UX Case Study: Mikva Action Civics Network

How might we build a robust online community with and for action civics educators?

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

The Challenge

In the summer of 2016, I facilitated a lean user experience design process within Mikva Challenge, a non-profit organization focused on youth activism and teacher development, to address growing need for a way to educators with one another as the organization expanded to serve a national audience.

Lean Research and Design Strategy

Through initial internal discussions and informal interviews with action civics educators, I identified the following as overarching project assumptions:

  • Teachers want to build their action civics pedagogy by accessing Mikva’s lessons. Teachers would be willing to share their lesson plans, strategies, and activities inspired by action civics pedagogy.
  • Teachers want to engage with the action civics community and participate in discussion on their practice by posting questions, sharing resources, and discussing best practices.
  • Teachers want to learn about new developments and opportunities, including professional development workshops and conferences.

With a limited budget and sought to launch a product in six months, I opted to design and develop the product in-house, rather than working with an external developer. Doing so helped us retain greater control of the design process and customize the final product to our audiences’ needs.

Rapid Wireframing and Prototyping

After gathering initial stakeholder requirements about key features and functions of the portal, I sketched low-fidelity wireframes to represent key pages.

I then designed a high-fidelity prototype that allowed people to view and download individual lessons, make purchases, sign up for events and professional development opportunities, and engage in a discussion forum.

Usability Testing

I recruited participants and conducted remote usability tests with six current program teachers in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago. The usability tests informed us of users’ initial impressions of the prototype’s visual design, and highlighted key areas where users encountered usability issues.

Common positive feedback included:

  • The home page was clean, simple, and clear
  • Accessing individualized lesson plans was a key feature that users found valuable.
  • When asked to complete the task of viewing a lesson, all teachers were able to complete it without errors.

Common suggestions for improvement included:

  • The homepage was almost too simple — it was “plain” and “boring.”
  • Teachers expressed desire for region-specific resources, such as lists of local organizations and community events.
  • Some teachers encountered issues with putting curricula in the shopping cart and completing a purchase.
  • Most teachers encountered issues using the discussion forum. Issue areas included: setting up an account to post to the forum, not being able to find a button to create a post, and confusion about threads in which to post the new topic.
Mockup of the Mikva Action Civics Network home page.

Iteration, Launching, and Monitoring

Based on feedback from usability testing, I refined the visual design and interactivity of the prototype to be more appealing, easy to use, and efficient.

Throughout the portal design process, I sought continuous feedback from teachers about site functionality, aesthetic, accessibility, and usefulness. In the spirit of action civics pedagogy, which emphasizes experiential learning, stakeholder collaboration, and ongoing reflection, I designed the portal with, rather than for, teachers. I was able to work together with participants in order to tailor the portal content and structure to their needs and goals as users.

After the portal publicly launched, I continued to solicit user feedback and input on the portal and continued to iterate the product as the needs of both the teachers and the site administrators emerged and shifted.