Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) Usability Report

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Author

SAlvo, Michael J., H. Allen Brizee, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Morgan Sousa

Tech report number

CERIAS TR 2007-96

Entry type

unpublished

Abstract

This report outlines the history of the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and details the OWL Usability Project through the summer of 2006. The paper also discusses test methodologies, describes test methods, provides participant demographics, and presents findings and recommendations of the tests. The purpose of this report is to provide researchers, administrators, and pedagogues interested in usability and Writing Labs access to information on the Purdue OWL Usability Project. We hope our findings—and this open source approach to our research—will contribute positively to the corpus on usability and Writing Lab studies. On August 26, 2005, the Writing Lab launched its redesigned OWL. Although the redesign improved on the original site (launched in 1994), tests show the new OWL could be refined to improve usability. A pilot usability test conducted in early February 2006 showed participants did not understand all the OWL resources and were sometimes confused while using the OWL. Based on the results of the pilot test, we conducted two generations (G1 and G2) of formal usability tests between late February and early July 2006. The results of the tests indicate the following: • Participants who had previously used OWL preferred the redesigned OWL to the original OWL However: • Participants wanted design features the redesigned OWL does not currently offer • Participants took time and number of mouse clicks to complete some tasks than expected • Participants could not complete some tasks • Some participants’ responses to the redesigned OWL were neutral, which does not represent the positive impression the Writing Lab desires for its new OWL. In addition to the results above, we also encountered two unexpected, but very important, findings: first, usability testing can work as a dynamic, user-centered method of invention; second, previous and new user impressions of the OWL are different. Participants who visited the old OWL and the new OWL reacted more positively than those participants who had not visited the old OWL. We interpret this data as a sign of success for the new OWL. Based on test data, we recommend: 1. Design links/pages around the types of visitors using the OWL (user-based taxonomy) 2. Move the navigation bar from the right side to the left side of the OWL 3. Add a search function 4. Incorporate graphical logos in the OWL Family of Sites homepage 5. Continue testing to measure usability and to generate new ideas for design and content. Online Writing Lab programmers have integrated some of these changes, and overall, we believe the redesign is a success. Test participants call the new site “impressive” and “a great site.” Participant attitudes are probably best described by this unsolicited comment: “It still needs work, but it’s better than the old site!” Theory-based, data-driven updates on the redesign continue, and usability testing will work to help the Writing Lab and its OWL users. We believe that the information presented in this report, as well as other open-source venues connected with this project, can positively impact usability and Writing Lab studies and can serve as a guide to inform multidisciplinary research and cooperation.

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Date

2007 – 06 – 06

Address

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/research/

How published

Creative Commons License: Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Please see Appendix 3 forcomplete licensing information.

Key alpha

Salvo, Usability, user-centered, writing lab, writing center, online writing lab, OWL, writing

Note

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/research/OWLreport.pdf http://owl.english.purdue.edu/research/OWLUsabilityappendix.pdf

Pages

1-53, Appendices 54-107

Publisher

Purdue OWL Research Clearinghouse

Affiliation

Purdue University

Publication Date

2007-06-06

Contents

Table of Contents List of Figures ................................................................. 3 Abstract ................................................................. 4 Introduction ................................................................. 5 The OWL Usability Project ................................................................. 9 First Generation Testing ................................................................. 14 Second Generation Testing ................................................................. 35 Conclusion ................................................................. 46 Recommendations ................................................................. 50 Works Cited ................................................................. 52 Annotated Bibliography ................................................................. 54 Appendices are available as a separate document titled “OWL Usability Appendices.” http://owl.english.purdue.edu/research/OWLUsabilityappendix.pdf

Copyright

Creative Commons License: Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Please see Appendix 3 for complete licensing information.

Keywords

Usability, user-centered, writing lab, writing center, online writing lab, OWL, writing

Language

English

Price

Free

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