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Building a new platform for Nomadic.fm learners

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Nomadic.fm is a digital learning company focused on preparing people to build, manage and lead businesses. They consult with academic and enterprise clients to build customized Field Manuals for students and deliver them through their platform.

I worked with the Nomadic team to improve the learning experience on the platform by giving students better tools and shifting focus towards the social elements of learning.

  • Tim
  • Matt
  • Jun Ho
  • Bryan
  • My Role: Information Architecture • UX Design • UI Design • Prototyping • Front-end Development

STARTING POINT

The original platform laid a good foundation but didn’t feel like a coherent digital learning space.

Early in the design process we experimented with multiple approaches to each feature and reworked how they all fit together.

THE LIBRARY

The first major improvement was a clear library of content. Field Manuals began to feel like independent elements, each with their own title, cover image, and level of completion.

HYPERTEXT

While each field manual is self-contained, its elements are accessible in different ways throughout the platform. For example, text and video can be favorited for quick reference at a later date.

CONVERSATIONS

Each Field Manual contains its own debate section but the conversation hub collects them all into one central location. It also allows users to start new conversations, outside of those set up by program administrators, so they can discuss the content on their own terms.

NOTIFICATIONS

Notifications help to bring users back to the platform, keeping them engaged with the discussions they’ve participated in.

LEADERBOARD

All of the activity happening in and around field manuals contributes to a leaderbaord. This highlights the competitive aspects of learning in a group of your peers.

FRONT-END DEVELOPMENT

I also contributed heavily to the front-end development of the new platform. One of Nomadic's goals is to enable learning anywhere, so we engineered the platform to be just as responsive as the learning materials it houses.

I worked closely with Jun Ho at Nomadic all the way through implementation, making adjustments as we went. Some of the front-end work was also completed with the help of the team at Back Forty.

The Nomadic platform is continually being improved and rolled out to new institutions and organizations around the globe. Below is a short list of other improvements we’ve made to the platform over time.

  • Welcome page for students and administrators
  • Analytics on learning and engagement for teachers and administrators
  • Teaching notes for content and quizzes used in classroom review
  • Dedicated resource management feature for uploaded documents

Scaling Nomadic's content creation with an intuitive CMS

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After upgrading Nomadic’s learning platform we turned our attention to how the platform’s content is produced. The goal was to enable the content team to create and customize Field Manuals more quickly and easily for clients, supporting Nomadic’s growth strategy.

  • Tim
  • Adam
  • Jun Ho
  • Bryan
  • My Role: Information Architecture • UX Design • UI Design • Prototyping • Front-end Development • QA • Integration

STARTING POINT

Nomadic’s original CMS got the job done, but to keep up with a growing roster of clients it needed serious augmentation. Only a few people at the company used the original CMS, and Field Manuals required too much manual customization by developers after the content was in place.

The new CMS has two principle areas of focus: the admin and the editor. Through wireframing we explored the broad strokes of the admin and editing user experience before starting in on front-end prototypes.

THE ADMIN

The first step was making sure it was easy to manage programs and the Field Manuals they contain. A two panel approach allows field manuals to be moved between programs, usually after they had be cloned from an original. Entire programs can even be cloned (and later customized) for new clients, all in a single screen.

THE EDITOR

The Editor has all the tools the content team needs to create a Field Manual from scratch. Content elements can be anything from text to video, audio, quizzes, polls and discussions. Our goal was to have the creation process reflect the look of the final Field Manual as much as possible.

SECTION & MEDIA LIBRARIES

As authors plan new Field Manuals they need to be able to explore content already in use. To address this we added the Section and Media libraries which allow to you search and filter available content across all Field Manuals. Drawing from a reusable section library makes for faster and more consistent Field Manual construction.

VERSION CONTROL

Multiple editors, along with the ability to clone Field Manuals, meant the platform needed a form of version control. We cooked up an inline comparison showing the before and after for any individual content element.

WHO'S THERE?

My favorite little feature is an indicator in the bottom right that lets you know when someone else is editing the same Field Manual as you.

The new CMS has allowed Nomadic to scale up its content production and reach a record number of new clients with curated and customized content. Read more about some of Nomadic’s strategies and outcomes on their blog.

Putting Common Curriculum to the test with Baltimore teachers

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I sat down with Scott Messigner to talk about his idea for Common Curriculum. Together we set out to envision a lesson templating system that would help teachers align their curriculum to the Common Core standards.

  • Scott
  • Robbie
  • Bryan
  • My Role: Prototyping • UX Design • UI Design • Front-end Development • User Testing

EARLY VISION

We first worked on a series of wireframes and user flows to illustrate some core application concepts. These were circulated to teacher focus groups and potential investors for feedback.

PROGRESS

A few months later Scott reached out again as the team was preparing the product for launch. They wanted to iterate on the design and user experience and get some user-friendly prototypes in the hands of Baltimore City school teachers.

We worked through static visual designs, interactive click-throughs and full-featured prototypes in code.

TEMPLATE LIBRARY

The system’s key feature is lesson templating. Teachers can build off of example templates, create their own, or share templates with colleages.

TEACHER TESTED

During several pre-launch events we watched as teachers tested the various prototypes and gave us valuable feedback, which we quickly incorporated into the product.

The result was a fully-featured lesson planning tool tailored to the tastes of teachers.

Common Curriculum officially launched with a party at Max's Tap House in Baltimore. Friends of the Web provided final branding for the tool as well as early working prototypes. Development and design work were eventually taken over by the core team at Common Curriculum who have since launched several new iterations of the tool.

Helping Commit! speak for Dallas area students

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I teamed up with the core members of the Commit! Partnership to help create 2013's Community Achievement Scorecard.

The Commit! Partnership is made up of 110 institutions, corporations, non-profits and school districts all supporting educational outcomes for the region's 500,000+ students.

  • Tarik
  • Andres
  • Bryan
  • My Role: Visual Design • Data Visualization • Layout • Typography • Copywriting

The team and I gradually defined the message we wanted to send with the report and crafted layouts and visualizations to support our aims.

SETTING THE TONE

Our first job was to outline the state of affairs by comparing the district’s goals with the actual data.

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BREAKDOWNS

Because challenges within the student body are not distributed equally, it is important to examine the district by ethnicity, socioeconomic status and English Language Learner status.

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FOCUS ON READING

The report pays special attention to reading ability, highlighting the importance of kindergarten readiness and the gaps in reading ability by ethnicity throughout schooling.

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SCORECARD

The scorecard is the heart of the report, documenting the current state of Dallas area students by visualizing their progress along 11 key indicators.

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CALLOUTS

Supplementary scorecards call out specific areas of the Dallas educational pipline such as early childhood, grades 4-12, and higher education.

PROCESS

Each page went through multiple rounds of revisions to hone the message and ensure the clarity of the visualizations. In the end, the report was something we could all be proud of.

The Commit! Community Achievement Scorecard is both a reflection of where Dallas stands and a tool to highlight where change needs to take place in the future.

From Andres:

As I flip through the report, I feel a sense of pride over what we accomplished and more importantly, what this document has the potential of accomplishing on its own. I also feel a renewed sense of urgency to get to work; we used too much red in the report this year. If we keep our heads down, every year we will use less and less.

Designing one STEP at a time with Inquirium

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STEP is a literary assessment tool that shows teachers what students have already learned, and what will get them to the next "step." I worked in partnership with Inquirium to build several versions of the tool for UChicago Impact.

  • Matt
  • Ben
  • Eric
  • Bryan
  • My Role: UX Design • UI Design • Front-end Development

Version 1 - A simpler web version of the tool.

Version 2 - Updated with more advanced visualizations .

Version 3 - A complete UI overhaul to incorperate rebranding by UChicago.

RESULTS

The most recent version of the tool has hit its stride with intuitive visualizations that allow teachers to explore the results of reading assessments for individuals students, groups, classes, schools and districts.

MICRO & MACRO

In this visualization, students are represented by color coded rectangles, giving, at once, a broad and detailed view of student progress.

STUDENT SNAPSHOT

Clicking on an individual student reveals details of the last achieved step as well as the last assessment they didn’t pass.

NEW COMPONENTS

We've expanded the tool over time in keeping with the information architecture and visual style guide we set up.

REACH

STEP tools and training models are currently being used in 21 states and 39 cities.

Envisioning a supported reading experience with Inquirium

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I met with Inquirium for a two day working session in Chicago to tackle the core application concepts of READi. The task: create a supported reading environment for high school students struggling with reading comprehension.

  • Matt
  • Ben
  • Eric
  • Eric
  • Bryan
  • My Role: UX Design • Product Strategy • Information Architecture

We wireframed our way through different navigation paradigms and got a sense for the information architecture and the intended student workflow.

RESULTS

By the end of the two days we had defined the broad stokes of the system.

At the top level, content in READi is organized into units and grouped by subject.

STRUCTURE

Each unit contains a number of sections that have background texts (B) to set the stage as well as primary texts (T) on which students focus activity.

Each unit also has a central argument, notecards created from the primary texts, and organizers to help arrange these notecards into meaningful patterns.

ANNOTATION

Students create notecards by annotating the text: highlighting important plot points, making notes on the text, and tagging things they don’t understand.

ORGANIZATION

Notecards can be arranged into different frameworks (organizers) to help students synthesize the text.

This timeline organizer helps students arrange notecards in chronological order and group them by a concept.

These concepts were developed into working prototypes and tested with 9-12th grade students across the Chicago public school system. The research project and work on the tool are both ongoing.