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Assessments, Lumpy Pottery, and a Reminder to Care | Intern Spotlight: Jennifer H

Part 1: An introduction 🌈

Unfortunately, I do not have the creative faculties to engineer an attention-grabbing opener, but it felt odd to write this piece without introducing myself first. So hello – I’m Jennifer, a product design intern at Schoolhouse.world for the summer of 2022. I enjoy looking at mountains (preferably real but also in picture-form) and spend an inordinate amount of time curating Spotify playlists.

Part 2: How did you learn about Schoolhouse?

I hadn’t heard of Schoolhouse when my friend sent me the application, but a quick Google search told me everything I needed to know.

Obviously, there was the Sal Khan factor. Like millions of other users, Khan Academy was my north star guiding me through Chemistry IB and SAT prep. In the vast world of ed-tech organizations that ranged from mission-driven to not-so-mission-driven, the simple dream of free, world-class education always resonated with me. I was excited to learn where Schoolhouse fit into the puzzle.

Specifically, I resonated with the idea of fostering human connection through peer-to-peer tutoring. For a lot of students, remote school was tiring and Zoom lectures were not the pinnacle of engagement in a classroom. The opportunity to design a product that attempted to connect students around the world through knowledge sharing and education felt interesting, exciting, and relevant to me.

Part 3: That one time talking to our volunteers made me a li’l emotional

At the heart of Schoolhouse is our community of 2370+ volunteer tutors. To preface this part of the blogpost, every time I talk about our tutors, it sounds incredibly cheesy. Generally speaking, I’d describe myself as a realist and someone who is not easily inspired, but any opportunity to interact with our tutors was always a humbling experience.

After four years of university, I was feeling a little jaded about the world – the typical headspace of someone in their early twenties. Two weeks into my internship, I interviewed tutors for my first project and had the opportunity to hear about how and why they teach. From our conversations, I learned that some of our tutors spend hours sourcing practice questions from Khan Academy and various textbooks to compile these questions, complete with images and drawings, into assessments for their learners. I learned that there is a collective love of teaching beyond the volunteer hours and college application material.

Mariah later told me that one of the tutors I interviewed was just fourteen years old. Many of our volunteer tutors are high school students and this is incredible because quality tutoring is often quite difficult, but it is evident that everyone cares about it. The community is always sharing teaching tips with each other, whether it’s how to better engage learners or innovative Zoom setup ideas.

Ultimately, Schoolhouse has built a community of volunteers that believes in the value of a free, quality education for all and there is something so moving about the supportive and wholesome culture of it. The tutor Slack workspace is full of shoutouts and heart reactions, the product team gets notified if there is negativity circulating around, and trees (yes, actual trees) get planted when tutors inspire others to teach.

The #shoutouts channel in the Community Slack

As a designer, I always need to question the features I build and why I choose to build them. During my 3+ months at Schoolhouse, the answer has always been clear: so tutors have the tools they need to provide a supportive, quality education for their learners.

I think this is what sets Schoolhouse apart from any other organization. I was often invited to meetings where we discussed the organization together, involving both the product team and our tutors. At the time, I didn’t realize how unique it was for us to discuss our product and quarterly goals so openly with our users. The product team knows many of our volunteers by name and the community congratulates us on releases. It just goes to show that 🎵we’re all in this together 🎵.

Part 4: My Projects and their Challenges

I led the end-to-end design on two new features for Schoolhouse. The first was an assessment tool for tutors to build surveys, quizzes, tests, and assignments for their learners. The goal of this project was for tutors to have a centralized location for collecting grades and providing feedback to their learners from assessments. I worked on the project with design support from Jackie, our design lead, and cross-functionally with Akshit and Akshay. The tool will also be used in Fall 2022 for Schoolhouse’s SAT bootcamps where we have a target of reaching thousands of learner signups.

Some highlights from the new Assessment feature

This was a challenging project and required a lot of scoping for the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and later versions. The features that go into an assessment tool can be extensive. We knew some external platforms were offering gamification, drawings, sharing questions, formatting math equations, etc. Through user interviews, it seemed like all of these features proved to be valuable for tutors. However, because this was a net-new project, we had to scope out a feature-set for our MVP. As a designer, it was difficult to prioritize certain features over others. Only through conversations with other product team members did I recognize that it is impossible for the first version of the project to be perfect, but it will be the foundation upon which we design and build other features. Our MVP was released in August 2022 and still provided a solution to two important problems: (1) A way for tutors to create assessments, collect responses, and provide feedback in one centralized location and (2) a way for the organization to create and distribute SAT practice tests to tutors and learners without having to rely on an external platform.

The second project was a classroom tool for teachers. The goal of this project was to give teachers a detailed overview of the students in their classrooms. Teachers will be able to monitor their students’ learning and tutoring activity and their progress through course and topic certifications on Schoolhouse. I also worked on the project with design support from Jackie and cross-functionally with Viraj and Elysa. The tool was released in August 2022 and will be used this fall by teachers and students, specifically at Khan World School and Khan Lab School. Both are Sal Khan initiatives transforming the way we learn!

Some highlights from the new Teacher Tools feature

Part 5: OMG, we’re Releasing?!

The week of August 8 was a sad one because all the engineering interns were leaving, but there was all this talk about releasing and for whatever reason, my mind did not fully acknowledge the excitement of release until hours later. It was my first time releasing projects of this scale.

We released assessments on August 8 and classroom tools the day after. Immediately after release, the tutor Slack workspace was reacting to the new features. As a product person, I recognize that the features aren’t 100% perfect, but it was so rewarding seeing the community interact with my designs and start building assessments 😊. The supportive culture of the volunteer community definitely extends towards the product team. We’re hosting a focus-group session on August 17 to hear our tutors’ thoughts on the new feature including how they have been using assessments, how they plan on using assessments, and any feature requests for future versions.

Another Assessment shoutout from the #shoutouts channel!

Part 6: Some other Highlights of my Internship

Apart from working on two impactful products that were released to our users and working with incredibly smart and caring individuals, here were some of my internship highlights:

  • Making lumpy clay lamps over Zoom with Sculp’d
  • Meeting Sal Khan two times (the first remote, the second totally unplanned and at the Khan Academy office, but in-person) and the opportunity to hear him speak about his ideas and initiatives
  • Gartic Phone with oddly specific prompts
  • The ranking game (if you know, you know)

Part 7: Reflections & Takeaways

I had the opportunity to learn from some truly inspiring people! Here are just a few of my takeaways.

From Arne Duncan, I learned to put less blame on our politicians for the state of our education system. We vote for our politicians, so the onus is largely on us to vote with education in mind.

From Sal Khan, I learned the metric for success in life is being able to casually throw organic blueberries into your cart when you shop at Whole Foods. (This is obviously not the only thing I learned from Sal Khan considering he has started many successful and transformative educational initiatives. However, I thought this was very astute).

By working closely with engineers (shoutout to Akshay, Akshit, Elysa and Viraj) over the course of two projects, I experienced firsthand the value of having good engineers who care about the design of the product. They will do a lot of research to find technical compromises to complicated interactions if that’s what’s required and will work with you to find solutions that are both technically feasible and best for the user. They will be patient when you need time to explore other options. I only worked closely with half of our engineers, but knowing the culture of Schoolhouse, I know this is true for everyone.

From the whole team, I learned that it is possible to find work that you are passionate about. Every individual on this team cares so much about the mission of the organization and their dedication to our users is so contagious. I realized I want to work on projects that have meaningful social impact and drive human connection.

And from Jackie (”Jackie is so cool” – All the Schoolhouse Summer 2022 Interns), I learned how to be a more detail-oriented and systematic designer. She definitely pushed me to be more critical and to explore alternatives in all aspects of the design – from high-level ideation to minute details in copy. When I am overwhelmed, even the smallest interactions can be framed as a user-centered design problem, which gives me the starting point I need to make a decision. She also encouraged me to design for fun and reminded me that there is value in design outside of the context of an organization. Our collective fangirl-ing over Phoebe Bridgers spawned this actual piece of ART. I am truly grateful for her mentorship and the opportunity to work alongside her.

Yelp for Phoebe Bridgers

Final thanks to everyone on the team (Jackie, Akshay, Elysa, Justin, Mariah, Alyssa, Drew, Matt, and Anees) for a very cool summer (and lol to the fact that I can list you ALL on one line). Also shoutout to April, Akshit, Prakruthi and Viraj. We still have to name our intern playlist!!

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