Monday, 14 February 2011

PPP - Secondary to Primary phase

Project background

Lead SME’s comment, “I wish we had as much interaction in the Secondary product as we do in the Primary one”.

The Primary Pedagogy Pack (3P) was the successful younger sister product to the Secondary Pedagogy Pack (2P). Both required extracting and modifying volumes of legacy printed materials (the ‘Ped Pack’) into cohesive eLearning and web-based materials for teachers graded by OFSTED as Satisfactory where their target is Good. The content combined basic pedagogy with phase-specific methods of enhancing their planning and teaching including modules on group work, questioning technique, and individual tuition.

Vaishali owned the Secondary product while I owned the Primary, which was to follow the Secondary design and themes. This required my input to the Secondary product to defend the Primary range and some tenacity to inject new interactions with which to lift the Primary product to better suit its audience.

In the beginning

After a quite thorough user / learner analysis, Vaishali and I spent time organising how the blend of web and eLearning would compile into a cohesive product for both 2P and 3P. At the specification stage I illustrated how the Primary product would fit on the National Strategies web area and outlined the structure of the eLearning modules.

Showing how most product structures would be presented at specification.

Specifying the model for each module throughout 2P and 3P.

Building the products

Early SME input during scoping negated the ‘blue-sky’ interactions I was given license to create by my producer, Kathryn. This risked both products becoming a series of static screens of text with graphic. We were all a little deflated; keen to develop an exciting product with the talent of our internal team.

One of the simulation concepts thrown out by the SMEs.

As the Secondary product took shape I kept contact with its design process to keep an eye on what my Primary product (the 3P) would need to follow in visual and interaction design. Using my product's situation as caveat I often needed to fight its case within a product that was not my own, but Vaishali was frustrated with the cutting of some of the more exciting ideas and welcomed my interference to feed her own battles. It may sound dramatic, but was in effect a close collaborative effort.

Some scheduling issues resulted in Vaishali and I needing to pull word counts and GUI direction from thin air. We were loosing interaction designer Mark Kobylanski and welcoming Mark Stanfield. There was a short period of turbulence as Mark settled and put his own authority on the art direction and screen real estate. The result was SMEs writing to screen counts far in excess the real estate Mark provided, requiring a little additional work re-scripting to fit.

Issues and problems aside, 2P progressed to maturity while 3P was still being wet-nursed by the SMEs.

2P Screens vs. 3P screens

As I was busy working on 3P some 2P developments went by without my feedback. A case in point is the menu screens in which there permeated some errors in design that were too far in development to be changed by the time I picked up on them during 3P development.

2P issues

  • The menu button roll-overs opened over the buttons above obscuring these from view

  • The teacher's introduction text opened over the buttons, too forcing the user to close the bubble before determining a button to select; an unnecessary control over their navigation.

  • The speech bubble text exactly followed the recorded audio. This could cause latency / redundancy effect in readers also listening to the audio, which can over burden the learner and impair comprehension of either media.

In the 3P product, I fixed these issues although there were some compromises to be made where it still needed to follow 2P's lead. Changes had to be subtle.

3P solutions

You can see:
  • The menu rollovers are moved right to avoid obscuring the vision of there being buttons beneath

  • Speech text has been removed and placed in a transcript, which opens in a MS Word document on the learner's choice.

Subtle, but all the difference when comparing the two versions on screen.


The National Strategies had a huge photo library of children and pupils in school settings but almost nothing that would lend to scenarios. I wrote a guidance on the taking of photos that directed different poses and settings for each child to participate in, which worked for the Secondary DLITT project but too late for this one. There was no budget for more photography.

Can do, will do, I offered to take photographs at my childrens' school - entirely plausable having scoped the idea with the head teacher only recently before due to my frustration at the paucity of suitable (and of good quality_ photography in the organisation.Unfortunately this met resistance for being out of schedule, scope, and likley to take time to ratify with DFE. It was a major frustration.

Early prototype requiring images of 3 pupils / children to summarise their benefits from their teachers' improved performance.

Eventually, Mark and I began discussing 'cartoon' characters, which evolved for Mark into sketches on the wipe baord, and for me into cyt-out magnets; a part of a set of props available to the teachers sharing CPD throughout the scripted dialogues.

Damien Street (Team B's interaction designer) was pretty slick with his illustrations so he mocked up a version each of the sketches and magnets. The sketches were too woolly for me and I resisted them quite fiercely - the magnets seeming more likley in the environment than stuff beautifully sketched by busy teachers on the wipe-board. Having worked a great deal in simulation learning I knew the 'suspension of disbelief' would carry the magnets - that any teacher could employ - compared to the sketches it is doubtful all teachers could draw to the same quality or ability.

Thankfully I managed to influence the team's swing toward the magnets.

The difference in illustrative style between 2P and 3P. The 'magnet' characters were a last ditch effort to keep some 'Primary teacher' flavour in an otherwise very adult-themed product (as requested by my SME)

Developing story strategies through prototyping

How to break up blocks of text?

The simplest strategy to improve the readability and digest of large explanatory (tell) texts was to turn these into stories by breaking them down into conversations and sequencing these as would a cartoon. 'Cartoon' is a dirty word among professionals so scenario will take its place here ;)

Some iterations of the PowerPoint scenario prototypes.

First, I developed the context of teachers grouped in CPD sessions discussing the strategies and their experience of them. I created a sage, a moderate, and a novice initially. The idea of a 'narrator' in 3P to guide the learner and the characters (involving the learner in the story and thus any challenges) was washed away by my SME who just could not get the strain on reality this gave her.

It was a shame we gave in to the SME, as later that very strategy would have been very useful to control the learners' experience in some of the activities. The scenarios worked well all the same. Once the prototypes were seen and understood, most of the potential pit-falls and reality boundaries were quickly sorted out at each iteration.

Early prototyping really does save time later!


These are just a handful of experiences I enjoyed during the 2P and 3P projects and hopefully this gives a flavour of the team's work that goes in to developing even the simplest screens - where time allows. There could be improvements, but the end result is a pair of great looking products - one of which is a little richer, but both of which delivered what our customer required and at times demanded. Job well done.

I'm particularly proud of some elements of 3P that allowed me to 'come of age' as an eLearning learning designer.

Interactions to brag about:

    Scenario with and without timeline
    Decibel meter
    Pie chart
    Bloom’s taxonomy
    Matching exercise with instant feedback
    Pause-action video
    Discarded interaction ideas

Find the products at:

Course details

Course materials Crown Copyright 2010, produced by The National Strategies for the Department for Education.
Objective: To improve 'satisfactory' Secondary and Primary teachers' pedagogical practice to 'good' or better.

Production team

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