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Jisc elevator website screenshotIt was great to see this week that the latest opportunity on the Jisc Elevator website is one for students to pitch ideas about new technology ideas.  That’s really nice to see something that involves students in coming up with ideas and backing it up with a small amount of money to kickstart things.

Using students as co-designers for library services and in particularly in relation to websites and technology is something that I’m finding more and more compelling.  A lot of the credit for that goes to Matthew Reidsma from Grand Valley State University in US, whose blog ‘Good for whom?‘ is pretty much essential reading if you’re interested in usability and improving the user experience.   I’m starting to see that getting students involved in co-designing services is the next logical step on from usability testing.  So instead of a process where you design a system and then test it on users, you involve them from the start, by asking them what they need, maybe then getting them to feedback on solution designs and specifications and then going through the design process of prototyping, testing and iterating, by getting them to look at every stage.  Something that an agile development methodology particularly lends itself to.  Examples where people have started to employ students on the staff to help with getting that student ‘voice’ are also starting to appear.

There are some examples of fairly recent projects where Universities have been getting students (and others outside the institution) involved in designing services, so for example the Collaborate project at Exeter that looked at using students and employers to design ’employability focussed assessments’.  There is also Leeds Metropolitan with their PC3 project on the personalised curriculum and Manchester Metropolitan’s ‘Supporting Responsive Curricula’ project.    And you can add to that list of examples the Kritikos project at Liverpool that I blogged about recently.

For us, with our focus on websites and improving the user experience we’ve been working with a group of students to help us with designing some tools for a more personalised library experience.  I blogged a bit about it earlier in the year.   We’re now well into that programme of work and have put together a guest blog post for Jisc’s LMS Change project blog ‘Personalisation at the Open University’. Thanks to Ben Showers from Jisc and Helen Harrop from the LMS Change project for getting that published.  Credit for the work on this (and the text for the blog post) should go to my colleagues: Anne Gambles, Kirsty Baker and Keren Mills.  Having identified some key features to build we are well into getting the specification for the work finalised and start building the first few features soon.   It’s been an interesting first foray into working with students as co-designers and one I think has major potential for how we do things in the future.

Single box search terms word cloudReading through Lown, Sierra and Boyer’s article from ACRL on ‘How Users Search the Library from a Single Search Box’ based on their work at NCSU, started me thinking about looking at some data around how people are using the single search box that we have been testing at http://www.open.ac.uk/libraryservices/beta/search/Single search box prototype.

About three months or so ago we created a prototype tool that pulls together results from the Discovery product we use (EBSCO Discovery) alongside results from the resources database that we use to feed the Library Resources pages on the library website, and including pages from the library website.  Each result is shown in a box (ala ‘bento box’) and they are just listed down the screen, with Exact Title Matches and Title Matches being shown at the top, followed by a list of Databases, Library Pages, Ebooks, Ejournals and then articles from EBSCO Discovery.  It was done in a deliberately simple way without lots of extra options to manipulate or refine the lists so we could get some very early views about how useful it was as an approach.

Looking at the data from Google Analytics, we’ve had just over 2,000 page views over the three months.  There’s a spread of more than 800 different searches Search frequency chartwith the majority (less than 10%) being repeated fewer than 6 times.  I’d suspect that most of those repeated terms are ones where people have been testing the tool.

The data also allows us to pick up when people are doing a search and then choosing to look at more data from one of the ‘bento boxes’, effectively they do this by applying a filter to the search string, e.g. (&Filter=EBOOK) takes you to all the Ebook resources that match your original search term.  So 160 of the 2,000 page views were for Ebooks (8%) and 113 f0r Ejournals (6%) for example. Search filters chart

When it comes to looking at the actual search terms then they are overwhelmingly ‘subject’ type searches, with very few journal articles or author names in the search string.  There are a few more journal or database names such as Medline or Web of Science  But otherwise there is a very wide variety of search terms being employed and it very quickly gets down to single figure frequency.  The wordle word cloud at the top of the page shows the range of search terms used in the last three months.

We’ve more work to do to look in more detail about what people want to do but being able to look at the search terms that people use and see how they filter their results is quite useful.  Next steps are to do a bit more digging into Google Analytics to see what other useful data can be gleaned about what users are doing in the prototype.

Kritikos search interface screenshotI noticed an interesting Jisc-funded project at Liverpool today that I hadn’t previously heard about (blogged by Jisc today) that talked about a method of sharing resources amongst students using a crowdsourcing approach.  The service is called Kritikos and takes several quite interesting approaches.  At the heart of the system is some work that has been done with students to identify resources relevant to their subjects (in this case Engineering) and also to identify results that weren’t relevant (often because some engineering terms have different meanings elsewhere – e.g. stress). That’s an interesting approach as one of the criticisms I’ve heard about discovery systems is that they struggle to distinguish between terms that are used across different disciplines (differentiation for example having separate meanings in mathematics and biology).

The search system uses a Google Custom Search Engine but then presents the results as images which is a fascinating way of approaching this aspect.  Kritikos also makes use of the Learning Registry to store data about students interactions with the resource and whether they found them relevant or not.  It seems to be a really novel approach to providing a search system that could go some way to address one of the common comments that we’ve been seeing in some work we’ve been doing with students. They feel that they are being deluged with too much material and struggle to find the gold nuggets that give them everything they want.

Kritikos looks to be particularly useful for students in the later stages of their degrees, where they are more likely to be doing some research or independent study.  One of the things that we are finding from our work is that students at earlier stages are less interested in what other students are doing or what they might recommend.  But possibly if they were presented with something like Kritikos they might be more inclined to see the value of other students’ recommendations.

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