Assess Usability and Visual Design
Seeing your course and materials from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with your content and organizational structure can help you to clarify important instructions and emphasize important concepts. Having someone else review your course for usability provides a useful second set of eyes to help you see things you hadn’t notices before. Here are some usability questions that you can use to review the usability in your course.
General Course Questions
- Are your learning outcomes easy to find and clearly tied to modules and assessments?
- Does your beginning-of-the-semester course home page include or link to a brief introduction to the course and explicit instructions on what to do first?
- Do students have a single main path to follow to move through the course?
- Are there clear, easy-to-find instructions for contacting both you and Tech Support?
Text Content and Instructions Questions
- Do your page titles accurately describe page content?
- Are your content pages, assignment instructions, etc. written in an active, 2nd-person voice?
- Have your content pages, assignment instructions, etc. been proofread?
- Do your pages, syllabus, assignments, etc. use headings and indenting to help readers follow your organizational structure?
- Are your instructions clear to people with a student-level understanding of the concepts?
- Are there rubrics, models, or examples to help students understand what they are supposed to do?
- Are all links in your content and instructions working and have some description of what the link is to and what the student is to do once they follow the link?
Visuals and Multimedia Usability Questions
- Are your images crisp and clear (not skewed or blurry)?
- If you use color, is the color contrast strong enough for everyone to see?
- If you have images with text in them, is the text clear and large enough to read (and does it have alt text for assistive technology)?
- Do longer videos (>15 minutes) have a table of contents with time marks for each section above or below the video?
- Is the audio on videos clear and understandable?
How can I improve visual design in my course?
There are several easy updates you can make to your course to help student visually navigate more easily.
Visual Design Questions
- Do you have relevant images (charts, graphs, diagrams, pictures) to break up longer sections of text?
- Do your images have a similar look and feel to them (photos with photos, line drawings with line drawings, etc.)? *
- Are your images illustrating concepts or providing examples (not only decorative)?
- Do different sections of your page have enough white space around them to be clear what belongs with each one?
- Is your text almost all left aligned (unless you’re teaching a language that reads right to left)?
- Is your text almost all in the default font size?
What if I’m teaching a course I didn’t design and can’t change?
That’s a really good question. While no one wants to teach a course with usability or accessibility problems, sometimes these things happen. While the best case scenario is to work with the faculty member or committee that designed the course to improve usability there are times that isn’t possible due to time constraints or other complications. In terms of usability, while you may not be able to change the original course, you can still help your students to have a better experience. If you can add an ungraded discussion forum, students can ask questions there and you can respond and clarify for the entire class. If not, regular use of Announcements is an easy way to share updates and clarifications.
Preemptively review the course for usability issues and document them so you know where the stumbling blocks are. If there are issues with clarity of instructions, rubrics, models, or examples, you can clarify or provide additional examples, diagrams, or charts. If you have broken links or links without descriptions of what they are to do once there, you can preemptively provide the correct link and/or explanation. If the course is not using the Modules tool and there is no single place where students can go to find their path through the course, you can provide a course map or a video walkthrough to help students understand where everything is and how to get there. You can create a video walkthrough and embed it into either an announcement or a discussion forum. Be sure to include full transcripts for students with hearing or visual issues.
The key is to figure out where students will have problems and questions as early in the semester as possible and provide clarifying material at the time they are beginning to work on each section. If students receive all the clarifications at the beginning of the semester they will forget that they have them when the section begins. By providing just-in-time support, students are better able to take advantage of the additional resources you are providing.
Finally, keeping notes on the issues and the strategies you used to help students past them can be a valuable resource when it is possible to update or revise the course.
- Clean Up Your Mess – A guide to visual design for everyone
- Principles for Usable Design
- Principles of Accessible and Universal Design
- Typography and readability by Itkonen (Translated from Itkonen, M. 2007. Typografian käsikirja. 3. edition. Helsinki: RPS-yhtiöt.)
- Color Theory for the Color Blind is a nice walk-through of things to consider and strategies to use to make your visuals and text color-blind friendly
- Visual Design for Usability
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This material is offered under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license and should be considered under this license unless otherwise noted. The original content was imported from “Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses” from within Canvas Commons.