Playing 30 Questions on the Virtual Campus

This post originally appeared June 30, 2014, on another blog of mine. It tells more about how we came to try the 30 Questions exercise. The order (which doesn’t matter) has changed and a couple of the questions may have been rephrased slightly, but otherwise it’s the same.

Nobody, not even web professionals, can look at a web site for 30 seconds and tell if it’s good. They can tell immediately if they think it’s attractive, and people with an experienced eye can pick out obvious problem areas. To assess a web site’s quality, we have to start by separating the content and function from the presentation.

The Exercise

I compiled the 30 Questions when a university administrator asked myself and several colleagues to review a campus web site and make recommendations for its redesign. At our first meeting we concurred that the site wasn’t very useful and it was hard to find information, but we couldn’t pin down exactly what was wrong. It was a lovely site; nothing looked wrong.

Five or six members of the group participated in the exercise, and the results we shared at our next meeting clearly identified the problems we couldn’t define initially. We found that many of the links we were looking for were grouped together in one section that wasn’t nearly prominent enough. At the same time, the site dedicated prime real estate to peripheral or redundant information.

In the end I suggested that the campus hire a UX specialist (that’s “user experience” to the uninitiated) and focus solely on untangling the knots in the architecture instead of changing the appearance.

The Instructions

For each question, start from the home page of the site you’re evaluating and try to find the information using any search or navigation tool it offers. Make the following notes:

  • Did you find what you were looking for? if so, how long did it take? If not, how long did you look before you gave up?
  • Was the information complete?
  • Did the information appear to be current and correct?
  • Was it easy to understand?
  • How many clicks/searches did it take to get there?
  • Once you reached your destination, were you able return easily to the home page without retyping its address?

This exercise takes time — one participant said he spent nearly a full day on it — so if this is a preliminary assessment, try a sampling of five questions (5, 8, 9, 22 and 26 is a good subset). I used the stopwatch on my phone to track how long it took to find each item.

If you conduct this exercise, consider inviting outsiders to take part. I sought volunteers from among my Facebook friends who had no knowledge of the university other than its name. Each volunteer received five questions from the list. Their feedback proved invaluable for its lack of bias. They were perfect stand-ins for prospective students and their parents.

The Questions

Can you find … ?

  1. A map or directions to the cashier’s office.
  2. Campus events for one week from today.
  3. This week’s menu for the dining hall.
  4. Information on facilities rental.
  5. The next deadline for scholarship applications.
  6. The login page for the university’s course-management system (Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard, etc.).
  7. The phone number for campus security.
  8. Information on where to order a transcript.
  9. Campus parking guidelines.
  10. Graduate program tuition and fee information.
  11. The most recent issue of the student newspaper.
  12. The bookstore (to buy the required textbook for freshman English).
  13. Contact information and guidelines for accessibility services.
  14. The login page for university email.
  15. If/when/where the campus offers immunizations.
  16. The current continuing education course offerings.
  17. The scores from the most recent football/basketball/baseball game.
  18. Additional admissions requirements for international students.
  19. The online application to the university, with admission requirements.
  20. The student handbook.
  21. Current library hours.
  22. Current (non-student) job openings on campus.
  23. Contact information for the IT Help Desk.
  24. A list of job opportunities on campus for students, with application instructions.
  25. Information on where to take the SAT.
  26. The catalog of current courses for the history program.
  27. A list of student organizations, with descriptions, membership requirements and contact information.
  28. The office location, phone number and email address of a biology professor (pick one before starting).
  29. A list, with descriptions, of athletics/PE facilities.
  30. Child-care services on campus, with hours and rates.

In my next post I’ll share some of the things I found when I played 30 Questions.

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