UX Designer + Researcher



Who are the TEACH.org users, and what services and products would be most helpful to them?



I was User Research Lead for this 6-week project for TEACH.org (a collaboration between Microsoft and the US Department of Education).  My responsibilities included planning and strategizing the research approach, creating the surveys and interview guides, project managing data collection, final analysis and recommendations, coordinating with and updating other teams, and final presentation of the research.  All of the artifacts in this case study were created by me.

This project was TEACH.org's first major user research project, and will set the stage for the next generation of its product and service offerings.



What can we learn about people who are strongly interested in teaching, but have not yet applied to a Teacher Prep Program? 

Based on initial research and analysis, we focused on people who were strongly interested in becoming teachers, and who had not yet entered a Teacher Preparation Program.

This population allowed us the opportunity to help people who might need it (as they might be better supported once in a Teacher Prep Program), and it offered potential for a high ROI (because they were strongly interested), and we were able to collect enough data on this population.

What are their barriers?  What are potential aids?

We were interested in the barriers and aids of each persona type, so we could better identify interventions to help each persona.  We were also interested in commonalities across personas, so we could potentially identify interventions that might help all 3 groups. 



Persona 1: Users in late HS / early college want to inspire students, and to feel inspired by their work.

One user commented, "[My school district] started using more tests... They made it hard for teachers to teach and students to learn, because of the focus on test scores".  A common trend among those interviewed in this persona type was wanting to be able to make a difference, by inspiring students.

Persona 2: Users at the end of college want to learn about surviving the hardest parts of teaching.

During a user interview, a number of interviewees in this group mentioned wanting to know about the hardest parts of teaching.  One user said, "My biggest question about being a teacher is I want to know how hard it gets."  One user even felt mislead later on because they were not told about the challenge with teaching.

Persona 3: Users who have already begun a career have specific needs (childcare, past schooling), and need a targeted plan.

"Our challenge was finding a part-time/online program...I had find someone to babysit my [special needs] challenge, and I had to pay them", one interviewee said.  These users need a path that is customized as much as possible to the particularities of their situation.

All personas: All user groups mentioned a struggle with paying for their program, but to varying degrees.

This appears to be less of a problem for career switchers, who are still strapped for cash, but have savings and credit to turn to.  By contrast, program costs appear to be quite high, and millennials don't have cash or credit. 




TEACH.org can start by tweaking existing services to make immediate impact, and build from there towards even better services in the long run.

Based on the 4 needs identified from the research findings, I've proposed both an "Ideal end product" and an "Impactful and easier first step" for each of the needs.  In my presentation, I also provided a prioritized list of recommendations based each on potential impact and how easy it would be to accomplish.  My recommendations are described in more detail below.


Persona 1: Videos with inspired teachers talking about what makes them excited to teach.


People in their first or second year of college like Diana are looking to make a difference in their work.  TEACH.org is already starting to develop some content in the way of the different benefits that teaching can bring.  A focused interview video with a very passionate teacher could be a big asset for people who fit Persona 1.


Persona 2: A mentorship program to learn the hardest parts of teaching, and how to navigate.

People in the third or fourth year of college like Isabel are interested, but uncertain.  They may have some doubts about their ability to navigate the most difficult parts of teaching, like classroom management, or they may find themselves wishing they had someone to talk to about living on a teacher's salary.  TEACH.org already has a "Talk to a Teacher" program, and that can be built out more into a longer-term mentorship program.  


Persona 3: A step-by-step guide targeted (via online survey) to the needs of each person.

Career-switchers like Susan have very specific needs and need the right guide to suit their needs (like a part-time program because they have kids), and their assets (like past coursework).  TEACH.org is already working on providing resources to help people find the program that would benefit them.  The next step would be to provide a step-by-step guide for these people to follow through the process of getting certified as a teacher.


All personas: A comprehensive guide of financial aid and scholarships resources.

All personas mentioned a need for financial aid.  People in college seemed to have a higher need than the career-switchers (perhaps because the career-switchers had savings and credit).  TEACH.org already has some resources, and could fill in the gaps with other organization' lists of resources, and by doing additional research.  There is also need for a reliable and trustworthy sources of resources that TEACH.org could fill. 



Given our goals and resources, what's the best question to be asking, and how do we research it properly?

My exact research process varies by project, and depending on the strengths and resources of the research team.  One framework that I find useful is Frog's "research learning spiral".  The framework is quite broad, and encompasses key steps to conducting most any research (even as the significance of each step may vary some based on the project).  The spiral shape of the framework captures how research may be an iterative process – collecting some data, analyzing it, and possibly returning to research as necessary – all in service of collecting the right amount of information to inform the next iteration of design decisions.


Planning the research

I led planning of the research, with consultation from the client.

    GOAL: To better understand the TEACH.org user base and their barriers and aids to completing teacher prep programs.


    • Personas and associated insights (barriers and aids to teacher prep programs);
    • Cross-persona quantitative analysis;
    • Design recommendations;
    • Research presentation to all stakeholders.   

    STRATEGY: To use the mailing list (with >5000 subscribers) to source survey respondents and interviewees.


    • Mixed-methods:
    • Quantitative survey data to create tentative personas, and then
    • Qualitative in-depth interviewing to learn more about personas, and verify insights

    Conducting the research

    To conduct the research, I had to create materials (survey on Google Forms, interview guide), recruit participants (via email solicitation with a $20 incentive).  During the interview phase, I also had to schedule interviewees across the US, and conduct the interviewees via phone.


    Analyzing the data

    To analyze the quantitative data, I exported it from Google Forms into Google Sheets.  I then examined the biggest barriers and biggest aids based on respondent's stage of life (college vs. post-college), stage of process (in a Teacher Prep Program vs. not in one), and demographics.  

    To analyze the qualitative data, I examined interview transcripts for themes, and created tentative journey maps.  I then conducted an affinity analysis to determine the major barriers and aids for each persona type.  


    Presenting the findings

    In order to present the findings, I had to determine what my design recommendations were based on the insights that came out of the research.  I also created a prioritized list of actions for the design team to take.  I focused on creating visually appealing slides that presented the insights clearly, let the viewer know I had came to these conclusions, and engaged the viewer through brainstorming exercises.  Ultimately, I presented to both internal stakeholders and key external stakeholders. 



    This research has unified cross-team understanding of the user base, played a major role in driving product development priorities, and has helped the organization to move forward confidently.

    This research helped the organization move from a long brainstormed list of possible products and services to develop to a prioritized list.  It verified the importance of two products already in development, and this research has pushed the organization to focus in on two specific products / services – the "Talk to a Teacher" program and the step-by-step guide.  By helping to clarify priorities for the organization, effectively this research has opened up two new workstreams (with their own dedicated staff) for the organization. 

    The organization can now move forward, confident in its understanding of its users, and excited for the development of products that they know their users truly need.