While completing a Master’s in Instructional Systems Technology, I constantly searched for extracurricular opportunities in the field of education technology. Having recently finished co-authoring a publication on State-Level Systemic Change in Education, I was craving a project to stretch my design skills with more real-world constraints. In those respects, Openwords was a perfect fit. Even better, Openwords was striving to be a social enterprise that would offer language learning material for free.
I learned about Openwords, a local startup building a foreign language learning application with open source content, while volunteering for Verge Bloomington. Verge is an organization that sponsors meetups and lectures for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. For years, the passion and energy of those in the startup community has inspired me to offer freelance design work for small companies trying to do big things. I’m continually surprised by how much one can “learn by doing” and freelancing has provided an outlet for learning new and varied skills.
This past Spring, Openwords decided to run a Kickstarter campaign. I had wanted to improve my animation and videography skills so I eagerly offered to help produce the video. A fellow volunteer, Alesha Wagner, and I co-authored the script and storyboard for the animated video. The storyboard went through many iterations as we replaced narration about the technical aspects of the system in order to communicate Openwords on deeper human terms. Although our Kickstarter was unsuccessful in reaching its goal, the video received positive feedback from those who donated and the campaign spurred beneficial conversations with users and future partners.
Why Here, Why Now?
Kickstarter and the Future of Openwords
Openwords had mined public language data for thousands of languages in order to rapidly scale educational content to millions that were without language learning material. Our job now was to discover what form that language material should take. Would learners want to create their own practice sessions or take guided lessons (like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone)?
To more clearly frame the problem, I conducted interviews with potential users and discovered that a set building feature had immediate value to students in language classes. From there, I sketched multiple versions of what we deemed to be the most important user flow: Vocabulary Set Builder, Set Selection Page, and a Practice Session. At various stages in development, I used Axure, Illustrator, Photoshop, Balsamiq, and Sketch to communicate designs to the development team.
Marc Bogonovich, Lucas Lim