SMART Lesson Activity Builder

While at SMART Technologies, I designed the Lesson Activity Builder for SMART Notebook, as well as the first 7 activities that were built to populate the initial release.


The Problem:

SMART Technologies is the maker of the SMART Board, a large, interactive (touch-based) whiteboard that is somewhat ubiquitous in US primary and secondary classrooms, as well as several models of large-screen interactive flat panel systems. SMART also makes several software products for both education and enterprise markets that are integrated into their hardware offerings.

The Lesson Activity Toolkit included in earlier versions of SMART Notebook was built with the goal of helping teachers to build educational activities for their students using their own content. The actual product, however, was built with very little pre-defined functionality, leaving teachers to define each and every micro interaction in a very complex and difficult-to-understand flow and interface. This resulted a very low adoption rate for the software, in an evolving preference for competitor software and in risk for whether customers select SMART hardware or competitor hardware based on their software preferences.

Upon the realization that our hardware distributors were demonstrating products with competitor software, SMART made a high priority of creating a better software offering.
 

My Role:

I served as the sole UX Designer on this long-term project. Working in close partnership with the Product Manager, my development team, and with real teachers in my community and around the world, I helped drive our goals and requirements, created workflow, designed the interaction model for activity authorship tools and for on-board activity play, validated and iterated design work through frequent working sessions with teachers and through classroom student visits, created and specified all visual/UI design, and served as Art Director for complex illustration work for activity themes.

 

The Solution:

I was brought in to replace the resigning Senior UX after a research phase that yielded a fairly strong set of agreements on principles, goals and direction. I used that preliminary work to design several student activities based on what research had revealed as teacher/student needs.

As an outline of process, design work for each activity was done by creating an initial, low-fidelity interactive prototype of the activity and going into classrooms to watch students interact with the prototype and discuss their ideas. Below are a sample of initial activity prototypes:

The initial concept prototype and observational details were then taken into extended working sessions with the PM and dev lead to whiteboard the entire activity flow, from activity selection, through creation, launch, play and edit.

I would then create initial designs for each activity, get initial buyoff from the team, create low-fidelity, clickable prototypes for the activity selection/creation flow, and then run 3 to 5 teachers through those prototypes for each activity via video call and screen share.

Immediately below are a few screens from various activity creation clickable prototypes:

 

The observations and feedback from these calls would inform further iteration and designs would advance to wireframing and detailed behavioral specification. You can see detailed design documentation with your provided password, but immediately below are a few examples of pages from behavioral specifications:

At draft stage, behavioral specifications would be run through peer review with the entire UX team and further iteration would be made. Upon final acceptance of the behavioral spec, I would create a visual specification for both the activity creation wizard and the activity play itself. Below are sample pages from the visual spec:

Finally, we contracted an illustrator who would apply multiple themes to each activity under direction. Examples of the final activities and how they operate are shown in the videos below.

 

The Results:

Lesson Activity Builder was publicly released released in late 2015 to great acclaim from educators, students and industry critics, and school district software sales of SMART Notebook have increased on the basis of Lesson Activity Builder. SMART continues to build out the Lesson Activity Builder environment still, with new activities added on a regular release schedule.