Targeting Needs Through BayBackpack
Synopsis: One remote usability test and three interviews were conducted with educators who worked with students on environmental literacy topics. Results from the usability test showed there were a few navigational elements on the website that were difficult for the user, while the interviews with educators showed great passion on their part in order to teach students. The end result was to incorporate an environmental teaching guide to assist educators on the website.
Educators are often contending with multiple demands on their time, from planning lessons to finding and securing funding opportunities and supplies. The life of someone working in the educational system can mean no two days are ever alike. During this project I worked with a team to integrate a new section into the current Baybackpack website that will allow teachers to create their own meaningful watershed experience for their students. While some of the information architecture issues we discovered through usability testing could not be resolved during this time; we were able to successfully speak with educators about their needs to integrate this section into the website.
Baybackpack was built to be a resource on the Chesapeake Bay for educators in order to construct meaningful learning experiences for students related to their environment. The Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) seeks to connect lessons in the classroom with outdoor investigations to create a deeper understanding of a student’s watershed environment. Bay Backpack will work to foster this environmental education and stewardship throughout a student’s K-12 grade school experience.
What we did
My role was to gain an understanding of our target audience – educators within the watershed states who may use Bay backpack as a teaching resource, and to learn more about how to build a MWEE for their students. The first step was to conduct usability testing on our existing site to understand how users are currently navigating and finding information.
The usability test was conducted remotely via UserTesting.com. A screener was used to include only those currently working in education and living in the watershed states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia).
I found that there were three repeated issues throughout the test which included:
- Confusing map navigation to find a field trip near them
- Unclear wording for finding a field trip
- General issues with site / menu navigation
I then reached out to three educators to conduct phone interviews and learn about their jobs and processes. A few of our guiding questions are listed below:
- How would you describe your job to someone who's never done it before?
- What kinds of tools or documents are involved in creating your lessons or programs?
- What kinds of skills do you believe are most important for students to learn about the environment?
- What worries you the most about your job?
After the interviews were complete I compiled my research notes into an affinity diagram and created a persona; Susan Sayre. We found that passion was one key element to all of the educators I spoke to. They were invested in providing the best learning opportunities for students and spent hours planning lessons and ensuring their materials met curriculum and testing standards. While educators noted some familiarity with a MWEE, there was a clear need for easily accessible information to guide them through the process of building their own meaningful watershed experience for their students.
One takeaway that surprised me from the interviews is how much time educators spent finding their own resources. They took it upon themselves to do their own research for planning lessons, finding equipment to support their programs and research to make sure they’re meeting curriculum and testing standards. The educators I spoke with were 100 percent passionate about what they did, so putting in extra time to get these things done were a part of their job and they wanted to take that initiative. One concern for educators is the possibility of losing funding for their programs and supplies for their students.
Because of time and budget restraints we were unable to address the current information architecture issues during this website revision; however a few potential edits are addressed at the end of this case study.
The end result was to incorporate a MWEE guide onto the web in order to direct educators in building their own project based lessons for students. Creating a "Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience" for students involves three main steps: Think, Plan, and Evaluate. In the diagram to the right, the boxes highlighted in blue signify the steps a teacher should go through when planning a MWEE for their students. The boxes highlighted in yellow signify the steps a student would go through during their watershed experience.
Features we hope to address in the future include reworking the information architecture of the site and the ability for educators to build their own meaningful watershed experience directly on Baybackpack.com. In order to streamline the experience for educators I reworked a few headings and created a clear call to action for educators to find MWEE related lesson plans in a geographic area near them. Additional microcopy edits include consolidating the navigation headings to provide clearer direction to users and writing a short mission statement for users at the top of the page.