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Design Development

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.

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. 

As I asked my faculty and peers to recollect their experiences with report cards from their childhood, this e-mail reply from Animation faculty Ajay Tiwari was thought provoking and moving.

I think first of all this term “report card” itself should change … it actually creates categories like “students”, “teachers” and “parents” and as far as I remember my childhood I was merely an in-between the teacher and my parents … the teachers gives you the marks and the parents are the ones who sign on it … (if it was good marks all I got was compliments and if it was bad then I got scolding … the card did nothing apart from this) … it was just about how have I performed in the class and for average and not so intelligent students the report cards used to be a nightmare … so I guess the whole idea of education as well as the “role of students” in their own education is being seen in new light so I wonder what is being “reported” in these cards … what does it say about “the performance” and the marks and the ranks of the students in the class … instead of uniting I find the cards used to do more of categorizing e.g. good students, bad students, passed, failed etc. … it was just about the numbers and nothing else … it was all the same … there was nothing “me” about that report card … sometimes I look back at my own school report cards and it definitely brings wonderful memories of the school 🙂 but how can they also make the “present” wonderful … interesting … something that doesn’t force me to take it “passively” but something that I relate to “actively” … after all it is a culmination of how I had been going through my own education till the time the report card was generated…

Following more speculation and debate, it was decided that out of the listed interventions in this post, to redesign the report card would be the right way to go. Not because any of the other listed interventions are not as necessary to be taken forward, but because the academic framework of this project (timelines et all), lack of expertise in the field of education (and its systemic understanding as well as the minute details) allow for something that is actionable, doable and is the need of the hour (rather than long term systemic changes which would take immense research and time to pursue).

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The Report Card is the primary communication device between the schools and parents about student performance, apart from Parent-Teacher meetings. With the shift to the CCE system, the report card itself has become extremely complicated with numerous attributes being graded and feedback being provided across various verticals in scholastic and co-scholastic areas. A primary level analysis shows that it is a sea of alphabets, which does not provide enough context to understand student learning. There are a multitude of questions that crop up, when one thinks of the report card. Some of them are listed below, and I hope to be able to answer a majority of them with the development of the design of the report card.

  • Who is the report card for? Parents? Teachers? Students? 
  • Do grades give a clear picture of student learning? What are the substitutes? 
  • What kind of different indicators can be used to communicate performance? 
  • Performance is never static, it has to be measured over a period of time. Any sort of conclusions or feedback must be based on performance over a period. Is the report card dynamic enough to provide this kind of information to parents? 
  • How does the report card provide feedback for the student, so as to facilitate progress in learning?
  • Wouldn’t it be better for the report card to be a log of performance and conversation with parents and students rather than an end-statement?
  • How can teacher’s burden to fill in report cards be decreased? Or can they be motivated to do so? Can we help them find joy? Can it be integrated into their daily routines, inclusive of teaching/school hours?
  • Is it possible to connect performance in one area with that in another? Help parents see the connections and possibilities of the direction in which the student is growing?
  • How do we communicate negative remarks so they are taken in a positive stride and give direction to parents to help their children cope up?
  • What are schools giving feedback on? Time bound assessment? Are other factors taken into consideration, like child background, event at home, etc.? How is periodic assessment seen by parents? Are parents and teachers able to ask the right questions and figure out necessary remedial action based on assessment?
  • Is it possible to replace the categorization and labeling that occurs due to assessment with a spirit of collaboration and a mash-up of diverse skills that could be brought together so students can learn from each other?
  • Is there a scope for personalization of the report card so as to remove fear from the students’ minds and build in a spirit of active ownership of their education?

Its not just the visual representation of various elements in the report card that is of concern to us, but also the content that goes in and the way it is perceived by parents and students. We want to use the report card as a medium that provides actionable information in an understandable manner to facilitate positive dialogue among teachers, parents and students. It could also be a way to identify and unlock a particular student’s talents. This becomes even more relevant in the scenario where working parents hardly spend time with their children (with the television switched off).

The constraints are many–the biggest of which is the stress on teachers to do an honest and clear job of evaluation and providing feedback, keeping in mind all the other work they have, and their low motivation and poor job satisfaction (in general). Too much information might overwhelm students and parents, too little might not provide the entire picture clearly. These report cards are used across all CBSE schools in the country, and hence cost constraints also would need to be taken into consideration.

All said and done, its an extremely exciting opportunity for me. The complexity of something that is presented on a simple sheet of paper(s) intrigues me to no end.

Getting ready for a deep-dive.