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Socrates is a memo(rization) app that helps teachers remember names and other important facts about their students

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June 2021


ux research


high-fidelity design

At the beginning of each new semester or school year, teachers are faced with the challenge of remembering names for a large number of new students. Design an experience to help an educator match faces to names, with the goal of shortening the time needed to reach complete un-aided accuracy. Provide a high-fidelity mock for at least one step of this experience.

The two main goals of this design challenge are to 1) create a mechanism through which educators reinforce connections between students and names (and other metadata), and 2) streamline data entry as part of the memorization exercise. More than just designing for a simple flashcard app that teachers use once in the beginning of the semester, I took the inspiration from Rockefeller's contact cards and wanted this app to be a tool that aides teachers to remember important things about each student.

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Rockefeller’s cards chronicled his interactions with every U.S. President (Source: WSJ)


Before designing a fully-fledged app, understanding the context of users' problems and goals was essential to guide the direction of the design. Here are some questions and assumptions that defined the scope and key features of the app.

  • How many students does a teacher need to learn the names of per teaching period? At what size (both minimum & maximum) would it make sense to adopt an app like this?

    • In the US, the national average public school student:teacher ratio is approximately 16:1 (2021), with Utah being the highest at 34:1. Assuming a teacher teaches 5 classes on average, and for simplicity that these classes are comprised of completely new students for the teacher, that's 80 students per period.

  • In what format do they receive the roster information? Is it physical or electronic? Do they already use a learning management system (LMS) or school administration software? Is there a privacy issue that should be taken into consideration (especially when dealing with student photos)?

    • This may vary among schools and districts, but I will assume that educators receive a physical copy of a roster per class, which may or may not have photos. I also assume that not every school has an LMS system or can easily provide students' names and photos electronically.

  • Who drives the adoption? School or teachers?

    • Schools may encourage adoption, but it's up to individual educators to take action, thus making them the main stakeholders.

  • What other challenges do educators face in the beginning of a semester?

    • Some educator friends I interviewed expressed challenges such as getting the correct pronunciation for uncommon names and identifying students that look different from their photos; thus, having an ability to make notes (e.g. phonetic transcription or other forms of mnemonics unique to each user) would make the app significantly more useful and effective.

  • The prompt assumes that educators are interested in learning students' faces to match their names. Are there other motives or behaviors that this app can help educators achieve better?

    • Educators are interested in learning students' names and getting to know them. Unlike cramming a bunch of biology terms or historical facts, they also develop personal relationships with the students. This may open up the possibility of other functionality that can be useful for the rest of the semester.


The different concerns here were described in full here.


Memorization techniques comes down to a simple core principle: transform a piece of information with no context into something that is personally connected to you. Many mnemonic techniques for memorizing faces and names share a couple action items in common:

  1. Pay attention to their faces and search for something distinctive

  2. Associate their names and faces with a personalized image

  3. Make a written note and repeat.


Spaced repetition is the memorization technique that is most frequently used in the underlying design of flashcard apps. Although it is proven to be an effective method to retain long-term memory, the context in which teachers need to remember students' names is unique: 1) teachers only have to remember a set of students per semester and the degree of challenge is heavily skewed toward the beginning of the semester (which makes the experience more similar to cramming), but 2) teachers will have plenty of opportunities to interact with students thus creating unique memories throughout the school year. This unique context shaped two key features: 1) adding more data (notes and photos) to students as a mnemonic process, and 2) using the Leitner system as the memorization algorithm than spaced repetition.


The user flow can be grouped into in 3 parts:

  1. Adding students names to classes, with emphasis on streamlining multiple data entry

  2. Adding photos and notes, as additional activity to reinforce memory of individual students

  3. Reviewing students' names, combining mnemonics and the Leitner system

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Without real users to confirm how student data would be populated, I had to make some assumptions and educated guesses based on a small amount of research. The first one was around the method in which student data would be populated in the app. I suspect that many schools would already have implemented some sort of LMS by now (especially after Covid); however, I designed for teachers having to do data entry themselves for the following reasons: 1) there is no dominant LMS adopted by all schools in every district and each school probably has slightly different privacy policies around student photos, and 2) teachers can take this opportunity to familiarize themselves with student names, with options to opt out by importing a data (csv, pdf, xls, etc.) file.

It was important that a teacher would have an option to enter student data on a computer, but I also imagine teachers may not have access to one when they are interested in using the app for memorizing faces: for instance, a good time to use this app would be during a commute. While the main user flow here is for teachers to create a class then add only student names, it is possible to add a single student on the Students tab and to add photos and notes while populating student data. 

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There are a few different scenarios for how a teacher can acquire a student photo: 1) ideally the school has this information in files that teachers have access to — either electronically or physically, 2) ask students to send in photos, or 3) have teachers take the photos themselves. For this exercise, I assumed that teachers are unable to import photos from other teachers or from the school's LMS using this app in previous years.

It would be ideal to gather photos and notes at the same time, but realistically, teachers will add data whenever they can. In order to encourage educators to take actions to complete the data entry, cues that inform the progress of data entry on both class cards (e.g. how many students have been added in a class) as well as student cards (e.g. how much of a student's profile has been completed) have been added. Additionally,  a filter that allows teachers to only view students with missing or incomplete information, and 3) allow for a choice of the main image and description on individual student entry.

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Another key function that I wanted to include was the ability to take notes that can be applied to an individual or multiple students. Educators can then choose which notes will be surfaced first in the student list or review views. Additional points that could be considered are: 1) adding multiple photos per student entry, 2) ability to add a voice record (for things like pronunciation), etc. The goals of these features would be to allow educators to continue recording notes about individual students throughout the semester, building a rich, multi-faceted understanding of their students. 

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Although adding more photos and notes per each student will help educators familiarize with each student, teachers still need to deliberately memorize students' names and faces in the beginning of the semester. The review process will assist with faster recall - while also achieving the initial goal described in the prompt. It was important to give users some flexibility on which set of students they want to focus on — whether by class or learning phase. Once a review session begins, only the students that the teacher marked "still learning" or hasn't been able to correctly answer in previous sessions will be compiled into the new review deck; this process repeats until the teacher marks every student in the set as "remembered".

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While going through this exercise, I managed to seize upon a few corner cases that I would love to explore in future iterations of this product:

  • Increasing engagement: although memorizing students' faces and names seem like an important thing for educators, my educator friends low-key confessed that they don't try anymore. Are there some features that would be able to help encourage engagement for the less than optimally engaged?

  • School admin view: although the initial app was designed with the assumption that each educator is responsible for the data, I can also imagine a situation where a school administration, or even perhaps a district steps in to encourage teachers to adopt this type of behavior.

  • Delicate subject called COPPA: privacy around children is tricky, and app like this prompts many privacy questions. I decided that given the depth of this topic, I would keep it out of scope for this artifact, but it is something that I'm very interested in exploring further, as I have some ideas for maintaining privacy.

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