Usability, findability, and visual design are critical aspects of the way your students experience your course. A good student experience requires a functional and usable course. A great student experience also needs thoughtfulness.
Think about how your students may feel when beginning a task or trying to navigate the course. Imagine someone close to you doing these things. Would they find it interesting and enjoyable, or would they be frustrated and lose motivation?
Usability: A Definition
Usability refers to the ease with which an individual can navigate, understand, learn, and use something. In this case, the something is your course, and the individuals are your students. It is defined as the ability of the user to “do what he or she wants to do, the way he or she expects to be able to do it, without hindrance, hesitation, or questions” (Rubin, Chisnell & Spool, 2008). It also tends to be an umbrella term that includes other components such as findability, accessibility, readability, etc. – all important aspects in supporting a positive student experience.
There are several versions of usability principles – most stemming from the work of Jakob Nielsen. Some of the major principles that faculty have control over include:
In the context of your courses, accessibility means making it possible for all students, regardless of physical or developmental impairment, to use all course materials and tools. A course is accessible to the degree that every student can get to, perceive, and navigate course content and assignments; submit assignments; and successfully use all course tools.
Includes consistency of layout, navigation, images, and terminology use.
Make Content Easy to Navigate
You’ll notice throughout these pages, the content is displayed consistently from page to page, and the images and graphics are similar in appearance, size, and shape. The intent is to make these pages approachable and easy to navigate. Contrast these pages to many commercial news websites like Yahoo or MSN where the pages are cluttered with a mix of story links, pictures, video, notices, and advertisements which makes it more difficult to navigate.
The less time your students are hunting for information or spending energy trying to distinguish the important information from the decoration or side notes, the more time and energy they have to learn what you want them to learn.
Includes using legible fonts, color contrast, white space, headings, and indents to visually organize text as well as eliminating distracting animations and most purely decorative graphics
Includes writing in active voice and at an approachable reading level. To check readability you can paste in a sample of your text into a Readability Checker. You can also check readability within MS Word.
Findability: A key component of usability
If your students can’t find what they are looking for, don’t understand the instructions to an assignment, or aren’t able to download an article or worksheet, they can’t do what you are asking them to do or learn what you are asking them to learn. Lack of findability impacts student self-efficacy, motivation, and learning. Robins, Simunich, and Kelly (2013) found that students experienced frustration and reduced motivation when findability was reduced due to:
- Lack of use of logical categories for organizing content and activities
- Poor labeling, including use of file names as labels
- Deeply buried content such as placing a syllabus in a folder in instead of using the syllabus tool
- Lack of visual contrast among page elements.
Use Canvas Modules
The Modules tool in Canvas can make organization and navigation easier for yourself and your students. Modules allow you to aggregate your content, activities, and assignments for the module in one easy-to-find place and put things in the order that you want your students to work through them.
Course Organizational Map Outline
By placing all your content, assignments, quizzes/tests, discussions, etc. in Modules, you can hide the Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files tools in the left navigation list from student view. This provides students with one place to look for everything. That means fewer “where is ____?” questions for you and less frustration for your students.
Starting each module with an overview including what the students are to read, watch, and explore as well as a brief description of the assignment(s) for that module also improves usability. If you have several content pages explaining different concepts within a module, you can indent the subpages under the overview page, so students can see the hierarchy of the pages. Think about it as if you are providing an outline of the concepts in the module.
When creating a course from scratch or revising a previous course, organizing with Modules also allows you to see where there may be too much material for the students to work through in the time provided as well as where there may be gaps in content that need to be filled in order for students to complete required assignments.
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This course content 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.