My Favourite UX Tool

April 25, 2013

ImageUX work often involves a number of tools. More and more tools become available to support UX methods and processes. Which should I use?

An upcoming event organised by UXPA Ireland shows which tools practitioners like and why.

Thursday, May 16, 7pm in the Engine Yard, Dublin.

The event is free, register for My Favourite UX Tool.

Reflecting on Eye-tracking

December 10, 2012

We have used eye-tracking in most of our studies in NELL. Some data are really interesting, in other projects we didn’t learn as much. Why is that? Here are some ideas what to watch out for when planning an eye-tracking study.

  • Eye-tracking data needs to be combined with other data sources. We found that in many cases the eye-tracking data could be interpreted in a meaningful way only when looking at interview responses of that person at the same time. Unless tasks are short, unambiguous and deterministic, the observed gaze behaviour may have a variety of reasons.
  • Eye-tracking helps to improve design. Did users look at that image? How long did it take them to notice the button? What attracted their attention first? These are questions that eye-tracking can answer and that may inform design decisions.
  • Eye-tracking may be more effective in later stages of the design process. Once you have a full mock-up quantitative analysis of gaze behaviour, heatmaps, etc. can be very informative. In contrast, wireframes or other early prototypes are probably better evaluated with qualitative feedback. For example, we explored which type of information learners would use when looking for help from a peer. We created three different mock-ups of the PeerFinder component and compared both the eye-tracking results as well as their preferences.
scanpath of PeerFinder

scanpath of PeerFinder, a component developed for a Learning Management System

After all, User Experience is really all about selecting the right methods at the right time for the given target group and given tasks. I frequently tell my students that they have to be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a method in a given situation. Eye-tracking is one of many data collection methods. It may be used in a number of different ways.

This blog gives a good overview of the advantages and disadvantages of eye-tracking: The eye is the mirror to the soul? What does eye-tracking research tell us?

Your Mum is a Persona

November 2, 2012

Just came across this funny piece: 15 Signs You Work in UX. It’s a great way to reveal some of the stereotypes as well as true values of the UX profession.

I guess, it’s not as funny if you are not deeply involved, but some of the signs made me laugh out loud. My favourite is: “Your mum is a persona.” While I never used her photo in any personas and have no intention to do so, I admit that I have referred to “people like my mum” numerous times when explaining the shortcomings of a particular interface. And I am surely not the only one to do so.

Btw., we are thinking of getting her a tablet for Christmas, but please don’t tell her. I am keen to see how she is going to explore the new interface (orientation phase), how long it will take her to send an email (learnability) and whether we have to show her how to switch it on a week later again (memorability). Sign number 16: “Your mum is a study participant.”

User Experience Professionals' AssociationUXPA Ireland is the Irish chapter of the User Experience Professionals’ Association. The UXPA promotes collaboration and excellence in UX and supports individuals who are involved in the research, design, and evaluation of user experiences. We plan to organise a number of talks and workshops on hot topics, maybe a job fair and other activities that are useful for UX professionals.

The official launch of UXPA Ireland will take place on November 8, 2012.

Our guest speaker will be Tom Tullis, author of Measuring the User Experience and Beyond the Usability Lab. Tom is Adjunct Professor at Bentley University and VP of User Experience Research at Fidelity Investments.

Join us for some refreshments on November 8, 2012. The event is free, but we would ask you to register. If you can’t make it, sign up for our mailing list to keep informed.

Sebastian Thrun from Udacity probably read my last post on Massive Open Online Courses. At least that could be the motivation behind his latest idea: He aims to teach the largest on-line class ever. I don’t know where the current record stands, but this one will be large for sure. The Intro to Statistics course will start on June 25, 2012 and promises to be an interesting endeavour.

Certificate Udacity Web EngineeringMeanwhile, I have completed the Web Application Engineering course “with highest distinction”, including all homework and final. I loved it! I learnt how to use Google App Engine and Python and created a wiki system with login, editing and history functionality. The instant feedback to submissions makes it easy to see your progress.

So, if you always wanted to learn about stats, this is your opportunity. See you there!

For years and years, one of the main arguments proposed in favour of using learning technologies has been: “It scales!” Whether there are ten, a hundred or a thousand students in your class, it doesn’t matter. We used this argument in the early days, when developing adaptive on-line courses for students at the University of Education in Freiburg. And yes, we had a couple of hundred students every year. We used the very same argument when designing courses in software engineering at Fraunhofer IESE. And yes, at lot of learners came.

There are lots of examples, where learning was brought in based on the promise that you could reach a large audience in an easy way. But I always felt that e-Learning had never really delivered on this promise. A course for a couple of hundred students. Good. A training solution for several thousand employees in a company.  Nice. But only recently, we have seen examples of real scale. More than 100,000 people registered for a free on-line course on Artificial Intelligence offered by Stanford University. And 25,000 of them actually finished. Yes, that’s 25,000 people completing a hard, technical university course! Based on this success they have now started Udacity, a growing set of on-line lectures (all of them in Computer Science so far).

1 million learnersThe phenomenon has been coined Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC, by George Siemens back in 2008 (see interview). Only now, it really gets massive. Similar offers are available from academic room and the by now well known MITx.

But we don’t even have to look that for to see the emerging trend. My esteemed colleague Eugene just celebrated the 1,000,000th view on his YouTube channel Learn with Dr Eugene O’Loughlin. The first million is always the hardest, but I am confident we will all soon be millionaires.

Tracked Down

May 4, 2012

Being involved in research on user modeling and adaptive systems, I know a bit about the techniques of identifying users and tracking user behaviour. At this point most people will be aware that some websites set so called http cookies through which your browser can be re-identified and information can be stored for future sessions. There are many scenarios where these cookies come in very handy: forms may be pre-filled with the data you inserted the last time, settings or other personalisations may persist across sessions. So when I go and book a flight with Aerlingus, Dublin will be selected as my home airport, before I ever log in. I don’t think they have ever asked me explicitly whether I want to store this information, but their website has left this little textfile with my browser with “homeAirport: DUB” in it. I don’t really mind and find it convenient.

However, it gets more tricky when my behaviour is tracked across websites. Some websites will set third-party cookies (unless you block them from doing so). This means a third party (usually involved in ad serving) will be able to see that I visited both site A and site B.

As I said, I was aware of that fact anyway and even deleted certain cookies from my system at times. However, I was not really aware of the extend of this cross site tracking until I came across this TED talk by the CEO of Mozilla Corporation Gary Kovacs. In this talk he introduces a Firefox add-on called Collusion which visualises the sites that track your behaviour. I installed it immediately and just half-an-hour and a couple of clicks later my Collusion looked like this:

Collusion Tracking cloud

Tracking the trackers. Collusion visualises tracking sites.

Each circle represents a website. I have actually visited those with with a halo, but the grey ones have set a cookie and “know” that I visited site connected sites. After this quick session, a website that I had never visited called (“we help you to make marketing decisions”) had seen me indirectly visiting about a third of all the pages I visited! At that point I decided it’s time to re-visit those privacy settings in my browser.

Gazing over your CV

April 23, 2012

Stephan Weibelzahl's LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn profile: Is your resume usability tested?

At first glance, this has nothing to do with e-Learning or UX, but I came across this study that illustrates what we can and cannot learn from eye-tracking. “Keeping an eye on recruiter behavior” explores what recruiters may focus on when browsing your CV. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that recruiters spent little time with each CV. On average, it took them just 6 seconds to read a resume. Accordingly, their main focus was on the key facts, i.e., name, current position, previous position and the respective dates. Other parts of the CV were merely scanned for keywords.

So, next time you write or revise your CV, think of it as a usability design task. What would make it as easy as possible for the user, i.e., the recruiter, to pick up the message you want to get across? How can you get them to read beyond the name of your previous company? In fact, I would argue that the same principles as for website design apply: strive for simplicity, use effective writing, use white space effectively, provide visual structure, highlight important information, avoid distracting graphics, etc.

Taking this idea even further, consider to do usability testing on your resume. Test early and test often. Remember, just five users will help to identify more than 80% of the issues.

Engaging Pedagogy

September 19, 2011

International Conference On Engaging Pedagogy

International Conference On Engaging Pedagogy

This year’s International Conference on Engaging Pedagogy is coming to NCI. One of the themes mentioned in the call for papersrefers to e-Learning: “The value of technology – Are we adopting new technology just because it is new or because it makes a difference?” That’s in fact one of NELL’s main concerns. Does it actually make a difference? Is there empirical evidence that suggests we should use this technology for a particular target group or a particular subject matter?

Submissions are due October 3, 2011. The conference itself will take place on December 16, 2011, here in NCI.

You are lecturing in Higher Education. You are an expert in your subject and in how to teach that subject. But you are not a usability experts-of course not. Nevertheless, you are required to create course pages in your institution’s Virtual Learning Environment for your classes.

MoodleIf the above applies to you, then we have the solution for you. We developed a Style Guide for lecturers. It is intended as a support for lecturers when creating course pages in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Moodle or Blackboard. The Style Guide offers a series of solutions of typical problems that can occur when making online materials and learning activities available.

The Style Guide is meant to be a living document. If you have any suggestions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us or respond to this block post.

NAIRTLThe Style Guide was developed in the context of the How do you Moodle? project and was supported by a grant from the National Academy for Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (NAIRTL).

Just download the Style Guide and improve the learning experience of your students.