CUE News Spring/Summer 2007 Issue 1
Hello members of the Catalyst User Experience Team and welcome to the first CUE Team newsletter. We have created this biannual newsletter to keep you informed about our software development process, to let you know how your contributions have helped us improve the Catalyst Web Tools, and to provide an overview of our upcoming projects.
In this issue:
- Catalyst Users — An Essential Resource!
- CUE Design Involvement
- Catalyst Course Workspace
- What’s Next?
Catalyst Users — An Essential Resource!
Feedback from users is an essential element in the design and development of Catalyst Web Tools. At Catalyst, we employ a user-centered design process, which means that we design and develop tools based on user needs rather than the features and constraints of a particular technology. In order to do this well, we must continuously involve users in our iterative development process. Whether we are designing an entirely new tool or revising an existing application, users inform our actions at three important points: needs assessment, usability testing, and post-release feedback.
I. Needs Assessment
The first step in our development process is to understand what goals users have for teaching, learning, research, or other work, and what they currently do to meet these goals. We gather this data using a combination of interviews, observations, focus groups, and surveys. In our data analysis, we look at the particular tasks people undertake to accomplish their goals, the sequence of these tasks, and any obstacles people encounter in completing the tasks. We also look for opportunities to improve the efficiency of their workflow. At the end of the needs assessment phase, we have an understanding of users and their needs that helps us determine the functional requirements for a new tool.
II. Usability Testing
Our design process leads to the development of a prototype of the new tool. When a prototype is ready to test, we invite users to participate in usability studies. In these studies, we ask users to carry out a number of tasks using the prototype. The tasks are drawn from our needs assessment phase and reflect what a typical user would do to accomplish their goals. Usability studies allow us to test how well our prototype meets users’ needs and expectations. We look specifically at the organization of functions and screens, the terms used for labels and buttons, and the visual presentation of information on each screen. Based on users’ performance and feedback, we refine the design of the tool before it is released to the campus community.
III. Post-release Feedback
After we have developed and released a fully working version of a tool, we continue to gather user feedback through a variety of forums (face-to-face support, email, workshops, observations, and advisory groups). We compile and analyze this data so that it may inform the next redesign of a tool. For some new tools, or for complex upgrades to existing tools, we may choose to release a beta version. Feedback from users who try out the beta version is then used to make revisions to the tool before its final release.
Users are essential to Catalyst’s development process. Having users involved in the CUE project who have a variety of goals and expertise ensures that we hear from a representative cross section of the campus community. Your participation in CUE allows us to effectively and efficiently recruit users for each phase of tool development.
CUE Design Involvement
Thanks, CUE members, for helping us redesign E-submit! Our new homework turn-in tool, Collect It, was the first to fully integrate CUE Team involvement, resulting in improved usability and expanded functionality for the tool.
For Collect It, we started by interviewing users and creating User Profiles,
thus gaining an understanding of the workflows people use to collect documents.
Our findings were translated into workflow diagrams and a thorough analysis
of the tasks involved. We used these as guidelines when reexamining the current
E-submit tool, identifying ways to make the tool better match the workflows
As a result, Collect It now allows users to do the following:
- Give feedback on submitted documents
- Provide participants instruction and supplemental materials for each assignment
- Collect and label “late” submissions
- Assign collaborator roles
- Filter participant lists by groups or class sections
- Easily view progress of participant submissions
- Select email notification options for administrators and participants
With the functionality determined, we created a prototype of the new “Collect It” and invited CUE members to participate in usability tests. Their feedback helped refine the final design of the tool. We released Collect It on May 12th, 2007.
Catalyst Course Workspace
Our next development project is a workspace that will allow faculty and instructors to easily group Catalyst Web Tools and other resources associated with a course. This project includes simplifying the setup and management of multiple tools. The goal of the project is to offer some of the administrative functions available in course management systems (such as Blackboard or Moodle ) while maintaining the rich features and flexibility for which Catalyst Web Tools are known.
During winter 2007 we completed the first round of needs assessment for this project. We conducted focus groups and individual interviews with the following sets of users: faculty using Catalyst Tools, faculty using Moodle or Blackboard, students, and staff/researchers. We also supplemented our data collection efforts with a review of relevant literature.
Our needs assessment revealed two distinct layers of user needs. The first layer of needs involves the management of course-specific tools and resources. In particular, users want the following:
- Access to course-related tools and resources in one space
- Quick and easy set up of a course space
- An intuitive and easy-to-maintain organizational system for course resources
- The ability to share some course information and resources with the public, while simultaneously restricting access to other resources
- An option for aggregating information on graded assignments and allowing students to view their grades online
- Opportunities for group work within a course space
- The ability to reuse, share, transfer, and archive a course space
The second layer of user needs involves general access to and management of course resources of all types—class lists, course email and Web accounts, URLs for course Web sites, classroom reservations, library reserves, course evaluations, etc. Participants in our focus groups wanted a more efficient option for finding, managing, and/or sharing these resources.
Currently we are in the process of finalizing the functional requirements for
a Catalyst course workspace that will meet users’ general needs for managing
course-specific tools and resources. We have also begun a series of conversations
with other units on campus to discuss the management of course resources across
the University. We will continue to solicit feedback from CUE members as we
proceed with this project.
We are currently researching how MyUW and MyUWClass can better be used by faculty to manage their classes. If you have instructed a course and have ever used MyUW or MyUWClass, we would love to hear from you. Please take 5-10 minutes to complete this short survey.
Over the summer, we are planning to add features to GoPost, research how our tools fit in with campus collaboration needs, and develop the course workspace. Look for opportunities to give us input on the following:
- File management
- Groups and collaboration
- Catalyst Course Workspace