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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.

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Workshops… and yet more workshops
In parallel with some of the technical preparatory work we’ve kicked off a series of workshops with our staff.  Organised by one of the web team we are using them as a way of getting library staff involved in the process and generating some discussion about aspects such as user requirements. These ideas then lead on to a prototype information architecture and a set of ideas that  can be tested with users to validate or modify them.

So far we’ve run three different workshops.  About half of the library staff have been to at least one of the workshops so we’re pretty pleased at the amount of engagement we’ve had so far.  And they’ve brought up a lot of interesting ideas and some challenges.  In this blog post I’m going to outline the activities that we’ve been running and put down some thoughts about the things that are coming out of the workshops.

Workshop 1
We kicked off the process with a small workshop with participants drawn from the two groups in the library who are most closely involved with the website: our website editorial group and our User Experience Group.  Between them there is representation from across the library, with a strong core of learning and teaching librarians, who have day to day contact with users via our library Helpdesk service.

The workshop was asked to carry out an exercise to identify the different types of users of our website, identify what their needs were, why they were coming to the website, and what tasks they were trying to accomplish.   The background to this is that at the moment there is a single website that tries to meet all user needs, yet the library services that are available to students are distinctly different to those available to academics for example.  So, whilst knowing how to renew a library book is important for an academic based on campus it isn’t much use for a student who isn’t able to borrow.

Workshop 2
This workshop was open to staff across the library as part of our regular programme of Staff Development activities.  In an hour-long session a fairly large group were asked to carry out two activities.  Firstly a card sort exercise, taking the current 2nd level website titles and structuring them into what seemed like a logical structure.  They were also asked to comment on any terminology that was unclear. 

As a second exercise the group was asked to look at some examples of retail websites and look at them from the point of view of their Help and Support services.  This exercise was to get staff away from a narrow view of what library websites could be (as there is a tendancy for them to end up with similar features – although you could argue that they are trying to meet similar needs). 

Workshop 3
The final workshop had a smaller number of staff (about 10) from across the library and again looked at the website structure.   The workshop looked at the output from the earlier structure workshop and refined it further.  It also looked again at page naming and how best to handle the different requirements of distinct user types.

Outcomes and reflections
There were a few key messages coming out of the workshops. 

  • Separate landing pages for some of the main user groups may be a good idea – this implies users having to login which opens up some customisation and personalisation potential but means that users would have services relevant to them on the home page
  • A simpler structure and simpler terminology e.g. About Us rather than Library Information
  • Language should be used that is more familar to students
  • Some pages need better names, could be dropped or merged – there was quite a lot of feedback that it wasn’t clear what some pages were about
  • Where pages have information aimed at different user groups then they either need to have a consistent format (i.e. always with the student information at the top), or be split into separate pages that are fed to appropriate users

Next steps
As an output from the workshops we now have a prototype Information Architecture and some ideas around naming conventions.  Our next step is to start to check these ideas with users, probably through surveys at this stage.  So we will want to check what they want to see on the home page, how they would like the site to be structured and what they would prefer sections to be called.   Ideally it would be good to use something like treejack to help with testing the structure.

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