Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tech Talk Tuesday

A usability study is one where you take a product and put it in front of a sample of potential users and find out just how well it does (or doesn't) work. This is especially important when it comes to testing computer or software based products so that kinks and issues can be resolved BEFORE releasing it to your actual audience. Unfortunately for my kids, I don't think ANYONE performed one of these for the interface they're using for school.

I find the interface klunky and kludged. The "parent" or auditor interface is such that if you have multiple students, you have multiple accounts. It's not possible to put the interaction into one place for all students under one parent. Not to mention the fact that the data provided is not reliable enough to depend on when you need it. Instead, the parent must log in to each student's account and see what the student sees to find any information.

The student interface starts out looking cool, with a graphic that should send them to the media center, help desk and more. From there, though, it looks like a frames based html interface using text linking to more information. Something I was creating twenty years ago in college (scary thought that). To get to material, the student must first go to the subject, then to the 'checklist' to find the important assignments. We were told not to depend on the calendar option as it wasn't reliable. This means scrolling down through a long list of assignments to get to the one you are looking for.

From there the student follows various text links to get to the lesson and information they need. To submit an assignment, they go to a "dropbox" link, scroll down through a list of assignments, click the appropriate one and upload a file. Quizzes/Tests are under another link.

For a parent wanting to confirm that their student has submitted a file, the system supposedly sends "confirmation" email to the student. This means that the parent must log in to the student's email account and either a)set up a filter to forward this information, or b)remember to log in to check it on a regular basis. It does not allow you to enter a second email or to change the one it has by default.

If the parent does not want to mess with the email, then they must log in to the student's account. They must follow the same steps as the student to find the list of assignments (which teachers recommend you print weekly), then they must go to the dropbox area to see if it has been submitted. This has to be done separately for each subject the student has.

The entire process is annoying and klunky. For the student, but for the parent as well, the interface can be hard to initially figure out and get right. The lessons (to me) look like they're kludged together. I've had it pointed out to me, though, that I'm spoiled by the k12 interface. That may be so, and k12 has it's own issues, but I would think a lot of issues could be simplified and corrected with a good usability study before they ever sent it out.
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