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Resources: UPA 2005 Idea Markets

Usability on Campus

Activator: Jean Foster

The Activator's Initial Questions

How is practicing usability behind ivy covered walls different than practicing usability in the outside world?

Summary of Results

We found a number of schools that practiced usability including Bloomington, IN; U. of Minnesota; U. of Texas (Houston or Austin?); Carnegie Mellon (CMU); Carlton University; Bentley College; MIT, Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU); Stanford; Tufts, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, DePaul University. Most of these groups are associated with academic programs.

If usability labs exist, they are also most likely to be associated with academic programs. Two schools, MIT and DePaul practice usability outside of academic programs. MIT’s Usability Team and Lab are sponsored by the central IT organization, Information Services and Technology (IS&T).

Several usability groups started as grass-roots movements in the technical writing groups. Most groups charge for their services. Only one group (MIT) concentrates only on internal work and provides its services free of charge.

There are lone practitioners, working with out other usability people or labs.

We hope that this session will lead to continuing interaction with those who apply UCD to, or do usability testing on, educational technologies. This may be though the creation of a SIG or even just an email list. If you are interested in participating in this group, please send email to jfoster@mit.edu.

Starter Question Answers

  • How is practicing usability on campus different from practicing in industry?
    • Many different models
    • Some campus usability groups are cost recovery or for profit and some are not
    • Some are primarily to to support research and academic programs
    • Some are not connected with academic progams
  • Are there standards developing for the usability of educational technology UIs?
  • Can we use the constraints of the Academic Calendar to our advantage when scheduling usability activities?
    • A common complaint was that there is never a good time to schedule faculty!
  • What are the secrets for success in recruiting faculty and students as test participants?
    • Paying close attention to the academic calendar
    • Offer small rewards or incentives such as gift certificates
  • Can assessment of educational outcomes be combined with assessment of educational technology assessment?
    • No one knew of any work in this area but several people were interested
  • How can one get a usability group started on a campus?
    • Several groups started as special interest groups that grew into organizational units
  • What business models work for campus usability groups?
    • (Many different models as stated above)

Collected Comments

  • Other schools with usability groups: Bloomington, IN, U. of Minnesota, U. of Texas (Houston or Austin?), Carnegie Mellon (CMU), Carlton University, Bentley College, MIT, Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), Stanford
    • Most (except MIT and ?) are connected with Academic Programs
  • Academic Usability Labs – not usually open for campus developers; usually tied up with research and class projects (Carnagie Mellon)
  • Recruiting test participants within the confines of the academic calendar: when they are free, they are not on campus!
  • There is interest in exploring if educational assessments can be combined with usability assessments. Some of the techniques are the same or similar. If the processes are combined time and resources could be saved.
  • New Media Centers (NMC) – http://www.newmediacenters.org/ ) there is overlap in interests with this organization

Different Models

  • MIT (http://web.mit.edu/ist/usability/)
    • MIT’s program unusual. Not connected with Academic program, hosted by central IT organization
    • Started as grass-roots movement
    • Does usability work for MIT IT & research projects, web sites;
    • Doesn’t charge for services;
    • 1.2 FTE but supporting group of people who participate in reviews, observation/facilitation of tests, lead usability on their own projects
  • CMU
    • Cogtool Project (http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~bej/cogtool/download.html ) suite of programs for cognitive performance modeling for interactive systems
    • International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) requires usability engineering process for development of medical-electrical devices
  • Carlton University (http://www.carleton.ca/)
  • Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) (http://usability.spsu.edu/spsu_courses.htm): supports hands-on application for students and supports research projects; they outside and internal clients and charge for services.
    • Comes out of the Info Design Technical Communications program (& Computer Science?)
    • 8 – 10 FTE (students?)
    • Started as grass-roots movement from Tech Writers group
  • Stanford: Undergrad and grad degrees with concentrations in HCI out of Computer Science and Symbolic Systems programs
    • 2FTE; recruit students
    • No Lab
    • Prism
    • Req. gathering/user research
    • Sakai (http://www.sakaiproject.org) at Stanford is in Libraries
    • Course management tools: Sakai, Blackboard, Netboard (Homegrown)



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