How interactive prototyping helps Code.Org change kids’ lives: Q&A with Product Manager Ryan Sloan
From usability testing with toddlers to iterative prototyping, Code.Org’s Product Manager reveals the secret sauce behind the learning platform
Seattle-based Code.org is on a mission to teach the world’s kids to code. And if you read the stats, it looks like they’re succeeding: over 1 million girls have signed up a Code.org Studio course, and 1 million African American or Hispanic kids too; 47% of Code.org children are eligible for free or reduced cost school meals; the non-profit’s annual Hour of Code campaign has engaged 10% of all students worldwide.
The secret behind Code.org’s success is, of course, the strength of its product. The digital learning platform is designed to be used either in school or for extra-curricular learning, for students ranging from elementary kids to high-schoolers. Plus there’s support provided for teachers and even stipends for teachers that want to boost their professional development with programming pedagogy.
Justinmind emailed with Ryan about managing a product that changes students’ lives, and how interactive prototyping helps his team improve their ‘product eye’.
What does an average day look like for you and the Product Team over at Code.org? What key product initiatives or updates are you working on right now?
Like a lot of product teams, each day can be wildly different! I work primarily on our Kindergarten through 5th grade programs, and on the tools we build to support our professional learning programs around the country. Some days we’re in a classroom conducting tests with students and teachers, some days we’re meeting with administrators or regional non-profits to help figure out how to get computer science into the schools in their area, and other days we’re working through designs and prototypes here in the office. Right now, I’m working closely with regional partners around the country to help them develop and scale their professional learning programs, as well as running a pilot for some new K-5 courses.
We like to move into prototyping as fast as possible here at Code.org
Code.org is designed to be used both inside and outside classrooms — what kind of design features create that flexibility?
This is a great question! We are all about building a teacher-driven movement here at Code.org. We think the best way to expand opportunity to every student is through in-school learning, so we approach our design process from a classroom-first point-of-view. Independent learners are important to us too (particularly in our K-5 programs), so when we find ourselves at a UX crossroads we often look for ways to adjust the experience based on the student’s context.
For example: our K-5 courses are divided up into “stages”, and each stage corresponds roughly to one class period. Students working independently will generally just keep moving forward when they reach the end of the stage, but in the classroom many teachers prefer if their students stop working on puzzles at this point and either go to work on a project, or switch away from the computer to a new station. We developed a “Stage Extras” feature that teachers can turn on for their class that will send the students to a project playground at the end of the stage rather than automatically advancing them.