Festival of Urgent Reinventions

TextMercury - Festival of Urgent Reinventions

Participated in a design competition to research and create an idea to solve one of four briefs.

Expertise

Design Research, Product Design, Interaction Design

Platforms

SMS texting service

Deliverables

Primary & secondary research, ideating, brainstorming, wireframes, prototyping, testing

Prototype

Visit website

Project overview

Brief

We chose to do our project on brief four which was called The Inequities of Education.

Education is a fundamental human right, but 2020 has shined a harsh light on its inequities. How can we give underserved communities access to the knowledge and learning they deserve?

Target Audience

Students in underserved communities who do not have access to the internet while at home. They either need to visit the library or go to a cafe in order to complete their homework when away from school. Most of them have a mobile phone and do not have a second electronic device such as a laptop or home computer. 

Understanding

Problem

An estimated 100 million Americans do not have access to the internet from their homes. This makes it difficult for students to do homework outside of school.

Insights

  • Future education is about access
  • Teaching & learning is becoming social
  • By using the cloud for education, students will have more access to knowledge in underserved communities
  • Using smartphones as learning tools for students (not really futuristic but something to consider for low income students)

Solution

TextMercury is a SMS based texting tool for teachers to use with their students away from the classroom. Students can get help with homework, participate in group discussions, and get answers automatically sent to them from a built in API without having connectivity to the internet. Students will have access to the internet through this API texting service.

Design Challenge

How might we give underserved communities access to the knowledge and learning they deserve?

Process

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Research

The festival was three days long, however we spent a week prior researching and preparing. We wanted to understand the challenges students in underserved communities face when it comes to accessing knowledge. 

In a research article called The Digital Divide and Educational Equity we found some quantitative and qualitative insights. Nearly half (47%) of students who report relying on one device at home depend exclusively on a monthly cellular data plan for home internet access.

We also explored futuristic trends in education. Project-based learning with a focus on personalized education is a growing trend that educators are adopting globally. In an article showing a map of future trends in education some takeaways were...

  • Future education is about access
  • Teaching & learning is becoming social
  • By using the cloud for education, students will have more access to knowledge in underserved communities
  • Using smartphones as learning tools for students (not really futuristic but something to consider for low income students)

In an article by the Huffington Post called Without Internet, Urban Poor Fear Being Left Behind In Digital Age, Jillian Maldonado is interviewed about the inequities she and others face in regards to internet access in their homes. 

Jillian is a 29 years old student, when she gets home from her classes she cooks and helps her son with his homework. Then they get ready to visit the local library where they can gain access to a computer and internet. She has to make sure she gets to the library before they close so she can complete her own homework.

“My teacher assumes everyone has internet at home.” - Jillian

“I feel like I’m being left behind” - Jillian

An estimated 100 million Americans do not have access to the internet from their homes.

There is a need for student individuality and there needs to be a strong relationship between students and teachers that encourages hands on learning.

Ideation / Brainstorm

We started to brainstorm ideas that focused around helping students gain access to knowledge without the use of the internet.

Using Microsoft White Board we were able to do card sorting to help get our ideas down.

After many rounds of brainstorming we decided to short list our ideas. We chose to proceed with a student texting service.

We looked at SMS based services such as The Nudge which notifies users about events in a specific city. We also looked at the different texting technologies and what kinds of limitations there were.

RCS texting would give us more room for interactivity since it allowed for pictures, branding, and video. However RCS requires cell data or connectivity to the internet to operate. We decided to stick with SMS because it is the most accessible texting platform for individuals.

Results

User Scenario

Sam Storyboard

Meet Sam. He needs to find research information for his homework assignment that’s due tomorrow at school. 

He doesn’t have internet connection at home and it’s too late for him to go to the public library. 

He pulls out his phone and messages TextMercury to help him with his homework.

Our Concept

TextMercury

Project based learning and flipped learning SMS tool for teachers to engage with their students away from the classroom. TextMercury is able to share information and facts based on the topic at hand. This SMS tool allows students learning opportunities who have limited or no access to the internet while away from school.

Part 1 - Main Chatroom – Challenge 

A teacher will send a challenge or pose a question to their students through TextMercury. The students will receive the message in a group chat format and are encouraged to participate in a conversation among their peers. The teacher keeps the conversation on track with positive reinforcement and points out key insights the students make. The teacher will propose the research question based on the conversation.

Part 2 - Breakout Chatroom – Study / Research Groups

Then a teacher will break the students into smaller group chatrooms for them to study and research a topic. The teacher will propose the research question again and moderate the chat to ensure the students are participating and making progress. Teachers contribute and answer any questions the students may have.

Part 3 - Main Chatroom – Presentation

After the students finish their research in the study group session, they will be asked to join the main chatroom again to share and present their group findings with the class.

If students are able to connect to the internet, students will be able to share images and links to outside resources.

Project Timeline

Product Phase – TextMercury


Prototype

The pilot program begins by finding a school that uses project based learning or flipped learning methodologies that is willing to participate in our study. For this prototype trial the students in the school should have limited or no access to the internet while at home. Teachers need to be willing to use our SMS tool to engage with the students while at home or away from their classrooms.

API Version

In Phase 1 we want to build on top of the flipped learning techniques to empower teachers by; 



creating a machine learning neural network algorithm (MLNNA) to assist teachers through the learning process. We first will focus on developing an assistant moderator and auto-reply study buddy that is able to find and share topic based information to the group. The TextMercury API will also be a personalized learning tool that helps teachers create a flipped learning curriculum based on the desired topic.

The TextMercury API expands to all three parts of the learning experience enriching / enhancing students opportunity to understand the subject.

This TextMercury API learns patterns of success based on teacher feedback allowing future educators to use templates inspired by questions, experiences, exercises and methods used that helped students learn the curriculum.

Phase 1 

Update the prototype based on the feedback from the closed trial. Release TextMercury to selected underserved communities in the United States of America. At the same time we will be testing the TextMercury API and preparing it for a broader market release in Phase 2.

Phase 2
Releasing TextMercury API to users in underserved communities in the United States of America.

Open Source Launch
Try to work with underserved communities globally and have them adopt TextMercury API in their own market.

Project Timeline

Meetings with Industry Leaders

During the event we had the opportunity to meet with three industry leaders Ian Lyman (Serial Entrepreneur, Product Leader, Startup Mentor, Advisor), Vicente Lorca (Innovation, Education and Technology Consultant – Faculty of Civil Engineering, UDD | Maker Campus Chile), and Rick Turoczy (Co-founder and GM @ PIE).

Ian – “Find a strong story/use case, identify the users and talk to them. How they actually go about their day? Does it fit into their daily lives? Reduce the size of the audience, who is this for?”

Vicente – “I like this because, I live in Chile and many people don’t have internet. Access to knowledge isn’t learning; give a challenge and then give information. Engagement is important to learn; help the teacher, not only create the tool but create a methology to create more knowledge.”

Rick – “I see the opportunity of automation, but what I love about the idea is its not a given to build the prototype, it could be an educator on the other side.”

Both Ian and Rick loved the idea and encouraged us to create a strong use case while considering the MVP. Vicente challenged us to continue iterating our idea, to empower teachers with an educational method built within TextMercury.

Vicente's email to us


Reflections

Takeaways

– We were encouraged by industry leaders, our concept was validated by an educator that lived in a remote area in Chile.
– We felt confident when we submitted that we would win.
– We should have created specific use cases for our concept.
– Team communication is vital to the end result of the project.
– The competition did not have placements, we really would have liked to know where we placed in terms of winning, so we have reached out to the hosts of the competition for feedback.
– We needed a strategist for the team and will network to bring in 
strategists into projects in the future.
– We believe that word choice was a factor with the outcome of our project by not truly illustrating our idea and who it particularly serves.
– We are proud of our work and idea despite the outcome.

View our case study presentation

Let’s create something meaningful

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