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I am asking the question above, because it might play into an application evaluation and selection process. OSS projects and communities that are best able to enhance user experience through mechanisms that allow for non-coder engagement might be a software/community selection criteria.

This is an open question. If anybody has experience with other OSS projects or across multiple projects, please chime in with your thoughts on this.

Hmmmm, I am not sure if I cleared or further muddied the waters! Cheers, Ken

6. ken udas - july 18th, 2007 at 3:26 pm

Hello, I wanted to make an observation associated with the challenge of user experience, usability testing, and localization that you identify in the “Flexibility of OSS” section of your post. I think that this relates to Jean-Claude’s recent posting, which included a project outline for a FOSS stack to support educational organizations, one of the key requirements identified was the ability to customize/localize across countries and cultures to meet local needs. It seems to meet that the balancing of usability and localization is one of the key challenges while trying to use FOSS to reduced some barriers to online learning globally. This issue seems to be one of the primary goals of the Fluid Project.

Fluid Will:

Help address the diverse needs represented within education, including needs related to ability, language, culture, discipline and institutional conventions

Do you have a strategy to achieve this objective and have you had much participation from potential stakeholders (universities, foundations, governments, etc.) in developing regions or NGOs that work in developing regions?

Cheers, Ken

7. mara hancock - july 21st, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Some thoughts on Ken’s July 17th posting:

Many online learning groups also have a process in which learner experience is captured through evaluation. This is pretty much the case at Penn State World Campus, and was also true at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. In the case of the World Campus we will be developing and revising dozens of courses and delivering&teaching hundreds of courses at any point in time. It would seem to me that the knowledge gathered through the process of designing, developing, authoring, and offering courses, could be well leveraged by an OSS community to enhance UI/UX, which points back to my question. What can OSS projects and communities do to capture this knowledge from application users who will not directly contribute code to a project? This is based on the assumption that the type of knowledge that could be captured and generated through design, development and teaching processes would be useful to user interface design and supporting improved user experience.

So one distinction that is useful is between the evaluation of the teaching and learning experience taking place and the user experience in interacting with the software. These can get blurry sometimes, especially in completely online courses. However, a problem with appropriate online instruction techniques are different than usability problems. I think of usability problems as when the software gets in the way of someone achieving their goals (such as submitting a quiz, sending email to an instructor, tracking their grades, etc.). An ineffective online learning experience might include UI issues such as too much on screen reading, not enough examples or doing, but it is not inherently poor usability.

In higher ed, IF we have the right roles on board, the UI team working on any sort of learning tool absolutely has to engage the team of instructional designers to make effective OSS learning environments. The incentive for Instructional designers is that they influence the direction of the learning environment and they can directly declare success to their faculty who have been asking for these things. Small fixes and successes matter and create a positive reinforcement between UI, ID, and instructors. In a commercial environment, those quick iterations and customizations were either impossible or incredibly far a few in-between releases.

We have IDs and UI folks under the same umbrella (mine!) at UCB. Each release is a discussion (the “bSpace Council”) between ID, UI, Development, Operations, and Sponsor (me). We have a rubric that we use to rate potential new tools which ranks user need and support the highest, then usability, then technical and operations. The rubric is a guideline and open for discussion. We consider tools based on user feedback (coming in from the ID and support team), technical improvements, administration needs, and needs from other stakeholders such as the Registrar, Library, and profession schools.

8. mara hancock - july 21st, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Hi Ken, You asked:

Fluid Will:

Help address the diverse needs represented within education, including needs related to ability, language, culture, discipline and institutional conventions

Do you have a strategy to achieve this objective and have you had much participation from potential stakeholders (universities, foundations, governments, etc.) in developing regions or NGOs that work in developing regions?

Fluid is an open source project (anyone can participate) and we are embedded in each of the core projects, Sakai, Kuali Student, and uPortal. While each of the core universities that are recipients of the grant are english speaking, we have found that there are many differences in language as well as educational cultures and assumptions. For example, the brits cannot understand the U.S. obsession with grades. We also hope that some of the global members of these various projects will start to join in. The Dutch members of Sakai have shown real interest as well as the South Africans and Australians. At this point we don’t have any NGOs engaged that I know of, however I think there is real opportunity to engage them through the open content movement. Jutta Treviranus, the PI on the project, is very engaged on the international specification bodies.

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Source:  OpenStax, The impact of open source software on education. OpenStax CNX. Mar 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10431/1.7
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