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K-12 Education

Elevating Youth Voice through User Testing

This post was originally shared on Data Driven Detroit’s website. Click here to view the original posting.

Stephanie Quesnelle

Last summer, we introduced students at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women to user testing, a fast-growing facet of software development, and then guided them through a user test of D3’s products page. After the user test, students were invited to the Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) tester pool. This opportunity was made possible with the support of Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program and The Skillman Foundation. D3 utilized a draft of a products page to get student feedback on using it to access information and resources about their neighborhood.

There were three main goals:

  • Introduce students to the fields of user research and user experience through qualitative user testing
  • Create excitement about the possibility of participating in more formalized tests in the future
  • Provide students an opportunity to better understand what participating in CUTGroup formally would entail for them and how it could benefit their community

We began the day with a short presentation on the role user testing plays in the development process, the user testing process itself, and how developers might use the data collected, including examples from prior CUTGroup tests. For example, students were introduced to the concept of A-B user testing by remembering a time their Facebook app changed but a friend’s didn’t and then discussed what Facebook might do to collect data about the impact of the change. D3 provided a short tutorial on how to proctor a user test, highlighting the importance of patience and allowing the user time to complete the task, even if they are struggling.

After the tutorial, D3 divided the students into two groups for a user test of D3 products page. Group A proctored a user test and group B acted as the users. The groups then reversed so each student was able to both proctor and test the protocol. After completing the testing portion, D3 introduced the students to the concept of CUTGroup and gave them information on how to sign up for the tester pool.

We had to be flexible with technology, which was a great lesson for future classroom presentations. There were challenges with adjacent computers not always functioning, requiring groups of three students instead of two, which lessened the effectiveness of engagement in the user test activity.  In some cases we were able to utilize mobile devices, which actually helps diversify feedback on the prototype products page. 

While we provided a learning opportunity for students, D3’s developer for the products page gained valuable feedback as well. For example, we identified issues with how users tried to search for new information.  In searching for information, students primarily went for the search box and typed in keywords. Most students didn’t realize the drop-down menus were filters to help guide a search. This led the developer to explore more robust backend search capabilities for the search box, but also ways to highlight the filter options.  Many students also commented on the color choices, especially the dark background. The developer also noticed that students wanted icons to identify a map versus a dataset, etc.

beta version of the products page was recently launched, integrating feedback from students as well as other rapid user testing conducted internally. Now users can access D3 products like maps, interactive tools, and reports dating back to 2009. We’re still working on uploading new products to the database, so stay tuned for future iterations!

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