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Designing for children


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As a leading K-12 LMS, itslearning regularly consults with teachers and students to improve the platform. This time we sent Øyvind Hjartnes, our UX researcher, to find out what kids want from their school’s learning management system.

Øyvind reports…
It’s a Monday, and my pulse is racing – not because it’s a Monday and the start of another work week, but because today I’m going to come face to face with a group of students to get feedback on the itslearning platform. For someone who rarely ever engages with children, this is a daunting task – but an important one – so I brace myself.

There are more than 29,000 primary students in Bergen county. While many of them are avid users of itslearning, first and foremost they are kids. This means they respond to colorful weekly plans and have snowball fights with the cool teachers during recess…and they love YouTube and Fortnite.

So, if we’re going to create a solution that fits into their colorful school lives, we need to understand what they respond to. Teachers know this and that’s why they use bold text and bright colors to engage young pupils.

So despite my trepidation, I readily agreed when Hanne Lorentzen (a product owner at itslearning) told me we should talk to school kids about the new weekly plan that itslearning is designing. Plus, I want to know more about this Fortnite business.

But what will I say to them? How do I engage them and get them to answer my questions so that we can create a platform that is perfect for students and teachers? Well, itslearning has many talented and skillful people, so I asked around the office before stepping back into a classroom. Here’s what I learned: speak to them normally, just like you would to adults. Don’t use funny voices or make funny faces.

Another tip was to make kids feel important. Pedagogical advisor Veronica Gjøvåg told me that her modus operandi is to try to figure out what the children are most interested in, and engage them that way. “The things they say can be very ‘out there’, but it’s interesting to see where you end up if you keep an open mind,” she tells me. “Express interest and they will open up.”

Henning Gjellesvik, father of two, has a lot of experience talking to his kids and other students. I asked him for a tip on how to reward my little “user-testing informants”. He replied, “What every kid wants and desires is to be listened to and to feel important”.

With that in mind, I gathered some pens and itslearning candy and headed to school. (“These will make them feel special,” I thought.) Armed with my goodies, a smile, my Marius jumper and my trusty partner Hanne (a former teacher) I was ready to face the kids. We entered a classroom that was more modern than I imagined. There were Smartboards everywhere and the teacher was using the Lord of the Rings movie to teach English to a group of 11-year-olds.

Our interview subjects were waiting for us at the back of the classroom: shy, soft-spoken 6th graders. We explained that we had come to hear about their experiences with homework and itslearning, and that they could be as candid as they wanted with their answers.

I started talking and Hanne coughed when I asked too many questions about Fortnite. Then we asked them what they do the moment they log on to itslearning. As expected, they told me they check their weekly plans first. We decide to show them what we are working on…

The kids were honest: it wasn’t what they expected. “It’s very different from what we have now,” says one girl. “I prefer the weekly plan we have now, since everything is gathered in one place” says her friend.

That did not go exactly as planned in my head.

So, I asked how we could make the weekly plan function better for them, and they gave me some ideas to work on.

I thanked the kids for giving us useful information. They thanked us for the goodies before running off to watch the movie with the rest of the class. All in all, it was a fulfilling day and it was great fun talking to the kids. They have excellent ideas and we can learn a lot from them, especially if we’re designing a learning platform used by children.

It can be challenging talking to kids, but worth it because you can end up with an idea you had never thought of.

 

This is a weekly plan used by 6th graders at a Bergen County school. The teacher who made it explained, “I have to make sure it’s simple enough so every student, even those who require extra assistance, will understand it”.

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