Envisioning a digital hub for students, teachers and parents

As a parent, you want to be as informed as soon as possible about your child’s school experience. Are they on track to meet their learning goals? When is parent-teacher night coming up? And does my child have the support and information that will help them feel prepared?

The challenge

With 800,000 primary and high-school students under its remit, the NSW Department of Education is the largest body in the country responsible for this journey.

There is currently no single platform for students, teachers, parents and carers, and Department staff to connect and communicate (don’t worry, there have been a few attempts...).

To explore how the frustrations caused by inconsistent information and user experience, Portable was commissioned by the Department for its outside, user-centred perspective. We set out to uncover what each user group needs and wants from an education hub, and what their experience with the hub could look like.

While stakeholders often have predefined ideas about the end result of technological implementations, Portable approached this project by stepping away from a solution-oriented approach, instead bringing its user-centred design expertise to achieve a real understanding of the users and their experiences.

We set out to define a student-centred hub that allows parents and carers, teachers, staff and students to connect, collaborate, engage and communicate about the student’s entire education journey.

Our approach

Portable helped craft and facilitate a series of co-design workshops — with parents and carers, teachers and principals, and Department of Education staff — to explore the challenges these user groups face in their experiences.

By understanding the key user challenges, we were able to flip them on their head into possible service scenarios, which were designed to inform the functionality of the future education hub as well as the in-person interactions it could facilitate.

We deliberately didn’t want to create wireframes, as we were too early in the process for this. Instead, we sketched scenarios to help elicit feedback from our users. We wanted to test sketching as a mechanism to define and determine our future strategy.

We conducted testing of those scenarios with parents and students in order to verify their likelihood of using the system that was taking shape, and further refine our design recommendations.

Portable delivered a compendium of insights, a service blueprint and a vision strategy with key recommendations for the education hub.

We discovered that parents want to be informed, teachers want to be freed up to teach, and students want to be prepared: by having visibility over their school journey so they can feel more in control of the factors that affect their emotional experience of school life. The findings from each user group could then be translated into features of a digital platform, such as easy access to school events and student timetables, and notifications about upcoming assessments.

Through this project, Portable further developed its knowledge of conducting design research with young people, and we have developed guidelines for doing so. For example, while design thinking activities are usually future-thinking and visionary, year seven students can find such tasks much more difficult than year 12 students without additional structure and questions that are contextualised to their lives and interests.

Further sessions with Department of Education staff, teachers, principals, students and parents resulted in taking initial service experience concepts to a greater level of granularity, resulting in low-fidelity designs for what the future digital hub’s dashboards could look like and functionality it may contain, as designed by the users themselves.

The outcomes:

  • By tackling this project as a co-design process, Portable was able to bring in the voice of different user groups. It also meant we were able to increase the level of buy-in and ownership felt by the different stakeholders involved.
  • The Department of Education NSW now has a range of research and tools to inform its development of a student-centred education hub that will be usable and useful to everyone that plays a role in the school experience.

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