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struggles of immigrant parents
Parental involvement is a significant factor in the academic success and well‑being of a child. Parent‑school communication encourages parental involvement and helps establish strong working relationships between teachers and parents to support students. Immigrant parents and teachers of their children in the United States face unique obstacles in having effective communication, such as language barriers, cultural differences, racial bias, and assumptions about home conditions.
How might we help immigrant parents communicate with schools so that they can better support their children?
building foundational knowledge
Education and culture are huge topics which we couldn’t possibly tackle without foundational knowledge. Before planning our firsthand research, we consulted the writings of relevant scholars and practitioners. We also directly conversed with a couple professors. Our research highlighted how crucial parental involvement was to their children’s academic success and well‑being, and helped us identify the major barriers of language, culture, and bias that inhibited support for immigrant students.
Gain a basic understanding of the problem space.
Read a couple dozen scholarly writings about the intersection of education, immigration, and culture in the United States and Canada.
Language, culture, and bias are barriers to supporting children of immigrants.
Confirm that our understanding of the problem space from our literature review is accurate.
Interviewed education professors with a research focus on culture about core issues and possible solutions for immigrant students, their families, and their schools.
Teachers sometimes make assumptions about how parents can or should support their children. Engagement can correct those assumptions.
Identify the strengths and weaknesses of an existing solution.
Researched and evaluated the Parent‑Teacher Home Visits program.
Relationships between parents and schools help both parties support students. Parent‑Teacher Home Visits' top‑down strategy has a high startup cost.
engaging with people
Once we had foundational knowledge of the problem space, we needed to observe how our conceptual understanding manifested in real situations. We coordinated with leaders of local communities and schools to connect with immigrant parents and school staff. They explained their frustrations and delights in interacting with people and technology in the school system. Our conversations revealed that most people desired effective partnerships, but were held back by difficulty in coordinating schedules and aligning priorities.
Identify existing channels of communication. Gather concrete examples of communications that built or broke relationships.
Reviewed physical and digital communications alongside individual parents and staff.
Parents and staff both wish they could do better communication, but don't feel like they have the resources or ability to do so.
Identify patterns in communication channels and preferences.
Posted surveys in simple English to immigrant, parental, and educational communities on Reddit and Facebook. Translations were offered where appropriate.
Parents and teachers largely use email and phone calls, preferring email. Websites, texting, and social media have mixed reviews and usage.
Read discussion threads on our Reddit survey posts.
We didn't put too much weight into what we read, but the comments did demonstrate that immigration and parent‑teacher communication are contentious topics. Some teachers also shared methods for coping with communication responsibilities.
synthesizing research data
As mentioned before, education and culture are huge topics. There was no way we could address every bit of data we had collected. To facilitate in determining appropriate focus and scope for our project, we did a lot of affinity diagramming to synthesize our data into key insights. These insights informed design principles for our solution.
- Parents and teachers have limited time to dedicate to effective communication
- Constructive communication requires sensitivity to both culture and circumstance
- Current infrastructure doesn’t adequately support communication between immigrant parents and teachers
- Inability to prioritize information leads to simultaneous information overload and information blindness
- Teamwork between teachers and parents requires mutual trust and respect
A PDF of our report is available below. Text by the team, visual design by Alice.
Now that we understood the problem space and identified markers of a good solution, we could start thinking up how we could foster change. We did about a dozen ideation activities, some with the help of colleagues outside the team.
Identify possible points of intervention.
Collaboratively diagrammed people and factors that affected their relationships and communication.
The visual diagram helped us think about parent‑teacher relationships as part of a bigger system.
Compile a list of possible scenarios solutions could address.
Thought of possible scenarios that parents and staff might face. Listed people's goals and constraints for each scenario.
The scenarios were not only good for thinking of ideas, but also served as test cases for our prototypes.
Compile a list of pitfalls we wanted to avoid. Flush out poor ideas from our minds by externalizing them.
Listed ideas that we knew were bad either from our research or common sense.
Any time we veered too close to a horrible idea, someone could point to it on the wall and we'd quickly reconsider.
Question our assumptions about constraints.
Listed aspects of the problem space, and generated 'What if?' questions in response.
The questions helped shift our minds to think about what might be possible rather than what was currently happening.
Find overlap between parent and teacher desires.
Listed desires of parents and teachers we heard in interviews. Paired related desires and generated ideas from them.
Identified possible win‑win situations.
idea generation and refinement
pass the buck
Generate ideas for solutions.
External colleagues drew and wrote on sheets with unique prompts, swapping papers to build on others' ideas every couple minutes.
We not only got many ideas, but also could see which ideas excited our colleagues.
Generate ideas for solutions.
Looked at communication artifacts from research participants and thought of ways to improve them.
Thinking of ways to change the workflow of parents and teachers was much easier when looking at their current output.
Identify common themes in our ideas.
We categorized ideas based on how they approached the problem, perceived viability, and general interestingness.
We realized most ideas were either pragmatic solutions focused on information processing, or interesting concepts focused on building relationships.
Easily let go of ideas.
We eliminated ideas that were good but not great by writing down a 'lesson learned' from them.
We were able to quickly eliminate ideas without feeling like the promising parts of them were wasted.
insights & principles check
Identify the ideas that best responded to our research.
We evaluated ideas by seeing how they responded to the insights and principles from our research.
This helped us notice holes in concepts that had to be addressed if we were to move forward with them.
fleshing out promising concepts
We narrowed down our ideas to three promising concepts, and presented them through storyboards and system diagrams to external colleagues. They helped us begin to identify and address possible roadblocks that each solution might have to deal with. We eventually decided to pursue the concept of a negotiable communication playbook which helps parents navigate a school system. This direction seemed to best leverage our research about culture.
Slides describing our initial concepts are available below. Diagrams by Alice. Storyboards by Mo. Text and drawings by me.
developing a solution
The concept of a negotiable communication playbook sounded nice, but there were many uncertainties about how it would work:
- How should negotiations be mediated?
- What kind of information architecture can support describing every communication protocol?
- Where should the playbook’s intervention begin and end?
We evaluated prototypes alongside immigrant parents and school staff, hoping to create a structured process for effective communication. Our prototypes revealed that we held an overly pessimistic view of the abilities of school staff and resources to address the issues of immigrant parents. Instead of trying to micromanage conversations, we shifted our focus to getting them started off on the right foot.
Identify the possible actions and states of a negotiation.
Imagined that negotiation was a turn‑based game and attempted to write the rules and play a few rounds.
Built state diagrams and decision trees that allowed us to better describe and intervene in negotiations.
Compile data that needs to be supported by the information architecture for communication protocols.
Asked immigrant parents and school staff to write courses of action for various scenarios.
People's expectations for communication protocols include specifying channel, people, content, timing, and actions.
Identify what makes a negotiation feel good or bad.
Role‑played various negotiation scenarios with parents and teachers using a chat interface.
Explanations make disagreements or rejections easier to swallow. High amounts of effort/investment results in high payoff or high fallout.
Identify deficiences in information architecture. Identify patterns in protocols that might help us simplify the process of creating one.
Had immigrant parents and school staff create communication protocols for scenarios using a form.
Users will treat examples as good‑enough options. Users have pretty consistent preferences for communication based on urgency and importance.
Evaluate effectiveness of methods for guiding negotiations toward positive interactions.
Role‑played negotiations with parents and teachers using a hodge‑podge digital application.
Non‑interactive aids are ineffective. Seeing the other party's goals is nice. Framing ideas as proposals feels too aggressive for some cultures.
Identify issues with interface for managing playbooks.
Observed school staff attempting to complete tasks using the interactive wireframe application.
Managing playbooks for every student/parent seems overwhelming. Process of negotiation feels slow and redundant with existing methods.
conversation guide packet
Evaluate if a paper packet with content to guide a conversation is effective.
Role‑played parent‑teacher conferences with teachers using the packet as a guide.
Contents of packet were effective and useful. Teachers desired integrating digital technology to aid in recording and sharing information.
getting the conversation started
Our focus on starting conversations led us to design Springboard. Springboard is a webapp that prepares immigrant parents for effective conversations with school staff, and assists in sustaining plans of action the conversations produce.
Before meeting with school staff, Springboard prompts parents to identify their goals, questions, and availability. These reveal the parent’s unique needs, allowing school staff to develop plans of action alongside the parent in response. Springboard provides a digital platform for parents and school staff to record and follow these plans of action. In many cases, as the parent builds familiarity with the school system and staff, Springboard becomes unneeded.
Parents can express their cultural and personal values to the teacher by stating their goals for their children. This allows school staff to understand the parent's unique needs and provide appropriate resources.
Making space for parents to ask questions gives school staff an opportunity to clear misconceptions and define unfamiliar jargon. This builds the parent's confidence to navigate the school system.
To sustain the partnership, parents and school staff share their availability for communication. By seeing one another's constraints, parents and school staff can form realistic expectations for the other party's support of the student.
Users can comfortably express themselves in any language. Interpreters can record results of conversations in multiple languages so that all parties have a reference. All typography uses Google's Noto Fonts for global language compatibility.
Some populations, such as some East African mothers in Seattle, may be able to speak their language, but not easily read it. A text‑to‑speech button on every screen allows users to select any content or interface element and have it read aloud.
Parents often are unaware of all the resources available for them at their school, such as financial or emotional support. The webapp suggests questions and goals that parents may not have considered bringing up.
Every school has their own special names for people, tools, and organizations. The webapp identifies key terms in inputs and encourages school staff to further define what they are and how they might be useful.
We created thorough, developer-friendly design specifications that included:
- a service blueprint
- information architecture
- hero flows
- interface components
- visual language
- editorial style
- authentication methods
We made a poster to describe our solution.
user journey video
We made a video to illustrate the overall process of Springboard.
We created a prototype with a functional CRUD interface and text‑to‑speech button.
This project was very prone to scope creep. Public education is a gigantic machine that always could use massive overhaul. We begrudgingly refrained from redesigning how schools operated, knowing from our research that many policies would stand in the way of adoption. If we had 5 years, we might have been able to iterate on an entire communication system. Since we only had 5 months, we opted to just make sure that everyone could participate in the system in the first place.