One of the challenges of teaching is supporting students with diverse abilities and needs, cultural backgrounds, experiences and learning styles. Technology can go a long way in helping teachers in this regard, but we need to be careful that the technology itself does not introduce further barriers for those students in need of the most support.
When designing technology it is easy to fall into the trap of designing for our own abilities and experiences. This leads us to design tools and platforms which are heavily influenced by our own physical ability, language ability, learning style and level of tech literacy. However, when we are using technology our interactions depend primarily on what we can see, hear, say and touch, and assuming all those senses are fully available at all times has the potential to exclude people.
Why does this matter?
With the ubiquity of technology in our daily lives, we need to reflect how diverse people really are. Any teacher will tell you that there’s no such thing as a “standard” student. Every student is unique and has different needs, not least because they are growing, changing and adapting every day—that’s what makes school such a dynamic and inspiring place to work.
How we design technology can either raise barriers, or lower them, so we need to make sure the experience we provide reflects that diversity. At Firefly we believe that it is our responsibility to lower these barriers, and we can do that through inclusive design.
Just like you, we’re always learning, and the more we seek to understand the world that students live in, the more inclusive we can make the learning experience. To this end, we’ve had countless conversations with schools learning about the challenges in the classroom, how teachers adapt to the needs of different students, and what might help parents to engage more effectively.
We took your stories back to our desks to explore some ideas, and what we’ve come up with is a new, completely refreshed interface for Firefly that puts accessibility at the heart of the experience. It’s a new, unified experience across all the products in the Firefly family—Firefly, SchoolPost and Epraise.
What does this mean for schools?
A unified experience for teachers, students and parents
The new look will ensure a consistent experience whenever or wherever someone picks up Firefly. For example, a student using Firefly on a desktop in class and then on their mobile phone at home, will be able to have seamless continuation of their classroom experience, wherever they are.
When a parent checks what homework their child needs to do that evening, then reads a page recommended by their school, everything will feel joined up, regardless of whether they are using the mobile app or the website. This seamless and familiar experience invites them to explore further with confidence, and be more closely connected to their child’s learning experience.
And a teacher will be more confident that students and parents are able to engage with the learning experience, with a sense of greater connectedness between the different tools they are using, in class or at home.
Your visual identity
By making sure that the visual identity of the school is strongly represented, Firefly’s new look will make the online experience a natural extension of the school community. Teachers, parents and students will be greeted with an image that represents school life as soon as they step into Firefly, strengthening the feeling of belonging and helping the school promote its values and ethos.
Consistent and careful design delivers consistency across Firefly, ensures that key interactive elements are easy to find, without any unnecessary clutter or distractions. This means that when students need to focus they have the information they need clearly accessible to them.
Making technology easy to use has always been a core value of ours. The new look and design has accessibility for everyone at its heart, and improving the readability of text impacts everyone in this regard. There are many places throughout the user interface where we have made the interface more accessible, here are just a few examples:
We chose a font that is proven through research studies to be highly readable, works with numerous global scripts, and includes all accents and diacritics.
To help students with visual acuity problems, text always has a strong contrast over the background and we have avoided bright or unpredictable colour backgrounds to maximise the readability for these students.
Buttons and icons that are specific to the Firefly platform have labels alongside them to avoid confusion and to ensure that you can always find the tool you are looking for.
Technology has become a key part in the day to day process of teaching and learning. We believe that we have a responsibility to make sure that the tools and platforms that schools are using are inclusive and accessible to all of our students. We are committed to continuing to learn and adapt as we move forward with schools over the months and years to come. That is why we will continue to invest in developing the look and feel of Firefly for teachers, students and parents, helping them to engage fully with the learning experience.