Middle School Virtual Learning: Persona Cards
Insights: From Focus Group
1. "There are a lot of different programs. It is confusing to know which one the teacher is on, even when they are sharing the screen, between OneNote, Canvas, and Google Docs."
Providing a more streamlined environment for the students to work in would decrease student frustration and confusion. There are too many apps being used on a regular basis and the students do not know where to navigate to. This wastes time as well as the attention of the student and the teacher. Create a streamlined platform that contains everything the student needs within the platform, instead of needing to navigate to outside apps and websites.
2. "It would be helpful if I could interact more with my classmates. "
If the virtual classroom felt more like a real classroom it would feel less isolating. Creating an on-line environment for the virtual learner that incorporates classroom and peer engagement would make students feel more included. Using interactive programs such as Nearpod or Peardeck as inspiration for inclusion. Allow for in class virtual chatting, screen sharing and audio and/or video of the entire class.
3. "Class is boring, they just talk on the screen and share their screen the whole time and they give us like ten minutes to
actually do the work. "
–In Person Student
Students want to be engaged. Interactive lessons that allow the students to respond and interact in real-time with the teacher and their peers would increase comprehension, attendance and retention. She followed up by saying, "I like the Nearpods because there’s like different activities inside it. You kinda learn about something and answer a question. Then there are also things you can draw and describe. It is not as pressured as like the quizzes in Canvas." The key is more interaction. Draw tool, real-time responses, interactive games and games that encourage practice and repetition.
When kids are bored they resort to playing on-line games. Creating an environment that "locks" the students in during instructional time would limit this distraction.
4. "It is kind of confusing. If we do things on One Note, we have to transfer it to Canvas to submit it. One place for everything would be better. "
Simplify the submission process and have one platform that does it all. Keep assignments in one platform. There are too many platforms and too many ways to submit assignments. There are multiple steps to getting assignments from one program to the other, Often the students complete the work and never submit it. They get halfway through the process and either get confused, distracted overwhelmed or give up. In Person Student agreed and stated, " I don’t like how we have to transfer things from OneNote. Cause you have to like export it, then name it something you can remember, it is a lot of work."
5. "It’s too much, it’s too fast, it’s too overwhelming"
–Personal Care Assistant / Teaching Assistant
The virtual environment needs to be simplified. The teacher should be able to organize her space for only what the students need to accomplish the tasks of the day. If the teacher could design her lesson with only what they need for the lesson on the screenby dragging or linking those features into her lesson. It would be very clear cut and she could move faster because it is all right there on the screen. Class is usually a 45 minute period. There is not enough time and instructions are too fast for many of the students. When they open the screen there are too many options and too many tabs open, it is sensory overload, especially for learning support kids. Often times the students are overwhelmed and fail to start or start late and then they are behind. If is common for students to give up before class is over.
6. "It is no longer hands on learning, it is a one dimensional flat screen. The kids can’t follow along because it is too small on the screen. (working split screen or on the projected screen in person)"
–Personal Care Assistant / Teaching Assistant
If there was a system where the kids where receiving the teachers notes in real time, they could focus on her speaking instead of typing feverishly and missing half the lesson. The act of typing, copying, processing, absorbing is too much in this environment (many students have low skills in typing). Again, this would also work in a more interactive environment. Teachers notes appear in real-time. Students can annotate thoughts and ideas as they come and focus on listening to the lesson. Including interactive responses would help with engagement on-line and in-person.
Insights: From Insights
I need more data to show the benefits of in person learning using the virtual platform vs just virtual or hybrid blended classrooms.
I would like to gather grades at the end of the 1st marking peroid from different classes that represent each of the different learning environments: 100% virtual, 100% in person (using the virtual platform), and hybrid/blended (half virtual, half in person simultaneously). I think this would solidify my TFI and proposal.
Insights: What Is Working and What Is Not?
I have gathered a lot of insights on what to include in a virtual platform and how to engage more students.
• Students enjoy the organization of programs like OneNote.
• Students enjoy learning games like Quizlet and interactive lessons like Nearpod and Peardeck.
• Students need a simpler platform so that they can focus on learning and retaining information and less on where they should be and how to submit an assignment.
• Students are overwhelmed and simultaneously distracted. They need less available distractions and more classroom engagement.
• Hybrid/Blended environments (half virtual, half in person simultaneously) are not working. Teachers are overwhelmed and cannot engage each group simultaneously. Students are bored or distracted. Students are overwhelmed. I need to find a way to help both teachers and students so that this environment can be more successful in the future.
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.
Middle School Virtual Learning: Target Audience
Topic for Investigation
I asked 59 rhetorical questions about middle school virtual learning using the Socratic method. The questions center around evidence of need, target audience, the future of virtual learning, and the idea of blended learning. These questions will lead to further research opportunities and possible solutions to the problem of middle school students struggling to adapt, navigate and learn in the virtual learning environment.
Middle School Virtual Learning Platform
In most schools, the current standard delivery method of education is a virtual or format. In the future, building on this model we can teach chidlren using a blended model, incorporating in person and virtual learning simultaneously. Many middle school students struggle to adapt, navigate, understand, and learn using virtual learning platforms and materials. Using graphic design I will help middle school children to adapt, navigate, and learn in the on-line learning environment by designing a platform specific to their needs.
MFA Graphic Design Student at Academy of Art University of San Francisco (on-line)