Home Programs How U­­X Design Rekindled My Passion for Teaching

How U­­X Design Rekindled My Passion for Teaching

by Staff

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Years ago, as a young high school Spanish teacher, I dreamed of making a difference in the li­­ves of my students. But after years of struggling to differentiate and individualize instruction within a system that was structured to teach masses of students, I found myself feeling ineffective, overwhelmed, and burnt out. The impossible demands on teachers, coupled with the lack of support and resources available, had taken their toll on me.

Making the decision to leave teaching was difficult, but I had to acknowledge that my passion for teaching had been overtaken by my day-to-day frustration. I was fortunate enough to find a dream job in the private sector that allowed me to process my prior teaching experience in a new way. It was here that I first learned about user experience (UX) design and became certified in UX.

UX design is a process that focuses on creating products and services that are easy to use and satisfying for the end user. In my mind, it was the private sector’s spin on the impossible demand put on teachers to individualize instruction for every student. As I learned more about UX design, I realized that it was a practical approach and mindset that could be applied to the classroom environment.

One of the things UX design taught me about my teaching experience is that I hadn’t really understood my purpose. My job was not to teach Spanish, but to make Spanish easy and enjoyable for students to learn. In the beginning of my teaching career, if a student had told me that my class was an “easy, fun” class, I would have seen this as a problem to fix. Maybe they weren’t challenged enough, and I would have seen that as a shortcoming on my part. Through the lens of UX, I learned to appreciate that “easy, fun” classes can be extremely hard to design, and teachers need to take many things into consideration regarding the development of instructional design for this user experience to come about. By understanding and applying UX principles, teachers can design their lessons and materials in a way that appeals to their students’ needs, interests, and learning styles and feels “easy, fun” to learn.

Another key lesson UX taught me about my teaching is that I never should have trusted my gut instinct. In my early teaching days, I would make a lot of assumptions about what would work for my students based on gut feeling. I thought my passion would fuel theirs because I didn’t understand that a UXer’s worst enemy is their own ego. If I found something interesting about the content or if I thought that what another teacher was doing was engaging, I would mistakenly conclude that the topic and approach would work for my students too. This was a big mistake. I often felt deflated when my students didn’t find my favorite Spanish Golden Age poetry relevant or my colleague’s website scavenger hunt engaging. UX teaches you that uninformed “gut decisions’’ can take you down the wrong path. One of the key principles of UX design is focusing on the user. In the classroom, this does not mean individualizing instruction for every student, but it does mean understanding students and building empathy with them. It was a huge mindset shift for me.

UX design also helped me to see that I focused too heavily on teaching content and not enough on the design of my classroom, lessons, systems, and processes. I would teach a given topic with passion and enthusiasm, only to be felled by a student question like, “Why are we learning this?” This question is the classic hallmark of an error in design and was my students’ best attempt at expressing a key pain point. I would have done much better to listen and ask for more feedback to improve the design instead of assuming that my student had simply misunderstood a key part of the content. UX design emphasizes the importance of creating a consistent and intuitive user experience. In the classroom, this often means prioritizing design over content. Instead of rushing through a lesson to “get through” content, I needed to slow down, use a consistent teaching style, create a logical flow between lessons, use materials that were related to each other and easy to understand, and spend time creating seamless transitions between different lessons and materials. By prioritizing the user experience over content, I would have helped my students understand the bigger picture and retain the information better.

As I learned more about UX, I couldn’t help but think about how it would have made my job much easier and the student experience in my world language classes much better. The fact is that times have changed, and students are used to a more intuitive experience in their everyday lives. For teachers, it’s important to keep this in mind and shift teaching methods so that they make sense to students. It was a relief to know that I didn’t need to create a different approach for every student, I just needed to keep every student in mind as I designed my lessons and materials. This realization has given me a renewed sense of purpose and has made me determined to help other teachers understand the benefits of incorporating UX design into their teaching.

I may have left the traditional classroom, but my passion for teaching and helping students learn has not left me. I now can make a difference in the lives of teachers and students through my work in education technology, content development, and instructional design, and I am grateful for the second chance to make a positive impact.

Evelyn Galindo, PhD, is the senior editorial manager at Carnegie Learning. Dr. Galindo works in the field of educational technology and is a content-area specialist in Central America and the Caribbean.

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