Turning 'Facepalms' into Constant Learning Improvement

Posted by Scott Doerrfeld on Jul 23, 2013 10:50:00 AM

Online apps are constantly in a state of flux, and Wowzers is no exception. We are always adding new features and content while also refining our existing product.

Now, as every developer knows, we get excited about updates and new content, but it would be foolish to not consult outside feedback. To avoid designing Wowzers in a vacuum, we collect feedback from our users in a myriad of ways to help us pinpoint the areas that need the most attention.

Facepalm Moments Often Lead to the Best Improvements

On a small scale, the production team begins the feedback process by directly observing students using our product at our partner schools or pilot programs. The goal with direct observation is to get a sense for how students pick up and use Wowzers. We consider our platform to be on the bleeding edge with its unique format and style of presentation.

student feedbackBut, even with all the innovation and new creations, we still want Wowzers to feel extremely intuitive. It often doesn’t take long at one of these sessions for a kid to ask something that plants a developer’s face firmly in his palm. I distinctly remember the time a student asked, “How do I say ‘I don’t know’ as my answer?” I thought to myself, “Hmm. Never thought of that one! Guys, we need an ‘I don’t know’ button!”  

There are several specific “duh” moments like that instance, but there are also general trends we can pick up on while working with a room full of students playing Wowzers. The combination of the two observations leads to us making changes to the way we frame the learning experience, be it through more concise and timely instruction or more conspicuous feedback.  

We also take note of the students’ reactions as they are playing. Are they smiling? Are they concentrating? Are they doing what we intended them to do?  I can tell you right now, if the students are frustrated, they will certainly let us know. As a result, we can make changes and adjustments to smooth out the overall experience so that the students are engaged in the material instead of figuring out the software and gameplay functionality.  

Looking for ‘Red Flags’ to Improve Content and Learning Experiences

On a much larger scale, we also analyze the usage data coming from the thousands of students using Wowzers everyday. Our system identifies and alerts us of any “red flags” in our content.  For example, if there is a lesson that consistently takes too long to get through or a quiz that shows unusually low scores across the board, we receive a notification. In some cases, we can easily trim things down or improve our adaptive feedback to make an individual lesson more effective.  

game-based learningBut, it’s not always that quick or evident. Our team hones in on the most (and the least) successful aspects of our product by rating each learning object in terms of its technical merits. i.e. how engaging and interactive it is, how well it teaches the concept, whether the audio and visuals add or detract from the learning, and how well it is adapting to the individual student. Our core design team then utilizes trends in the data to arrive at these ratings, all of which inform the design of future learning objects.

In essence, our users tell us what works, and we build upon that, as well as what doesn’t work, which we eliminate. I really have to marvel at the day and age we live in – one where we can create educational content that is constantly updating and improving!

- Scott Doerrfeld, Wowzers Technical Director


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Topics: Personalized Learning, Wowzers Tales

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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