Design Criteria for Classroom Physicalizations

I’m at the stage in my research now where I am starting to design my tools, both on paper and in the physical world. While I am still not certain what from they will take, I have a sense of the overall format, thanks to the design critera that were established through a series of interviews with STEM teachers. These interviews revealed some key issues and needs that the I spoke to teachers have in common in terms of student data literacy and learning resources. Through a process on thematic analysis, these findings were categorised, and design criteria emerged. However, it should be acknowledged that the small sample size of teachers interviewed (11 in total) prevents these criteria from being generally applicable. Therefore, in order to explore the range of the discovered criteria, a literature review of related works and projects will be conducted. The applicability of the criteria will then be assessed in this context.

Working through the themes emerging from teacher interviews

For now, however, the design criteria will act as the starting point for the ideation and prototyping process. An overview of each unearthed criterion is provided below:

Links Abstract STEM Concepts to Real World

Pperhaps the most common theme that emerged from the teacher interviews was their desire to demonstrate to students why STEM concepts learned in the classroom are important beyond school. Teachers frequently mentioned their students questioning the need to learn about abstract concepts, and their applicability in the ‘real world’. This user need provides a key provocation for my designs – how can STEM data be introduced to a classroom in order to highlight to students the link between what they are learning and STEM issues in the wider world?


It was found that teachers all had their own individual methods of teaching the same, or similar, subjects. While there were plenty of overlaps, no two teachers used all of the same methods or resources. In a way, this was to be expected – classrooms are like little fiefdoms, with the teacher imposing their own rule within. Tools that I develop should therefore reflect this – they should be adaptable enough that they can fit into different styles and teaching methodologies comfortably. By this, I do not mean that they seek out every different teaching style and stretch to meet each one – this would be an impossible task. Rather, the developed tools should be, to a certain extent, a blank canvas around a teacher can build their own lesson plans. They should avoid being specific in their user interaction styles –  for example, they should not require students to work in pairs for a certain period of time in order for the correct interaction to occur. Instead, they should allow for open-ended interactions and access of data.

Inclusive of Mixed-Ability Students

In Ireland, classes tend not to be streamed, and are comprised of students of mixed academic ability. This can pose issues for teachers if resources are designed specifically for students at either end of the spectrum – either the weaker students are lost, or the more able students are bored. While this is a much more complicated and extensive issue than I could ever hope to solve through this project, it was brought up consistently by teachers as an important consideration for learning resources, and should therefore be considered in my designs.

Intuituve Use

Teachers reported a certain distrust of technological resources, and a lack of patience for figuring them out. In my experience, these sentiments extend beyond the teaching profession into the wider working world. In any case, the ease of use of the interface is of paramount importance to how likely it will be that I can convince a teacher to use it. I will therefore strive to keep the tools as low-tech as possible, and to ensure the user interactions are intuitive and straightforward.

Do Not Replace Current Teaching Resources

As previously mentioned, each teacher I spoke to had his or her own methods for teaching. On top of this, they each had their own set of teaching tools for specific purposes within their class. For instance, one physics teacher keeps a hair dryer and balloons in his room to demonstrate gas expansion. Another uses hula hoops to explain sets in mathematics. These tools are quite personalised, and have been tried and tested by each teacher, and found to be useful. Although my tools overlap with some of these data representation tools, they should not seek to replace them. Rather, they should fir in alongside them, fulfilling a different purpose within the classroom. Respect for current practices is an essential part of the design process in this case, as well-established, personalised methods and tools currently exist. I want to add additonal helpful elements, not unduly disrupt those currently in place.

Not Dependent on Data Literacy Skills

Almost all teachers interviewed reported poor data literacy within their students. While this supports the need for projects such as this one, it also provides another design criteria – the tools should not require students to possess data literacy to skills in order to interact with or interpret their data. Data visualisations tools should therefore be excluded completely. I expect the impact of this design criterion to be felt at later design stages, when more complex data interactions are being explored.



2 years ago

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