The last couple of weeks we have been in the testing phase of my current grad class, Learning Technology through Design. The problem that I’m trying to address is that teachers are consistently short on time and quite frequently work unpaid overtime. My goal is to help teachers find more time as well as (hopefully) start a wide conversation about why this is so important, not only to the sanity of educators, but also for students. You can read about my ideas for accomplishing this (in fact these are the ideas that I’m “testing”) here. In designing my test I wanted to talk with the people this affects the most: educators. I grabbed a few of my close colleagues and we went in my classroom and I did a couple things. First, I explained the problem I was trying to address and how I planned to address it. I then walked them through one prototype, explaining my thought process as I went. I then asked them a series of questions, focusing on what the prototype did well and where it was lacking. I also asked them to take the perspective of the general public or an administrator and provide feedback from those perspectives. (I did the same thing for the second prototype.) My main objective was to have quality conversations and to get honest feedback on what I could do to improve my prototypes.
This phase culminated in a couple of 20-30 minute interviews with colleagues regarding my prototypes. It was almost like a soft opening. I wanted to get feedback before I launched these resources to the public space. One aspect of my prototype that was lacking was brought up by one of the teachers. She said something to the effect of “well what’s the pay off if we give teachers more time?” In other words all my messaging was making a case for finding teachers more time and why the lack of time is problematic. I didn’t site any specific examples for what happens when teachers are actually given more time and freedom. Obviously this is a natural extension that I would’ve missed without going through the test phase.
Another aspect of the prototype that was developed through our discussion was in regards to the lack of respect for the profession. This came up because we were talking about all the other careers a math major (since we’re math teachers) could pursue that might have better working conditions, flexibility, or respect, than teaching. One teacher mentioned adding a section of the infrographic showing which professions certain majors pursue the most. In other words, if we value attracting our “best and brightest” to the profession, are we doing that? How does the lack of time, among other things, play into this equation? This is an excellent point because I often wonder how many potential great teachers we lose to other professions because of a lack of pay, amount of unpaid overtime, and lack of respect from the general public.
This is a phase that is lacking in my teaching and creative processes. I will often come up with ideas on my own or borrow them from teachers I’ve met online and never actually get feedback from my peers before I implement them. This is especially true for some of my more “out there” ideas. I worry about, well, negative feedback. Or, maybe it’s something else. I guess it comes from the natural uneasiness that comes with putting your creative work out for the world to see. In fact, I think the world that you interact with daily is more frightening than the big world. I suppose a lot of this comes from the culture of the people that you work around. A culture that supports risk taking and creativity is one in which the test phase is more likely to be carried out frequently (for me at least). This phase is so important because in our own heads, as described above, we can miss obvious things that can dramatically improve whatever we are trying to accomplish. I guess my point is that to have the test phase occur frequently and with quality (in the context of education) a culture needs to be established in which risk taking and innovation can flourish. Without that we are unlikely to try new things and unlikely to get feedback when we do.
This is something I’ll be thinking about and working to improve in my school well beyond this course. I’m also excited to update my prototypes to make them more effective and launch them publicly soon. One thing I would’ve done differently in this phase is to interview a person that isn’t familiar with education. I’ve learned throughout this process that that type of person is also one of my users as the infographic is geared towards them. I asked my colleagues to take their perspective but it would’ve been better to actually get an interview.