August Progress Update: Introducing Teacher Profiles and Re-designed Lessons

Because Teachers love to connect with each other.

One of best parts of returning to school in the fall was when our faculty of over 300 teachers would gather over bagels, cream cheese, and coffee in the auditorium lobby. After swapping stories of a summer that went by too quickly, we’d be preparing for another year together, working towards our shared mission of challenging our students to learn and grow.

I’m proud to announce that MixLink now has teacher profiles — a way for teachers to connect and share interactive lessons they create—in addition to a new lesson/assignment UI that is designed to provide students with live feedback.

The ring of the August bells isn’t the only thing that brings teachers together: even in the summer, teachers are attending professional development workshops — often voluntarily—in order to shape the latest trends in learning and technology. Teachers have increasingly turned to tech in order to build their professional learning networks, or PLNs.

Starting today, it’s easy to find lessons that other teachers have created by following them on MixLink:

The latest update to MixLink allows teachers to have public profiles, which show the lessons they’ve published to the community. Users can follow each other to make it easier to find lessons to assign.

NEW: User Profile Pages

One of the most significant considerations was the use of the language on the page. I had, up until this update, been referring to “lessons” as “MixLinks.” But everyone that I showed the site to wondered what a “mixlink” was, and so I simplified things by just calling them lessons. The same concept applied to the terminology “follow.” Initially, the button read “add to PLN”, but I thought I’d run into the same problem when introducing new vocabulary.

The initial version is still pretty simple, and here were some things on my wish list that I had to give up for the sake of time and back-end engineering logistics:

  • A counter for the number of users this profile is following
  • A display of who this user follows/who’s following this user
  • More details about this user

While I do have fields that allow the user to specify more information about themselves, such as the school they teach at and which subjects they teach, I decided to keep the first version of this page as simple as possible. I know that teachers are (rightly so) very concerned about privacy and technology, and so I left out the extra information that users have provided until I have a way to build some privacy settings.

These user profiles are a starting point — it will be interesting to see if teachers find value in connecting with one another on a platform like MixLink.

What’s Next for Profile Pages? I would like to learn more about how teacher-users feel about using these profiles to share the lessons they create. What would make them more share-able? What could make these profile pages something that teachers would be proud to share with their networks?

Revised: Lesson Pages

One of the things I noted early from user feedback is that more than one button on the screen can confuse students — especially younger ones. In an effort to minimize distractions, I simplified the lesson page and re-imagined some of the key components, including the progress indicator.

This new layout is a pretty significant change from the previous version, because the UI now stretches the full width of the screen. Consequently, navigation now happens within a pane on the right as opposed to having the user scroll up and down the whole page with a sticky floating menu. Here’s a version of the first page that I detailed in an earlier post:

Here’s the new, revised layout published in the latest version of the site:

The fundamental change was made with the eventual student-user in mind. Jumping around a page can be confusing. The different response types are now contained in “pages” on the right. Here’s what the students see as they progress through the assignment:

  • Changes to the Progress Marker

Initially, the progress counter moved across the full-width on the bottom of the page — but this was confusing because the “submit” button that appeared wasn’t in the same place as the button students used to start the lesson. I moved the progress bar to the left, near the action button, and greyed the background to try and make it stand out more.

In the first version, there wasn’t an indication if a section had been completed or not, which I added to this version in the form of a green circle with a check mark.

  • Removal of the Teacher’s Profile Badge on the Assignment Page and the Addition of a Circular Countdown Timer

A thumbnail of the teacher on the top left side of the assignment page was replaced by a pie chart counter, which counts down the interval between the time remaining before the due date in relation to the length of the assignment overall. I’m still not totally happy with this counter — when it’s full, it’s not a helpful indicator of “remaining time” and just looks like a circle.

  • Pagination of each Section

A major advantage to this layout change is that I was able to create the appearance of “pages” on the right side of each lesson, which I believe more closely resembles the types of handouts students would complete in class. The end result is a hybrid blend of end-of-year, computerized state testing formats and traditional paper assignments.

What’s Next for Assignments? I’m definitely looking to improve the countdown timer, as well as test how students respond to the new layout. Are my progress markers helpful enough for students? There’s a little debugging to be done on this page as well, so I am anxious to get this out into some live test lessons now that school is back in session.

Revised: Lesson Browse Cards

Another update this month comes in the form of the next evolution in lesson cards. Now, lesson cards have a primary grade and subject that appear in dark badges in the bottom right corner of the image. The tags, which appear hyperlinked below the title, are not yet functional. These cards now include a link to the profile of the teacher who created the lesson. One last addition was the grey counter on the bottom right, which keeps track of how many times the lesson has been assigned. I envision this being helpful if users ever want to sort lessons by popularity.

Enhanced lesson cards contain links to member profiles and a counter that keeps track of how many teachers have assigned a given lesson.

These changes also necessitated a change to the layout of the singed-in landing page. In an effort to make the site easier to navigate, we moved away from large, colorful cards that served as links and toward a more dynamic interface that gives the user information about their assignments and classes.

What’s Next for lesson browsing? I’m looking for ways to organize the lessons on the browse page better — my current strategy of simply listing everything isn’t very scaleable, and teachers will for sure need a way to more quickly get to the lessons that they can use.

Revised: Landing Page

The new landing page also closely resembles the public landing page, with the exception of the navigation pane on the left. This is to give a user a more accurate preview of how his or her profile will appear publicly on the site. Here’s a screen grab of part of the previous version with the invite modal that I introduced last month initiated:

And here’s the new, cleaner version:

The new, cleaner landing page for a signed-in teacher is designed to make the site easier to navigate.

This is the first attempt at adding a list of assignments and classes to the user home page, which I think will ultimately make it more useful.

What’s Next for Mixlink? The project continues to evolve — I am currently debugging on mobile and across browsers and am hoping to focus on functionality over design in the coming weeks, since this was such a major update.

Overall, progress during July was slowed by a back-end migration to the newest version of Firebase. I could have continued to use the older version, but as any developer knows, it’s increasingly difficult to work on deprecated docs, and I knew I’d need to make the upgrade sooner or later. (I now understand why developers don’t just hit “upgrade” on their web apps when a new version of software comes out.)

The downside to this upgrade is that I now need to re-visit some of the lessons that were created early on — they now need to be “upgraded” manually in order to function properly on the site. Newly created lessons are not affected by these changes. I don’t plan on making any further foundational changes to the data structure now that the site is moving out of Beta — at least not without a carefully planned and executed migration.

There are some even more exciting changes coming soon — and in a future post, I’ll detail how this upgrade changed the face of lessons themselves. Stay tuned for more progress, and —if you’re a teacher returning to school this fall—try out MixLink and let me know what you think!

Best wishes at the start of the 2016–17 school year — especially to my colleagues back home at Neuqua Valley HS. As always, Go Wildcats! Also, welcoming feedback as a submission to Facebook Design’s #Facebookdesigncrit.

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