What you need to know to be an effective communicator is changing rapidly. It’s not enough for students to learn how to write inter-office memos and emails anymore. Workplaces are using social media, content management systems, and other advanced technologies to do everything from blogging to web design.
Many of these new technologies aren’t available to college professors, who are charged with preparing students to be effective scholars, workers, and citizens. Programs like TryMyUI EDU are working to change that, however. Providing professors and their students free access to industry-standard tools like TryMyUI’s usability testing tool is an incredible value-add, especially for public universities.
At our own program in Technical and Professional Communication at East Carolina University, we use TryMyUI to test and improve in-house applications like the North Carolina Coastal Atlas, an online mapping tool for studying the NC coastline that was developed by researchers in our school’s Geography department.
As part of Guiseppe’s class in User Experience Design, students like Tiffany Clark, an M.A. student in our program, were able to perform usability testing on the Atlas to see and assess its utility for citizen scientists, or non-professionals interested in science. TryMyUI not only helped Guiseppe with his ongoing research to improve this important public resource, but also enabled Tiffany to gain invaluable experience in UX design.
Here’s a recollection of Tiffany’s experiences with TryMyUI in Guiseppe’s class:
I had never heard of usability testing, let alone TryMyUI, when I started the UX design class at ECU. The entire class was very intimidating in the first few days. Our task was to test the NC Coastal Atlas website with users and to make recommendations for the design team. The idea was great, but my first thought was, “Where do I start?” I had never experienced anything like this assignment and although always up for a challenge, the uncertainty of the class ahead was unnerving.
Dr. Getto and the TryMyUI website made the transition into doing actual UX work extremely easy, however. Although the idea of usability testing and the analysis of user experience sounded difficult, after signing up and using TryMyUI I was much more comfortable with the assignment because it seemed like TryMyUI did half the work through creating the test, emailing the test to users, and recording the process.
I started by creating the test. It was very easy to navigate the site. All I had to do was type in the questions and plug in the email addresses and TryMyUI did the rest of the work. Our team tested three users and we received the test with the answers to our questions and a recording of the user’s voice and screen while they were performing the test.
After creating the test and receiving the users’ feedback, I was so excited and found the whole process to be so engaging that I plan to use TryMyUI beyond the class.
With free access to TryMyUI as long as I’m an ECU student, I can continue to use it. I’ve already created another usability test to assess my own portfolio website and I know that I’ll find plenty of more reasons to use it until I graduate. It seems like TryMyUI, and usability testing in general, is slightly addictive if you enjoy identifying problems with websites and finding solutions to those problems.
The Importance of Tools Like TryMyUI for Learning UX
If it isn’t clear from Tiffany’s story, learning (and teaching) UX is hard. Without access to tools like TryMyUI, the learning curve can even be too steep for an individual assignment, or even for a full class. By the time students learn what UX is and master some of its basic principles, the semester is over. It is also incredibly difficult for college professors–many of whom are busy justifying their existence through the increasing demands of research, grant writing, and administration–to scaffold learning experiences that give students extensive, real world experience in UX.
As learners in the American education system, our students also mostly experience design as a series of interfaces that are pre-prepared for them, and have often been tested extensively (e.g. social media websites, blogging websites, learning management systems, drag-and-drop interfaces, etc.). Our students are trained to be consumers of digital technologies, in other words, not makers and designers. Many of my colleagues who have been teaching UX and related topics for many years joke that today’s students know less about design than students did ten years ago… but think they know more due to the prevalence of easy-to-use, popular websites.
In order to help our students become designers–a skill set that is needed now more than ever across an increasing variety of professions–we have to teach them to think like designers, which means giving them real experiences solving real problems. TryMyUI EDU is part of that solution.
Guiseppe Getto is a college professor based in North Carolina who does freelance writing, User Experience consulting, digital marketing, and custom WordPress websites. He consults with a broad range of organizations who want to develop better customer experiences, better writing, better content, better SEO, better designs, and better reach for their target audience. He has taught at the college level for over 10 years. Visit him online and view his work at guiseppegetto.com
Tiffany Clark is a Master’s student in the Technical and Professional Communication program at East Carolina University. She has her B.A. in English and M.A. in Education from ECU. She left teaching last year and currently works as a proofreader for the NC General Assembly in Raleigh. She is excited to learn more about creating more user-friendly documentation and websites. She is currently learning HTML and CSS and hopes to launch a second career as a technical communicator within the next year.