Ground Control: Tablet App 
How might we help students with ADD
to concentrate on reading tasks?

Reading isn’t a straightforward task for everyone. 1 in 10 American students has attention deficit disorder (ADD), and they have problems with staying focused, organizing their thoughts, and remembering details—all of which impact reading comprehension.
ADD makes learning by reading difficult and time-consuming. It is especially hard on high school students because the amount of reading increases drastically at this age and is required in all subjects for academic success. How, then, might we help students with ADD to concentrate on reading tasks?

Ground Control is a tablet application that encourages students with ADD to stay on track and transforms reading into an empowering experience. Through an integrated note-taking system and haptic feedback, this digital reading environment helps students identify and quickly recover from distracting behaviors.
The app can be adapted to match each individual student’s pace and preempts frustrations through peer-generated sharing and assistance. With Ground Control, students strengthen concentration and build awareness around their reading habits and become more confident learners.

This project is on the shortlist in the Interaction Awards 2020 in the Optimizing Category at IxDA.

8 months
User Research, Product Design
Inclusive Design
Solo Interaction, Product,
UI designer,
UX Researcher
Kelly R. Saxton (Research and User experience Designer in Ed Tech)
Eric Forman (SVA)
Graham Letorney (SVA, Shutterstock)
Sketch, Principle, Invision studio, 
The first feature that student-users see when using the app is the timer. Setting a timer for how long you want to dedicate to one activity creates a sense of commitment and, therefore, develops the practice of concentration. Moreover, timing the reading helps to break down a long activity into small chunks and makes it feel more achievable. The break goal encourages readers to take breaks as a reward after they are committed for 30 minutes. It also sustains productivity and prevents distraction.
Most textbooks are designed to fit the largest amount of content onto each page, which can be overwhelming to students with ADD. They even get anxious and jump ahead a few lines, which hurts their reading comprehension and motivation to continue the reading. The Ground Control interface is designed specifically to help focus a reader on smaller chunks of text. It converts traditional academic layouts into an uncluttered grid and shows only a few paragraphs per page. This makes the text more manageable, and if students get distracted, they immediately know where they were on the page.
Students with ADD find that switching activities helps them stay productive, and in most ebooks, highlighting text requires many steps. But with Ground Control, students can highlight words by just dragging a finger over the text. This ensures they're paying attention and actively engaging with the reading. If they want to remove a highlighted sentence, they just swipe back.
Mapping content is a helpful way to keep readers active, so the mind map lets students organize thoughts into a visual flow. Students hold down a highlighted word, and drag and drop it into a category. The color coding helps them to organize thoughts while reading, retain new information, and review for tests later.​​​​​​​
In case high schoolers are struggling to understand a text, Ground Control helps them by showing other student-users’ highlightings and encourages to make their own highlights. This prevents readers from giving up during reading in case of difficulty.​​​​​​​
Students with ADD report that they often get lost in their own thoughts and only realize it several minutes later. When students haven’t touched the screen for more than a minute, the app realizes and prompts users to check-in. If they don’t respond, the app emits an alert to call back their attention. Once they have refocused, students can categorize the event that led them to distraction; learning the cause of the distraction is crucial to changing behavior.​​​​​​​
As students use Ground Control, the app collects data and generates a report, which shows how long they take to read a page, what distracts them, and how it impacts their reading ability. By building self-awareness, students become more confident learners.​​​​​​​
Research Methods
Because ADD is still difficult to diagnose, I relied a lot on qualitative research with parents, students, teachers, and experts — ADD coaches and instructional designers. There are no standard practices to help students stay tuned. Every teacher and student finds their own strategies for staying focused in order to keep learning. My final goal was to understand the relationship between ADD and its impact on reading ability, as well as these students’ challenges and successes in learning by reading.
I focused my research on three topics:

Understanding ADD
students with ADD need to deal with short attention span of 12 minutes and they also have problems with impulsiveness and working memory which are essential for reading comprehension. Problems with concentration and memory makes a text difficult which leads to a poor comprehension. In addition, both problems affect the text understanding and, therefore, motivation to keep on.
How does ADD affect the experience of reading?
Students with ADD do not only need to bring back their attention, but also have an environment to help them focus and cope with their difficulties retaining and organizing new information. Challenges that students face while reading and dealing with their concentration.
Audit Insights
Due their challenges with concentration and low working memory, students with ADD need support to sustain focus, organize their thoughts, and retain new knowledge in order to read productively and efficiently. Interviews with experts and observational research revealed that there is a lack of tools to support learning through reading and coping with their challenges. Most platforms take it for grand that reading is a straightforward task. Here's a deeper dive:
1. Cluttered Layouts
Due to the challenges faced by students with ADD, reading takes them a very long time. Currently, book and ebook layouts are not suitable to these students’ needs. They are designed to fit the largest amount of text onto a page, which makes the material look like a dense, epic task. They get anxious, dread even starting, and jump over some sentences. This impacts their reading comprehension and makes them more likely to give up.
2. Lack of resources
Currently, there are many educational products and services for STEM, but essential skills like reading were left out. Moreover, students with ADD tend to be good at sciences because most of the exercises are hands-on. There is a misconception that audiobooks or videos are the best alternative and are more engaging for students with ADD; however, these are more distracting because it’s a very passive activity.
3. Handling Distractions 
We can set up an environment of free noise, but what do we do when the distractions are in students’ minds? One student told me that what most led him to distraction is his thoughts. He spaces out in his mind while reading.
Currently, the most effective way to handle students’ distractions are teachers, who can monitor students and call back their attention. But high schoolers want to be able to rely on themselves.
“I space out.”
Steve, 15 years old.
User Journey Pain Points
It became clear to me that these students need initial support to get over their challenges and build confidence and motivation along the experience. Reading materials are missing a design that suits their needs, such as a focused layout, a format to make reading a more active, and a place to help them organize their thoughts and acknowledge their distractions. I wanted to create an experience that sustains understanding, concentration, and confidence on critical points.
“Completing reading assignments has been nearly impossible. I even considered dropping out of high school.” Naomi N., 18 years old
Defining Core User Needs
After extensive user and expert interviews, I defined the elements necessary for a successful and inclusive reading/ experience.
Independence: students want to complete this essential activity by themselves.
Awareness: students need help realizing when they’re distracted.
Support Structures: Given their low work memory, they need structure to help them organize their thoughts and support new learning. This helps to sustain understanding and keep them from giving up.
Engagement: People with ADD find switching activities to maintain their productivity.
Competitive Analysis
I looked at tools and devices for reading, learning through reading, engagement, and concentration, since there is not a device that supports reading and concentration simultaneously. 
Currently, the most effective method is teacher support. Teachers can monitor students’ activities and rely on strategies to keep them engaged. However, this alternative is not sustainable because teachers are not available at all times, and teachers are overloaded with work. During user interviews, high schoolers want to be able to rely on themselves.
Inspirational Strategies
Teachers can monitor students’ activities and rely on strategies to keep them engaged. Their strategies to help students with ADD are:
Monitoring: Call back student’s attention when their are distracted.
Providing Awareness: Encourage students to write down and keep a list of what made them distracted.
Providing structure: Break long reading assignments into small chunks.
Note-taking: Helping with organize thoughts
Timing: the reading activity because they need clear limits and short goals. 
Project Goals

• Make reading feel manageable
• Creating an environment for focused reading

Building Confidence and Awareness
• Reinforce the sense of independence and self-reliance
• Acknowledge events that lead readers to distractions

Active Reading
• Create a safe space to switch activities and maintain productivity
• Tools to boost reading comprehension
• Build engagement
Early Concept
I proposed a tablet application that revamps the teacher’s strategies in order to create an environment to enhance concentration. In this concept, the text is converted into an uncluttered and spacious layout. The app perceives distractions and calls back student’s attention. Also, it encourages students to record what distracts them in order to promote awareness. The app helps readers to clearly organize their thoughts.
Early Explorations
I decided to test assumptions that would be risky for the project such as the distraction alert. How would users respond? Would they accept it? Soon, I learned the potential of changing harmful habits when readers acknowledged their distraction triggers. I also learned that designing tools to support understanding is equally important as helping them to recover from distractions.
First Assumption
If we call back students attention, they will finish their reading assignments
START: It becomes clear that organizing thoughts while reading was essential for concentration, as much as calling back them to the text.
START: Predicting behaviors that lead to distraction such as struggling to understand due to their challenges in remembering details and retaining new information, especially when the topic is unfamiliar.
CONTINUE: I found out the power of changing bad habits when readers acknowledged what led them to distraction.  
Second Assumption
If they create a visual story, they will retain the new learning.
CONTINUE: A learning tool is necessary as much as calling back their attention to prevent distractions, but it should happen during the reading and not at the end. 
STOP: Drawing storytelling takes a lot of time and became a huge extra task. Also, the steps for this support should happen smoothly.
STOP: Drawing storytelling become a distraction if readers create it while reading.
See more results from this early testing on these links: link #1 and Link #2
Design principles
Based on teachers’ strategies and the insights from user testing and expert interviews, I developed three principles for creating a new digital reading environment. These principles guided a design to promote a focused environment, engagement, and awareness for building concentration while reading.

1. Creating focus
2. Active Reading 
3. Building Awareness
User Flow​​​​​​​
Design Evolutions​​​​​​​

During the 1º round of user testing, I noticed that students spent around 1 minutes to read 120 words, an average of each paragraph. This time frame could be one of the ways of monitoring attention and their interactions with the app. Priority, I was considering to use AI to monitor student’s activities.
One of my research insights was that sustaining understanding plays a strong role in concentration. Initially, I took for granted that existing highlighter and mind map tools would be successfully incorporated, but during the user testing, I noticed that both tools needed to be simplified.
Students want to know what leads them to distraction, but they would not type it in every time. Therefore, I redesigned a list with their most common inputs and general impulses.
What I learned
I learned not only to look for the challenges but also the advantages of having ADD. For example, I learned that people with ADD are more visually oriented and constantly need to change activities.
Work on all complexity to find simplicity
Solving usability problems with users
Stay focused on your research and let the findings lead you: The problem that I was trying to solve was not learning but learning through reading. I needed to remind myself of this all the time, because people were always suggesting other ways to teach since this is the final goal of a students. But without developing this skill they miss out on part of the learning process that is not academic: how to organize their thoughts and communicate better. Many users who struggle to stay focused on reading expresses this need.
Testing one feature or concept at a time
Designing for a specific group and bringing benefits to a large audience
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