Tech Project Team Includes Kids

by RaeAnne Marsh


Photo courtesy of Pearson

Software designers and developers at the Chandler offices of Pearson, a global company that provides education products and services to institutions, governments and individuals, are working on an early literacy mobile app for preschoolers — and part of the multi-generational project team are kids in grades 3 through 7.

“We brainstorm with them to uncover the needs for learning to read,” says Lisa Maurer, manager of product design research at Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network Center for Product Design Research & Efficacy.

Pearson created the KidsTeam to work collaboratively on solutions with real-world applications in an environment that fosters skill-building in subjects such as technology and math through hands-on learning and infuses insights beyond the reach of the adult mind. The initiative is the result of Pearson’s long-term collaboration with the University of Maryland’s Human Computer Interaction Lab, where the KidsTeam approach to technology design was launched in 1998.

The students meet regularly throughout the school year in the Pearson iDEA Innovation Center, a digital laboratory focused on user-centered design, usability testing and user experience research. Each week, the students have a different design challenge — from building a new interface for a learning management system to sharing insights on what makes digital curriculum engaging. They will storyboard the sequencing on the app and help build its interactive technology. And they will see the project through to usability studies, observing four-year-olds using the app.

By involving kids in the design process for technologies that will be used by students, Pearson aims to better understand what students want from new learning technologies in terms of features, functionality and overall experience. The kids get to see “behind the curtain,” Maurer says. A former kindergarten teacher, she notes the benefit to the students in understanding the different roles involved in bringing the technology to life.

There is also a long-range benefit to business. According to the U.S. Department of Education, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs, and the United States is not producing enough candidates to fill them. The creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills that Pearson’s KidsTeam members are building gives them unique preparation to pursue higher education and careers in the STEM fields. Says Maurer, “It’s empowering — seeing their ideas come to life.”

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