A large image about the post

Designing better language teaching

How my team helped a volunteering association make sense of their issues and overcome them

Gioco degli Specchi, an association that works with migrants / Uni project

My role

Team lead, Strategy, Planning, Facilitation, Workshop Design, Visual Design

The team

Andrea Molnar, William Costello

  • Research, Modeling, Workshop Design

Nathalia Campreguer

  • Interviews, Facilitation, Content Design


2 months


Workshops, Booklet



5 Observations

6 Interviews


4 Personas


of Personas,

with 4 interviews



Note taking

Remote crazy-8s


Gdocs to InDesign


3 Interviews

a presentation

The first client meeting

Gioco degli Specchi is a volunteering association in Trento, Italy. Among other activities, they help migrants with free language courses and language practice.

My university team and I met with S., an italian language teacher to understand how we could help them. No challenge was set as of yet.

The client seemed to have a solution to propose to us.

“Not entirely sure… But we’d like a digital space where to put our stuff.”

They want Dropbox? It can’t be that simple!

During that meeting we came to understand that due to a lack of funding to the organization, the number of activities offered had decreased in recent years, and had also resulted in GdS no longer being able to afford hired staff for administrative support – in recent months, all work has been distributed among volunteers. We suspected that this development has resulted in subpar communication and information exchange within the organization.


We hypothesized that less people were participating because of subpar communication & information exchange, but we also just needed a deep dive in the context.

We ran shadowing in 4 lectures, and a fundraiser dinner. By participating in these activities we could build the necessary rapport and trust to schedule every other activity with the members.

6 teacher interviews, as the goal was to understand their context we asked questions about their background, role and relationship with the association, how they structure classes, which technology do they use, which tools, where do they find their teaching material, if they share it, what are their biggest challenges and finally their relationship with technology.

Framing the situation

The internal problem framing workshop

The internal problem framing workshop

Every member of the team collaborated, brainwrote the key findings, scattered them on the board, categorized patterns, voted on impact & relevance.

We ran a workshop within the team to map the research results and frame the problem. Thanks to this method we identified and evaluated the areas of concern. Namely:

  • Sharing teaching methods and materials

  • Intra-personnel communication

  • Administration & management

The souls of Gioco degli Specchi

As soon as we made sense of the most impactful challenges and mapped all research findings we decided to set a reminder for ourselves. Personas helped us to keep in touch with the particular individualities within the association. We later validated the personas with 4 teacher interviews.

The Jessica Persona, conscious teacher
The Giancarlo Persona, laid back helper
The Elisa Persona, the apprentice
The Romano Persona, meticulous low-tech retiree

The 4 personas me and Bill made, every field is carefully placed, we iterated them 3 times

It was around this stage that we were 100% certain some Dropbox or Google Drive solution would have done more harm than good. An eterogeneous, chaotic, non-hierarchical, flat organization with members of any age, experience and motivation level such as GdS would have had a hard time adopting the solution and an even harder time maintaining it.

Yet, we determined that knowledge, method and material sharing was indeed the core concern of the members. That amazing, eterogeneous, flat group of generous teachers had real trouble setting performance standards and accountability.

Solidified problem statement agreed with the client

We are going to help GdS with “knowledge and materials sharing”, on multiple levels

(eg. what was covered in each class, complex aspiration knowledge such as model lesson plans and teaching best practices)

Client workshop

We had observed them in class and interacted 1on1 but still had to witness their behavior in group. So we designed a workshop specifically to make them collaborate, reflect on their organization and even out their expectations.


  • Observe group interaction

  • Align project views & expectations


  • We had the participants brainwrite about knowledge sharing, discuss and choose reflections about their context.

  • Then they worked in groups to create a fantasy instrument that would fix their problems.


One word “icebreaker”

Split participants in 3 groups. Make space on walls, draw hierarchy with a line of paper tape.

2 mins: Think of words and phrases about knowledge sharing, write as many as you can on post-its.

5 mins: Share and comment post-its.

5 mins: Contextualize post-its to Il Gioco degli Specchi and choose those those that make sense with the context, together, reason why you are picking those, you’ll have to show them to the other groups.

10 mins: one by one, groups stick post-its to the wall, presentation & comments. Note about our research vs outcome of first activity

The knowledgizator

10 mins: discuss. You’ll work in groups to create a fantasy instrument (eg. psyonic squirrel) using what you can find. Anything is good.

Whenever you’re adding something to it, discuss, tell why.

10 min discussion / 5 min plan / 20 mins present and discuss. Bring it together.

After the warm up and group discussion about the words they came up with (organizing them into general categories/concepts somehow) they can think individually about a way to transmit that knowledge sharing, inventing a device (conoscientilizzatore ad esempio), then in groups with a piece of paper (cardboard tablet would be nice) and sticker/pins/glue/ weird small objects we can find lying around to act as the device they're inventing, they arrange their features on the piece of paper/cardboard and then explain it to everyone.

Workshop results discussion

Me discussing workshop results; On the left, one of the teams

The workshop would have been better if we had participants clear the tables and if we didn't stuff them with that much food.

Workshop team 1
Workshop team 2
Workshop artifact, serendipitous crossing

Serendipitous crossing

Each other’s stories, knowledge, experience and methods are intertwined, take place within the GdS structure, they are the ladder to students' learnings.

Workshop artifact, Harmonious Box of Sharing

Harmonious Box of Sharing

Where a plurality of diverse voices come in, and more homogeneous results and voices come out

Proven mismatch of attitudes on how to organize own work

The unwinding of the workshop highlighted the difficulties in group interaction and organization.

The outcome of the workshop made apparent they lacked a common vision to standardize their methods and materials.

The workshop received an overwhelmingly positive reaction, the volunteers expressed the desire to continue participating in such activities, which help bring the staff together.

Crazy 8s

As we reached the design phase around Christmas time the team was split in 3 different continents.

For this reason I introduced Crazy 8s as a tool to expedite design, and bring together our visions.

We used Google Docs to play them.

The Jessica Persona, conscious teacher
The Giancarlo Persona, laid back helper
The Elisa Persona, the apprentice
The Romano Persona, meticulous low-tech retiree
The Jessica Persona, conscious teacher
The Giancarlo Persona, laid back helper
The Elisa Persona, the apprentice
The Romano Persona, meticulous low-tech retiree
The Jessica Persona, conscious teacher
The Giancarlo Persona, laid back helper
The Elisa Persona, the apprentice
The Romano Persona, meticulous low-tech retiree
The Jessica Persona, conscious teacher

The Crazy 8s showed we had two product paths ahead of us:

  • A booklet for design thinking in education, possibly with some workshop instructions attached
  • An app to create and manage workshops

During the Crazy 8s’ sketches evaluation the app solution was discarded as it would have been much harder to implement, would have provided value only to the most tech savy volunteers and its maintenance would have been an issue.

Among the Crazy 8s most notable contributions:

  • Formalizing steps in course creation

  • Workshop essentials

  • Framework to guide them to share essential information

  • Workshop that they should execute to find their own communication / organization process

  • Workshop to shape planning and organization

  • Process for communication where they create it for themselves. They should hold this workshop every few months, when there’s change and need.

At this stage me and Nathalia designed the booklet and curated some of the content. I created a card sorting workshop. Bill made a communication workshop. Andrea curated the in-depth explaination of design thinking.

A booklet to structure their future activity

It’s difficult to take decisions and make sure that every voice is heard in a flat organization. That’s why we provided them with a tool to structure their meetings and workshops, to find tradeoffs on their best practices and to organize their teaching material.

We chose to work on this impactful challenge, focusing on “designing for design after design”: Teachers want to share moments and knowledge, so they will design their own meetings, workshops.

It was only after observing teachers during their meetings and seeing the outcomes of our first workshop that we all realised how they perceived knowledge sharing and how much more intangible and high-level their need was.


  • Design thinking guide tailored to teachers

  • Workshop organization guide

    • Checklist for workshop design

    • Checklist for workshop facilitation

  • Example workshops

    • Communication workshop to map communication issues and tackle them

    • Digitalize, a workshop to sort information with card sorting, make taxonomies emerge to organize teaching material

Validation and Takeaways

Nathalia and I held a product validation session with 4 GdS teachers just after they had tried a workshop from the booklet.

We asked them what do they remember about that workshop and how it went, if they thought the booklet was useful/valuable, and if it was flexible.

All 4 reported that the booklet helped a lot in being time efficient and avoiding herd of sheep behavior and instrumental making sure every voice was heard.

6 months later we got back in touch and we found the association had used the workshops from the booklet 4 times. Few of them had integrated design thinking in teaching. However the adoption of organization workshops was decreasing. S. wanted to make sure we understood the booklet and our intervetion helped them grealy in their communication and organization, and had a lasting change in their ability to self-organize and facilitate.

Lesson learned:

  • Survey the area of the workshop prior to it, or ask for pictures if it’s impossible
  • Don’t let your clients drown in their own food and clear those tables!

Wrapping up the cool stuff

In this project my team reached depth in the problem at hand and solved it thanks to a research driven human centered process. Each step was tailored to the situation at hand, considering the context, but also the circumstances of the team.

I am proud of how I worked as a project manager, as I planned and structured activities, defined goals, outcomes, deadlines, provided frameworks to make sure every meeting was productive, every voice heard and did my best to track everyone’s load, assessed and re-assessed expectations and motivation.

I’m also super honored to have worked with those guys and girls. They are amazing. You want to work with them.

It was super cool risking delivering something non-tech to a UX course. Even cooler presenting it with a story about witches and dragons (ask me about this). And then getting honors and best project award.