LST Development Process
The LST team integrates and implements Web-based communication and collaboration applications for the University of Washington community. To support flexible software that can be used in many contexts—including teaching, learning, research, and everyday work—we follow an iterative, user-centered design and development process that focuses on understanding the needs and experiences of our users. Whether we are creating a new tool, updating an older one, or integrating open source, cloud-based, or commercial solutions, our design decisions are based on direct feedback, user research, and findings from usability studies.
Open Source Frameworks
The Catalyst Web Tools are built using Solstice, a Web application development framework created by our software engineers. Solstice is available open source, as are many of the tools, such as WebQ, GoPost, Collect It, QuickPoll, File Manager, and ShareSpaces. Solstice is based on the MVC programming paradigm, which allows our development team to quickly build and release software, new features, and new functionality.
Iterative Design and Rapid Release
So that our users can benefit from enhancements as quickly as possible, we follow an agile, iterative design and development process in which new tools or features are released in several stages. With essential and core functionality released first, the LST team can then build more advanced features while also revising the software based upon user feedback. Because we continue to refine tools based upon user feedback, no Catalyst Web Tool is ever really complete and will receive updates over its entire life-cycle.
We package commits for release on a weekly basis and, in response to client needs, release even more quickly at times. Some releases are big and very noticeable—an entirely new tool, for example. Others, like performance improvements that make the tools operate faster and more efficiently, may be invisible. New releases and maintenance take the Catalyst Web Tools offline early Wednesday mornings (5:00 - 7:00am PST) to keep them regularly enhanced and running smoothly.
Ongoing enhancements of Catalyst Web Tools in response to user feedback, including additional course management functionality, led to substantial growth in usage of the tools during 2010. Unique UW NetID and ProtectNetwork ID users climbed 11% from 2009, to a total of 109,773. These users logged an average of 31,304 sessions each day, a 50% increase over 2009. Page views, which provide a measure of work performed-answering a survey, posting a message, submitting homework, publishing a grade-rose 40% to 819,000 page views per day. Finally, 4856 course sections used Catalyst Web Tools during Autumn Quarter 2010, an increase of almost 30% over the previous Autumn.
Although the two graphs above do not provide figures for all the Catalyst Web Tools, they both demonstrate their widespread usage. The top chart shows the number of Catalyst Web Tools set up over time, while the chart at the bottom tracks user activity with the tools.