Jan 2019-Current
I am a member of the Empathic Research Team led by University of Michigan professor, Dr. Gabriela Marcu. Our current project is Lilypad, a behavioral management tool that helps students with special needs prepare to transition to a regular education classroom.
Lilypad Designs
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Some children who are in special education for behavioral support are likely to make progress on managing their behaviors. When they do, a transition out of special education can help them continue to build the independence that will improve their long-term outcomes. Strategies for supporting these transitions are not always consistent across classrooms and are difficult to customize to the individual needs of each child. As a result, transitioned students’ self-awareness and self-management of their behavior is not always developed enough for them to navigate the regular classroom with less support and structure.

To combat this issue, we want to design a child-centered intervention that is collaboratively reinforced by parents and practitioners. During school, a child would wear a smartwatch to discreetly monitor and catalog their behavior. Using a tablet, practitioners would periodically prompt the smartwatch to display behavioral reminders, tips, and reflective questions. After the child submits answers to the reflective questions, practitioners would review their answers with the child. At the end of each day, practitioners would share a child’s behavioral progress with their parents to promote the reinforcement of positive behaviors at home.

Prior Research

In its first iteration, Lilypad was merely a behavioral data collection tool. For two years, it was used by practitioners in 4 classrooms across 3 schools to record and monitor the behavioral progress of students in both special and regular education. During the deployment of Lilypad, Dr. Marcu and other members of the research team conducted naturalistic observation, interviews, and focus groups with practitioners to evaluate the design requirements and constraints of Lilypad. Their research led to the following findings:

Moreover, their research revealed several challenges of transitioning students from special education to regular education. The challenges are as follows:

Research Question

From these challenges, we identified a potential for Lilypad to be more than a behavioral data collection tool. We believed that extending Lilypad’s functionality to put students with special needs at the center of collecting and monitoring their behavioral data could better prepare them for their transition into regular education. To validate and explore this idea, we formed the following research question:

RQ1 - How can a child-driven intervention support the transition process?

Literature Review

To address RQ1, we conducted a literature review. Our key findings were as follows:

Competitive Analysis

As result of our literature review, we decided to incorporate a smartwatch into the child-centered intervention. To better understand how smartwatches are being used to track and improve the behavior of their users, we conducted a competitive analysis. Our findings were as follows:


To further explore our approach and assess the feasibility of using a child-driven intervention to support the transition process, we conducted interviews with practitioners, specifically special education teachers and child psychologists.

Target Users

To help us determine what Lilypad should do and how it should behave, we used our findings from the literature review as well as preliminary findings from the interviews to create personas and empathy maps of the three user groups we’re designing for: children with special needs who are preparing to transition to regular education, parents of those children, and teachers of those children.


Face of Child


Is 9-years-old and was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at 3 years old. He is in 4th grade and is preparing to transition from special education to regular education.

Knows right from wrong, but often needs to be reminded of classroom rules
Very passionate about cars and loves talking about them with others, but doesn’t always know when people want him to stop
Keeps his hands to himself during class
Shares with his classmates
His mom always asks him how school went, but he doesn’t know what to tell her
The rules at school are different than his mom’s rules at home
When his teacher is helping him out, his classmates always look at him
Is in the same classroom as his friends
Doesn't stand out when placed in a new classroom
Is able to tell when he should stop his behavior
Consistently goes through a full class without getting pulled aside by the practitioners
Face of Parent


Is 35-years-old and the single mother of Jake. She is a Pediatric Oncology nurse and often works long hours.

Attends as many parent-teacher meetings as possible with her irregular work schedule
Works with Jake at home to promote appropriate behavioral management
Always does what she thinks is best for Jake
Emails Jake's practitioners once a week to stay updated on his behavioral progress
Isn’t always aware of the behavioral management techniques that Jake is using in school
Doesn’t always know how to reinforce the behavioral management techniques that Jake is learning in school at home
Finds it difficult to receive behavioral and academic updates from Jake’s teaching staff on a regular basis, along with receiving tips for at home behavioral management techniques
Needs help understanding Jake’s Individualized Education Program and how it translates into action
Stays up-to-date on Jake’s behavioral progress at school
Consistently reinforces the behavioral management techniques Jake is learning at school at home
Jake has a smooth transition into the regular education classroom and is accepted by his classmates
Face of Practitioner

Mrs. Cramer

Is 47-years old and is a special education teacher. She received a masters degree in special education and has 20 years of experience working in a special education classroom.

Works with her students one on one to make sure they get the individualized help they need to succeed
Works with Jake at home to promote appropriate behavioral management
Uses paper and Microsoft Excel to track students’ notable positive and negative behaviors throughout the day
Creates a weekly behavior report for each student to bring home to their parents
Behavioral tracking of the special needs students she works with is inconsistent implemented across classrooms and by practitioners
Has a difficult time responding to parents inquires in a timely manner
Finds it time-consuming to accurately track the behavior of all of her students
Finds it difficult to customize intervention methods to the individual needs of each student
Is able to provide her students with individualized attention and feedback that helps them meet their personal behavioral goals
Feels confident updating student’s parents on their child's behavioral progress
Efficiently tracks students’ behavioral progress so that she can reflect on how they've improved over time
Helps her students achieve independence from the special education staff
All of her students feel comfortable in her classroom

Empathy Maps


Empathy Map of Child


Empathy Map of Parent

Mrs. Cramer

Empathy Map of Practitioner

Design Requirements

In preparation for the ideation stage, we established design requirements to ensure that our solution will align with our user groups and support their needs. The requirements are as follows:

Next Steps

We’ve finished conducting interviews and have begun analyzing the data we collected. Following our analysis, we will use the new findings, along with our previous findings, to finalize our design requirements and ideate a solution. Stay tuned for the updates to come!