Contextual Inquiry-Group:TheWorldAccordingToG

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Team Member Breakdown

Kyle Conroy made graphical mock-ups of the interface and attended the middle school classroom contextual interview.

Geoffrey Wing wrote contextual interview summaries and conclusions, and set up and attended the high school contextual interview.

Mila Schultz drew storyboards, wrote interface scenarios, and conducted a telephone interview.

Weizhi Li wrote contextual interview descriptions, problem and solution overview, and task analysis questions, and attended the high school contextual interview.

Jeffrey Doker wrote contextual interview summaries, analysis of tasks, and analysis of approach, and organized and attended the middle school contextual interview.

All members participated actively in the interface design process and write-up.

Target Users

Middle School Teachers

User 1 - Middle School Math Teacher

Jill is a seventh grade pre-algebra teacher in the Berkeley unified school district. Jill has been teaching for a number of years. She tries to incorporate many different teaching methods in each class, and because of this she has very little free time during the school day. She does not own an iPhone or iPod touch, but she carries her cell phone in her teaching apron, and is receptive to the idea of carrying a classroom iPhone there too. She likes when students can be themselves, but doesn't like when students act too immaturely. She has no qualms about marking down students for behavior problems, but she doesn't take it personally when students act out.

User 2 - Middle School Math Teacher

Linda teaches math at a small middle school in Oakland, but used to teach at a large public middle school in Berkeley. She has only been teaching a few years, and is currently in school for an advanced teaching degree, where she also acts as a TA for a math course. She cares about her students, and likes learning new techniques for classroom management and teaching style.

High School Teachers

User 3 - High School Math Teacher

Brett is a high school math teacher in the San Lorenzo Unified School District with almost ten years of experience. He attended a prestigious Bay Area university and received both a BA and MA in mathematics. Though he does not use an iPhone or iPod Touch, he is nonetheless technologically savvy. Brett definitely enjoys his job. He likes to answer students’ questions, walk around the classroom, and throw in the occasional joke or two during class. One thing he dislikes is the troublemaking student. More generally, Brett does not like anything that distracts from teaching his students. His priority is to make sure his students learn and understand the concepts that he teaches. Brett seems to be accustomed to his attendance taking system, but is definitely excited to see what we come up with.

User 4 - High School Math Teacher

Joe is a first-year high school math teacher in the Gainesville, Florida public school system. He recently graduated from a state University as a math major, and he now teaches geometry and algebra 1. Joe is comfortable with technology, but doesn't own an iPhone/iPod touch. His main dislikes revolve around disruptive students; he likes it when disruptive students are either well-behaved or absent. His priority is for students to learn the material without disrupting each other.

User 5 - High School Math Teacher

Marie has been teaching high school math in the Tallahassee, Florida public school system for 30 years. She went to a state university and studied education. She has been a teacher ever since. Her main priority is for students to be engaged in learning and to respect each other. She likes interacting with young people and pushing students to achieve things outside of their comfort zone, and she dislikes it when students don't care about these goals. She also dislikes it when students skip class or make a habit of being tardy.

Problem and Solution Overview

Attendance taking is an every-day task that a middle/high teacher has. However, currently, this task is usually accomplished on papers or a computer with a school-mandated system, which is often time-consuming and tedious. Our proposed solution is to create an iPhone application, specifically targeted at middle school teachers, to help take attendance easily and quickly, and also provides features such as student info, intuitively data analytics and class participation records, which can make their lives much easier.

Contextual Inquiry - Interview Descriptions

Visit 1 - Jill

Kyle and Jeffrey prearranged a time to visit King Middle, and found Jill's classroom before her class started. They introduced themselves, asked a few basics about the classroom (where they could sit, if they could film), and recorded notes about the layout of the room. Before class began they each sat on different sides of the room so that they could observe the maximal amount of activity. Since Jill was engaged in teaching, they didn't interrupt her to ask about what she was doing at a particular moment, but instead took detailed notes and interviewed her about them during a lull in class time and after class as well.

Jill spent almost every moment of class time on her feet, engaged with the students. She often delegated tasks to the students, such as stamping calendars and collecting homework. She did most of her teaching from an overhead projector, using markers on transparencies. She turned off the lights as a way to quiet the classroom down.

Visit 2 - Brett

Geoffrey and Weizhi interviewed Brett on a Friday and arrived just before lunch ended. The class started at 12:00 pm. There were about 35 students in that class room and were distributed in 6 tables with 4-6 students each. When the class started, most of the students were sitting on their seats, while some of them were still moving around. Then the teacher pulled out a folder started to take attendance. We noticed that there were two parts on the fold: a seating chart on the right, and the name sheet on the left. He scanned through each table based on the layout on the seating chart and made a head count to figure out who is absent. Then he checked absence on the name sheet by mark an absent person with a backslash “\”.If someone appears late he then put a half forward slash “|”on the lower left of the backslash. During the attendance taking process, the students were pretty rowdy – out of seats, talking. After about 5 minutes, he finally finished the task and started the lecture.

The class ended at 12:50 pm. And the attendance taking task was not accomplished yet! The teacher then used the computer in the classroom to login to a school-mandated system called “Aeries” and entered the attendance data. The system runs through general information about the students, including contact information, grade, attendance, test store and so on. And they are marked present (P) by default, so the teacher can just change the selected option to absent (A) or tardy (T). He also told me that some teachers just use the computer directly, but most of them take roll via paper, which can avoid mistakes on the system. “...because you have to go to the Attendance Office or call to make changes”, said the teacher.

We noticed that seating charts was a very important rule during his task so we asked him how the seating charts constructed. He told us that he rearrange the seating charts several time in a semester. There is lot of consideration he has to make, such as student’s performance, disposition and special needs. He creates seating charts through Excel, and use Excel formulas to make sure good test takers were next to not as good test takers.

We also went to the Attendance Office and interviewed a staff there, who told us that some teachers don’t like the system mainly because they disagree with procedures, and the way importing data is very time consuming.

What we learned:

  • Take roll via paper first, then transfers to the computer
  • Take roll in the beginning of class – take about 5 minutes
  • Look at seating chart to figure out who is absent
  • Use a school-mandated system (“Aeries”) and enter the attendance data after class
  • Have to go to Attendance Office or call to make changes on the system
  • Some teachers don’t like the system – disagree with procedures, time consuming

Phone Interviews

We conducted two phone interviews and one personal interview with 3 different high school teachers. The personal interview was with a Linda, who used to teach middle school math with Jill. We asked her to describe the attendance-taking routine, and she detailed the process that I would later witness in Jill's classroom.

We spoke on the phone with Joe, a first-year high school math teacher in Gainesville, FL, and Marie, a high school math teacher in Tallahassee, FL. Both teachers are required to enter attendance daily on the computer, but both reported being too busy to do this during class time. Instead they record who is absent or tardy on paper and later transfer it to the computer. Marie noted that the computer's interface requires 7-8 clicks to go from the login of the SIS to the attendance screen, and this becomes tedious over time. She said that the SIS at her school was useful in producing reports of student attendance, but that it was difficult to find out if an absent student was absent to their other classes the same day. Joe expressed this same sentiment. Joe noted that often he wishes to flag a student's name at the beginning of class to remember for a later purpose, such as to note that their homework was late. Marie reported hand-recording grades of spot-checked homework during the beginning of class, and later transcribing these into the computer system. Perhaps a simple flagging technique on a mobile device could replace this redundant system.


From our phone interviews and in-class visits, we found many similarities:

  • In our in-class visits, we found that the class was noisy when roll was being taken.
  • Both teachers used a projector to teach their students—Jill used an overhead projector, while Brett used a document camera connected to an LCD projector.
  • Both teachers taught the whole time – there was little down time.
  • All of the teachers use a computer system to take roll, but all of them used paper first. At the end of the day, they entered their attendance information into the computer.
  • These computer systems, though produced by different companies, all had unwieldy interfaces.

There were some differences, but not as many:

  • Jill, the middle school teacher, must also keep track of behavior. She uses a grid on the wall with a pocket for each student in the class. The grids have a color-coded card to represent attendance and behavior.
  • Both teachers we visited in class had computers in their classroom. Brett’s computer was in the front of the class, while Jill’s computer was in the back. Both, however, had poor visibility of the class—Brett had to turn to the right to see his class, while Jill did not have the attention of her students from the back of the room, as they faced forward.

All in all, both middle and high school teachers faced the same issues. During class time, teachers are very busy, and have limited time to teach. In addition, teachers have administrative tasks they need to do, such as taking attendance, checking homework, and tracking behavior. These tasks take away from precious teaching time. Luckily, our application can assist in these administrative tasks. Many teachers seem to be taking attendance data twice - once during each class, and then again into the school system on the computer. This can be eliminated with an iPhone app that automatically sends attendance data to the computer or school system. Computers may be in suboptimal locations in the classroom, so it may difficult to see which students are actually present, or teachers may lose control of their class. With an iPhone, teachers are free to walk around the classroom or find a optimal spot to see their class and take attendance. After these visits and interviews, we now have a clear picture of what we can do to help teachers with their day-to-day activities.

Task Analysis Questions

Who is going to use this system?

Predominantly middle school teachers, but high school teachers may use our app as well.

What tasks do they now perform?

Recording attendance, tracking behavior and participation information for each student, logging parental contact history, organizing seating charts, teaching at the overhead projector, preparing instructions for substitutes.

What tasks are desired?

Recording attendance on a mobile device, submitting attendance info to the SIS (school information system, i.e. Aeries, PowerSchool) from a mobile device, recalling past attendance data and parental contact history, recording and annotating student behavior and participation on the fly, arranging seating charts automatically.

How are these tasks learned?

These are all tasks the teacher already performs, just not digitally or on a mobile interface. Therefore, the only thing that needs to be learned is how to transpose these tasks to a mobile digital interface. (For this reason design is crucial.)

Where are the tasks performed?

These tasks are mainly performed in the classroom. Sometimes these tasks may be performed in places such as the lab, the gymnasium and outdoors (field trip).

What is the relationship between user and data?

The user is required to enter attendance and behavior data daily to the SIS. Parental contact records are also required by the school.

What other tools does the user have?

  1. A seating chart has the students’ name and current seat arrangement
  2. A paper roll sheet
  3. The teacher's computer with attendance software and school-mandated
  4. A grid of transparent pockets for each student hanging in the front of the room and the teacher tracks attendance and behavior by putting color-coded cards in these pockets
  5. A large, heavy binder that contains parental contact information and parent-teacher contact history

There is currently no tool for recalling past attendance data.

How do users communicate with each other?

Teachers have an email system at school, and they interact in person throughout the day in different contexts. If they make mistakes on the system, they have to go to Attendance Office or call to make changes.

How often are the tasks performed?

Attendance and behavior recording is performed daily for each class period. Parent-teacher contact is made every week or two. Seating charts are reconfigured about every month.

What are the time constraints on the tasks?

The teacher has almost no time during class to record attendance on the computer, so it often does not get done until later in the day, when it may be hard to remember who was present.

What happens when things go wrong?

If attendance behavior is not recorded correctly, then the school and the student's parents are both misinformed about the student's activities, which ultimately harms the student. If attendance is not entered at all, then the teacher can be reprimanded by the administration. If the teacher does not properly log parent-teacher contact, then the teacher may have no defending evidence in the event of an erroneous accusation from a parent (CYA).

Analysis of Tasks

Easy Tasks

  • Taking attendance: Teachers need to be able to look at a class list of students and mark down who is present, absent, or tardy. This task should be done in class when the teacher can actually see who is present, but if the task is too time consuming or location-specific, the teacher may opt to record this data after class or at the end of the day.
  • Selecting a student at random: Often teachers need a way to select a student at random to answer a question or perform some task. Doing this by hand can result in a bias to pick or avoid picking certain students, however sometimes a teacher may want to exercise her own judgment on who should be selected for a given task.

Moderate Tasks

  • Preparing for a substitute teacher: When a teacher needs to miss school, they must prepare information for a substitute, including data about who is in the class. This can be accomplished with a roster with photos, perhaps augmented by notes on behavior histories of students. In practice, however, this level of detail may often be too difficult for a teacher to produce.
  • Tracking/recording behavior: This task especially applies for middle school teachers. Many schools require in-class participation and behavior grades to be computed in addition to academic grades, and so teachers often need to record behavior and participation events for students throughout class time. This task should also be able to be done quickly in order for it not to interfere too much with teaching time. This information, when recorded, should be able to be aggregated and recalled later for reference in grade determination and for parent-teacher conferences.

Difficult Tasks

  • Making notes/flagging a student's behavior during class: An extension of the behavior recording, often teachers need to annotate behavior events in class, for instance to differentiate between talking in class vs sleeping in class. Traditional means of behavior tracking (putting student's name on the board, or using a publicly displayed grid) do not afford annotations or neutral flags, and so it can be awkward for a teacher to interrupt the teaching flow to write down such notes, particularly if this information needs to be aggregated and stored for future reference.
  • Data analysis and viewing student attendance/behavior history: Teachers and parents need to be able to access student attendance and behavior records over time, and in different formats (total absences, attendance trends over a 4-week span, overall class attendance data, correlations between one student's behavior and another student's attendance, a student's individual data compared with class averages, etc). This data analysis is difficult enough to do when the data is available, but often teachers cannot access past attendance records after they have submitted them for the day.

Interface Design


Since our users operate in a fast-paced environment which demands their full attention, it was necessary that we eliminate all but the essential functionality to make our interface crystal-clear. However, our application allows the users to carry out significant and complex tasks. Across our user studies, we found that teachers would appreciate the ability to take attendance digitally, track behavior during classes, and analyze their collected data in aggregate at a later point.

We divided the main functionality into three sections - Classes, Students, and Sync - with a tab bar at the bottom of the screen for navigation.

  • Attendance and Notes during Class: In the Classes tab, users can see the lists of their classes. When opening the application during class, the application detects which class is currently occurring, and the user sees the list of students in the class. Then the user can take attendance, and add notes and document behavior for specific students during class.
  • Analyzing and Recording Student Information: By selecting the "Students" link on the tab bar, users can view and edit the contact information, behavior flags, and notes about each of their students. Included are links to email and call students. The user can sync this information with a web service to further analyze this data.
  • Managing Classes and Students: Users can add classes in the Classes tab. In the Add Classes screen, users specify when the class occurs and add students to the class. Users can also sync their classes from the web in the "Sync" tab. Users can add students and student information on the "Student" tab.


List of classes.
List of students with colored attendance status.
User can select a different date.
Note screen for recording behavior and annotation.
Adding a class.
Adding students to a class.


The default view in "Students" is the list of all students, easily accesible with the Alphabet on the right.
The Info page includes editable student information.
The student information includes easily viewable absences, tardies, and misbehavior, such as this view of student absences.


Select which class to sync
Export attendance data
Import roster data

User Scenarios

The following user scenarios stem directly from our observation of teachers during our contextual inquiry and task analysis.

Taking Attendance

Summary: Ashley needs to take attendance at the beginning of class. She needs to mark students either present, absent, or tardy.


1. The students have arrived, and it is the beginning of class. The class commences.

2. To begin taking attendance, Ashley pulls out her phone.

3. Ashley opens the attendance application. The application detects the time and date, and immediately shows the current class's list of students in alphabetical order. By default, all students are marked present.

4. To mark a student absent, Ashley swipes the row containing the student's name. Typically three to four students are absent a day, and today there are three absent students. She knows her class relatively well, so she immediately sees that three of the students aren't in class, and she scrolls to the students' names. When she swipes each name, the row changes color, the student's presence indicator changes, and the student is marked absent.

5. Since she is done taking attendance, Ashley begins to teach math. However, a tardy student runs in to the classroom. Ashley is in the middle of a lesson, but she quickly pulls out her phone at the end of a sentence, opens the application, and swipes the student's name twice. This action marks the student tardy. She then continues teaching.


Noting a Student's Misbehavior

Summary: Ashley needs to note that a student is misbehaving in class.


1. Ashley is in the middle of class. She happens to be teaching a math lesson on factoring polynomials. A student begins to misbehave in class.

2. After walking to the student in question and diffusing the situation, Ashley wants to make sure she remembers what just occurred. She opens the application. The application displays the list of students in the current class.

3. She scrolls to the name of the student and taps on his name.

4. The screen to add a flag or note for this specific student appears. She presses the [-] button, which denotes negative behavior.

5. Ashley types in the "Note" box, and records that the student was having trouble with factoring polynomials.

6. Ashley saves the note, and continues helping the students with polynomials.


Analyzing a Student's Attendance History

Summary: Ashley needs to check up on a student who has missed a few classes in a row.


1. Ashley takes attendance and notices that a student, Hannah, is absent.

2. She quickly swipes the date at the top to see if Hannah was in class the previous day; it seems Hannah missed class yesterday, too.

3. She clicks on Hannah's name, and the screen to flag or note for this specific student appears.

4. She types a note to check up on Hannah and presses save.

5. Later, after class, Ashley is getting a snack at the donut shop. She looks presses on the "Students" tab, and looks at Hannah's info page. She notices that Hannah has missed class for the past week.

6. Since she is looking at Hannah's information, she conveniently clicks on the link to Hannah's email. This opens a link to a new email to Hannah.

7. Ashley types and sends an email to Hannah to find out how Hannah is doing, and the application notes that the email has been sent on Hannah's info page.


Analysis of Approach

The main difficulty of the users' tasks is having to record attendance at a stationary computer. The mobility of the iPhone/iPod Touch affords attendance recording anywhere in the classroom, and the wifi capability of the mobile device allows the user to upload attendance data to the Student Information System without having to re-enter it by hand. Our application concentrates on the user being able to enter attendance quickly and with minimal navigation. Using the horizontal swipe gesture across a student's name to set attendance status is a simple way to record attendance with minimal touches. The iPhone's UI navigation and tab views provide a natural structure for our app that is intuitive to navigate and doesn't clutter the screen.

We opted for simplicity in our app by not including grade book features. Other mobile device solutions include all-in-one teaching tools, but we decided that our users, who already use school-wide Student Information Systems for grading, might not want to move all of their classroom tasks to the iPhone. Moreover, since grading is often done outside of class time we decided that features like grade books would not have much added benefit in a mobile app.

For small class sizes (15 or less), such as Jill's class, it may be possible for teachers to simply remember who was absent or late without having to write anything down. However, in the post-class interview, Jill remarked that she prefers to enter attendance at the end of the day, and even with small class sizes it can be hard to remember this information accurately across all class periods. The color-coded hanging grids for recording in-class student behavior are a useful tool for keeping track of behavior on the fly, and this tool has the benefit of letting the students see who has misbehaved (which is often regarded an effective tool for keeping students well-behaved). Jill remarked however that this tool doesn't easily allow her to write down the details of students' behavior issues on the fly. Our app's daily notes feature does not make behavior information publicly viewable by students, but it does allow for more detailed annotations. The daily notes feature of our app can also be used as a way to flag a student's name as a reminder for the teacher to follow up later with something regarding that student. In the phone interview, Joe expressed the desire for this task. He noted that it's possible to simply write down the student's name on paper, but these notes are not centralized and can easily be misplaced.

For the simple task of picking a random student, we opted to let the user shake the unit in the class list view to highlight a random student. This aligns well with other randomizing-by-shaking functions in many iPhone apps, and could even be a fun job for a student to do. Teachers have an easier option of picking someone mentally, but in situations where bias must be avoided, this app can do the job instantly.

User Interface Attributions

  • The "-/+" bar is used from the Awards application
  • The interface was created using the iPhone PSD 3.0
  • The "Students" and "Sync" icons were found here
  • The "Classes" icon was found here
  • DatePicker image found here
  • Three (3) scenarios of example tasks with sketches
  • Any additional sketches

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