A Communication Design Project at 

The Environmental Charter School

Background

As the COVID pandemic progressed, many educational institutes like the Environmental Charter School (ECS) were forced to create a fully remote and/or hybrid experience. To help aid the school during these times, our MA class at CMU had an opportunity to design a visual communication system to improve the hybrid experience. We broke into teams and took several approaches to this project.

Our team's main goal was to improve the communication channels between the caregiver and other stakeholders and possibly create new ones. By learning each stakeholder's daily routine and understanding their habits, we moved forward with a few plans.

Team 

Chen Yu Chiu, Designer

Christina Ip, Designer

The photo above shows the current stakeholders and the communication channels available between them. This helped us to understand how information flowed in the school.

Research

Our research began with studying how other schools were handling the hybrid learning system at this time. Once we had a solid understanding of what was happening, we had a focus group with current ECS caregivers and a Q&A with the ECS administration. We observed each stakeholder in this scenario to understand their role and experience during this pandemic. Using our notes and affinity diagram, we studied pain points and concentrated our ideas on how we could design a better communication experience for the main stakeholder, the caregiver, during this time. With this in mind, we moved forward with a redesign for the weekly email and the creation of a parent's website, planner, and slack channel.

Reference White Board (Miro)
Reference White Board (Miro)

This was one of our whiteboards on Miro. This started off primarily for research on how other schools were handling the pandemic and what stood out to us.

Notes from Q&A (Figma)
Notes from Q&A (Figma)

After the Q&A session with parents/caregivers and administration, we collected our observations on Figma. We grouped them together and began noting what were the vital comments to keep in mind.

Basic Wireframing (Figma)
Basic Wireframing (Figma)

Afterwards, this was a very basic wireframe of the website, email, and slack before we began prototyping.

Reference White Board (Miro)
Reference White Board (Miro)

This was one of our whiteboards on Miro. This started off primarily for research on how other schools were handling the pandemic and what stood out to us.

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Emails & Website Redesigned

The main communication channels caregivers were utilizing were weekly e-mails and the school website. Administration provided updates in multiple separate emails weekly and updated the website in disjoint sections.

This led to an abundance of repetitive information. From the caregiver's perspective, they were already receiving various sources of information from various external sources, which could feel overwhelming to keep track of. To lessen this load, we created a minimalistic email template for administration to utilize and a platform for caregivers to access information in one stop.

Caregivers often had other responsibilities that required time and energy spread across a busy day. Having straightforward and accessible touch points would help ease information overload.

A Simplified Weekly Update

For the email template, we rearranged the hierarchy and began with a summary of its contents to break it down. This allowed caregivers to scan the email quickly when they looked for a specific email.

Following this section, all categories were decided by urgency. In-person classes varied week to week due to the pandemic and was time-sensitive information. This needed to be on the front page. School activities were also being added constantly and came after the in-person class announcement. A mini calendar was created for more clarity to separate previous events and repetitive info.

The rest of the template followed the previous emails for familiarity (i.e. the community guidelines, other school announcements). We kept the colors similar to ECS's main colors and added a contact us for any questions and concerns.

Email Template Page 1
Email Template Page 1

This was the front page of the email template. It includes a bullet point summary, announcements and a calendar.

Email Template 2
Email Template 2

This was the second page. Utilizing old emails, we mocked up past events and followed past emails for familiarity.

Email Template 3
Email Template 3

Similar to the second page, we included familiar sections such as "Community Guidelines" and added a section called Contact Us for caregivers to know where to go if needed,

Email Template Page 1
Email Template Page 1

This was the front page of the email template. It includes a bullet point summary, announcements and a calendar.

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One Stop Shop

For our website, we prototyped a platform for caregivers to access all necessary information at once. Instead of having separate pages for forms and other important documents, this website would be the go-to for school-related information. Sections include class schedule, assignments, activities, reopening updates & COVID news, and helpful links related to the pandemic.

Our prototype was created using Figma and can be viewed here.

parents sites.png
From School to Home

Occasionally and not just in the pandemic, caregivers can feel that they are not aware of what students learn in school. To help, we created a planner as a space for caregivers, teachers, and students to touch base. In this planner, teachers can instruct students to write down what needs to be done or the lesson plan for that day. Students therefore take more responsibility of their work and share it with their caregivers. For this style, we chose lighter color variants of the ECS colors and paired it with a fun font and some characters to be more playful.

 

The  prompts on the left pages pertain to schoolwork and on the right, they reference journal prompts. The main goal of this planner is for students is to show what they are learning from the teacher to the parents and have an enjoyable time doing so. During the checkins, we hope it sparks students to share more than just their work.

Frame 3.png

Students have direct interactions with both teachers and caregivers and this created an indirect interaction between them. Information was passed on between these stakeholders and we wanted strengthen this channel.

planner 3.png
planner 2 1.png
planner1.png
A Place to Connect

As we have all noted, there has been a lack of human to human communication due to the pandemic. Interactions from daily events such as pickup/dropoff, after school activities, and parent-teacher conferences are no longer physically available. To help recreate this, we pitched an idea of a slack channel to help caregivers not only connect with teachers and admin but also other caregivers. We promoted the idea of a community that could grow naturally and also be related to their children's education.

Slack is a familiar platform for caregivers who work and channels could be easily be made for each class. Administration and teachers could also use this platform to send messages such as lesson plans and events. Caregivers could message other caregivers and have questions answered without drafting emails.

With most information being passed indirectly, direct communication creates a reassuring feeling that caregivers are being heard.. Having interactions with other caregivers also creates a sense of unity.

Frame 6.png
Finishing Steps

Through our research and conversations, we saw how local education institutes, caregivers and young students were being affected during this pandemic. It was a project we could emphasize with, being students ourselves. We were determined on designing channels for clear communication as this is what we all looked for in times of uncertainty. 

Our final deliverables included the four prototypes shown here and the implementation guide which can be downloaded here.