Teaching in a Paperless Classroom

Last fall, I taught one of the library’s three-credit courses again. I decided to teach it in a way that would use as little paper as possible by using a combination of Google Docs, WordPress, and LibGuides. I have been meaning to write about this for months now. This morning, I did a presentation at the Teaching and Technology Conference here at Baruch College at which I spoke about my little experiment. I’m presenting my slides here as a way of sharing how it worked out for me. When I prepared my slides in PowerPoint, I typed out a script for what I would say in the notes for the slides; if you download the PowerPoint or PDF version of my slides, you’ll be see what it was that I had intended to write as a lengthy post on this blog. If you just want to take a spin through the slides, you can find them embedded below.

Usability Testing Basics

The kind folks who run the Carterette Series Webinars for the Georgia Library Association invited me to do a presentation on usability testing basics. I just finished up an hour ago and wanted to share my slides as soon as possible. The webinar recording will be archived and freely available soon (check the archived sessions page). In the meanwhile, here are my slides:

If you want to see my slides with my notes, you can get the original PowerPoint slides, too.

During the presentation, I read aloud from a script we used this past January when we were testing a draft of the library website. Here’s that script:

Test Script

First of all, we’d like to thank you for coming. Before we get started, I’m going to start a recording here so that we can document this session. Please don’t worry, as this session will be kept private and you’ll remain anonymous.

[Test moderator hits CTRL-F8 on the laptop keyboard to start the audio and screen recording]

As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the process of redesigning the library web site. In order to make it as easy to use as possible, we’d like to get some input from the people who will be using it. And that’s where you come in. We’re going to ask you to perform a very simple exercise that will give us some great insight into how we can make this web site easier to use.

I want to make it clear that we’re testing the site, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. We want to hear exactly what you think, so please don’t worry that you’re going to hurt our feelings. We want to improve it, so we need to know honestly what you think.

As we go along, I’m going to ask you to think out loud, to tell me what’s going through your mind.

If you have questions, just ask. I may not be able to answer them right away, since we’re interested in how people do when they don’t have someone sitting next to them, but I will try to answer any questions you still have when we’re done.

Do you have any questions before we begin?

[initial questions for the test subject]

Before we begin the exercise, I’d like to ask you a few quick questions:

What year are you in school?
Approximately how many times have you used the library web site? (sample responses: several times a day, once a day, once a week, once a month, less than once a month)
Can you give me a list of 3-4 things you would expect to find or be able to do on the library’s website?
What type of information or services have you looked for or used on the library web site?
Is there any information or services you have had trouble finding on the library site?

OK, great. We’re done with the questions and we can begin the exercise. Here’s how it works. First, I’m just going to ask you to look at the home page of the test library website and tell me what you think it is, what strikes you about it, and what you think you would click on first.

And again, as much as possible, it will help us if you can try to think out loud so we know what you’re thinking about.

[Test moderator opens browser to test page]

OK. Is there anything that interests you on this page that you might click on?

Before you click, can you tell me what you expect to find when you click on the link?

[after clicking] Did you find what you expected?

[Three main tasks that test subject will complete]

I’m going to ask you to try to complete some tasks using the test library site. Please keep in mind that some of the interior pages of the library site don’t have all the text or links that ultimately will. And as you can see from the library home page, there are some open spaces that we haven’t put content into yet.

[First task; make sure the browser is back to the home page]

OK, beginning at the library home page, pretend that you want to know what the hours are for the library next week. Where would you go to find that information?

[Second task]

Great. OK, now let’s say that you’ve checked out a book that is due back soon. You’d like to extend the loan period. Can you see a way to use the library site to help with that?

[Third task]

Great. Now let’s say that you want to find a textbook titled “Brief Calculus.” Can you see a way to do that?

Thank you so much for your time. Your help today is going to be fed right back into our redesign efforts.

[Test moderator presses CTRL F9 on the laptop keyboard to stop the audio and screen recording]

Please feel free to reuse this script without attribution.

My 8 Years on last.fm

On March 25, 2004, I tried out a service that was new to me, last.fm, so I could hear some new music via the internet and keep track of what local files I was playing in iTunes. Eight years later, I find I’m using the service more than ever (check out my last.fm profile to see what I’ve been up to all these years). Only a few days ago, the number of songs I had played on the service or sent listening data to the service for had hit 26,000 (a number which seems big until I compare it to some of my friends on the service who have been more devoted users).* This got me thinking about all the reasons why I’ve stuck with last.fm over the years, although I have to admit that my use of it has grown more steady over the years:

1. Creation of an archive of my listening interests

I love that last.fm keeps track of all the songs you played and gives you all sorts of rankings about which artists and songs you’ve listened to over different time spans (last seven days, last month, last three months, last 6 months, last year, overall). I’ve occasionally plugged in my user name to sites and downloaded software that will further analyze and graphically present your listening habits.

2. Other music playing services and software send my listening data to last.fm

Over the years, I’ve sent data to last.fm about what songs I’ve played (what they refer to as “scrobbling”) via iTunes on all my computers and laptops, Pandora, Grooveshark, Amazon Music Player, Spotify, YouTube, the music player on my Android phone, and even the last.fm app I have set up on my Roku player that is connected to my stereo system and TV set. I tend to hop around to different means of playing music; whenever possible, I try to connect it up to last.fm so the data about what I am listening continues to aggregate. The rate at which my listening data has grown has increased over time as I have more options for scrobbling.

3. I have discovered tons of new music from the last.fm social network

I’ve got 81 friends in last.fm, many of whom have tastes that overlap with mine and whose listening profiles that I can view and whose personal radio stations on last.fm I can listen to have led me to new artists that I’ve grown to love.

4. Last.fm is a survivor

The service launched in 2002 shortly after the dot.com bubble burst. It amazes me that the company is still around after 10 years, a long time as far as websites go.

5. The more you use it, the better the recommendation engine gets

With eight years of data in my account, I feel like I get really good recommendations back out of last.fm service. Between all the scrobbling of other music services that I’ve done and all the listening I’ve done within last.fm, the service now has tons of information about what I might like to hear next.

On this 8-year anniversary on last.fm, I decided to finally give back to the service and have started a subscription so I can lose the ads and the occasional interruptions of playback. This bit of anniversary-inflected navel gazing has got me wishing that I had a similar service that would automatically track all the books that I’ve checked out of the library and that I’ve bought from bookstores (and that would like last.fm let me remove individual items from the history for the sake of privacy or better recommendations). Although Netflix will give me recommendations based on what I’ve viewed or rated, and the Zite feed reader app on my iPad will use my ratings of read items to show me relevant and potentially interesting posts from blogs I’m not yet subscribed to, I can’t think of any of other recommender service on the web that has such a rich ecosystem of inputs and that also offers so many ways to show you how and what you consumed.

* The 26,000th song was played via Spotify and was the Clash’s “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here,” from one of my favorite albums of all time, Sandinista!.