User:Sputniza/OPW Final Report

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This page is nearly the final stage of my final report for the Wikipedia Education program project as a part of Outreach Program for Women for User:Sputniza.

' Results of Wikipedia Education Program need-finding research '

intro[edit]

strategy - user needs[edit]

As described in greater detail in this request (http://wikiedu.org/blog/2014/07/02/request-for-proposals-wikiedu-org-1-0/) the overall goal is to provide a set of digital services for a successful cooperation of the worlds of Wikipedia and academia.

The basic concept is that professors assign students to improve Wikipedia articles instead of writing traditional term papers. The students get a unique opportunity to do work that has an audience and makes a difference, the professors can improve public understanding of their specialties, and Wikipedia becomes better and more comprehensive.
— (same source)

This platform should make the approach for everybody — no matter whether familiar or unfamiliar with Wikipedia and other wikis — as convenient as possible by improving workflow and providing information, structure and conjunction with the community.

scope - functional specifications[edit]

To outline the set of specifications projected, we can distinguish three main user groups. Two of them participants of the classroom program and a third one affiliated with the program or Wikipedia, like Wikipedia community members, WikiEd staff, potentially interested people, or other.

  1. Students
  2. Instructors
  3. Affiliated persons

In the scope of my few interviews I was only able to speak to instructors and not to students. But the meaning of the platform for students was always a matter of subject in the interviews and I’m trying to sum up the most important functional specifications for every user group. For students, I will describe what the instructors would want it to be for their students. Some further testing or interviews, to ensure that this also meets the needs and wishes of the students themselves, would be desirable.

Students[edit]

Central place

All of my interview partners stressed the meaningfulness of the platform as a central place on Wikipedia, where they could send their students to gather all the information they need, all the links and resources, the training and the possibility to enroll in the course at one place

Training

To familiarise all students as quickly as possible with Wikipedia’s core principles as well as the basic mechanisms of contributing to Wikipedia and communicating with others, the training should be easily accessible from the main page and a badge or announcement of completion should be visibly granted.

Assignment

A quick and easy enrollment procedure should be provided. Maybe it could be useful to create some requirements — create an Wikipedia user account, complete the training — before being able to enroll. Course affiliation should be visible.

Own activity

Students need a central place to monitor their own activity, where all the (maybe very different) pieces of one students work are clearly presented and progress over time is visible.

Overview of course activity

There should be a display of students achievements in the scope of the course. It is desirable to evaluate overall results (of the whole course) and to provide comparability between different students in one course, as well between different courses in the education program.

Communication space

The communication functionality is maybe the most ambiguous task in the interface. I see, and this was confirmed by what my interviewees told me, a challenge to avoid a too-many-tools issue. There is no shortage of options to communicate in a course situation (in classroom, mail, chat, LMS, …) so options can be overwhelming and to add one just for the sake of adding one more is not satisfying. However, there is potential in providing what Wikipedia or other wiki systems do best — like history documentation, in-line commenting, referencing, … — and combine this with some messaging functionality.

Could there be options to send in-line questions to my instructor? To comment on a co-students work and make only her/ him see it — or is this too much of a departure from Wikipedia's philosophy of transparent work and communications? One instructor stressed the meaningfulness of private comments on work if done by authorities (as instructors tend to be seen as), because students tend to interpret them as shaming if done in public. The questions whether or not to provide a special shelter for students in the education program parallel to the community seems a hard question to answer.


Instructors[edit]

Dashboard

A tracker of all course activity is certainly the main point for instructors. Keeping navigation paths short by enabling instructors to comment on edits without leaving the page would be desirable. Or as one interviewee put it: "It gets tedious to go from page to page for different groups." The dashboard has to be considered a clear and efficient tool that helps you focus on the content and teaching work to be done.

Support

The platform offers support not only for students, but also for instructors. It provides useful tools, as identifying articles to work on, links to valuable resources, help pages, meta-data, trainings and other wikis and not last provides direct contact with the education program staff if needed.

Communication

As the central virtual place of the course, the platform perfectly serves as a notice board to publish all the current information from the instructor to all participants of the course. The question of providing public or private or both commenting I already mentioned above.(Communicaton space)

Support mechanism for grading

As described above (for communication space) this might also be bit of a conflicting matter, concerning the LMS (learning management system) mostly established by the respective university. So a useful tool would complement the existing system (whatever it is), but would not replace it. This is for reasons of consistency (an LMS is used across many courses), but also (as mentioned in an interview) for self-protective reasons on the part of the professor (ie, playing by the rules).

Affiliated persons[edit]

Program wide dashboard

Not being in the center of focus, the platform could still be a landing point for a lot of people interested in Wikipedia (or topics of it) in general or the cooperation of Wikipedia and academia in particular. Allowing overall evaluation and information in the scope of the whole program offers more possibilities for WikiEd staff and community to evaluate the courses and to not forget lessons already learned.

Achievement system/ archive

In academia, keeping records of assignments, projects and results is a key part of the system of acknowledgment. So the durable visibility of sucessful courses and participants in an overall scope and longer time periods would be an asset, especially to the public.

structure - interaction design[edit]

Customizability/ flexibility

In my interviews, I could identify a strong wish for customization. This is obvious as the prior functionality of the platform is to serve as a tool and most of the people have very specific ideas and needs about the tools they want to work with. Spoken for a class project, the instructor already has a subject, has a concept and a structure and she/ he doesn’t "like changing [my] (her/his) course to make it fit the system" [J.A.]. That’s why the system has to be changeable to fit a lot of different courses and needs. A dashboard can meet this expectation. It is created out of different pieces of information and activity, and these pieces can easily be imagined as pieces or widgets which could be turned on or off, ordered or supplemented according to personal needs.

The wizard

Some options already do exist, so you choose, if you want to set up your course manually or do it using the wizard. One instructor, trying to use the wizard, found it too restrictive, too automated already. The structure of an assignment, especially the due dates, have to be carefully scheduled, so they don’t conflict with exams or other obligations, a work already done by the professor. It would be important to have a quick and easy way to tweak the suggested wizard curriculum in every needed way. What if I wanted to create an assignment, where students can either copyedit or translate an article? For now it is only possible to choose either option. The mode could be more transparent »on the fly«. Why not give options to choose on one hand and immediately showing the created »output« on the other? Autonomy is an important feeling to provide the user with. Ending up at a page telling you »If you find that it's not a suitable starting point for your assignment, you can go back and try the wizard again.«sounds like a pretty intimidating »trial-and-error-challenge« for the user. The more, because it doesn’t send you back into the current session, but seriously restarts you from scratch, demanding you to even enter all of your personal data, which was probably not part of the problem, once again! This is a real waste of user time and an overall frustrating experience for somebody to accomplish the assignment, if not a trigger for giving up. Also this violates one of the core principles of UX design, to always protect users work. The wizard has to be an easy to use option, guiding, but not hiding from the instructor. Suggesting, but containing the fluent optionality for the user to edit wherever and whatever she/ he wants. By fluent I mean all nuances from easily applying all the given suggestions without any changes down to a completely manually written assignment (even if the wizard would have not been necessary for this, I consider if you changed your mind, you should not be forced out of the wizard, but instead be enabled to do everything as individually as you want at any point in the process.)

Single page feeling

Unlike the wizard and the training, well-defined step by step processes with a beginning and an end, the rest of the tools forms more a space of optional interactions in arbitrary order. Therefore very shallow structures could support the idea of short paths, accessibility from »everywhere to everywhere« and great general survey of all functionality. I would even suggest to comfort the user with a »single page feeling« - a customizable user space, which can be set up and saved along the specific needs of every course and person. You can choose from a set of features, create an order following your workflow and abandon features, which are not beneficial for your work to keep your workspace as clearly and well-arranged as needed to focus on your content and teaching. To combine the demands of having lots of crisp information on the one hand and getting greater detail on demand, I suggest providing to different areas on the page. There could be a main content area with the expanded versions of the elements showing and a right side column with a more concise version of the element if showing up there.(maybe in addition to an expander with a collapse/ expand functionality if there are so many that not all of them show without scrolling)

Integration with existing learning management systems (LMS)

The scenario of an already existing LMS seems to be so likely that is has to be considered carefully. Most of professors in universities nowadays — though not all of them — are expected, recommended or obliged to use an existent LMS in their teaching. Mostly this software is set by the institution and not a matter of choice for the instructor. Based on this fact, very diverse scenarios can be imagined, with just as diverse implications for a successful integration of the dashboard. Academic teachers mostly want to limit the effort put into administration as much as possible, and to save their time to focus on their chosen area of study. The slightest suspicion that using another tool would increase their time investment on administrative tasks might effectively keep them from using or even trying it. (Tasks like having to transfer grades or lists from one system to another.) Considering all this, the focus on the functionality unique to the course page system is very important, as is the caution not to create redundancy with the existing tools. The challenge seems to have a fully functioning standalone teaching instrument, what can abandon parts of it if not demanded by the instructor. There exists a wide variety of LMS on the market, open source and proprietary ones, so the need to have the extension play well with other systems, could be a big challenge. But from the users perspective this will be one of the crucial points concerning most of the functionality, like providing materials, keeping track, grading, links to meta-data, communication etc. As mentioned in the interviews, it is not only the instructors, but also the students, who are conservative about already learnt and adapted systems like the established LMS.

skeleton - information design[edit]

Simplicity

A clearly defined interface doesn’t show you things, you don’t need. We try to avoid redundancy or overlapping structures with other tools by offering a highly modularized system, where you can make autonomous choices corresponding your personal working style. For example the usernames, which are linked to the students real names could be replaced (and not be displayed) by the real names if this is desirable for the professor who might be very familiar to these already (This also applies to tables and statistics).

Data visualization

The monitoring of class activity is key functionality. Putting a great effort on data presentation should be a matter of course. The capacity to orientate among displayed numbers is limited. Even if every single of them carries very useful information displaying all of them together makes it non pleasant to orientate yourself. One suggestion is to check, where alternative graphic forms of data visualization could be an option. This particularly applies to all presentations concerning a time line (processes), which should be translated into simple diagrams. More detailed information (like accurate figures) could be provided on demand. Diagrams also do a great job in giving intuitive access when comparing different figures. In places where the immediate display of numbers is desirable, the key visuals (emphasized elements) should rather be graphics or names. Big numbers are not self-explanatory, they very rarely help to intuitively grasp a content (as an icon for example does). I mention this, because I found this a problematic in the current draft, displaying a course in the dashboard mode.

Signage and icons

As already mentioned signs and icons can help immensely to structure a vast amount of information. They lead the eye when exploring the page and keep you from feeling overwhelmed with the pure amount of visual impressions and elements by providing you with hierarchy and structure. In a minimalistic design very simple highlights, a font or background color, a shape or line, have deep impact on the perception of the page. Icons can form a whole autonomous layer of tagging certain functionalities. They can cluster or distinquish actions and provide a quick and intuitive access to information. Icons also play very well with text, tables, graphics and widgets. Signage can also be very precious, when it comes to status. Status information should be within easy view and can make use of easy-to-learn conventions: for example the could be a small icon indicating, if there were current changes or not (but maybe this could be as well used by color only).

surface - visual design[edit]

Visual identity

To establish a pleasant and well thought-through visual appearance, more usability testing during the upcoming process will be very useful, primarily to ensure full transferability throughout the page. This applies not only for the visual appearance but most important for the logic linking appearance with functionality. So to be visually consistent means not only to make things look similar when they act the same, as it is to make objects look different if they trigger different actions. The in-house consistency will be a challenge, because there are several different visual languages already existing in the »family« of the course page system: Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation and of course the Wiki Education Foundation. Nevertheless a strong visual language not only communicates brand but also helps to extend the services and products to a yet unknown extent. A general look and feel across products should be an important target.

Creating a stage

A minimalistic and reserved visual language, opens the space for a wide variety of use cases and for the subject and content itself. The course page shall look »appropriate«, no matter if the subject of the class is »Ancient greek history« or »Science Fiction movies«. The interface could be thought of as a stage to accentuate the content, but remaining reserved in the background. Reserved is not meant to be boring, but rather timeless with great care for the detail.

Color

In a formal minimalistic setting color becomes most crucial. It serves to guide, highlight, distinguish and attract. Color as all other elements and small visible structure should be always used in great consistency throughout the whole product. This also applies to unwritten rules or standards, as the expectations of the user. One unwritten rule or standard is, to apply color as a measure of importance. So bright colors would be used for most important things. To use several bright colors does not only add a level of confusion, but also results in perceiving all of the bright colors less bright then in a setting of muted colors. Highlight needs contrast, so the reserved surrounding creates as much of the cue then the highlight itself. Adding meaning to the assignment of colors is desirable, overwhelming color cues is not. The meanings of colors should be intuitive or easy to adapt, but as the perception of color is very individual, the use of the page should not be seriously hindered if you are not able to see colors as most of the people do.

Fonts

For the text copy it is preferable to use highly legible fonts. The tools and tables contain a lot of text, so legibility makes it easier to work with them. A font usually is considered very legible, when it seems »transparent« to the reader. It doesn’t draw any special attention to it’s design. The weight changes in character strokes are subtle, as are the serifs if existent. The readability includes careful choices of font seize, line hight and width, contrast and the overall amount of text displayed. Collapsing and expanding text blocks on demand can help to cope with big amounts of content on the page. There should be exceptions: legibility is not always a goal. It is a tradeoff which often sacrifices character, statement or feeling. The use of more characteristic fonts in some cases (as bright colors), to communicate family (with WikiEd e.g.), to highlight or to stand out should be considered.