Evaluating Usability

Pedagogical usability (Kukulska-Hulme and Shield, 2004; Shield and Kukulska-Hulme, 2006); that is, usability as this affects educational website design and development, in the context of supported open and distance learning. This work has also been extended to include the usability of mobile devices (Kukulska-Hulme, 2005, 2006).’
The authors point out that a simple way of conceptualising usability is to see it as functioning on four levels.
  • A technical level – e.g. server availability, download times, broken web links, audio quality.
  • A general level – e.g. clarity of structure, efficiency in navigation, learnability (is it easy to learn to use?). Issues of accessibility and ergonomics (the comfort and safety of the user’s physical body) may also be identified at this level.
  • An academic level – addressing educational concerns. Pedagogical and practical issues are involved here, and include areas such as educational approaches that guide the sequencing of activities on a site.
  • A context-specific level. On one hand, for example in relation to websites, a third-year physics course may require students to have certain prior experience both in the actual subject and in the ICT skills needed for study. On the other hand, by its nature, a website offering an introduction to ICT for learning purposes does not require such prior experience.
For this activity I have decided to evaluate the blogging site which I use for my secondary classes; http://stigstud.wordpress.com
Potential usability issues;
1) Technical level: Accessible plugins (e.g. Flash), Web server availability, broken web links, browser compatability & user’s bandwidth connection.
2) General level:  Structure clarity (e.g. tagging system, comments), Consistency throughout site, Navigation easiness, Accessibility issues (e.g. compatability with screen readers, colour scheme), available help and feedback features, thus a Learner friendly interface.
3) Academic level: Copywrite, privacy, accessible by all students, does not put specific students at a disadvantage.
4) Context-specific level: Reaches aims for which it has been developed.
Actual usability issues;
1) Technical level: User may find using this site problematic if the bandwidth connection is slow. Downloading material from this site may be problematic due to the size of a number of documents. Another issue is that almost all of the material available for the students is in pdf format. Therefore this is a requirement for students, but there are no clear instructions!
2) General level: Through the use of categories, tagging and search facility navigating through this site should be quiet easy. Obviously this will also depend from the user’s IT know how. By trying to keep it simple, only a couple of problems have occured normally related to browser incompatability and incorrect input of passwords. Through RSS students may keep updated with new posts.
3) Academic level: Main aim of this blog is of having an online repository of material from which students may get the latest versions of class material. Passwords are used with material from my colleagues which needs to be kept private due to copywrite issues.
4) Context-specific level: This blogging site is aimed towards IT and computer studies secondary students. Therefore the content is geared towards them.

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