TRCP-05

This project, although an academic endeavour of a post-graduate student of graphic design from the National Institute of Design, absolutely could not have been possible without the guidance and support of the faculty guide, Mr. Tarun Deep Girdher. I would like to thank him for mentoring me through this project as if it was his own, and spending countless hours discussing and debating the complex parameters and dynamics of the stakeholders involved in the Indian education system. I broke all project timelines and this one took a mind-boggling 15 months, but his patience was unparalleled through out.

I would also take this opportunity to thank Mr. Noble Thomas and Ms. Vandna Joshi, from DPS Bopal for letting me meet the teachers and students of the school to conduct my research as well as validate my design solution. Mr. Thomas was instrumental in organising a lot of the feedback sessions and providing valuable insights at key stages through the project.

There are a number of people who participated in my research and facilitated the outcome of the project. There were also those who made sure I didn’t give up half way. Names in no particular order are as follows: Dr. Niyati Lakhani, Mr. Vineet Joshi, Mr. Dhirendra Davey, Dr. Shailendra Gupta, Ms. Veena Das & Ms. Nikita Desai (Riverside School), Mr. Rupesh Vyas, Mr. Ajay Tiwari, Jasleen Kaur, Shreya Chakravarty, Roshini Pochont, Jyoti Mann, Mira Malhotra, Akash Raj Halankar, Soumyadip Ghosh, Palash Singh. My family and friends—as always, for letting me do what I love.

The report card—redesigned to act as a medium that provides actionable information in an understandable manner to facilitate positive dialogue among teachers, parents and students. The preview below shows the report card without any variable information filled (in its blank state).

The redesigned report card for class 6-8 filled with dummy information to give a sense of the representation of student evaluation.

For the third round of design validation, with the help of Mr. Noble Thomas of DPS Bopal, we conducted a group discussion with teachers who are also parents of students in classes 6,7 and 8. It was an information group discussion meant to provide valuable feedback on the design of the report card and to open up a debate around student evaluation from both perspectives.

The discussion was conducted with a group of seven teachers, and to start it off, I explained to them in brief the problems my research had shown (specific to the report card).

IMG_6709 copyAs has been the case with the feedback on the report card with other parents and teachers, the positioning of the grading scale next to the corresponding sections of the report card and the horizontal alignment of the two terms was greatly appreciated.

They brought to light the fact that although projects were inducing stress on parents, and in some cases, students were buying projects from various sources—it was fostering a culture of cross-subject learning, as students were required to apply their learning from different subjects to create projects and presentations on topics such as female foeticide.

IMG_6706 copy There was a unanimous consent about the fact that the co-scholastic indicators were extremely fuzzy and both confusing and not fruitful for students and parents. The CBSE mandate that nothing negative should be written in the descriptions limited the teachers’ ability to give correct feedback and often there is a mismatch between the grades and the written description. As parents, they did not pay attention to the section at all, unless in the case where the student is not strong academically and these indicators helped him or her get a better overall grade.

My take on the overall grade, that it is not an accurate representation of student learning was completely rejected, as teachers said that it helped them in understanding the position of students in their class, and created a benchmark and motivated students to work harder to fall into the performing students category (A1 / A2 grade). However, they agreed that it does induce a sense of competition and labels students but that is not a big enough reason for the overall grade to be removed from the report card, as such.

IMG_6708 copyThe last thing that was appreciated was the inclusion of the “Teacher’s Message” where they felt that parents and students would only take that bit seriously in terms of what the teacher had to say—it also becomes memorable to some extent for the students. It is more effective and meaningful than the automated sentences listed out to be filled in the descriptive indicators.

This round would successfully end the design validation stage. I would now be preparing a document of the research, insights and design outcome to present it to the CBSE with an aim to call for a debate and critically reason the methodology of student evaluation and the requirement of appropriate tools and resources for parents and teachers to make student evaluation a far more useful process to aid student learning.

Its time to get the design validation under way—to get feedback from parents and teachers about the redesigned report card, and include their views to guide the future of the report card. I met with Dr. Niyati Lakhani who is the mother of Kahan, a 13 year old boy in class 7. She was very welcoming and we discussed at length about the project and coming from a  background of healthcare & pedagogy, she was quite spot on with some of her observations and suggestions.

IMG_5022 copyI had initial trouble explaining to her how redesigning the report card would change anything with respect to the education system and CCE, but gradually she understood some of my ideas, concerns and constraints as well as appreciated the fact that I acknowledged those.

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Key Points from the Interview:

– Most parents have a very hard time understanding the report card, lose interest and concentrate only on the scholastic areas since the children do not care about the other indicators, and the teachers have no fair justification or standard methodology to grade other areas.

– The placement of the grading scale for different sections right next to the display of grades made it a lot easier for her to refer to the scale and derive meaning out of the report card.

– The inclusion of progress bars and the shift of focus from the overall grade to progress over time is also a good change. However, she found it hard to comprehend the report card without the overall grade, since that is the first-go-to indicator for parents.

– She also said that since there is no fair basis for evaluating students on co-scholastic areas and especially their life skills, it becomes rather mind boggling for parents to understand, and it becomes an extremely complex array of information to comprehend. She suggested reducing the number of indicators drastically instead of increasing them. Also, to re-examine the indicators that are being evaluated, or at least provide an explanation of what is expected out of the student since the descriptive indicators and the grade often are not synchronized in meaning.

– The concept of sorting the subjects in order of the highest to the lowest grade was taken well but she raised a very important point that it isn’t easy to understand the report card and people have developed a mental model with the standard order of subjects. Rearranging those might distort their perception and would confuse the parents even more. This would need to be included systemically and explained to the parents and students by the school.

– She mentioned that teaching is a side-profession for most people (especially women), and since there aren’t enough teachers and most women move along with their husbands, they usually do not take ownership of their profession. This leads to a lack of understanding of the student and a disconnect between the teacher and parent.

– She suggested studying the perception of parents from different backgrounds as those who are professional are more concerned about maths and science because they want their children to be able to sustain themselves at a later stage and make a career for themselves, where as parents with businesses wouldn’t be as concerned since the child is expected to inherit the family business. Certain subjects are also neglected because of this mindset.

IMG_5040 copyApart from the validation of the design, she spoke about the influence of technology and gaming on student psyche and time spent with parents – raising the point that there is a need to understand the difference between a “degree” and “education”, and education goes beyond school into homes. A generation gap was clearly felt (even with me), in terms of ideology, belief systems and values. I might not be in a position to agree or disagree with her having my own set of perceptions and beliefs, the concern of a parent came through very clearly.

I would conclude saying the interview left me with mixed feelings about the design of the report card. What was very clear though was that presentation of student learning on one side, the very content being presented needs to be examined and teachers need to be sensitized and motivated, more importantly need to realize that they are grooming the future of the country, and have to take ownership and responsibility of the fact.

The first round of design discussions ended with the identification of a need to run the re-designed report card with school teachers, especially those who are involved with the evaluation process. Tarun managed to set up a meeting with one of the teachers (by writing a beautiful e-mail) at DPS, Bopal–Mr. Noble Thomas, who has been working on creating systems (as excel spreadsheets and web based) to make it easier for teachers to handle evaluation data and remove the burden of making all the calculations to convert marks to aggregated grades.

It was by chance that there was also a PTA meeting at the school on the day I went to meet Mr. Noble. So after a nice ride on a bike with the wind blowing across my face, I got the opportunity to sit on some parent-teacher discussions. Since it was the middle of the academic year, the report card was not out yet but I could observe the concern on the parents’ faces and the yearning for some kind of feedback from the teachers. It almost felt like the teachers were counsellors for the parents–they just needed someone to talk to about their children.

Meeting Mr. Noble, who is a physics teacher (and extremely enterprising) proved to be extremely insightful. He confirmed my understanding of the evaluation system by drawing a simple flowchart to explain its various components and weighting. He showed me how teachers fill in evaluation data into the web-based system that the school has developed and how that gets reflected into grades.

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IMG_6831 copyWhen I shared the design of the report card that I had come up with, he was quickly able to identify areas that were ambiguous–the representation of the grading scale. I had not taken into account decimal points, so my grading scale would create confusion about the grade for a student who has scored marks between 90 and 91 (for example). Would he be given an A1 or an A2? Mr. Noble clarified that in their school, a student would be awarded the higher grade only if they score above 90 and anything up to 90 would be awarded the lower grade.

IMG_6826 copyThe web based system that they used required teachers to fill in about 5 to 10 questions to decide a grade for each indicator, which made it about 60-70 questions for each student. So it still took quite some time to evaluate each student. He also mentioned that the descriptive indicators were not entirely true or reflected the grade of the student as the CBSE mandate requires the descriptive indicators to be only written on a positive note, but the grade might not comply with what was written. Therefore, teachers get limited with their choice of words and parents are usually confused due to the conflict that this presents.

The inclusion of progress bars was something that he thought made a lot of sense to give an idea about the progress made by the student at a quick glance. So, with some refinements and careful consideration, the design should add value to the existing report card.

Now to the next iteration of the design of the report card.

I had a discussion with Tarun regarding these explorations, and he identified key issues with the layout, naming and information hierarchy.

IMG_6809 copy The most important part was the visual representation of the grading system, which was not consistent through different sections of the report card, and the thickness of the lines that was used to demarcate sections and subject fields.

IMG_6812 copy IMG_6814 copy Descriptions for Formative and Summative Assessment need to be added.

IMG_6816 copy Tarun suggested that term 1 and term 2 be joined horizontally so as to signify the continuation of the same subject field instead of separating them via the center-fold.

IMG_6817 copySection 3A & B need to be redesigned in the same format as the other sections with the two terms in horizontal alignment with each other instead of the vertical hierarchy as shown above to maintain consistency. Further, details of health status can be given to reduce confusion.

Another interesting thing that came up was the usage of horizontal lines above and below a label. Since the report card has boxes, as well single horizontal lines that create areas that need to filled by the student or teacher, will they fill the area above or below the line? This would also have to be made consistent and perhaps tested, to find the right solution.

My second round of explorations based on these discussions will begin today.

 

Based on the design considerations mentioned in the earlier posts, I started exploring possibilities of restructuring the information hierarchy and visual elements to make it easier both to fill, as well as comprehend and analyze the report card. The constraints of which were that it had to be a double sided A3, black and white (could be printed on any colour paper), used fonts that were available on Windows operation systems and designed in Microsoft Excel.

Exploration 1: I started off using two typefaces, Arial & Georgia–a standard serif and sans-serif pairing. My main aim was to figure out a way to remove the need to flip pages to read the legend while having to analyze the grades, and to make it easy to see the progress over the two terms.

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This exploration was too heavy on the eye, and there seemed to be too many lines that were obstructing the reader from the content of the report card.

Exploration 2: I set the entire report card in varying weights and styles of Corbel in the next exploration which is a clean sans-serif typeface and works well in print. I also removed some of the boxes around the subject fields to make the layout less claustrophobic. The grading system and the section indicators were made grey to reduce the attention being grabbed by them.

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Exploration 3: This is the same as exploration 2 except that the grading system is enclosed in a grey box to separate it from the rest of the content.

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Exploration 4: Some of the descriptions have been taken to the opposite page under the life skills section to free up more space to add more indicators, and health status now uses the left column on the last page and frees up space to include a section on parent’s observations. Inclusion of progress bars on the right side of term 2 to indicate ascent or decline in the grades for each subject.

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These were the first set of explorations that I took to my guide. Although this seemed like the right direction to take, there were quite a few hierarchy and comprehension issues. The representation of the grading system was not consistent, and section 3A & B, since they were on the last page, did not have a similar format for the two terms as in the other sections. One common denominator in these explorations is the absence of the overall grade (culmination of all formative and summative assessments for all subjects as well as co-scholastic activities), for which justification has been provided in an earlier post.

After an exercise of creating fictional scenarios of students with different personalities, strengths, weaknesses and family backgrounds, I created fictional report cards using the sample CCE report card for each of them which would reflect their yearly performance. This helped me in identifying the issues, both in filling the report card as well as the perception it creates about the student’s performance. Based on this experience, I have highlighted problems within the current report card system.

Report Card Analysis-01 Report Card Analysis-02 Report Card Analysis-03 Report Card Analysis-04Apart from the key critical questions being raised about the representation and perception of student performance in the CCE system, these visual design observations would help design a report card that informs students and parents about student performance clearly, without any miscommunication. The focus of the report card should be on aiding the student learning process, therefore there can be no room for any kind of ambiguity in the message that is being sent from the school to the parents. Students also need to take ownership of their learning, and the report card could be a useful tool in that process as well.

 

In a meeting with my guide, Tarun mentioned that it would be a good idea to fill the report card for each of the students from my scenarios based on their profile that I had created. While doing this, I realized for the first time that even putting a few alphabets in a printed file out of excel can be highly confusing, and frustrating. I only had to fill the report cards for five students–I can’t even begin to imagine the effort it takes (out of school) to fill report cards of a minimum of 40 students for every teacher.

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While filling the report card, a few problems became very obvious. I began to see how there really need not be any connection between the student’s performance and what is being shown on the report card. If the report card were an abstract representation of student performance, the amount of abstraction is extremely high, leaving out necessary details which show an incomplete picture.

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What this represents is a generic picture of the student as per his / her personality.

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One of the things that gave me a hard time while filling the report card was the three different kinds of grading systems being used for different indicators. The non-uniformity makes it hard to perceive the actual value of what is being represented.

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After a brief meeting with my guide, Tarun, he suggested that it would be a good idea to build some scenarios to identify the different archetypes of students we would be designing for, their family background and personality traits.

Scenario 1: Nandan Sharma

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Family Background: Lives with parents & grandmother in Dehradun. Nandan has no siblings. His father is a bank manager and mother is a house wife.

Personality: Nandan loves football & playing outside. He is not inclined towards technology. He is generally shy of girls in his school. He attends Bal Bharti sessions in the local Sai Baba ashram with his grandmother.

Academic Performance: Gets an overall average grade of B, standing about 8th to 10th in his class. Scores in sciences & maths but loses marks in social studies and languages. Finds it hard to remember lengthy answers, as his attention span is less. More inclined towards sports, and other hands on work.

Parents’ Perspective: Given his performance, parents think that he would end up doing commerce or arts although he shows more interest and scores higher in the science subjects. Tuition for social studies is not common in the city. Most parents send their children for science tuitions so Nandan’s parents are unsure what to do.

Teachers’ Perspective: Teachers in his school do not take much interest in his learning process. They say that he could do better if he worked harder, but nothing in specific that could help him. Monthly parent-teacher meetings do not take place.

Scenario 2: Aarti Duggal

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Family Background: Aarti’s father is an electrical engineer working with BHEL. Her mother is an income tax officer. Both of them come back home from the office only after 6/7 PM. Her elder brother just finished Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore, so he’s never at home either.

Personality: She is heavily influenced by Punk Rock. Loves writing lyrics and singing. Maintains an online blog where she writes about her feelings and anecdotes from her daily life. Feels different from her peers, especially girls. Portrays a loner image to the world. Reads Japanese Manga and is an ardent lover of cats.

Academic Performance: Shuffles between C+ & B grades. Gets average marks in all subjects, but she hates maths. Highly distracted in the classroom. Wants to do something in music but is not very talented nor have any opportunities come her way.

Parents’ Perspective: Mother is worried that Aarti is not traditional enough & does not help out in household activities. Since she works, she comes back home very tired and has little time for Aarti. Father also likes music so Aarti feels much closer to him. The family does not have much time for each other. Hence, things go on as they are.

Teachers’ Perspective: Teachers don’t have much to say about Aarti as she has never been the center of any attention and keeps her distance from everyone in school.

Scenario 3: Karan Garg

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Family Background: Father is a businessman—has a garment store franchise. Mother is a housewife who runs a home creche for children. Younger brother is 10 years old and in the same school.

Personality: Loves studying and reading. Has won two National Olympiads already. Introvert but has his own group of friends who he is close to. Finds it easy enough to excel in the class and is highly competitive in nature. Plays computer games in his free time.

Academic Performance: Consistently gets A and above. He is very particular about school work and is usually engrossed in it all the time. No extra-curricular or physical activities.

Parents’ Perspective: Parents are satisfied by Karan’s performance. Father wants him to become a doctor. Mother wants him to do a MBA. They have enrolled him into olympiad classes, coaching for medical entrances as well as MBA entrance tests.

Teachers’ Perspective: Teachers are very proud of Karan, and they insist that he should do either medicine or an MBA as well.

Scenario 4: Neha Singhal

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Family Background: Father has a small electrical store in East Delhi. Mother is a teacher in the same school where Neha studies. Lives with 2 sisters & grandparents from father’s side. She is the eldest.

Personality: Very homely, loves being with family. Takes care of the house, grandparents & sisters with all her heart. Loves to cook. She is very respectful of her family. Hardly goes out with her friends.

Academic Performance: She doesn’t perform well in school. Gets C/D grades. Wants to do home science. Interested in SUPW / knitting. Intimidated by others in the class who have fancy gadgets and cars, and they also seem to be better than her in class.

Parents’ Perspective: Mother concerned with Neha’s performance as other teachers ask her consistently about her daughter’s performance. They say that she is a lovable and an affectionate child but her priorities are misplaced. Father is burdened as he will have to take responsibility for 3 daughters and his parents. It is hard to manage at home. They are not sure of career options for Neha.

Teachers’ Perspective: Teachers complain to Neha’s mother about her performance. She’s quiet and shy in class and respectful of teachers but does not study hard enough.

 

Scenario 5: Ankur Tewari

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Family Background: Father is a Major in the Army and is mostly out of town. Mother is a house wife who takes English tuitions on a part time basis. He has no siblings. They have two servants at home.

Personality: Ankur is a brat—spoilt at home, disrespectful and bossy. He always has all the latest gadgets and toys. He is the “cool” kid of the class.

Academic Performance: Scores B and above in all subjects. Studies right before the exams, mugs up the answers and manages to get enough marks.

Parents’ Perspective: Both parents expect more out of Ankur as they feel they are putting in a lot for him. Mother is very protective of her child and does not listen to the teachers’ complaints about his bad behaviour in class. He is never let out of his comfort zone. They pamper him at home. All his demands are met with ease.

Teachers’ Perspective: Teachers constantly complain about bad behaviour and that Ankur disrupts class proceedings all the time. They can’t do much because the parents don’t seem to care.