Fall 2021 UX Research Report

Studying the Student Resources and Services Page


Background

  • Organization: Dallas College
  • Product: Student Resources and Services page (Dallas College Website)
  • Timeline: Sept. to Nov. 2021

Our team was beginning to receive feedback that “students can’t find any resources on our website,” “this page is too long,” and “I want my new departments to be displayed and organized like this on that page.” We already knew that the page had long lost focus, grown into a Frankenstein of an interface, and would probably not serve students if it turned into a directory of the internal structure of our college.

Below you will find the complete report we published on the Dallas College intranet. The design team used this as a reference throughout the course of the project and we used it to explain our approach and trajectory to stakeholders and leadership.

My Role

In the production of this deliverable, my primary role was as Lead. This included:

  • Leading, contributing, and delegating on UX research
  • Organizing research findings into insights, observations, and recommendations
  • Writing document

Purpose: Understand the digital journey of students to find and access Dallas College services and resources so that we can improve that journey, including (but not limited to) the Student Resources landing page.

It’s more than just the page. It’s the journey. We have examined how students gain access to services, whether it’s through the Student Resources and Services page or not.

Key questions: How are students finding student services that they need and services they don’t know yet that they need? How are students using the Student Resources landing page? Is our language or jargon clear enough to students?

Methodologies: Usability testing, student interviews and card sorting surveys

What We Learned:

Insights and ValidationsRecommendations
Visual layouts and elements, when used properly, help students easily scan contentUse visuals that lighten cognitive load for students and help provide quick visual cues for the content they represent
Student Resources page is too long and too dense for students to easily understand or even skimReduce the length of the page by 50% and page density (words per space)
Focus, scope and and intent of the Student Resources page was so broad and unclear that it was lost on studentsBe clear about the focus of the page and define who it’s intended for and what the goals are for that audience
There was consensus among students about how our services and resources should be organizedOrganize our services and resources by 4 overall categories:
admissions/registration
learning/academic services
student wellness and support
student and campus life, extracurriculars
There is much unclear language and jargon that our students (and many of our staff) do not understandProvide adequate context to unclear language so the student can best understand what that service or resource is. For example:
Military-Connected Services (Veterans Services), 
Success Coaching (Advising),
Working Wonders (Child Care Assistance)

Most unclear language among students and staff were:
working wonders
learning commons
connections team
title v
inclusive excellence
TRIO
males achievement
CARE team
rising star
student advocacy
student care network
Students are using internal site search heavily when they need to find a service  they are looking forIncorporate search into new resources page designStreamline the search results page to help students find what they are looking for
Many students still prefer to call or talk to someone (as opposed to emailing) when accessing a service or resource. Therefore contact information and calls to action are important.Determine a pattern or template for the individual services pages that is consistent and makes contact information easy to find

More in-depth observations, insights and recommendations can be found below.

Research Overview

Key Questions

Our goal for the months of Sept., Oct. and Nov. was to gain insights and understanding around the following questions:

  • How are students finding student services that they need?
  • How do students find student services they don’t know about?
  • How are students using the Student Resources & Services (SR&S) landing page?
  • ​​​​​​​Are the titles and terms that the college is using clear to our students?
  • How can our listing of services and resources be organized in a way that is clearest to the student?

Methodologies Used

Usability testing: In September, we performed remote usability testing sessions with four students of various backgrounds over Microsoft Teams. We examined how students were finding our services and how they were using the resources landing page.

Student interviews: In October, we sat down with seven students of various backgrounds to ask additional questions about how they found our services and what services were important to them.

Card sorting: In November, we performed remote and in-person card sorting surveys with the following people to determine language and organization of support terms and services:​​​​​​​

  • 16 students
  • 16 marketing staff
  • 5 student support staff

Team Contributors

  • Maddie B. – Manager, Digital Experience
  • Brandon C. – Manager, Digital Experience
  • Preston C. – Assistant Director, Digital Experience
  • April E. – Web Managing Editor
  • Luis M. – Director, Digital Experience
  • Anna M. – Digital Experience Designer
  • Ryan S. – Assistant Director, Digital Experience
  • Yoshimi U – Sr. Manager, Digital Experience

Insights on the Layout and Design of the Student Resources Page

Insight

Choice and application of visual elements on the page draw user focus. But, it should also be used to better represent and symbolize the content.

A screenshot of the tiles found at the top of the Student Resources and Services page.

Key Observations

  • Nearly all students were drawn to the visual nature of the tiles layout at the top of the page.
  • However, the subjects depicted in the tile images were too generic. They were not representative or identifiable enough to the student to provide easy visual cues that match the content they were meant to symbolize.

Direct Quotes

  • “It’s just a bunch of random smiling students.”
  • “The pictures look diverse, so that’s good.”

Recommendations

  1. Include a visual “tile-like” menu to draw in the focus of students.
  2. Use imagery that provide quick visual cues for the content they represent
  3. Continue to use diverse subjects in photography

Insight

The “Student Resources and Services” page is too long and requires more scrolling and skimming than most students are willing to do.

Scrolling animated GIF of the original Student Resources page
An animation of the length and density of the Student Resources and Services page.

Key Observations

  • Nearly all students paid attention to the tile area, then slowly scrolled over the next section followed by quickly scrolling to the bottom and back up. They ended up scrolling past more than 50% of the page.
  • Most students did not see or read the subnavigation items right under the header of the page.

Direct Quotes

  • “This is too much information for me. I’m too lazy to read through it.”
  • “The page is easy to use, once you get the hang of it.”
  • “The bottom of the page is giving me rolodex vibes.”

Recommendations

  1. Reduce the length of the page by at least 50%.
  2. Reduce the density of the content of the page.

Insight

The focus and purpose of the page is lost on students. They believe it should be everything for all current students, which did not match our business objective.

A screenshot of the news (featured links) section.

Key Observations

  • Students also expected to find this type of information on this page:
    • counselors/advisors
    • career paths
    • library and tutoring hours
    • contact hours
    • academic calendar
    • events
    • financial aid, scholarships, and resources
  • Most students agreed “Dallas County Promise” was not relevant to them nor did it make sense to be presented as a “service.”
  • Some students noticed that there several redundant links on the page.
  • Most students scrolled right passed the news (featured links) section, even though service-related highlights and updates were available there.

Direct Quotes

  • “I’d never go on this website to see the news.” This was said in response to the news (featured links) section.

Recommendations

  1. Be clear about the scope and focus of this page.
    1. While some students said they would expect to see an events calendar or career paths on this page, ultimately the page can not be all things to all current students.
    2. The focus of this page should be specifically on services and resources and should also consider the prospective student.
  2. Find an implementation and placement of the news (featured links) section that is clear and helps attract the attention of the student without detracting from the core services and resources presented on the page.

Insight

Students understand the names and terms of our resources and services far less than most of our staff. This leaves students unsure and lost when presented with terms they are not familiar with.

A screenshot of the closed card sorting exercise performed with students.

Key Observations

Open Card Sorts

After surveying and running open card sorting exercises with our staff, we determined that most of our 70+ resources and services terms or titles were consistently organized into one of these six themes:

  1. Admissions, Registration and Enrollment
  2. Academic and Learning Services
  3. Student and Campus Life
  4. Student Basic Needs and Well-being
Closed Card Sorts

After running closed card sorting exercises with students and student support staff, we determined that the terms tended to be organized like this:

Admissions, Registration and Enrollment
  • 85% consensus – Transcripts
  • 54% consensus – Advising
  • 46% consensus – Class schedules
  • 46% consensus – eConnect
  • 46% consensus – Financial aid
Academic and Learning Services
  • 85% consensus – Tutoring
  • 69% consensus – Microsoft office
  • 69% consensus – Academic Calendar
  • 69% consensus – IncludED
  • 69% consensus – Success Coaching
  • 62% consensus – Textbooks
  • 62% consensus – Honors program
  • 62% consensus – Learning Support
  • 62% consensus – Learning commons
Student Basic Needs and Well-being
  • 92% consensus – Child care resources
  • 92% consensus – Basic needs and community connections
  • 92% consensus – Student wellness and support
  • 85% consensus – Counseling and psychological services
  • 85% consensus – Emergency aid fund
  • 85% consensus – Emergency shelter
  • 77% consensus – Student care network
  • 69% consensus – DART Student GoPass
  • 69% consensus – Food pantries
  • 69% consensus – Health services
  • 62% consensus – Foster care
  • 62% consensus – Title IX and sexual misconduct
Student and Campus Life
  • 92% consensus – Student blog
  • 77% consensus – Events
  • 77% consensus – Student life and engagement
  • 77% consensus – Fitness center
  • 62% consensus – My community services
  • 46% consensus – Maps
  • 46% consensus – Multicultural affairs
  • 46% consensus – Student advocacy
  • 46% consensus – Thriving learning communities
Uncategorized

Students did not know enough about these terms to determine a category

  • 62% consensus – SharePoint
  • 54% consensus – Rising Star
  • 54% consensus – Title V
  • 39% consensus – Working Wonders
  • 39% consensus – Males initiative

The card sorting exercises also yielded the following observations:

  • eConnect was split 46.2% and 38.5% for Admissions and Academic Services
  • Military/Veterans services were overwhelmingly placed in Admissions, but was categorized as Student Life by student support staff
  • My Grades was split between Student Life and Academic Services
  • SharePoint either doesn’t fit or is widely unknown by students

The student surveys and staff surveys also showed a divide in understanding:

  • Staff placed Library completely under Academic Services, while students placed it split between Academic Services and Student Life
  • Staff placed Student Email completely under Admissions, while students placed it split between Admissions and Student Life
  • Staff placed Accessibility Services mostly under Academic Services (67%), while students placed it mostly under Student Support (54%)​​​​​​​

Recommendations

  1. Use the organizational categories above as the key organizational structure for the page.
  2. Use the data found with student consensus to help organize services and resources into those categories.
    1. ​​​​​​​There may be certain terms that can reasonably be organized under two categories.
    2. Because students were not completely clear on what some of these services actually were, there is room for the team to make organizational decisions based on logic and additional context.

Insight

Using clear language to reference our services and being clear and intentional with page headings improves the experience for our students.

Key Observations

When tasked with looking for hours of operation for a campus fitness center, a student skimmed right by the accordion (just named “North Lake”) where that information could have be found.

When skimming pages, students heavily used page headings to help them determine what kind of content could be found on the page.

Here are some language-specific observations:

  • Basic needs – One student thought it meant food, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.
  • Local disaster v. emergency aid fund – One student used “local disaster” as a search term to find emergency aid fund money.
  • Food on campus – This terminology seemed to work well with identifying food pantries.
  • Counselors – The early college high school students confused the terms counselors with advisors and vice versa.

When running card sorting exercises that included a total of 70 different terms and titles for our services (with students, marketing staff, and student support staff), we made the following observations:

These terms are unknown, or very unclear, for all three audiences:

  • working wonders
  • learning commons
  • connections team

These terms are unknown, or very unclear, for students and either marketing staff or student support staff:

  • title v
  • inclusive excellence
  • TRIO
  • males achievement
  • CARE team
  • rising star
  • student advocacy
  • student care network

These terms are very known and/or very clear for all three audiences:

  • academic calendar
  • testing centers
  • study abroad
  • food pantries

These terms are very known and/or very clear for students and either marketing staff or student support staff:

  • health services
  • counseling and psychological services
  • title ix and sexual misconduct
  • emergency aid fund

Recommendations

  1. Revise heading and accordion text on key services pages, especially regarding contact info or hours of operation.
  2. Avoid unclear language when possible. When it can’t be avoided, provide adequate context so the student can best understand what that service or resource is.
    1. ​​​​​​​Services and resources with unclear titles would best be served by being followed or preceded by more common terms on the page. For example:
      1. Military-Connected Services (Veterans Services)
      2. Success Coaching (advising)
      3. Working Wonders (Child Care Assistance)
    2. ​​​​​​​We should avoid using unclear language by itself, without context or explanation.
  3. ​​​​​​​Provide a solution that allows a student to find the service or resource they seek without having to know it’s official Dallas College-given name.

Insights on Finding and Acting on Services

Insight

Students are using internal site search heavily to find services and resources.

A screenshot showing emphasized “promoted result” which students skimmed past, subconsciously disregarding it as some sort of ad.

Key Observations

  • When tasked with finding specific services and resources, most students went straight to internal site search to find what they were looking for
  • Most of the time students did not know proper service titles or names, but searched using terms they were familiar with, like: veterans, advising, Microsoft, etc.
  • When looking at internal search results, students tended to gloss over promoted results and go straight to the main results, reading the link text

Recommendations

  1. Incorporate search functionality into solution.
  2. Re-examine the layout of the search results page and the styles of the promoted results so students do not miss them.
  3. Examine all services and resources and assign promoted results for those terms as well as adjacent terms. Additional promoted results to align:
    1. “Microsoft office”
    2. “student email”
    3. ​​​​​​​”fitness centers”

Insight

Many students prefer to talk to real people when seeking help with services or resources, whether it’s by phone or in-person. So, easy-to-find contact information is important.

Key Observations

  • Most students expressed their need to connect with a real person when seeking help.
  • Placement of contact information on individual services pages was inconsistent and therefore hard for students to find.

Direct Quotes

  • “For me, it was actually easier to talk to them, so I made an appointment.”

Recommendations

  1. Determine a pattern or template for resource site home pages that places contact information and calls-to-action in a consistent and visible location.