The City of Chicago, in association with the Smart Chicago Collaborative and the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab (UEL), recently released the Chicago Early Learning Portal. The purpose of the application is to increase transparency and empower parents by providing a one-stop shop for finding early learning programs, assessing program quality, and tracking data about Chicago’s early childhood systems.
The project is being developed in two phases, and Phase 1 launched recently. The incentive for dividing the development effort into two phases was to rapidly build a usable interface in order to get information about early education programs out as quickly as possible and to collect usability data on the system during observed user testing. The results of the usability sessions will be incorporated during Phase 2. There are a number of additional features to implement as well, including a Spanish language translation, transition to an open source mapping library, and a modification of the layout design to accommodate smartphones.
An interesting challenge the design team will face in the upcoming work will be to refine the SMS interface to the application. During the usability tests and demos of the application, we’ve received a lot of excited feedback about this feature. It provides a way for users to access the data behind the application by sending and receiving text messages. There is a dearth of resources that describe good user experience (UX) design in the realm of SMS interfaces, so through the examination of existing SMS products and iterative redesign, we are looking forward to learning some of the tricks to creating a great SMS user experience.
One of the the most exciting aspects of this project is that all of the code for the implementation is being released as open source under the MIT License and is available on GitHub. This means that other organizations can leverage the investment the Smart Chicago Collaborative has made in this project to implement early learning portals for their own communities. The GitHub repository currently houses the application code as it was during its initial release, and will be incrementally updated as Azavea continues development during the first quarter of this year.