A couple of weeks ago, my master’s thesis was approved, titled User experience design in open source development: Approaches to usability work in the Moodle community. The work documents usability work that happened for Moodle 2.0, so it was published just in time before that will finally get out. :)
Statement on Olli Savolainen’s thesis for M.Sc. in Interactive Technology titled User experience design in open source development: Approaches to usability work in the Moodle community, 82 pages, 5 appendices
Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) development has become an important way of producing software in the modern society. In principle, the source code produced as OSS is openly designed, developed and distributed, and developers take part in the process voluntarily. The resulting code is freely or with little cost available to end-users. Often the software developers and users are from all over the globe, with the OSS community applying virtual forums for questions and user feedback and support.
Taking part in OSS projects often poses challenges and obstacles to the usability practitioner whose main interest is to design the user interface so that it better fits the user needs. This is the topic Olli Savolainen deals with in his thesis. He reports on his personal motivation and continuous interest in improving the quality and, in particular, usability of Moodle Quiz. He also refers to his efforts and perseverance in gaining acceptance in the community before the changes he suggested after several iterations finally got accepted into the code base of Moodle 2.0. The description of the project is given on two levels. While reporting on the actual user centered design work done in the various phases of the project, another, more personal account of the challenges encountered on the way and reactions to them is unfolded. This kind of reflection is very valuable for understanding the norms, values and ways of working in FLOSS communities. These are important for gaining acceptance and recognition as an active FLOSS participant.
The thesis is a well balanced and reflective document of things learned and practiced in the Quiz UI project as well as thinking about them in the larger framework of OSS development projects as described in literature. The background literature cited is extensive, ranging from books and journal & conference papers to blog and discussion forum entries and documentation. Furthermore, it is well utilized throughout the thesis.
The vocabulary in the thesis is versatile and the language in general grammatically correct, though professional proof reading and language checking might still improve it. A minor drawback in the thesis is the structure that promotes the feeling of repetition, since some issues are first introduced in Chapter 2, but discussed in more detail in Chapters 7 and 8 with many cross-references between the sections. However, this is only a mark of thoroughness and consistency in reporting.
Olli Savolainen has been involved with Moodle and the Quiz UI for more than three years, and his skills and expertise are apparent in the thesis. The main findings are based on personal work experience, and they smooth the usability practitioners’ path into OSS communities. The thesis work is relevant to future OSS development practitioners. It unites the fields of software engineering and usability engineering, bridging the gap still observed in computer science education.
The work carried out by Olli Savolainen clearly fulfills the standards set for a thesis in Interactive Technology. We propose that the thesis is accepted with the grade eximia cum laude approbatur.
At the department of Computer Sciences, September 9, 2010
I owe a big thanks to many, many members of the Moodle community. I am truly grateful to the two professors, Eleni Berki (home) and Saila Ovaska (home), under whose very generous guidance the work took place. Especially Saila seemed to invest a near-infinite number of hours in my work, for which I am still amazed. Their final statement for the work is presented below.
The grade Eximia Cum Laude Approbatur equals 6 on a scale (in Finnish) of 1-7, where 1 is weak and 7 is the highest grade. I have been asked to write an article based on the work, but that will probably have to wait for now.
Update: I have sent a copy of the thesis also to Moodle HQ, as well as to Tim Hunt and to Silvia Calvet, who have supported Moodle usability efforts and my work. Further printed copies are available, tell me if you’re interested.
Update 2: I have been glad to see this has raised plenty interest in Twitter. Thanks everybody for the retweets and the congratulations! You rock! Feedback is very welcome.
Update 3, Nov. 18 2011: This thesis won an honorary mention in the thesis competition (link in Finnish) of the Finnish chapter of SIGCHI ! Yay! Their statement of the thesis: “The jury thought this as a new type of thesis work, which successfully captures the phases and challenges in a multi-phased process of redesigning a Moodle community application. Open source communities have been little investigated from the HCI point of view, and the author successfully opens interesting new viewpoints with the thesis. The constructive Pro Gradu thesis has also resulted a tangible contribution.”