Archive for March, 2011

Redesigning University Website for People with Learning Disabilities: Feedback

2011/03/28

I am working on a project to make the website, of a university program for people with learning disabilities, more usable by prospective students. Small groups of faculty and students were shown the first mockup last week. Listed below is their feedback and brief descriptions of a few possible remediation efforts.

About Navigation

  • Feature the program prominently on the university site’s home page. Students could not find information about the program because a link to its home page is hidden within a drop-down menu.
  • Display links in navigation menus rather than place them in drop-down menus.
    • We plan to do so, perhaps indenting the links of subsection pages. (Unordered lists are good for that.)
  • Within the left-navigation menus of the program’s pages, display a link to the program’s home page. When students got lost within the website, they said they wanted to start over by returning to the program’s home page.
    • We will do so. We will also consider adding a button with an image shaped like a house, which students said they associate with a site’s home page.
  • Do not depend upon breadcrumb navigation to help visitors navigate the site. Students and faculty did not notice the breadcrumb navigation until prompted. Faculty indicated it was useful once they were shown its function.
  • Do not depend upon links scattered throughout the content. They were not immediately apparent to students when they were asked to find specific information.
  • Do not depend upon a search box to help visitors. When asked to find specific information, neither the students nor the faculty thought to use the site’s search box. Doing so would be confusing anyway, faculty pointed out, because search results are derived from the university’s entire site, not just from the program’s portion of it.
  • Do not position navigation menus on the right side of pages. Students and faculty had to be prompted to notice them.
    • This is unsurprising. Web usability studies based upon eye tracking have shown people look at pages in an F-shaped pattern. One consequence is that they pay no attention to the right side of pages.
  • Consider consolidating the number of links in the left menus. Only their first few links were read by the students.
  • Consider reducing the number of choices on each page. For example, the large number of site navigation links were simply overwhelming to students.
    • We may have to develop a template for the program’s section of the university site that presents significantly fewer navigation choices.
  • Link course descriptions to professors’ profiles. We had set up course descriptions to be found by drilling down by year, then by curriculum, then by topic. That did not make sense to students.

About Content

  • Use a larger default text size.
  • Add a lot more pictures, particularly contextually-relevant ones to enhance comprehension of textual content.
  • Closely associate images to their relevant textual content. Example: The list of faculty includes pictures of them, but it is unclear which photo is associated with which professor’s name and description.
  • Provide faculty-specific contact information within their profiles rather than in a central location.
  • Continue to use bulleted lists. Students found such content easier to read; faculty found it easier to scan.
  • Embed videos, not just link to them.
  • Use a web form, not an email link, for visitors to submit questions and site feedback. Students indicated a web form would be easier for them. A faculty member pointed out that such a link will not work at all unless a visitor’s computer is configured to open email software once that link is clicked.
  • Determine a way to make program contact info apparent so visitors will contact the program, not the university.
  • Include content for current students, not just prospective students.
    • Such content is now in a PDF. We will likely convert it to a web page so students do not need to have special software (Acrobat Reader) to view it.

Notes

Struggling to Reduce Dense Content Into Chunks Without Requiring Multiple Clicks

2011/03/23

I am working on a project to make the website of a local university, which has a campus-based program for students with learning disabilities, more usable by them. The current site is designed for parents of prospective students and professionals who serve them. We anticipate our work will make the site easier to use and to understand for everyone.

Over the past few months, an adjunct faculty member has reduced the amount of content, simplified its language, and reorganized it. I created a functional site mockup to demonstrate that work. Yesterday, we showed it to a small group of students, then to a small group of faculty.

Dilemma

Our attempt to separate content into small chunks produced more pages. This exacerbated a problem experienced by the students, which was that navigating the many layers of the site is perplexing. Moreover, faculty indicated frustration with having to click many links to find desired information.

Example

The current first-year curriculum page contains short descriptions for twenty courses. For the mockup, we moved each description to its own page, reducing the curriculum page to a list of course titles. This design requires extra clicks to see course descriptions. As well, the groups indicated the curriculum page is still too long.

Solution?

We will next shorten the curriculum page by dividing it into sub-pages by topic. One- to two sentence descriptions of the courses under their titles may obviate the need for extra clicks to view more-detailed information. We will know if this has achieved any success only after testing with students.

Overall, I am describing an approach designed to resolve a larger dilemma. How can we provide information about the program in a simple way for students while also supplying a level of detail that may be required by professionals, parents, and even the students themselves? I suppose this is an adventure to find out.

Notes


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