UX Chicken turns students into teachers

Scenes from UX Boot Camp

You can learn about user experience design (UX) through blogs, books, and conferences, but there is no better teacher than chickens. I mean, a hands-on experience. That’s why 31 designers, engineers, and project managers came from around the globe to attend Cooper’s four-day UX Boot Camp in early October. Set on the 50-acre farm of Cooper founders, Alan and Sue Cooper, UX Boot Camp attendees studied Cooper’s UX methods and applied them to a real-world design challenge for our nonprofit partner, the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESY Project).
BlogPost UXBCScene

The Edible Schoolyard Project

Their mission is to build and share an edible education curriculum in schools. ESY Project works to inspire gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for academic subjects that teach students how their choices about food affect their health, their community, and the environment. At, members of the growing edible education movement can share curricula, best practices, and other resources with fellow educators and allies around the world.

The UX Boot Camp Challenge

We partnered with ESY Project to give students the chance to tackle a real design challenge for a real client: design web and mobile solutions to empower ESY Project teachers to network, exchange ideas, and help the edible education movement grow. The goal was to learn by doing.
All good design starts with understanding users. First stop for the Boot Camp attendees: a field trip to Martin Luther King Jr Middle School where Chef Alice Waters started the first edible schoolyard 17 years ago. The class immersed themselves in the domain with a tour of the school garden and teaching kitchen and interviews with teachers and stakeholders.  Back at the Cooper farm, teams then created personas, scenarios, and design solutions, drawing from their observation and experience at King. The course culminated with teams pitching their final concepts to Alan Cooper and teachers and stakeholders from ESY Project. With these design concepts in hand, ESY Project now has a trove of great design thinking to help them plan the future of their online presence. Huzzah!

The Final Concepts

Each team’s solution illustrated a clear understanding of their client’s business goals, the needs of teachers, and the ability to identify the right problem to solve. When they pitched, it was clear that our students grasped how to effectively “sell” their ideas to stakeholders. And, as evidenced by the electric energy in the room on the last day, they learned an enormous amount about collaboration, communication, and team dynamics. But don’t take our word for it; have a look for yourself:

Concept by Team Social

Top Photo from L to R: Ahree Lee, Suchi Deshpande, Dana Lamb, Gregory Itts, David Trumble, John Battista, and Janine Kubert
Because ESY Project programs require investments of time, human resources, and funding, getting the support of school administration can be a challenging part of getting a new program off the ground. To make this process easier for busy teachers, Team Social proposed offering talking points and downloadable presentations on the ESY Project website to set teachers up for success when entering conversations with decision-makers. Additionally, teachers would receive instruction on how to build support within their local community that could help sway administration. After making use of these web tools, educators would receive a follow up email asking how their efforts fared, guidance tailored to their current obstacles, and ways to connect to ESY Project advocates that can help. As a result, teachers would feel well supported throughout this challenging process, their odds of success would increase, and they’d have a strong community of local supporters in place when they get approval to initiate a program.

Concept by Team UX Chicken

Top Photo from L to R: Eric Seiberling, Mary Desmond, Frances James, Dante Guintu, and Mark Lancaster
All UX Boot Camp participants were charged with finding compelling ways that technology and design could help current ESY Project teachers. But Team UX Chicken illustrated that sometimes it’s better to bend the rules a bit, because business requirements don’t always lead to the best solution. Instead of focusing on teachers, they chose to target college-age students who graduated from an ESY Project program. Here’s why: During research, this team realized that given the challenges of starting an ESY Project program, they are typically initiated by those who are strong ESY Project believers. Where better to recruit new teachers than in the pool of students who experienced the curriculum first-hand and are convinced of its’ value? Understanding this, Team UX Chicken conceived of an online alumni network that would cultivate the ESY Project teachers, volunteers, and advocates of tomorrow. This platform would empower former students by giving them a way to share the story of their experience with edible education, peruse a map to identify current needs at ESY Project programs, or start a program of their own. Team UX Chicken’s idea makes it easy for alumni to give back to the ESY Project community in meaningful ways.

Concept by Team A Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’

Top Photo from L to R: Laura Koster, Will Alford, Rich Price, Doug Mays, Michael Burke, Bruno Torquato, and Natasha Fernandez Fountain
Between teaching all day and planning for the next day’s class, ESY Project teachers are busy. Team A Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ discovered in research that, as a result of teachers’ packed schedules, most collaboration and knowledge exchange between educators happens in informal hallway conversations between classes. These interactions have unique benefits: they’re quick, improvisational, happen during precious free time, and their impact is immediately evident.
The “Digital Hallways” concept brings these conversations to the web, making them available to ESY Project teachers across the nation. Integrated into the current ESY Project website, this online forum offers a place where teachers can quickly post questions about curriculum, lesson plans, starting new ESY Project programs, and more.  Teachers using the Digital Hallway forum also see tangible measures of their impact (e.g. You helped 44 students today!), much like they do when talking to teachers face-to-face. And, as a means of encouraging more serendipitous “hallway conversation” online, teachers are prompted to answer questions that are relevant to their area of interest or expertise. It’s a new place for teachers to go for inspiration, collaboration, and shared creativity.

Concept by Team Fly Fighters

Bottom Photo from L to R: Paul Cleary, Gina Villavicencio, Nick Pazinko, Vanessa D’Aleman, Mathew Ireland, and Kathryn Straus
ESY Project has a wealth of knowledge that can help teachers across the nation (and the world!) educate kids about food and healthy eating. But, as Team FlyFighters discovered, program leaders are typically only focused on bringing the curriculum and philosophy to their local community. This means programs across the nation aren’t well connected to one another, leaving new program leaders without a strong support base. But, what if ESY Project teachers were incentivized to help teachers in other regions and saw evidence that their efforts were working?
Designed to encourage such mentorship, Team Flyfighters conceived of a web-based platform for knowledge sharing across ESY Project programs all over the USA. By endorsing curriculum-of-choice directly on the platform, teachers elevate visibility of the most effective teaching approaches, making it easier for new teachers to build successful lesson plans. Whenever a teacher’s contribution is used, they receive a mobile notification acknowledging their support and confirming their efforts made a difference. As a result, onus for supporting fledgling programs shifts from ESY Project’s small staff to teachers across the nation, giving these educators a shared sense of responsibility for ESY Project’s growth and one another.

Concept by Team International

Top Photo from L to R: Dominik Gutzler, Martin Lang, Mike Egan, Minnie Lin, and Bob Prohaska
When interviewing ESY Project teachers, UX Boot Camp students discovered that while teachers don’t have a lot of free time, they will make time to share ideas if they know the material will be used. So, Team International set out to create a web experience that would instill that confidence and encourage more knowledge exchange.
Focusing on ways to enhance ESY Project’s current website, Team International proposed expanding the search experience so that teachers with similar interests can find one another and build a community. A discussion forum encourages dialogue between these peers, and notifies them when someone is using or has questions about their contributions – providing the feedback teachers told us they needed during research interviews. Most importantly, Team International proposed modifying the way curriculum is presented, so that it sits within a visual ecosystem of images, resources, and information that give a richer sense of what it might be like to teach that curriculum. As such, storytelling becomes a part of how teachers communicate on this platform, giving them a chance to connect on a more experiential level and develop deeper bonds.

Our Students Make It Worth It

We are so proud of our UX Boot Camp graduates for taking charge of their education by trying out new methods, taking risks, embracing discomfort, asking questions, doggedly pushing through the rough spots, and giving their best effort to come up with design solutions to benefit the Edible Schoolyard Project. For the UX Boot Camp instructors, the magic moment was watching you deftly present your concepts to a panel of stakeholders…transforming, before our eyes, from students to teachers.

Our Next UX Boot Camp

Cooper U is offering four UX Boot Camps next year – we’re hard at work lining up our nonprofit partnerships. Join our mail listto be the first to hear when enrollment begins.

The People Who Made It Happen

In addition to the rock star attendees, the success of this UX Boot Camp is due to an amazing community of people to whom we are immensely grateful. A special thanks to Kendra Shimmell for envisioning the UX Boot Camp program and leading the workshop. Thank you to our co-instructors Nikki Knox, Stefan Klocek, and Teresa Brazen for bringing their unique content ideas to the coursework. And high five to our Social Media and Marketing Intern, Julie Celia, for jumping into UX Boot Camp just a few weeks after arriving at Cooper. We’re grateful to our hosts, Zak Brazen, Alan and Sue Cooper for everything they did to make the farm a warm, inspiring place to teach.
Of course, we couldn’t have pulled off such a great Boot Camp without the six ESY Project teachers who shared their time and experience! We truly appreciate the support of our Edible Schoolyard Project stakeholders Kyle Cornforth and Emilie Gioia, who worked tirelessly to help us define the UX Boot Camp challenge, identify teachers for research interviews, and gave our students great feedback during the final pitches. Thank you, all!
Instructor and Cooper U Director, Kendra Shimmell and her new friend

The Editors

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