Successful enterprises are committed to ensuring their clients and customers have positive user experiences when they interact or access services. They know that the more positive and satisfying the experience, the more committed the client or customer is likely to be when they seek similar services in the future.
Schools have traditionally not spent much time or energy focused on providing high quality, satisfying user experiences for students. The assumption has often been that learning is a necessary task and what is to be learned has already been determined. The experience will not always be pleasant and satisfying. The priority has been on providing high quality instruction, not satisfying user experiences.
Of course, prior to the pandemic, most students had not been exposed to formal learning contexts other than face-to-face. They had little context for judging one learning experience from another beyond variances among teachers and instructional styles. The pandemic has exposed students to multiple contexts while continuing to feature variations among teacher styles and approaches.
It is also true that students are not yet mature and may not always be able to judge the experiences that are in their best interests. However, multiple studies have shown that students can be relatively accurate judges of what is good teaching and what makes a positive user experience for them.
Now is a good time to consider exploring what makes a good user experience from the learners’ perspectives. Since adjustments will be necessary even without user input, why not include the perspectives of learners as we design the new normal for learning?
We can collect information through focus groups, interactive surveys, one-on-one interviews, and in a number of other ways. However, students need to be convinced that we are ready to listen and consider what they have to offer. Perfunctory questionnaires and sessions where adults do most of the talking or become defensive will not unearth the information needed.
Regardless of the specific format you choose, here are four questions you can pose to get the conversation started:
- If you were a customer of this school rather than a student, what advice or guidance would you offer to make your experience here more positive and satisfying? Be ready for responses that have little to do with the curriculum. You may not even receive much initial input on instruction. Students are likely to begin with social and environmental issues. Listen closely and note what you hear. Follow up with prompts to address classroom and learning experiences and educator practices and relationships.
- What did you learn from the multiple settings for learning (face-to-face, hybrid, remote) this past year that you believe is important as we plan for next year? Again, you may need to use some prompts and probes to help students reflect on and recollect what they experienced that is important. Urging students to compare and contrast their different experiences may help them to discern what is notable and should be retained.
- What was your best learning experience from the past year? What happened, when did it happen, and what made it special? Students may find this question easier to answer, but the responses may initially be superficial. If so, be ready to narrow the question and allow time for students to reflect.
- If you were to describe to another student who does not attend this school what is best about being a student here, what would you tell them? Placing this question in the context of advising another student can make it more concrete and real. In many cases, students have likely given similar advice to friends, relatives, and neighbors who are not enrolled in your school, so they may be ready with ideas and answers without much probing.
Once you have collected this information, you may need to synthesize it and look for trends and themes that surface across responses. Also, look for important ideas and suggestions that may not have been offered by multiple students, but represent important ideas and opportunities.
Consider how you can take as much as practical from what students have offered to implement in the fall. The more you can apply, the more credibility your students will give to your efforts to listen and improve their user experience. Of course, you may want to point out or highlight any changes so they make the connection between what they said and what they see and experience as school starts again.