Putting Educators Frist: How The Exchange Prioritized User Needs with Human-Centered Design

By Jennifer Duncan | May 10, 2024 |

The Exchange team has worked tirelessly to bring products to market that will positively impact educators at all levels — ultimately making it easier to create better student outcomes.

But how do you ensure these products truly meet the needs of such a diverse user group? The answer: Human-Centered Design (HCD), a process that utilizes feedback from those we aim to impact throughout the research, design, development, and launch process. You can read more about HCD and its importance to our work here.

This blog explores how The Exchange leveraged these principles to create a user-friendly and impactful suite of tools.

What is Human-Centered Design?

HCD places the needs and experiences of real people at the forefront of product development. The Exchange implemented a structured HCD process, ensuring user voices were heard throughout every stage, from the initial concept to the final product. When it comes to the design process, a human-centered approach prioritizes the motivations, experiences, and challenges of real people.

This was accomplished through individual interviews and focus groups to get feedback on users’ current roles and how Exchange tools could address their challenges prior to each development cycle. Our teams also conducted guided walkthroughs of products where we allowed users to take control and observed their interactions with and use of the tools. Finally, we conducted user acceptance testing before each product release. These tests occurred with limited synthetic data sets to accomplish real-time tasks.

User Research: Understanding the Landscape

Our teams began by conducting extensive user research. That research included interviews with educators, administrators, and data specialists across Texas. These conversations helped identify key user personas and their unique challenges, allowing us to inform our product scope and roadmap and showing us where we should move and what mattered most.

During our 2023 build cycles, product teams conducted more than 112 interviews with 72 unique interviewees from 15 districts and one charter school. These interviews influenced the work of our online community, as well as our Onboarding Wizard, Leadership Analytics, Rally Analytics, Tech Console, Student Passport, and Data Health Check applications.

Here are key insights that informed our product suite:

  • Educators struggle to find time for data analysis amidst busy schedules.

  • Data silos make it difficult to see a complete view of student progress.

  • Educators crave insights that connect directly to state standards.

  • Educators want to see how their data changes over time.

  • Educators want to see all their data in one place — but do not want to be overwhelmed.

Building on Insights: Products Designed for Educators

The user research findings directly influenced the development of The Exchange's product suite. Here are a few examples:

  • Community: The Exchange online community offers an environment where educators can collaborate and share best practices regarding data use, reporting, and analytics.

  • Rally: This product equips teachers with actionable data on student well-being and academics, empowering them to personalize instruction.

  • Leadership Analytics: District and school leaders can leverage user-friendly dashboards to track progress in key areas like attendance, enrollment, behavior, and course grades.

  • Tech Console: System administrators can effortlessly configure district settings and onboard users, ensuring a smooth experience for everyone.

  • Onboarding Wizard: A feature without our Tech Console that allows an easier understanding of the technical connections needed for onboarding.

  • Student Passport: Registrars can implement the fast exchange of information on students moving districts and schools to help better place students when they arrive in the programs and services they need. This is done across Exchange member districts and is not meant to be a replacement for TREx.

  • Data Health Check: System Administrators can verify the data loading into The Exchange from various source systems with user-friendly district and school data dashboards.

"I have to wait for this report to come out of Information Services to create a chart like this. To be able to do this for any student who performed less than 70 would be a timesaver."
– Director of Research and Accountability, Lamar CISD

“To be honest, these [student characteristics] listed here are exactly what they asked me for a couple of days ago. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s reading my mind!’”

– PEIMS Coordinator, Dilley ISD

The Human Touch: Why User Research Matters

We understand that even the most advanced technology can't replace human-to-human interaction, nor can it uncover nuances of how people utilize systems. By prioritizing user research and feedback, The Exchange is building products that truly address the needs of Texas educators. Our teams hope this information can help the next adopters of this process in the education space understand how to do this work and why it matters.

Join the Conversation

If you're an educator in Texas interested in sharing your experiences, The Exchange encourages you to join their user research pool. Visit us here to get involved.

Together, we can ensure that data empowers educators, ultimately leading to a brighter future for Texas students.