Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Classroom Websites With the Student User Experience in Mind


Three clicks to content is the rule, or so they say. I learned this after searching about how many clicks deep users will often go to access content online. Why was I searching this? I’ll explain.

When I first started teaching, I tried to put everything my students needed on the Web. But only about 3 to 5 percent of them took advantage. The rest acted confused or struggled to remember the assignments -- or at least where to find them.

Will I ever solve this problem?

I couldn’t relate to this at all. Content on the Web would have been a dream for many of us who went to high school before schools had Internet in every classroom.

Regardless of what I thought, all that mattered was my students’ experience and that what I was doing for them was not working. It was back to the drawing board, literally -- I drew out the click pathways a student had to take to complete an assignment. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't as easy as they were used to.

Think Like a Web Designer

The next phase of in this project focused on the layout and design of the websites I was visiting. What were they doing that brought me to their site? What did I see first? Did I want to stay? Why? These questions and more led me to a few understandings.

Web designers aim to make sites that provide users the information they seek without making the experience confusing or tedious. Although the three-click rule is not necessarily true in the sense that it applies to every user and site, it provides me as a non-designer a metric as I developed my classroom website.

I wasn’t creating an experience for students that made it intuitive to meet my expectations. The URL was hard to remember. The site layout did not guide users toward the content I wanted them to access. And there was no clear incentive for them to spend time getting used to the Web site design for their success in the course.

Students prefer to access information online using smart phones, tablets, computers, and perhaps something else that's been developed and become popular since the publish of this post. What they don't want is to work too hard to get there. Who does?

First Steps Toward a Solution

As I scratched my head and tried new things for another year, I had the bright idea to just ask the students what they wanted. What were they willing to do to access the information online? Their response inspired me and guided my mission to provide quick and easy access.

After quite a bit of discussion, it came down to the simple fact that the students could choose to find the information on my site or choose to go on social media or watch a YouTube video. This was the first time I realize that I was competing for their attention

I shared with them what I had learned about the three quick rule. Most of them agreed that there was some truth to the rule, but they also said that if they really wanted to see something online, they were willing to click as many times as it takes.
The students agreed that they would use the classroom website, or almost any site, if the content is no more than three clicks away.

Culling the EdTech Tool List

During the discussion I had with my students, one student said, “We just have too many logins and passwords to remember.” Although I wanted to disagree, it didn’t matter what I thought. This whole inquiry was about the student user experience.

Luckily for everyone this was also around the same time when a lot of new online tools were excepting the one click Google login and account set up. I looked through all the different tools that we used and started prioritizing based on how often we use the tool and how easy it was to log in, which meant whether not you could log in with Google.

Quizlet was the first app to get the gold star on my new quest. It had an app, you could log in with google, and it was (and still is) very useful for both students and teachers. Google Drive and remind followed Quizlet on the list for the same reasons.

As tools were dropped from my list, I found other ways to do learning activities. This was often just a matter of rethinking the way I used the Google apps suite. Slides was then used to make posters and photo essays. Docs was then used to do card sorting activities, which simply meant inserting tables and having students color code or copy and paste text.

Taking apps off the list of tools we used was good for my focus, and it certainly alleviated some of the confusion that students had experienced in our nearly paperless classroom.

Setting Up My Course Sites

My students needed a place to land, so I showed them how to bookmark my website or save it on their home screens. One student even said that since she sees the shortcut on her home screen, she thinks about the class more often.This may seem like a superficial observation, but it speaks to the impact of our kids increasingly virtual world.

Next, I made an assignment blog with BlogSpot and embedded a feed on the homepage of my website. For those of you who are familiar with Google classroom, I had basically made a Google Classroom two years before it was released. Teachers using Moodle thought I was wasting my time. Most of them now use Google Classroom to support their students who all have Google accounts and often Chromebooks, too.

Like Google classroom, I used the assignment blog to communicate various information with students including links to Google Drive folders to which they needed to turn in their work. If you’re keeping count, that’s three clicks to not just content but actually turning in the work, as well.

I made separate content sites for each course that I taught and linked them in the horizontal navigation of this landing site. This still kept them three clicks to content.
  1. First click on their device to the landing site.
  2. Second click to choose the course that they are taking.
  3. Third click to choose the unit and lessen their currently studying.
At this point the only thing bogging down our BYOD classroom was app updates, device specific problems, and students confusing there apps with too many different Google accounts. Luckily for all of us, Google was about to come out with a solution they called Classroom.

Along Came Google Classroom

My explanation of how I built my sites and drove student traffic to them may have seemed like it was all very ideal and went smoothly all the time. It did not.

Sharing documents and managing document permissions with Google Drive was not easy before Google classroom. Almost every other day I had to teach a student how to make a copy of a document from my website. Little did I know, I could’ve put copy links on my website by replacing the word “view” at the end of the URL with the word “copy.” I’ve learned a few hacks since then.

With Classroom, I was able to eliminate the lesson blog and a landing site. I kept the course sites because students still needed those sites for the content, but I’ve since adjusted how I train them to access the course sites.

Instead of the students bookmarking the landing site, I encourage them to install the Google Classroom app and bookmark the course content site. This may seem like a small change from the previous routine, but it matched what a lot of other teachers were doing.

The best part about using Classroom and the Google apps suite is the familiarity that students in 2018 bring to my course. I’ve made changes in my routines to match what they have done with other teachers because it cuts down on learning tech, making more time for learning social studies.

Does the three-click rule matter?

The rule was useful because I needed something to focus the user experience on my sites. Making the adjustments with my students helped me consider their experience 100 percent of the time.

Three-clicks to content became a promise to not make sites that suck to use. After all, they can choose my site or a few clicks to social media. Whether it's right or wrong, we are in an attention economy and need to design educational resources accordingly. 

Currently, I us bit.ly to shorten links and provide more memorable URLs -- or at least shorter ones to type. We start on classroom and branch out to Team Drive or content site resources, depending on the nature of the lesson activity.

I like to design learning activities the way organic traffic flows as opposed to the social media driven approach. This way, the routine of typing URLs in the Omnibox becomes a bit more second nature, which is means that my students are more likely to find the answer to their questions initially on their own. Then, the conversation is about questioning the answers and sources in lieu of using the teacher is an encyclopedia.

I hope this process and history has helped. I truly believe that classroom website design should be looking at the user experience to develop healthy opportunities for our children.

Please comment below about anything, especially what you've learned from student user experience.