“User experience (UX) is key… because users must be able to easily navigate the site and understand how to use it. Neglecting UX can result in a sloppy site that people will not come back to.” (Cousins, 2017)
Used by nearly all staff and students at our campuses here in the UK, our site in Malaysia and, increasingly, as a platform for the provision of distance learning, our VLE (Blackboard) is a central resource in teaching and learning at the university. The experience of its users when interacting with it impacts upon a wide constituency.
In November 2017, funding was awarded for a project to run until September 2018 to assess and analyse the experience of users (both students and staff) when interacting with Blackboard, to determine the improvements required by them and to make the changes identified to improve and optimise their experience of using it.
This project is on-going at the time of writing this brief – things may change slightly before presenting, but it is intended that this session will be structured along the following lines:
1. An outline of the importance and impact of the online user experience, and the drivers for changes at the University of Reading (problems, opportunities and needs);
2. Structure and aims of the project, including a strong focus on the approach to user engagement and how that was achieved;
3. Initial findings from the first set of student and staff focus groups, including exemplars of good practice in user experience design as identified by participants;
4. Visual demonstration of the new user experience and interface;
5. Feedback from the second set of focus groups on the new user experience.
This session relates to the theme of ‘Participation through Learning Technology’. Blackboard is a central resource in the staff-student partnership and the teaching and learning experience so engagement with it by both communities is important to exploit its potential as an effective tool. Successful engagement with staff and students has been key to understanding and improving the experience of using the VLE. We have worked closely with RUSU (Reading University Student Union) and student engagement staff to engage a representative sample of students in the project, using their feedback to inform development of an improved user experience.
The session will be of interest to other institutions who are looking to engage with staff and the student voice, and / or embark on improving the user experience of their VLE.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
The presentation is based on a university funded project to analyse and improve the VLE user experience, November 2017 – September 2018. It should be noted that this project is on-going at the time of writing this presentation brief and, as such, there may be slight changes when presented.
The initial need for an improved VLE user experience was identified by members of the University’s Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team. Various sources, including student survey results and anecdotal evidence, suggested issues with staff but particularly student perceptions of and engagement with the VLE. One school in particular articulated that that the VLE was not meeting its needs. It was apparent that both aesthetic and structural factors were negatively affecting perceptions of Blackboard and acting as barriers to users engaging with it. “The VLE is confusing and evocative of systems one would expect to have experienced in the commercial world as long ago as the 1980s”, reported one member of staff. “It reminds me of tools of the previous decade”, said another.
In February 2018, structured focus groups were held with staff and students to evaluate their user experience and provide evidence and data as to what they liked and disliked about the the VLE. Also identified were the requirements needed to improve their experience and promote their engagement with it as an effective teaching and learning resource. Examples of good UX design were examined as identified by participants themselves. The aesthetic of the VLE was considered (the look and feel of it) and also the structure, the configuration and ease of use, e.g. optimum landing page; volume, organisation and presentation of information; number of tabs, use of a footer and what to include in it.
Feedback from the focus groups informed the development of a proposed improved solution that will be evaluated by staff and students through a second set of focus groups in June 2018.
Examples of the following will be shared with participants: feedback/comments on the initial starting situation; feedback, views and suggestions from first focus groups on desired user experience; feedback from second focus groups on the new user experience.
Visual examples will also be shared: initial user experience (starting point); exemplars of good practice identified by focus groups; final user experience.
Reflection on the project will be articulated along with lessons learned for others embarking on work of this nature.
Cousins, C (2017). Why does user experience matter? [online] www.ceros.com. Available at: https://www.ceros.com/originals/why-does-user-experience-matter/ [Accessed 23/03/18]
Interaction Design Foundation (2017). User Experience (UX) Design. [online] Available at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/ux-design [Accessed 23/03/18]
Resources for participants
No resources to share at this stage of the project.