In a large team of specialists who worked on creating hybrid classrooms at the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus, one of the leading roles was played by experts in the methodology of design thinking, alumni of the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU). Today they have invited teachers of the Business School Tatiana Bobrus and Olga Ignatieva. We talked to them about understanding what the user really wants and making his dreams about the educational process come true.
Tatiana Bobrus - about design thinking and creativity
Design thinking is an approach to solving problems creatively. In the process of formation, it passed through a significant transformation.
Initially, design thinking was a set of principles that designers work by:
- customer orientation and his request: when we solve a customer's problem, sometimes we don't take his word for it, dig deeper, find out the true problem and find a solution for it;
- the process of trial and error: when we build a quick idea prototype from improvised materials to see if it is viable;
- flexibility and be ready to work with different ideas: when we don't focus on just one solution, we have the courage to consider different options and try them.
Then this set of principles was formalized into a structural algorithm by the so-called "evangelists" of design thinking, the IDEO design studio led by David Kelly. Design thinking has turned into a process consisting of 5 steps: empathy, point of view, idea generation, prototyping and testing. At the stage of empathy development, "designers" study the context of users and develop a sense of empathy for their pains. After studying the user's needs, they focus on the most important problem for him. Then, during the brainstorming process, the team generates a lot of ideas for new solutions and selects the most viable ones. To bring these ideas to life and test their potential with the user, teams create a basic and fast prototype. На этапе тестирования происходит оценка прототипа с пользователями и принимается решение о дальнейшей судьбе идеи. At the testing, together with the users, we evaluate the prototype and decide on the future of the idea.
In general, this structuring of the approach allowed the general public, regardless of the formal role in the company, to effectively use creative thinking to solve problems. Today, design thinking is used for different purposes, but there are still several trends. Firstly, it is actively used in business to create new products. This is a really suitable case for such a methodology: there is a user, a team and a business goal. It is used by the absolute majority of large foreign companies. Now the business has really seen the benefits of design thinking, and now many companies have appropriate internal departments.
The next round of evolution was services and services. Now it is important for companies to create not only a product, but also an ecosystem around it, to design a positive user experience. So there was a whole practice called service design.
The next round of evolution was services. Now it is important for companies to create not only a product, but also an ecosystem around it, to design a positive user experience. So there was a whole practice called service design.
Finally, design thinking is useful not only for business tasks. More and more attention is being paid to its use in solving social problems — when it is difficult to determine their root cause. After all, it is often a symptom of another deeper problem — in the field of ecology, racism, poverty. If it is not clear what to take on in the first place and what the ideal solution might be — design thinking will cope well with this. More and more NPOs and social enterprises are turning to the methodology and getting new interesting and effective solutions.
In the team that worked on the “hybrid”, you were called anthropologists — in fact, specialists studying humanity as a species. How has this role been implemented in practice?
Olga Ignatieva: The first stage of the methodology of design thinking is building empathy, a sense of deep empathy with the user. You need to dive into his context, learn as much as possible about his life and record all the interesting and important facts. To do this, designers or anthropologists (as our colleagues from the project called us) have several tools.
First, it is an observation. In order to immerse ourselves in the life of teachers and students, we watched how classes were held offline, online, and then in a hybrid. There are always unexpected insights! At that stage, we had not yet moved on to finding solutions, but carefully recorded everything that we noticed in the behavior and emotional state of our users.
Our second tool is an interview. The most natural way to learn something from another person is to have a heart-to-heart. To build a sense of empathy, we talked with teachers and students before and after the hybrid format experiment. After talking about their educational experience online and offline, we learned not only about the problems and difficulties they usually face, but also about the positive aspects of learning. When designing a hybrid audience, we tried to eliminate the negative experience of our users as much as possible and strengthen the positive component.
We also resorted to surveys among students to assess the overall level of expectations and satisfaction. By combining quantitative and qualitative approaches in our research, we gained a deep understanding of the problems of our users.
Finally, we used such a tool as direct involvement in the user's life. Going through another person's experience is an exercise that opens your eyes to many details. The fact that we studied at GSOM St. Petersburg State University, and now we teach both offline and online formats helped us a lot. We have already tried on the roles of students and teachers, we know the user world well from the inside, so we passed this stage quite quickly.
What specifics were faced within the project, what to pay special attention to?
Tatiana Bobrus: Let's start with the challenges we faced. The main task was to create a seamless learning environment in which the user does not stumble over technologies, because they are organically integrated into the user's path. We had to consider the needs of the teacher, students in the classroom and students in the online space, to create a comfortable common environment for them. This environment was supposed to be autonomous, without relying on a specially trained IT team.
To solve this problem, we combined the expertise of three teams: the UX/UI team, methodologists and technical specialists. All three teams worked according to the methodology of design thinking, starting primarily from the needs of users and putting their convenience as a priority.
Generally speaking, our role was to study the context of planning needs, tasks and wishes of users. That's why we were called anthropologists within the project, that is, specialists in the study of people. We can also be called translators from a user language to a technical one.
The empathy stage was extremely important in this project: we had to first understand the needs of teachers and students, and then translate this to the technical team for implementation. We had to be careful with collecting specific requirements from users. The classrooms in the world have just begun to be created, teachers and students still had no idea about such technologies. In this situation, it was dangerous to ask a teacher or student about what they would like to see in a hybrid audience. Henry Ford also said: "If I asked people what they wanted, they would say they wanted faster horses." Often users are not asking for what they really need. Therefore, we get this task from the other side.
Together with teaching methodology specialists, we identified and described four pedagogical scenarios for implementation in a hybrid format: lecture, discussion, group work and project presentation. Then, based on our experience of student life and teaching work, as well as additional study of teachers and students, we identified and analyzed all current tasks (Jobs To Be Done) before, during and after the lesson in the context of user groups "teacher offline", "teacher online", "student offline", "student online" within each pedagogical scenario. It sounds difficult, and in practice it was not easy either.
On paper it looked like this:
- "during the lecture, as a teacher I want (I need) show slides"
- "during the discussion as a teacher I want (I need) to answer students' questions"
- "during a lecture as an online student I want (I need) to ask the teacher"
- "during group work offline as a student I want (I need) to interact with online students," etc.
We tried to cover everything, even not the most obvious tasks and needs. For example, during breaks between classes, teachers solve other work issues and have personal phone calls. Students from an online environment want to actively interact with an offline audience. Many aspects would have to be taken into account. Then we connected user paths from online and offline spaces and modeled user paths with Jobs To Be Done according to the scenarios "teacher in hybrid" and "student in hybrid". We got 6 user paths given each pedagogical scenario (a total of 24 different user tracks). It was important not to get confused in all these combinations.
In what way was the decision made on how to bring them to life?
TB: It was a brainstorming session. We invited teachers and students, the technical team, methodologists and the economic service of the university. Everyone's voice was important, because the teacher, student and methodologist look at the same problem differently. Let's explain with an example. During the lecture, teachers often move around the audience, this is their physical need. A student from an online environment wants to observe the teacher during his presentation. How to make these two needs converge? Let's say a static camera broadcasts from an audience with a certain viewing angle. If the teacher goes outside this sector, the student will lose sight of him. What should we do? Restrict the movement of the teacher in the classroom? Put a marking on the floor, for which he will not be allowed to enter? This is initially inconvenient, we restrict the freedom of the teacher, we bind him. As a result, we found a way out of this situation: a camera with auto-tracking is installed in the classroom. It fixes on the teacher and follows him everywhere in the classroom.
The online student, in turn, follows an interesting dynamic picture. Everyone is happy.
Another example about sound. How to make online students listen to the teacher and students from the classroom? Hand out microphones to everyone? The solution is inconvenient, it also restricts freedom and requires unnecessary interactions with technology. It was decided to install a microphone array under the ceiling that captures sound from anywhere in the classroom.
In practice, we are faced with one flaw. The array captures any sound in the audience, so during breaks, students and teachers are deprived of privacy, their conversations are heard by participants of the online environment. And we decided to make a special break mode for the equipment, when turned on, all microphones are jammed.
Of course, there were a lot of ideas during our brainstorming and further discussions! Sometimes fantastic, sometimes still technically unrealizable, sometimes too complex for this stage. For example, it would be great to control equipment by voice. We didn't throw away these ideas, but saved them for the future. And we are sure that the future of such classrooms is huge!
It is known that the classrooms have undergone several cycles of approbation.
T.B.: Testing went on in parallel with other stages. At the beginning of our project, we already analyzed the first prototype of the audience, as we called it "the prototype on tape". We considered all the details with the technical team, discussed various possibilities, and asked a lot of questions.
After completing the first integration of the equipment, we organized testing sessions with teachers and students, during which our team observed the user experience. Through observations, interviews and surveys, we carefully analyzed how convenient it was to use our audience, tested our hypotheses regarding teaching methods and equipment operation. We searched for further improvement, basically.
When you are sitting in a new hybrid classroom at testing sessions, it is important to observe all the participants in the process from the position of a beginner, not with a blurred eye. The main thing is not to miss the slightest details of a new experience for the teacher and student. Of course, everything did not work the first time, of course, there were technical problems. But we did not run to solve them all at once, but scrupulously recorded all our observations. I must say that the testing was carried out with the well-coordinated work of our entire team: the technical specialists focused on the operation of the equipment, and we focused on the convenience of users.
At the end of the test sessions, we collected all the insights, compiled a list of improvements and possible options for their implementation. For example, we noticed that in order to manage Microsoft Teams, the teacher has to go to the lectern all the time (and this is a waste of time). As a result, a rotating panel is installed in the classroom, which the teacher can turn to himself in front of the lectern.
More: initially, we planned to display students' faces from the online environment on screens installed at desktops. During testing, we noticed that students in the audience, hearing the voice of online participants, always turn to these screens, wanting to see the speaker. This turned out to be inconvenient, so a mode was created for displaying students' faces on screens behind the teacher.
Our team had excellent specialists in creating interfaces for configuring and managing the classroom equipment "at the push of one button". At the initial stage, there were many combinations of these presets, as well as options for displaying information on screens, panels and interactive whiteboards. As a result, much was minimized, thereby making the equipment as intuitive as possible for the teacher.
But even this is not the end of our work. The classrooms are already debugged, ready to launch for classes. We will continue functional testing on them to make our classrooms even more convenient and effective for everyone. By the way, we ourselves will be the most important evaluators of our work — this semester we, as teachers, will enter hybrid classrooms, which we have created with our colleagues. Let's see how we did!
What, from your point of view, should the current educational space be?
O.I.: Before the project of creating a hybrid classroom, I came into contact with educational spaces both as a student and as a teacher. Moreover, I taught in various formats: offline, online and mixed, and I was sure that I had a clear idea of the requirements for the classroom. It turned out that the difficulty of designing an educational space is precisely to combine the "wishes" of a teacher and a student and ensure the best educational result. The task is not easy, even if we are talking only about wishes, and not about practical implementation.
Although buried to my neck in the task, I will try to identify common patterns or even best practices in the organization of the educational space.
The educational space should be tailored to the learning goals. Its organization depends on what is taught in this audience and what educational goal the teacher sets. In example, you can remember school classrooms for “household management” lessons or gyms for physical education. You can take not such extreme cases, but spaces for studying, for example, financial discipline and language. In the first case, it is important to be able to demonstrate calculations, in the second - to communicate in groups. The logic is as follows: we define educational goals, think over activities that will help achieve this goal, and plan a space convenient for these activities.
Further, the educational space should take into account modern approaches to learning, which, by the way, are relevant for any format. For example, project-based learning involves teamwork, a teacher in the role of moderator and assistant, interaction of students with the outside world and active independent study of the material. What does this mean for space? It should be comfortable for working in small groups, built around students, not around a lecturer, and give an opportunity to communicate with external partners. The same relate to the methods of evaluating the results: are we talking about a classical exam, a project presentation, or an assessment of each other's students? It is often difficult to predict the approaches that teachers will use, hence the popularity of transformer spaces.
Finally, the educational space should be accessible to all users. In this, a good educational space is similar to a good UX (User Experience) — it should be understandable to users from the point of view of past experience. Example: it was extremely difficult for my grandmother to figure out how a computer mouse works, because it doesn't look like any of her past experiences. At the same time, she coped with the Nokia phone, because it vaguely resembles her push-button home phone. What does it look like in the world of educational spaces? It was very important to us that the hybrid audience would not seem to teachers and students like a flight into space, but would be intuitive. Of course, training is often an experiment and an opportunity to go beyond the usual framework. But even in this case, the educational space should feel like a safe place where you can express yourself, create and learn new things.