Made by Many
Skype in the Classroom
Skype in the Classroom
Skype in the classroom is a free, global community to help teachers use Skype to help their students learn. It’s a place for teachers to connect, find partner classes and share inspiration, and was created in response to the growing number of teachers using Skype in their classrooms.
Conor Delahunty, Interaction Designer; Duncan Gough, Developer; Justin McMurray, Strategist and Project Lead; Isaac Pinnock, Creative Director; Anjali Ramachandran, Community Strategy; Cath Richardson, Producer and Customer Development; Paul Sims, Service Designer; Andy Walker, UI Developer. All from Made by Many. Petr Zaparka, Developer, Unboxed Consulting.
Education is a very complex and challenging service design environment. And, although this submission feels a little like a user experience brief to a service design problem, ‘Skype in the Classroom’ has delivered some impressive results in a very short time frame. The service has a lot of potential and a long way to go. We love the BETA approach and would encourage Skype in the Classroom to be constantly eliciting feedback, as well as spending more time in the classroom gaining valuable insights that will drive the design of the service as well as the site.
Skype in the Classroom
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Our client Skype set out with several goals. They wanted to increase interaction between educators, to extend their network, and to help position the brand credibly within the education space. They were also keen to demonstrate that they are universal and useful, and to help motivate and inspire those not yet using Skype in the classroom. It is very important to Skype that their relevance to this influential audience is brought out through a genuinely useful tool, and we were excited by the potential to create something that will be useful not simply at the point of launch, but that will become increasingly effective as time goes on.
The idea of applying our experience of community-building to a major client with massive network potential really appealed to us. Finally, teachers are tremendous innovators, and we were looking forward to the enjoyable, interesting and satisfying process of research that would bring us into contact with many inspirational educators.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
We approached with an attitude that teachers are radical thinkers, and the belief that if we could avoid being too prescriptive and simply supply an interesting toolkit, educators would naturally find wonderful and ingenious uses for this technology. Skype requested a means of capturing teachers’ stories, but we wanted to create something of even greater scope that would benefit educators directly.
We were interested in identifying what teachers wanted and needed from the service, and aimed to help them to make these discoveries themselves. For example, what began as a simple directory of teachers developed into a service based around profiles and projects, with easily navigable interactive maps. Only when our particular process of simple prototyping and repeat iterations was complete did we ask teachers to bring their stories back into the project. While changes were made as a result of our testing, we were keen to maintain a light touch throughout, allowing the teachers’ ideas to take centre stage. So, as well as looking at the client’s expectations, we set out to listen to Skype’s audience from the start – after all, if the teachers tell us what they want quickly, then we can deliver it quickly – and if they get what they want, they will continue to use the service.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The interests of the worldwide community of teachers dictated this project, making them both the audience and the authors of the site. We set out with a basic directory of educators, and the belief that they might want to share lesson plans and other resources, but during the course of our research it became clear that the users wanted – and needed – more than this. They wanted to share their expertise as well as their resources, and were keen to partner with other classes through a fast, intuitive network that put them in touch with their contemporaries around the world.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
We believe the best way to serve a client’s financial interests is to look at the requirements of its audience. In Skype’s case, this has meant allowing our design decisions to be guided by educators’ needs and usage patterns. Following the teachers’ lead has allowed us to quickly assemble a very simple product which evolves iteratively in direct response to user feedback.
As an agency, we take a lean approach to building fast and simple products, researching the audience, and returning work to the client regularly. The goal is to work quickly with as little wasted effort as possible, respond to changes as they happen and release a functional product at the earliest point. With Skype Education, this meant a quick and dirty BETA followed by more research prior to the current version. Almost 12,000 teachers have joined worldwide since launch.
Our research process involved two rounds of interviews and surveys with 55 educators teaching over 20 subjects in seven countries. Our findings suggested a need for a sharing network and that most teachers wanted to find other teachers (28%), or a partner class (25%) or simply to help each other (23%). Only a minority wanted to learn how to use Skype (11.5%). Over 50% of teachers surveyed thought the concept would be “very valuable” and believed they would be “very likely” to take part.
As well as actively inviting teachers’ input, we keep a constant eye on how they use the system. We spotted some using their profile pages to talk about school projects, and responded by enabling project sharing via a searchable ideas pinboard that now sits at the core of the site. We also introduced an email function after it became clear that teachers wanted to communicate with each other without having to log onto Skype immediately. There are now about 500 different projects appearing on the site every month.
It is worth mentioning here that although we have introduced some additional features at the request of teachers, we have advised the client to avoid feature overload and to keep the site as simple as possible.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The chief value is educational, and clearly the value of education in society is unquestionable. Teachers themselves are a key resource on the website, bringing considerable expertise and contacts to the network, and Skype allows their ideas to be distributed widely, enriching classroom experiences for students who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to those resources. As a direct result of these shared materials, lessons will be livelier, students will have access to new ideas and people, and teachers can benefit from a support network. The design is democratic; the entire project is founded on the principle of sharing and connecting. It’s important to stress that the project is not about showcasing individual teachers, rather what can be achieved through the integrated, Skype-using community.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
While Skype video calls were entirely appropriate as a medium for interview, the inclusion of more face-to-face interviews could have added to the richness of understanding and information gathered. We visited schools and spoke in person to teachers, which was invaluable and it would have been really useful to shadow teachers for longer than the project schedule allowed.
Our hope is that this project represents the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Skype to develop similar idea-sharing sites for diverse worldwide communities.