Rethinking the user experience of a popular learning management system
Designing Interactive Systems, University of Washington
User Researcher, UX & Interface Designer, Prototyper, Interaction Designer
April 2016 - May 2016
Ideation, semi-structured interviews, subject matter expert interview, sketching, prototyping, usability testing, visual design, interaction design
InVision, Sketch, Principle, Photoshop
Canvas is a learning management system (LMS) that attempts to make learning easier by “connecting all the digital tools teachers use in one easy place.” Canvas supports communication and collaboration between students and faculty, but I wanted to extend the current version of Canvas in order to provide improved mechanisms for communication and collaboration amongst students, as well as between students and instructors.
In this 6 week individual project, I conducted user research in order to understand people’s attitudes towards Canvas before using these insights to create a proposed redesign of the current Canvas website.
The University of Washington conducted a survey to gauge the attitudes of instructors and students towards Canvas, and we were given access to this data.
In addition to assessing opinions regarding Canvas, I decided to investigate whether a tablet version of Canvas could be of potential use to students. Student survey data revealed low engagement with tablet devices. Far more students own laptops than tablets and more than half of respondents don’t own a tablet at all.
A series of questions garnered the response “don’t use” from approximately 20% of respondents. These questions included the following: “Please indicate your satisfaction with engaging in meaningful interactions with your instructors through the LMS at your institution”; “Please indicate your satisfaction with collaborating on projects or for study groups with other students through the LMS at your institution.”; “Please indicate your satisfaction with engaging in meaningful interactions with other students through the LMS at your institution.” Much like the data gathered from their faculty counterparts, student data seems to suggest that a need is not being met in regards to “meaningful interactions.”
The phrase “meaningful interactions” was never defined, so I turned to Tyler Fox to shed some light on what constitutes a meaningful interaction. Tyler Fox was an Instructional Technologist for the University of Washington. Mr. Fox and his UW-IT colleagues conducted research in order to gauge faculty and student attitudes towards learning management systems. After speaking with Tyler Fox and conducting semi-structured interviews with two current UW students, I gleaned the following key insights:
- Canvas is currently lacking an efficient method for prioritizing deadlines and optimizing workflow.
- The Canvas chat feature has multiple shortcomings, and students' experiences communicating with classmates and professors could be improved through the integration of Slack-like features.
I chose to propose a “meaningful interaction” that is currently missing from Canvas, that is, task management for teams. This feature will encourage students to connect via Canvas, in addition to assisting them as they plan and execute group assignments (thereby addressing Tyler Fox’s concerns regarding a lack of support for identifying work priorities). This feature will also promote “meaningful interactions” between students and instructors because I intended to integrate instructor comments and feedback on assignments into the project workflow scaffolding.
After identifying the focus of my redesign – improving communication between students and instructors, as well as between students working on team assignments – I created wireframes and used InVision to turn my wireframes into an interactive prototype. By conducting "guerilla" usability tests, I was able to quickly identify issues with my proposed design.
I used feedback from usability testing in order to produce a final, high-fidelity mock-up. I also created animations and transitions using Principle that would aid in overall usability.
The current version of Canvas allows students to view upcoming assignments by either viewing a calendar or by navigating to the a particular course's dedicated page. Usability testing revealed that students would prefer to see their upcoming assignments displayed on their Canvas Dashboard and grouped not only by class, but also by date.
In order to improve communication between students and their peers and instructors, course modules provide a messaging interface "shortcut." Clicking on a profile icon opens up a direct chat with that individual. The course instructor appears first in this list of course members, followed by the classmates that the user interacts with the most frequently.
Usability test participants responded positively to the concept of having a dedicated messaging space for teams, so I incorporated this feature into my final design; team members and their availability (online versus offline) are displayed on a course page's dashboard.
Usability test participants also responded positively to the ability to interact with both the instructor and a team directly, as well as the fact that to communication regarding a particular assignment is tied to the assignment itself. I included this feature in the final design, but I added a "reply indicator," that is, Recent Feedback displays quick overview of how many comments an instructor has made.