Deep Dive 3: The Catalyst

In IDP 316 - Portfolio by Angela Gregory

Our steps through the Design Thinking Process

Step One: Meet with Tom Laughner, our client from Educational Technology Services (also a stakeholder):

During this meeting, Tom explains to us that in 2015, over 1 million pages of paper were printed in Neilson Library. Not only does this not account for all of the printing that happened throughout the rest of the campus but it also suggests a mismatch between Smith’s sustainability efforts and its actual current practices. As Tom continued to explain his role on campus and the work of ETS more generally, it became clear that the numbers of pages being printed were a symptom of a broader, campus-wide (largely students and faculty) reliance on printed work. This helped us understand the role technology can play when made accessible to all, in advancing both learning and sustainability goals in the classroom.

Identify our users as stakeholders, faculty, and students and begin to interview them:

Based on our conversation with Tom, we were able to deepen our understanding of the problem. We recognize that there are those throughout Smith College who are tasked (to varying degrees) with the job of disseminating information on education, technology, and sustainability and that these lessons are challenging to deliver. They represent the stakeholder groups. Then, there are the students and faculty who constitute the assemblages primarily responsible for teaching and learning on campus. They help to create and reinforce norms around printing, and thus, technology in the classroom. Understanding their relationship to printing but more importantly, comfort and expectations around technology in the classroom, was crucial.

Interview users:
Professor Floyd Cheung (stakeholder and faculty member // user):
Professor Floyd Cheung is both a long-time, tenured professor at Smith and the Director of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning. Throughout our conversations, he expressed his commitment to teaching in a way that is accessible to all students and investigating new pedagogical practices that encourage this accessibility. Professor Cheung mentioned technology in the classroom as something that he has examined. He has found tools that offer students new ways to engage with their course materials and technological tools that have proved to be counterproductive because they are distracting or duplicate, less efficiently, something that could be done without technology. Because of his role outside of the classroom, Floyd was also able to express to us that professors can sometimes be reticent to implement new strategies because they are not often required. This even can feel constraining for those who think that what they already do in the classroom is useful. Whatever the resistance, it can lead to stagnant norms around technology at the school and continue the constant reliance on printing. However, Floyd also described the availability of Educational Technology Services as a resource, though faculty does not always utilize their services at Smith.
From Floyd, we understood that a commitment to teaching well (inclusively and sustainably) exists at Smith. It does not always translate into faculty feeling motivated to integrate technology in the classroom but that often comes from a lack of knowledge and motivation.

Professor Erin Pineda (faculty member // user):
Professor Pineda is in her first semester at Smith. She is a tenure-track professor in the Government department and this is her first time teaching as an associate professor. Upon arriving at Smith, Professor Pineda has begun the process of getting oriented to much of Smith’s culture. She described the earnestness of students and their genuine desire to bring what they can offer to class. Professor Pineda is grateful for this and the support and guidance provided by her colleagues. However, she also expressed some confusion and frustration with Moodle, a primary technological tool used at Smith. Professor Pineda described it as not particularly user-friendly and even inefficient. While she seems to know that Educational Technology Services exists, she has not accessed their support. Professor Pineda is busy, and between her new commitments at Smith and works on her book manuscript, she is left to rely on her current technological capacities. She described her technological tools in the classroom as relatively “flat” because she primarily relies on powerpoint and video in class. She recognizes the relevance and possibilities that exist at the school in the world of tech, but because of some constraints, she feels limited in her ability to explore and invest in these qualities.

Dano Weisbord (stakeholder):
As the director of sustainability efforts at Smith, Dano holds a unique relationship to our opportunity. While he does typically investigate issues of technology in the classroom, he has more general ideas about what sustainability means at Smith. He explained that he feels that Smith students and faculty are responsible for equipping themselves with the tools and information necessary for the 21st century. Rather than prioritizing very substantive sustainability issues (e.g., limiting the number of students who travel abroad because of the ecological cost of the fuel used to get there), he thinks it is essential to think about what students practice and learn here. This insight was useful because it reinforces the importance of technology as a tool with the capacity to be a sustainable and creative skill. However, for it to be this for everyone in the Smith community, it must be learned and accessible.

Taré Suriel (stakeholder and student // user) :
Taré holds a few important positions for our work. Not only are they a student deeply committed to pushing Smith to be a more accessible and sustainable institution but they are also a Pedagogical Partner through the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning and a prior-student worker for Education Technology Services. These positions have equipped them with lots of perspectives from students and faculty, especially in moments where these two users have needed support with pedagogy and technology. Taré, through the process of our conversations with them, explained to us that right now students are often expected to know much more about technology than they usually do. If they are assigned something that requires an unfamiliar use of technology, the assignment becomes more intense. Similarly, sometimes when professors attempt to use a technological tool in the classroom (e.g., the projector), they assume it will be set up for them to use. The issue of using technology autonomously is something that users have expressed, and Taré has direct experience with this.

Sherita Flournoy ( student // user):
Sherita is an Ada Comstock scholar who expressed how entering Smith as an older student created gaps regarding how she approaches the integration of technology in her studies. She quickly shared all that is gained from learning new technological tools. Indeed, she shared an anecdote that captured how she once relied on an inefficient printing method that she has since filled with an app that allows her to highlight and even read her readings to her without printing. However, she gained this tool from a peer, not a Smith resource. There is a limitation that Sherita expressed to us which is this idea that Smith has both “everything and nothing” all at once. It is clear that the capacity to do so much exists at Smith, and there are so many resources throughout the campus in the form of events, speakers and more. Sherita made it clear that she excitedly accesses many of these things when they are relevant to her, but often feels left behind. She often feels like resources for learning how to use technological tools can be missing. She would like to gain more knowledge, which she said she would best learn while sitting next to someone who could talk her through things, but lacks opportunities to do so. Sherita also helped us understand how excited students would be if they could apply new technological strategies to their learning, which is encouraging.

Joseph Bacal (stakeholder):
Joseph works for Educational Technological Services as an Applications Manager. He is a resource for all members of Smith but primarily works to support Moodle and wordpress capabilities which means he interacts with faculty and fellow ETS staffers most often. Joseph helped us understand the current limitations that both faculty members and students experience via Moodle. However, he reminded us that it is a free platform used by all schools in the Five College Consortium. There are norms around what is possible for the integration of technology and learning which currently seems to be somewhat limiting. Through our conversation, we also discussed accessibility issues surrounding technology. Joseph deepened our ideas that technological abilities constitute a necessary, yet often inequitably distributed skill, for the 21st-century student. Learning how to code, for example, could be considered a new and helpful language. Tom reminded us that ensuring that technology is available and that Smith prioritizes opportunities to support its community’s ability to use it is crucial in increasing the link between technology’s ability to aid learning and sustainability goals.


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      Through our interviews and talks, we quickly found a disconnect between the availability of classroom technology and its use in the classroom. Professors are often not aware of the Technology available to them and must reach out to ETS themselves if they would like to learn more. Once they become aware of possible tech, they must find the time to grow fluent enough in the technology to use it confidently. Finally, if the students will interact will the technology, the Professor must provide class time for the students to learn the technique as well.

      This knowledge led us to the creation of our composite POV:

      “Hi, my name is Devin Smith, and I️ am a second-year tenure-track member of Smith’s faculty. Right now I’m feeling a boatload of pressure both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, I️ want to be a forward-thinking teacher of the times who can meaningfully incorporate technology because I know how ubiquitous it is in all of our lives. It can play a role in making learning more engaging and accessible for the 21st-century student, but right now, I only feel comfortable using powerpoints and video. I don’t know how to prioritize learning how to integrate technology into my courses and assignments especially when I’m feeling the obligation to publish my work and deliver quality instruction.”


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          Throughout our process, we moved fluidly between ideation and prototyping, going back to the whiteboard and reconsulting our interview notes as we worked to understand the root problems our users were facing. We used a multitude of prompts to spur our ideation sessions. This meant everything from probing ourselves to think about technological tools that could be useful as students to imagining what Smith would look like in 2042. These types of sessions helped us imagine the importance of technology and all the ways that it could enhance a future at Smith grounded in learning and sustainability goals.


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              Our first prototype was designed to address the problem of over-printing on campus which we believe is a symptom of underutilization of available technology by students and faculty. This prototype fits the issue that was presented to us by our client, Tom Laughner, while also addressing the desire for students to come away with a portfolio of their work and skills gained from their Smith experience. It is significant to not only track student progress, but also a useful reference point for highlighting those skills when applying for a job after graduation. This student page can serve as an archive for students to reference assignments or papers in the future as well as a vibrant portfolio to highlight outstanding work that came out of their time at Smith. Assignments can be uploaded after completion and automatically link back to the faculty page, so on the flip side; these works become windows into the faculty’s approach to teaching and evidence to the success of the student. The web pages for faculty and students would act similarly to Moodle in that assignments could be directly uploaded rather than printed out and handed in (though we noted that this is something that is currently available just underutilized due to lack of training/proficiency with Moodle). The faculty would each have a page too and would allow for them to share their pedagogical approach, where they draw their inspirations from, how they incorporate inclusion in the classroom, as well as offer places to collaborate with their peers on research and writing projects to further their progress with tenure. There would also be areas on their page for them to upload syllabi for classes, have classroom discussions, and highlight student work.


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                  After hearing from Professor Pineda about her struggles with Moodle. We thought that adding a platform like a website was not fitting for that user. She talked about how she did not have the time to learn how to use it properly and so she found it to be unreliable. While our first prototype allowed students to have a platform for technology use and documenting their Smith experience, the website still didn’t address the significant commonality that held every user’s concerns together. We had to go back to the drawing board (or the sticky notes in this case) to find a solution that could address Professor Pineda’s problem as well.
                  We propose “The Catalyst,” an extended orientation for new students and faculty. Members of each group work collaboratively to gain fluency in Smith’s available technologies. Participants are guided through three units, starting with informing students and faculty of the tech available to them. Through our interviews, we found that Smith community members are often unaware of the technological resources available that could improve their courses or workflow. However, when Smith community members are aware of technology, they often don’t possess the skills to use it confidently. The second unit of “The Catalyst,” focuses on teaching class members the skills necessary to navigate and use the technology introduced in Unit One. Finally, in Unit three, orientation members work together to directly apply their new skills and knowledge by creating a course that incorporates the technology they have learned. Through this final assignment, students and faculty become a catalyst for the seamless integration of technology in the classroom at Smith.

                    Our video works to highlight the feedback from our users and stakeholders that lead us to our prototypes. While our Prezi prototype helped convey some essential parts of our idea, refining the way our content is communicated and potentially considering other tools would be a valuable course of action. With more time, we would like to flesh out content, as well as a demo of this proposed class session, with professors and students, to see how such a course could play out. We would also like to work with the dean of faculty and the dean of students to figure out logistics and timeline for how/when a course like this could take place.

                    We thought about there being potential barriers, because of assumptions and the current status quo of Smith, to this course taking place (e.g., power imbalance between students and faculty, when would it happen? How would we require it? etc.) These are things we would continue to pose and try to answer if we have time to keep working on this project in the future.
                    To address the power dynamic, we want to establish a shared interest between students and professors. We will develop paths for both faculty and students to be valued for their unique expertise, (e.g., students handle on social media and faculty’s experience with digital publications).
                    We’re not sure when it would happen, truthfully. We have toyed with the idea of making it required for all during their first year at Smith or as an extended orientation or perhaps over J-term.
                    Our syllabus, as of now, is somewhat ambitious, so having a whole semester would be ideal.
                    We have gotten feedback that requiring things at Smith is hard. However, the success of the FYS gives us hope that this could happen. Requiring this course would be Smith signaling to the whole community that integrating technology to support sustainability and learning is a priority for this campus.

                      Who we are (Team Plantain Power)

                      Angela Gregory ’20, Isabelle Hodge ’20, Natalie James ’18, Rose Silverman ’18.