Assignment 2: Documenting Usage of Chosen Artifact
Due Date: Thursday, February 9, 2006
Our group's chosen artifact is a web application called "StudentCentral," (studentcentral.unc.edu) or SC for short, which is used by students of UNC Chapel Hill to perform a variety of administrative and academic tasks. According to UNC Information Technology Services, StudentCentral is a comprehensive student portal designed to provide students with a variety of self-service functions.
While the functionality of SC is frequently revised improved, as of January 25, 2006, SC contained 37 different functions and links under six broad categories. In addition to SC, there is a separate but related application called "MyUNC" (my.unc.edu), which also serves as a similar portal, but offers a range of customization based on the users' student status, class, major, year and personal preferences. For the purposes of this assignment, we will concentrate on redesigning a truly comprehensive and unified SC, taking both the current SC and MyUNC into consideration. Our aim is one of function--to design an integrated web application where students can perform many, if not all, of the tasks currently offered by both SC and MyUNC.
History of Student Central
Little authoritative history could be located regarding SC. However, before SC and widely-available internet access, students performed many of the functions now offered on SC, in person or via regular (snail) mail. Examples include standing in lines in Woolen Gym to register for class, paying tuition bills and signing up for student housing via the US mail, etc. In October 1990, CAROLINE, a telephonic registration system that allowed students to register for classes using a touch tone phone, debuted. CAROLINE was a revolutionary development and was in many ways a predecessor to SC. Suddenly students were freed from the physical limitations of having to be on campus to register for classes. As time progressed, additional functions were added to CAROLINE beyond simple class registration so that CAROLINE was a telephonic portal to many common tasks. Even while CAROLINE was being extended, UNC was planning the ability to register for classes online. The first online registration system was implemented in the late 90s and co-existed with CAROLINE for a time. CAROLINE was finally terminated on Jan 21, 2004, at which time only 5% of students used the telephone to register. The last hold-out was the University Cashier, which was the last in-person or telephone-only function to be moved to SC. Currently, the hardware supporting the student registration functionality in SC supports 100 simultaneous sessions. Even so, in recent semesters it is not uncommon for 1500-2000 students to register for courses during the first 15 minutes of a registration window. As of January 2006, the University Registrar is anticipating upgrades to the hardware and software comprising SC, but no major changes are planned until 2008 or 2009.
SC is an application designed for UNC Chapel Hill students, so we limited our observations to either students actively enrolled, or those who may potentially enroll. And because usage of SC is subject to the ebb and flow of the academic calendar (with most usage occurring during registration and grade reporting periods) we compiled our usage profile through a combination of 1) observation, 2) direct interviews of users, and 3) a web survey. These three methods are summarized below with links provided to full raw data yielded from each method.
1. Observation: We designed our observation methodology taking the ethnographic methods discussed in class and in our readings into account. Our goal was to glean how the user interacted with the artifact, and the user experience as a whole. The observation component comprised a series of pre-determined tasks we deemed were common tasks most students would perform on SC, and we asked participants to perform these tasks while observing them navigate the artifact. The tasks ranged from simple to complex, and we noted how easily the tasks were performed, any difficulties encountered, and feedback from the participant, either explicit, or in terms of body language, signs of frustration, sighs of exasperation, nervous tics and twitches, etc. The observation periods ranged from ten minutes to thirty minutes, depending on the participants' familiarity with SC and ability to perform the tasks provided. The specific tasks and our full notes are detailed in the observation section.
2. Interview: Our qualitative interview was designed with in-depth and/or open-ended questions about subjects' SC use in terms of utility, style, way of life and social networks. Our interview questions and participant responses are listed in full in our interview section.
3. Survey: Finally, our online survey was designed to measure how participants used and interacted with SC and asked their stated satisfaction rates with various features and functions of SC. The survey questions and results can be found here: Survey Results (external link).
Sample: Our interview/survey sample consisted of four males and two females, with median and mean ages of 29.5 and 27, respectively. Three subjects were undergrads, two grads, and one subject was a potential student we recruited to gain a fresh perspective and insight. All of our student subjects had been enrolled at UNC since 2001 or later. Our observation sample comprised two females and two males, with median and mean ages of 29.75 and 23, respectively. Two students were undergrads, and two were non- or potential students. Since a majority of UNCCH students are traditional undergraduate students, we hypothesize that our samples were slightly older than the actual student average, but, given that there was little variation in the feedback we received from older and younger students, we feel that our data adequately captures StudentCentral artifact usage among UNCCH students.
Usage: In terms of SC usage, 40% of survey respondents used SC several times per month, 60% rarely or less than once per month, while 100% of survey participants stated they had rarely or never used MyUNC. 60% of survey respondents reported that they used WebMail at least several times per week, while 40% never used webmail, because they had their mail forwarded to another email address. Of all the specific functions offered by SC, no one used any function more than several times per week. Among those both surveyed and interviewed, a majority of our respondents stated that they did not use a majority of the functionality of SC (such as CCI, CWI, housing, financial aid, etc.), while the most frequently used functions of SC, such as registration, grade reports, etc., were used several times a month, and often much more frequently during registration periods and grade reporting periods.
Future of SC: Today, many functions offered by SC can only be performed on SC, requiring users to have a computer, web-browser, and access to the internet. We hypothesize that as cellular, wi-fi and personal communication devices become more popular and reliable, many functions will be ported to cellular, blackberry or other wi-fi devices. Another development may be the invention of smart-agents or passive action tools that will allow students to enter their preferences in the tool/medium of their choice, and the agents will perform the actions when network speeds, connectivity, load, class availability, etc. allow. For example, while currently, a student wishing to find out his grade in a class must repeatedly check SC until the grade is posted, in the future we see the student setting a smart-agent that will check for the grade and alert the student through the medium of choice (cell, pda, etc.).