Sunday, October 2, 2016

Looking ahead: Usability of open source software

This Spring semester, I look forward to teaching CSCI 4609 Processes, Programming, and Languages: Usability of Open Source Software. This is the second time I will teach the class at the University of Minnesota Morris, although it's more like the fifth time because I structured the course outline to be very similar to the Outreachy internships I've mentored now for three cycles.

Interested in a preview of the course? Here's a quick breakdown of the syllabus:
CSCI 4609: Usability of Open Source Software

Introduction to usability studies and how users interact with systems using open source software as an example. Students learn usability methods, then explore and contribute to open source software by performing usability tests, presenting their analysis of these tests, and making suggestions or changes that may improve the usability.

Course objectives:
  • To understand what is usability and apply basic principles for how test usability
  • Design and develop personas, scenarios, and other artifacts for usability testing
  • Create an execute a usability test against an actual product
  • To identify and reflect on the value and presentation of usability test results

Each student will work with the professor and other students to choose an individual project to complete during the second half of the term.

  • Class engagement (discussions, presentations, feedback)
  • Projects (small group project, and larger individual project)
  • Final paper to document your individual project

Each discussion will be worth 5 points. This is graded on a scale: no points for no discussion posted, and 1 to 5 points based on the quality of your discussion. For example: a well thought-out discussion will be given 5 points; a sketched out discussion post will earn 1 point.

Course outline:
  1. Introduction
  2. What is usability?
  3. How do we test usability?
  4. Personas
  5. Scenarios
  6. Scenario tasks
  7. User interfaces
  8. Mini project (two weeks)
  9. Final project (four weeks)
  10. Final paper
Based on what I learned from teaching the class last time, I'll be sure to arrange the weeks to leave more time for the final project, and to spread discussion throughout the week. For example, in the first half of the course, there's a lot of research and practice: learn about a topic and post a summary, then apply what you have learned towards a specific assignment. This time, I'll have the first discussion assignment due around Thursday each week, and the practice assignment due on Sunday, assuming each week starts on a Monday and ends on Sunday night.

I will also change the points. Last time, I had a 60/40 split for discussion points and final paper. I totaled your discussion, and that was 60% of your grade; your final paper was the other 40%. This year, I plan to make the points cumulative. If you assume 20 discussions at 5 points each, that's 100 points for discussion. The paper is an additional 50 points. That makes it clear you cannot skip the discussion and hope for a strong paper; neither can you punt the paper and rely on your discussion points. You need to participate every week and you need to make an effort on the final paper to get a good grade in the class.
image: University of Minnesota Morris

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