frustrations with the way things were going for her and her student with learning disabilities. She explained that the student is often several steps behind the teacher and other students. The teachers seem to be lecturing most of the time and expecting the students to take notes on One Note, but there is very little interaction or engagement beyond that. This is especially true in classes that should be hands on like science. She feels that learning needs to be streamlined into one program that the students do not need to navigate away from. She felt as though a landing page that was organized with direct links and all the tools the students would need for the day would be helpful. Also, a lock-down type of browser where the students could not navigate away to play video games in the middle of instruction would be a huge necessity.
The phone conversation I had with the Middle School Teacher emphasized some of the same insights and needs that were highlighted in the earlier virtual focus group. She teaches 8th grade history in a blended environment. Some of her classes have 10-15 students online and 6-8 students in the classroom being taught simultaneously. She finds it very difficult to engage all of the students at the same time. In years past her classes were run with a lot of in class discussions and student interaction. Now she feels as though all she does is stare at blank screens (the students do not turn their cameras on). She spends so much time trying to get the online students to interact that she barely interacts with the students in the classroom. Many of her virtual students have not turned in a single assignment all semester. When finally works with them one on one, she discovers that they struggle to hear her and in many cases do not know how to access or submit their assignments.
From these conversations I think the top priorities for the middle school learning platform is to create a streamlined platform that contains everything the student needs within the platform, instead of needing to navigate to outside apps and websites. It needs to contain more interactive options for learning. The submission process needs to be simplified. Students want to feel more included and to be able to interact with classmates. And lastly, the students need to be contained within a “virtual classroom” to discourage the navigation to online gaming. I learned a lot from these conversations and many of my observations were substantiated.
Middle School Virtual Learning Platform
The target audience is the middle school student.
Teachers and assistant teachers are also target audience as they would also use the platform.
Principals, parents and school board members are stakeholders. They do not directly use the platform, but are investors and purchasers.
Elementary and high-school students fall outside the audience spectrum because The new platform needs to be specific to the middle school learner. Elementary students and high school students have platforms specifically designed for their needs, so this platform would never be used by a student while in elementary or high school.
MFA Graphic Design Student at Academy of Art University of San Francisco (on-line)