Workshop: Usable Usability in the Composition Classroom
Shaun Slattery, (DePaul University), Susan Miller-Cochran (North Carolina State University), Shelley Rodrigo (Mesa Community College), Jason Swarts (North Carolina State University)
How do you know if the text you’ve written--whether a resume, a report, or a research paper--is successful? One way to make this determination is through usability testing. Usability testing refers to measuring the effectiveness of a text or product in meeting a specific goal. The half-day workshop “Usable Usability in the Composition Classroom” led by Susan Miller-Cochran (North Carolina State University), Shelley Rodrigo (Mesa Community College), and Jason Swarts (North Carolina State University) presented the value and application of using and teaching usability testing in the writing classroom.
The workshop began with an overview of usability followed by an explanation of the three kinds of usability assessment. The first kind is inquiry which refers to an open-ended and structured exploration, done early in the development cycle, and conducted through interviewing or focused groups to study the environment where the activity is carried out. The second kind of usability assessment is inspection where an evaluation is conducted against set standards early or mid-way through development to test if the user actions are understood and supported. The final type of usability assessment is testing. Testing involves empirical measurements of performance done later in the development process to determine if the writing or product met its expected performance and is conducted in a controlled setting.
After learning about usability assessment and discussing its potential, workshop participants had the opportunity to practice each kind of usability assessment with typical writing assignments and activities. For example, participants discussed how usability testing can benefit the teaching of peer review.
The facilitators supplied handouts on usability testing, sample assignments, and a bibliography of usability testing web resources. The hands-on practice, handouts, and group discussions on the application of using and teaching usability testing in the writing classroom insured that everyone left the workshop with a wealth of ideas on how to apply these ideas and concepts in their own courses.
If you missed the workshop and would like to learn more about how usability testing can be applied in the writing classroom, be on the lookout for Miller-Cochran and Rodrigo’s book Rhetorically Rethinking Usability forthcoming from Hampton Press.