So far in this behind the scenes series of blogs, we’ve focused on a lot of the functionality and tools within the next generation of SIMS – how the dashboards bring data to life and the kind of tools that teachers can expect to find to help make their lives a little easier.
In this next post, we wanted to take a slightly different angle, and remember that it’s not all about the software. Back at SIMS Towers, we have a team of talented and creative developers working tirelessly to put those features together in a way that works for our users. In the first of these posts we mentioned our user interface(UI) team and how they have been drawing on their experience and knowledge to make SIMS Primary as easy-to-use and visually appealing as possible – so we thought we should shine a light on that team and put some faces to names.
Stuart Sutton and Adam Peters are two members of the UI team (along with Sharmilla Natarajan and Michael Loizides), who have been heavily involved in the work on SIMS Primary. Stuart is currently the lead UI Architect and comes to SIMS with a broad design background, having worked in publishing and designing books before moving on to building software products. Adam, meanwhile, has worked in web development for just over 10 years now, including the last three as part of the SIMS team.
Stuart explains the nature of his team and his work: “I’m the lead UI architect and I have two roles – one being that I lead the UI team and the other is sort of acting as the expert on building user interfaces.
“It’s really about how we make the system more usable, more human. We’re a very large, technical organisation and we’ve got some very clever, technical people but you need to be able to round that out to make something humans can understand and want to use.
“We’re really focused on the design and the aesthetics, making the system pleasing to the right people, but there’s also things like trying to make sure that the system’s consistent as well – we have a lot of teams and it’s important to us to coordinate them together.”
Adam’s day-to-day role tends to be more involved in the nitty-gritty of UI development, which he explains: “Compared to Stuart, I build more of the components that we use, the different parts of the software that are shared throughout the system which normally come through our team.
“That includes things like buttons, different form inputs and then things like the class log as a whole, bits and pieces like that – we make the building blocks for other teams to be able to build their areas.”
The class log is an exciting development for SIMS Primary, which in our testing so far has proved extremely popular with users, bringing together all the key information about a class on one single page – as soon as I saw it for the first time, I just had to have a visual prototype that I could demo to our users!
Stuart has been heavily involved in the development of the class log and was there at the beginning when it was just an idea: “I was working on SIMS Learning Gateway when we were first porting SIMS 7 into some sort of web application and we were trying to stick so much functionality into the register that it was just making it so complicated.
“At the time the technology was changing rapidly and I knew that there had to be a better way, so I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out all the tiles, drew all these little faces on, added some filtering and then if you click here you could do that, click here to take the register or click here to record some conduct.
“When I first opened the prototype and it was just a bunch of pictures, people would look at it a bit blankly, but then when you hit the button which said: ‘sort them’, and then they all just fly around the screen – that was the moment.”
Being able to access SIMS Primary on multiple devices and it being super easy to use is something that Stuart is passionate about. He says: “It is a little more focused on working on a tablet device, so, using the example of taking the register, while it’s not quite there yet, it is coming very shortly.
“Soon you’ll be able to just go bop-bop-bop, tick-tick-tick, and then you just click your way through it and it’s nice and easy and tactile.”
One of the real challenges faced in producing a system that collects so much data and offers so many opportunities for reporting is making our users aware of what’s capable. This becomes easier with a system that’s intuitive and familiar, with easy access to the tools you need. Stuart explains how SIMS Primary addresses this: “At the moment, you go into SIMS and take the register or complete a marksheet. There’s so much functionality there but you must go and find it – you have to right click here and select there, so you have to know it’s there.
“We have a fair idea of the things that teachers need to have at hand inside the classroom and it’s much better that they can go to one screen and it’s all there, rather than having to go: ‘right, I’m coming in today, I need to take the register so I’ve got to click here, click here, then I’ve done the register and now I’ve got to go over to this other screen because so-and-so’s been naughty and I need to mark that, and now so-and-so’s turned up so I need to go back to the register.”
Adam expands on how this reflects common experiences for teachers based on their everyday lives: “The whole world now is making the jump to web based applications.
“We’re following more of the standard web patterns, so like the way that people surf the internet, looking at shopping or anything else, we’re trying to reflect the same actions, whereas in SIMS at the moment you often need to be a SIMS expert to navigate yourself around.”
In the second part of this two-part blog, we’ll take a look at some of the more in-depth areas that Stuart and Adam work on as part of SIMS Primary as well as some of their own personal favourite user experiences.
Find out more about the next generation of SIMS, SIMS Primary, via our dedicated microsite or register for regular updates. Alternatively, read the previous editions of our Behind the Scenes series, focusing on Tools for Teachers and Dashboards.