This is a short product study intended to show how I might approach a product such as Newsela’s insights and reporting tools. It is entirely based upon public information and contains many unverified assumptions.
Newsela is an instructional content platform which provides reading material rewritten for students at a variety of grade levels with assessment tools, an assignment creation tool, and insights for teachers and administrators.
The insights tool provides data and visualizations for instructors and administrators to track student activity and progress in the application. The reporting includes:
- A student activity stream
- Student reading level (determined by activity)
- Article level insights
- Assignment activity and completion data
- Student level activity data, including a summary of reading and activity on the platform
- Power words activity
The stated goal is to provide teachers with the data to understand student activity and know what kind of reader each student is. A further goal of learning analytics is to provide instructors with actionable insights to improve learning outcomes for their students.
Newsela’s customers include students, teachers, and administrators, but the insights tools are focused on teachers and administrators. I assumed two simple personas to be engaged with these tools:
- Teacher. The teacher works directly with students leading activities, assigning work, and reviewing the results of a group of students using Newsela. The teacher persona could be given further granularity according to:
- Grade level
- Student reading level/overall academic performance of the class
- Type of school (Public/Private/Charter, Urban/Suburban/Rural, etc.)
- Device type and availability
- Teacher experience
- English Language Learners
- Administrator. The administrator is responsible for overseeing multiple classes or schools. More detailed administrator personas could include administrators focused on compliance with state or local standards, responsibility for coaching and developing teachers, or general school leadership.
While the administrator has their own needs and is undoubtedly important in the sales process for Newsela PRO, I will prioritize for the general teacher persona to focus on the goal of “helping individual teachers know their students better as readers”.
As the product is already in use, I looked for needs and pain points to help teachers not only know their students better as readers, but to help them act on that knowledge.
|Need to quickly find and review student performance.||Supported|
|Anomalies: Need to be able to quickly spot anomalies or unexpected variations in student performance and intervene appropriately.||Partially supported|
|Group creation: Need to create groups of students for collaborative group work.||Possible, but unsupported.|
|Targeted assignments: Need to create targeted assignments based on reading skills and reading levels.||Partially supported.|
|Interventions: Need to know which students may need an intervention, such as time with a reading specialist or other support that may be available at the school.||Unsupported.|
|Class interests: Want to know student class and student reading interests to aid in assignment creation.||Unsupported.|
|Suggested assignments: Provide teachers with assignment suggestions based on class activity and engagement.||Unsupported.|
This is a simplified prioritization matrix to get a sense of the assumed value of each feature. I use letter grades (A to F) to roughly assign values to each area. Like in school, A is good and F is not.
I make assumptions about the value of each need to the user. Assuming that we had come up with a similar list of needs in discovery, I would want to do further research, either customer interviews or a survey, to assign these values.
- Suggested assignments. I imagine a recommendation engine to assist educators in quickly creating assignments for students based on their reading level, engagement, interests, and the goals of the class. Suggesting assignments could also help teachers prepare assignments for multiple reading levels simultaneously. This is the most ambitious idea and would require more complex implementation to design an algorithm and user experience that is both effective and provides the right level of assistance. Teachers know their work and their class better than an algorithm, so the key is to provide support while letting them apply their expertise.
- Group creation. My education and conversation with friends in the field suggests that while data is often provided, it is difficult to create actionable insights based on student data. Group creation is a function that could use data to assist the educator in designing the learning experience. In addition, implementation could be relatively straightforward as it could use existing data. I assume that this is less valuable to Newsela, as grouping is a common functionality found in LMSs. (This ranking is based on the underlying assumption that creating groups for collaborative work among students is something that teachers do frequently. Another major assumption is that teachers are interested in referencing data to build their groups, rather than creating groups based on the seating chart or social dynamics in the class. )
- Targeted assignments. The idea of targeted assignments would be to use data to assist teachers in creating assignments tailored to individuals or groups of students. While this option scored the same as group creation, it is ranked lower as a prerequisite for implementation is the creation of groups to which assignments could be targeted.
I think that these three ideas are the most interesting and could be implemented in a way that each piece builds on the next. For example,
|Phase 1||Phase 2||Phase 3|
|Group creation.||Targeted assignments. With groups already implemented, teachers can be more specific about who is assigned which activity.||Suggested assignments. This feature would use the groups features and build on the targeted assignments feature.|
Other (assumed) needs to address:
- Anomalies. Informing teachers of sudden changes in student performance or activity would help a teacher notice changes in performance when they first start to happen so the student can get targeted help quickly. It seems this is already possible by reviewing performance and trends for each individual student, but a targeted feature could make this easier for teachers.
- Class interests. With data on what students are reading already available, it seems like it would be logical to provide information about which topics are most popular with students. While implementation does not seem onerous, this is information already available to teachers from reviewing student activity and their offline interactions with students.
- Interventions. Some schools have specialists available to work with students on reading and other schools. This feature could help schools and teachers set up criteria which would allow Newsela to highlight students that may benefit from the available interventions. I rank this lower as some schools may not have access to these resources and there are already many methods available for teachers to decide who would benefit.
Group creation is already available in many LMS platforms, but Newsela’s existing data could help create groups for specific projects and goals. Group creation is also the first step in a larger roadmap to a system to suggest assignments. Some possible solutions include:
- Newsela automatically recommends groups based on a goal
(i.e. targeted instruction or learning partnerships) or metric (i.e. reading level) selected by the teacher.
- Teachers manually create groups while referencing student data. This would allow teachers to build the groups they think will work best, while easily referring to the data.
- Newsela automatically recommends groups based on a goal or metrics, but teachers retain the ability to manually reorganize the recommended groups.
Automatic group recommendation would be simple to implement as it is essentially a sort and filter function. However, leaving this decision entirely up to the tool doesn’t leave much space for the expertise of the teacher and their personal knowledge about the students.
Manual group creation in reference to the data doesn’t seem like the best use of resources. This is already possible if instructors reference the data and write down groups on a piece of paper. My (unverified) assumption is that teachers already do this to some extent, so there is little value added for the target customer.
I like the idea of generating groups automatically based on goals and metrics, but leaving some manual editing ability for the teacher to apply their knowledge of the students. This seems like it could address the pain point of having to manually create groups, without locking the teacher out of the process. If this feature is built on in the future, with targeted assignments and recommended assignments, the ability to manually edit the suggested groups in the Binder seems critical to making it useful for teachers.
Newsela Insights helps teachers understand the activity and engagement of their students. A feature which could help teachers take action on this knowledge is group creation. The group creation feature would let teachers build groups according to their goal or a specific metric within the Reading Summary. However, teachers would still be able to apply their knowledge of the class and students by editing the groups manually.
This feature is worth building as it would create a foundation for creating targeted assignments, and eventually for a feature which would allow Newsela to recommend assignments and reading to help teachers meet class goals.