Updates from December, 2011

  • Simplifying Moodle forms and adding activities to courses

    December 20th, 2011

    At LUNS Limited they’ve collapsed the Moodle form fieldsets that only contain optional items, in Moodle forms. Without having seen any usability test results or knowing whether they exist, it does seem like an elegant solution at first glance! (Discussion)

    They’ve also used the example of the Quiz Add question dialog (tracker item) we did with Tim for allowing people to add activity modules on the course front page. Originally I actually found this UI pattern in QuestionMark during the user research sessions done for the Quiz UI redesign project – great to see it being put to good use.

    This should make adding activities more straightforward. Yay!

    (Thanks to Helen Foster for the screenshot and to Mary Cooch for the screencast)

     
  • What is a course & the tools for having a great one (Part 1)

    May 11th, 2010

    See also: Part 2 – a design proposition for Moodle course front page

    (Update July 5th: Working on the follow-up article is taking longer than I expected. Bear with me, it is on its way! :)

    Inspired by Tomaz’ blog post, I did an informal interview with a business and marketing teacher I know. There are two separate points I want to make about the interview, so this article starts a series of two articles.

    I wanted to go thinking on a very general level of what are the tools that can be used for helping individuals learn on a given theme. I will here call the place to do such learning, a course.

    The questions I presented:

    What constitutes a course?
    What are the defining factors; what do you do on a course, how, and why? In other words, we playfully tried to generate a definition of a course.

    What kinds of tools can be used in order to facilitate learning of individuals on a course?
    Then I asked the interviewee to list the tools that can be used for learning in each aspect of the course’s definition. “Tools” are defined very widely here, as anything that can facilitate learning on the theme. They may sometimes have natural hierarchy, but here I want to perceive them such that each we can each still see the relations differently.

    The definition here is of necessity more narrow than that discussed by Tomaz – I believe that restriction helps when thinking about the design of a platform for courses.

    (More …)

     
  • Modelling concepts

    September 8th, 2009

    I am currently starting out on a course of conceptual modelling. One interesting phrase from the lecturer’s mouth caught my attention, while he was presenting an old diagram of  the concepts of a particular target domain to us. The idea was roughly this:

    Once the concepts have been defined like this, the rest is implementation.

    Software engineers are indeed aware of the fact that we must understand what are the concepts of the target domain, and their relationships. (They may express this understanding in different terms, though.) When we do, we can turn them into programming constructs, be they classes and objects, or procedural code (in Moodle, PHP pages and functions).

    What is missing from this image? The people using the system: the actual dynamics of what happens, the characteristics and the goals of the users (?), and the circumstances of the users. All of these are more abstract than implementation details and can not be described using programming code, yet taking or not taking them into account can dramatically affect whether software meets the actual needs of the people it is supposed to serve.

     
  • Quickie Usability Testing: File upload and Forgotten password

    August 19th, 2009

    Note: The below test results require understanding about the UIs in question. Follow the links in the beginning to have an idea what the UIs in question are like.

    I had eight test subjects during three days usability tests last week. The tests took about 15 minutes each, but gave plenty of data. The main conclusions:

    • Uploading images to the rich text editor in Moodle 2.0 has too many steps and they are well hidden. All 8 of the users really struggled in one or more of the steps (different users in different ones). If it weren’t for a test situation where users typically try more (since they assume the task is possible to do and there is social pressure), even more of them would have likely failed the task.
    • The old ‘forgotten password’ form failed or caused struggles in 4 out of 5 tests. The new form caused no confusion in any of the three tests. (I intended to have an equal number of tests for both. This was a mistake on my part.)

    This is discussed in the tracker item MDL-16597, along with proposed solutions (Updated September 2nd).

    File Upload in the Rich Text Editor

    In the foreseen Moodle 2.0, it is possible to upload images whenever there is a rich text field. Except for the [Choose...] button in the Insert/Edit Image dialog, this diagram/mockup is a very close image of the functionality in Moodle 2.0 HEAD I tested, although there were only three sections int

    • Getting from the text editor to the dialog where you can select which image to upload takes five clicks. Users got lost in all four steps except the last one (pressing the “Browse…” button), most of them in several steps.
      • 1. Get to the add image dialog (4 users found toolbar button, 1 found the item in the right click menu for opening the dialog)
        • Failure: 2 subjects (needed my help to proceed)
        • Struggles: 3 subjects (searched how to do it for several minutes, trying clipboard and drag&drop etc. but continued on their own)
        • Passed this step without struggles: 3 subjects
      • 2. Click the ‘browse’ button (URL is a technical abbreviation and got many users lost; some complained that they do not know what it means; one user complained that URLs have nothing to do with uploading an image from the local computer and was confused due to that. Some users wrote the image name in the description/title field or both; they did not understand the difference between the fields)
        • Failure: 2 (1 needed my help to proceed; 1 gave up at this point)
        • Struggle: 2
        • Passed this step: 4
      • 3. Click “Upload a file” (after this clicking “Browse…” and finding desktop where the file was, was quick)
        • Failures: 0
        • Struggles: 4 (In general, users assumed ‘Local files’ to mean the local computer and first thought they should look there. Thus they  were not looking for upload anymore – apparently they assumed they were uploading already.)
        • Passed this step: 3
      • 4. Press “Browse…”
      • Passed this step: 7

    Notes:

    • One or two of the users did not recognize the rectangle under the file upload field as a button so got stuck for a moment there.
    • One user did not understand they still had to click the Insert button in the first dialog to actually get the image in the document.
    • Users ignored “Current files” section, some of them wondered what that is

    Forgotten password form

    The old form was confirmed misleading since it made 80% of the subjects fill both of the fields. Some of the subjects still did not understand what to do after the form gave the error message to fill one field or the other – apparently the visual (erroneous) message given by the form was a stronger clue to them. What the original forum thread reported was clearly right. I am really surprised such an issue has not been spotted before.

    When it was too late, I noticed the WordPress people have designed it even better, though than I did. How bitter: I did not believe it when someone told me having a single field might be a better solution. Now that I see it I think that might have worked better. (Especially due to the formslib bug we have that makes it impossible to have two forms on the same page and thus probably makes the current solution not accessible). Nonetheless, since we now have promising usability test results for my design and none for that of WordPress, I still recommend keeping my design (patch) for now.

    Other notes

    • TinyMCE and other parts of the file uploading were in English, although the browser and rest of Moodle were in Finnish since all the test subjects were Finnish. This may have slowed users down but all the test subjects demonstrated during the tests that they understood the English they encountered.
    • All test subjects were my friends and in theory this might have introduced a bias. However, as they were unfamiliar with the UI in question and I did not help them during their test taking, the issues they encountered seemed genuine. This can be disputed though and I welcome discussion about this style of low-fidelity testing.
    • The test subjects were Finnish young people between ages 20 and 30. Three males, five females. Occupations: software development basic degree graduate, musician, social worker student, industrial engineering student, unemployed, interactive technology student, college teacher, kindergarten teacher

    The videos taken (screen image and recorded voice in Finnish) are available on request.

    I hope to explain how I did this round of testing and which were the parts where I made it easier for myself. There will hopefully be a blog posting or a video, to show the community how little work this can be.

    The test preparatory talks and setting were roughly the same as in last summer’s Quiz UI tests, though less formal.

    The test tasks

    (More …)

     
  • The fruits of the summer

    August 17th, 2009

    Summary of the Summer of Code

    Related forum thread

    For me, this summer has been full of small and bigger openings. I have gotten overwhelmed, figured out why, and organized my thoughts about Moodle development and usability time and time again. I have found a lot of new, relevant questions and understand much more about the challenge that is Moodle usability, and more broadly, Moodle user experience.

    The main outcome of the project, Moodle User Interface Guidelines, got off to a good start, and I believe it will serve as a useful reference in the development of current and future user interfaces.

    At the end of the project, I did some brief usability testing (contrary to what I believed in the previous post) which shed light on the Login/Forgotten password form and on the File picker for the rich text editor (see below). I will write more about these very guerilla-style usability tests later. The code produced is in the linked tracker items of MDL-19586.

    notet
    tärkeät parannusta kaipaavat alueet

    I have interacted with the community a lot in the forums, on Jabber channels and in the tracker (see below). Still, the actual guidelines never got as much attention from the community as I planned, so this work continues. Time did not seem ripe for many of the guidelines I planned for. And honestly, I did not spend as much time writing some guidelines I perhaps could have. In the end, I decided to concentrate on what was important at a given time. Sometimes it was a specific UI that needed a gentle touch, or an UI element, and sometimes broader issues were discussed.

    Tim Hunt, who has acted as my mentor just like last summer, has been available to comment on anything I needed to discuss.  This summer he has given me some great advice especially about interacting with the community. Some of it seemed, ehm, too good since it made me feel pretty humble.

    Opening my eyes

    The issue seemed to be that there were not many elements in Moodle that could directly be made into guidelines. In the last post, I outlined various ways that a guideline can get born. With Moodle at the moment, way too many of those were just things there was a need with but nothing tangible existed. As there was nothing implemented that could be written about, often the first step was to talk about a given subject in the forum, to get people to think about whether this thing X, that could later become a real guideline, should be taken into account (keeping user data safe, wizards).

    On the other hand, I also felt the profile for usability in Moodle needed to improve. So I offered design services to some current development efforts taking place (course backuphelp tooltipspaint tool, file picker/uploader for TinyMCE). My hope was that I could show developers what kind of a contribution a usability practitioner could give into the software development, and make developers start to expect someone to be available for the kinds of questions UI/UX design raises.

    With the current understanding of the status of Moodle’s usability and how things are developed in the community, the next logical step seems to be comprehensive usability testing of the overall UI model of Moodle. Only after this we will understand just what exactly is in need of the most work. This requires first determining what use each part of Moodle is intended for – some sort of use cases and usage scenarios – in order to create test tasks. I know this sort of understanding exists in the community: the applications are created with the users’ needs in mind, to a degree.

    But the knowledge needs to be extracted and documented. If I have to squeeze it out of certain Mr. Dougiamas’ head… well, just kidding. We need to listen to everybody in the community, but we (I?) also need to understand better just where the understanding about users comes from, and how it is being used. It seems to me that at the moment, much of this is never explicitly discussed in the community.

    Based on testing and user research, creating a strong UI style/language for Moodle will later also help further develop the UI guidelines, since there will then be something substantial to document.

    I have also gathered a list of Major Usability Issues in Moodle that can be addressed in future projects. This is just a start, but it seems to me that bigger usability challenges need to be tracked, documented and discussed, than what can be done in tracker tickets about individual issues.  I am not sure about the tracker’s suitability for this.

    Efforts initiated

    The efforts I participated in

    Discussions we had

    Forum threads I found valuable to Moodle usability:

    (More …)

     
  • The flow of life for a user interface guideline

    August 4th, 2009

    The flu that started somewhere around July 14th got several diagnoses and finally seems to have gone away pretty much completely. There are two weeks left of GSoC. This week, I will go through the notes I have gathered during UI inspection. I will create some further UI guidelines and bug reports of all the individual issues I have found. Next week, I will implement some of the changes I am suggesting as patches to Moodle 2.0. Before catching my flu I was thinking about the exact process of determining an interaction style for an application such as Moodle. This starts from the assumption UI elements (and interaction style)s of the application have been discovered and documented, like I have done this summer.
    Workflow diagram about the phases of creating an UI guideline
    For each UI element discovered, there are three options: If the element is determined good, keep it and document it as a guideline. In some cases there are two elements for the same purpose and the better one of these can be used and the other one replaced. Otherwise, the element in question may have to be changed, or replaced with a new element. The issues involved must be carefully considered.

    • It may be discovered here that issues are so serious or such big changes are required, that they require a project of their own to be solved (consisting of further research, design, and testing).
    • In other cases, it may be possible to  make enhancements or replace the element in question with a proven solution, which means only shorter period research, discussion and finally usability testing is required.

    In the current project, I intended to do even usability testing with the elements that I discover. However, I have ended up mainly doing research of what there is and determining what should be the next step in developing each element. To understand why usability testing was not the Thing to Do™ at this point, stay tuned!

     
  • The power of simply having data

    July 6th, 2009

    From Contextual Design by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt:

    [...] Any change is a struggle. Engineers used to making what they are interested in feel constrained by having to think about what is useful and can sell. We all have to hold back the voice that tells us that producing code is progress – even if we cancel the project, even if it is the wrong code, even if we don’t know what would be useful to code. How does understanding work produce code? It is a struggle of personalities as we try to work in cross-functional teams to produce a shared direction. It is hard to remember that one smart guy working alone probably doesn’t have the whole answer. We simply have to realize that design is about people working together, and that’s what makes it hard.

    I remember the first design team I worked with. I barely knew what a computer was, but I jumped in to help a team designing a very large and expensive computer. They were stuck, not on the guts of the engine, but on the control panel! So I listened to six engineers arguing about how to lay out the switches: “Won’t we crash the system by accident if the remote selection is on the same switch as off?” “Oh, they’ll only do that once.” And whether or not there should be a key on the switch: “Security is important.” “No, it isn’t.” “Yes, it is.”

    As I listened, I realized that the team simply had no ground for their decisions. There was no way that reasoning and argument would get them to an answer. So I collected some data on how the panel was used: “Are you kidding? We won’t touch the remote. Someone might crash it.” “We turn the knob very, very slowly.” “Someone crashed it once, and the whole business stopped. No one touches that knob now.” And on security: “The computer is in a locked room; we don’t need it locked.” “Locking is a pain. We keep losing the key.” “We keep the key taped to the computer so we can find it.” “I catch my clothes on that lock; it sticks out.” The design was done in a day. We had a new switch for on and of and stopped agonizing about the key. I recently ran into a member of that team. He said he still talks about what happened 10 years later. The power of simply having data.

    Emphases and paragraph division (partially) mine.

     
c
compose new post
j
next post/next comment
k
previous post/previous comment
r
reply
e
edit
o
show/hide comments
t
go to top
esc
cancel