Tech 4 Learners – Final – Reflection on Design Project

1. Product/prototype

Our target learner was Achu, a calm and smiley 12 year old boy who is fond of playing basketball, watching HotWheels videos on YouTube and painting. He follows instructions well yet rarely initiates activities on his own. That is also the case with communicating with others, unless he needs to go to the bathroom or needs more paint for example. He responds to questions but is not always sure about his answer. He often repeats the last words heard when answering. Our impression was that he knows the answer yet has trouble externalizing it appropriately.

We immediately focused on the idea of helping Achu initiate verbal communication in so far as it would help him express his desires and needs more effectively. Our initial brainstorms revolved around using technology such as VR and games that would prompt him for verbal responses or would require verbal input to be utilized. We generated a few statements that helped us focus on the learner’s needs and the solution:

How Might We

  • HMW help him say more words?
  • HMW motivate him to want to communicate?
  • HMW stimulate him to produce original words?
  • HMW make him comfortable sharing words with others?
  • HMW make him feel like his words have value?

This lead us to the following Needs Statement:

“Achu is a shy pleaser who needs to practice creating his own words in order to facilitate him communicating with others.”

To achieve that, we created a low-resolution prototype which consisted of playing a video with no sound on the laptop and prompting him to narrate what was going on. The final goal was to have a video with his voice narrating the events. We were able to engage him in the activity and on a few occasions, he actually generated new words, when prompted. We felt that the prototyped achieved some of the initial goals but there was still something missing to be considered truly effective.

After this initial test, we were able to get feedback from Marina. She thought the prototype worked but partially because narration is a technique that has been used extensively before by his speech therapists. He generated new words but still needed prompting from us. She also stimulated us to think more about how could he transfer what he learned within our product to his everyday life. With this in mind we evolved our learning goal to:

“We want Achu to learn the value of communicating with others.”

After presenting our finding from our initial prototype, we dug deeper into what was missing and discussed some more potential solutions. We finally connected the idea that the value of communication is shown more evidently when helping others. We could use a teachable agent in the product and elicit the Protégé Effect (Chase, Chin, Oppezzo, & Schwartz, 2009). We built on the idea that while Achu might not find it always natural to speak for himself, he might find it compelling to speak to someone to help them.

We introduced Tom in our prototype. A blind cat who asked Achu for help figuring out what was on the screen. We scaffolded the experience by creating a simple learning progression. We start with a single word on the screen. Tom asks Achu what is the word. Once Achu says the word, Tom thanks for Achu’s help. We wanted to ensure that we were ‘valuing the process and not only the final result’ (Dweck, 2007). After 3 words, we moved on to 3 short sentences, 3 pictures, and finally 3 videos.

On the day of the test we were unsure about the results and therefore also took a few other activities to gauge Achu’s engagement and levels of communication we could elicit from him.

We had him play with an App that records what you say and plays it back with a funny voice through a character. He was soon bored with the activity.

We moved on to observing him assembling a jigsaw puzzle with a phrase instead of a picture as the complete set. He was very fast at combining the scattered words into a perfect sentence. He was also prompted to read it out loud, which he did with ease with the exception for one word he did know how it sounded. He seemed embarrassed but was reassured by the teacher that it was ok to say that he did not know – which he finally did. This episode showed us that the Protege Effect might actually work on him since he would not want his ‘friend’ to not know something.

Our final activity prior to testing our prototype was to engage him with text messaging. He clearly understood what was going on and responded by typing onto Alex’s phone while I was in another room with the other phone. His trouble was dealing with the small keyboard on the phone but it showed promise in that he might engage well with this form of communication with a larger keyboard.

Finally we tested our prototype. Achu was immediately fond of Tom, the cat and rapidly replied to his prompts. The words, sentences, and pictures we verbalized promptly. The video also succeeded in promoting verbalization yet it took some more time for him to think about what to say. Once he did it and Tom thanked him, his energetically and positive reaction was priceless and strong evidence that the Protege Effect worked. He even clapped his hands and said “Achu is helping the cat!”. 

What surprised me the most during the process was how a small adjustment in the product resulted in such a big change in the levels of engagement. The process of narration was still the same, yet the purpose and motivation it was made clear to him. Narration for narrations sake did not have value for him. Helping Tom did. It also reminded me that we were eliciting in a small way Joint Media Engagement (Takeuchi & Stevens 2011) between Achu and Tom the cat. They were both consuming media and helping each other out – feeding off of each other – learning from each other. A lesson learned that I will carry onto all my future design processes.

One thing I felt was missing in the process was a greater level of engagement with Achu’s teachers, Marina, and eventually his parents. To fault was lack of time, schedule conflicts and few attempts on our part to communicate more frequently with the stakeholders. Yet for the purposes of the course and the learning process, the interactions were fruitful and thought provoking leading always to new iterations and fine tuning of the product.

2. Collaboration 

The collaboration within our team was effective. I assumed the creative and technical role while Soren looked at our product through a more pedagogical lens and Alex with the documentation and write ups. It was a fruitful process where I felt each one in the group contributed effectively and pulled their own weight throughout. My multimedia skills helped us to rapidly create the prototypes, presentations and video. Soren’s teaching background helped us selecting the appropriate language, level of complexity, and scaffolds towards learning. Alex helped us with summarizing and documenting our meetings, tests, and findings.

Our process was very much guided by our class activities. We met only twice outside of class, not counting our three visits at OMS. This does not mean that we did not communicate outside of class. Through Google Docs we constantly collaborated with the elaboration of the presentations, texts and ideas. This demonstrated the effectiveness of the scaffolds we received as designers from our professor as well as our groups efficiency to generate ideas and agree with the path to take.

Next time around I will certainly work again with all the collaborative digital tools we used to document and brainstorm our ideas. I will also take the lead in creating the multimedia content since it is something I enjoy doing and see how valuable it is. As far as doing things differently, I would only wish to have more time to interact with the stakeholders and the learner. I will push harder to communicate more effectively with the intended audience and try to get more insights as to what the learner’s needs are.

3. Learning

My learning experience during the project was more one of trying to apply learning theories to the project than trying to be overly creative, as was the case in some previous projects I’ve worked on. The challenge was to design for a learner which we knew very little about, but using the educational lens we were able to apply and test learning theories with a certain success. A core motivator for me was  actually a little bit of the Protege Effect mixed with the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development. Looking back at the quarter, I noticed that much of my effort towards creating a better product was drawn from wanting to please the other, to teach, and to provide a benefit to his life. Not to mention the desire to please the teacher as well in the process. As for the interest development aspect of learning, I feel I reached Emerging Individual Interest, close to Well Developed Individual Interest – depending on if I am able to evolve the product in the future.

More importantly I believe I improved my skills and techniques of rapid prototyping. The pressures of creating a functional prototype to be placed in the unguided hands of a user were removed by the “Wizard of Oz” technique. It allowed me to create more freely and rapidly. It allowed me to continue thinking freely about potential solutions instead of being vested on a product because of all the time I spent in detailing a quasi-product. Yet I also learned that being able to design this way also requires some previous experience with prototyping. You must be able to predict user’s interactions that might completely break the desired effect. Therefore, even in a free-formed rapid prototype has a Minimal Viable Product.


Chase, C. C., Chin, D. B., Oppezzo, M. A., & Schwartz, D. L. (2009). Teachable agents and the protégé effect: Increasing the effort towards learning. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(4), 334-352.

Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise. Kaleidoscope, Contemporary and Classic Readings in Education, 12.

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational psychologist, 41(2), 111-127.

Takeuchi, L., & Stevens, R. (2011). The new coviewing: Designing for learning through joint media engagement. In New York, NY: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.