Activity Canvas

How might we make the historic objects and art at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms accessible to educators and inspire students to engage with civic life through this collection?

I led the design to create an engaging, user-friendly, and highly interactive platform to support K-12 arts and humanities education in the United States.


Lead designer— discovery, user research, prototyping, design, testing


U.S. Department of State - Capstone project with UMD


Figma, Principle, Mural, Zoom


The Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State is full of 18th-century American art and furnishings from the earliest days of the United States. In these Rooms, the United States signs treaties, conduct summit negotiations, hosts swearing-in ceremonies, facilitates trade agreements and promotes peace. 

This collection is not widely available to view or use by teachers, students, and the public. Our goal is to make this collection accessible to the teachers and students and communicate the important role the Diplomatic Reception Rooms play in facilitating diplomacy.

Source: PBS, “Field Trip: Diplomatic Reception Rooms”. Aired: 12/17/12

the solution

Activity Canvas is an engaging, user-friendly interactive platform to support K-12 arts and humanities education in the United States. This is a platform for teachers to access thousands of historical resources from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and create and share classroom activities with their students and colleagues.  

The activities and materials developed with Activity Canvas can supplement the curriculum. They create an approach to learning that allows students to construct meaning from their interactions with objects through a system of making observations, developing inferences, and generating their own questions that result in further investigation.


Activity hub to browse, share and create classroom activities using thousands of historical resources from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Activity Editors for teachers to create and customize an activity by adding text, objects, assessment metrics, and set a timer for their students to complete the activity


Gamified experiences for the students to learn about the history and the objects with immersive audio/visual experiences 

Understanding the
problem space

research process

01. Contextual inquiry with 22 teachers from different grade levels and subjects
02. Phone interviews with 4 Educators to understand how they teach diplomacy
03. Co-design with students aged 7-11 to understand how they respond to diplomacy
04. Affinity analysis and Experience modelling to synthesize the research findings


Observing how students learn from artefacts


Co-design activities with kids

Affinity analysis with 1500+ rich qualitative data points


key insights

01. Activities supplement lesson plans
Many object-oriented learning methodologies such as SEE THINK WONDER are used by teachers to encourage students to wonder, connect dots, and develop intuition.

02. Historical artefacts increase student engagement
Accessible artefacts from government organizations like the Department of State is important for educators. They see increased student engagement when using objects to teach. 

03. Activities should be inclusive
Inclusivity and representation are important in creating teaching activities to enable all the students to have a chance to excel, regardless of learning styles. 

04. Activities are created around an anchor point
Teachers keep in mind a lesson, concept, or theme that they can cycle back to at the end of the activity and teach through association.

05. Students of all ages learn through activities
Getting students interested in civic engagement at a younger age has been anecdotally noticed as a pathway to continuing interest as they grow older.


Insights and analysis of the educators' persona

Using design thinking methods to find solutions

Formative design activities

01. User Environment Design to establish the basic product structure and functions
02. User Flows to map out the interactions across the platform
03. Storyboards to shape the user journey, personas, and various research findings
04. Prototypes at low, mid, and high fidelity to test and iterate


User Environment Diagram


Storyboarding, work in progress


Mapping out user flows to create an information hierarchy

Validation and iteration through prototypes

evaluative activities

01. Low-Fidelity Prototype evaluation with 4  Educators to receive conceptual feedback
02. Wireframe evaluation with 4  Educators to iterate on the structure
03. High-Fidelity testing with 8 Educators to evaluate interaction and visual design


Low-fi paper prototypes for quick iteration


Mid-fidelity wireframes and mockups to establish structure


Presenting wireframes at one of the client meetings 

The Result

final solution screens

Activity Canvas manifested as the hub to browse, create and share object-based classroom activities. Click on any image to enlarge and browse through the final solution.


Next steps

if we had more time, we'd focus on.. 

01. Solutions to bridge the gap between different state standards and curriculum
02. Switch between Lexile levels, especially with object descriptions
03. Increase customizability/collaboration for teachers in Activity Canvas
04. Provide activity templates for teachers to create activities quickly
05. Allow teachers to upload their own activities and let them customize 


The team was awarded 'Most innovative project' at the annual iSchool symposium 2019

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