Almost beta: High school students and our (yet unnamed) digital history project
Well before (okay, at least a few months before) our digital history project will be launched, we visited two Philadelphia-area high schools last month to test our website in its beginning stages. We focused on one story: "Two Women, Two Paths: Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans." (An earlier blog post about testing the story content can be found at: Two Women, Two Paths. Our goal was to find out how the students navigated our as-of-yet rather basic site, and to make changes to the design, navigation, and user interface based upon our results.
As of now, our story includes about five 'core documents,' the ones we rely on as evidence; several 'related documents,' meant to enrich the content; a 'background,' which tells the story and gives general historical context pertaining to it; questions to consider while browsing through the documents; and a teaser video. Each core document has attached to it a brief description, an image of the original, a transcript of the excerpted sections and audio to complement it, questions for discussion, and a 'why it matters' section, designed to let users know why this document is important as evidence to the story (or in general!).
Whew! Not too much content to fit into one page (for the stories)...or a pop-up window (for the documents), correct?
So several of the staff members here, along with a colleague from the Drexel Library, set out to see how students interacted with the page, knowing that the feedback might mean a lot more work, but in the end would create a better user experience.
Not surprisingly, many students watched the video first. Some felt it was too short; the video was only 60 seconds. Others felt the video was "too general" and would have liked it to provide more information about the story.
Students also seemed to like having the transcript and the audio for the documents. They questioned the placement of the audio player, and some didn't know the transcript was underneath the player. Other students found the navigation on the viewer to be troublesome. However, a lot of students commented they enjoyed being able to see the original document, and that the transcript and audio made it easier to figure out the handwriting and follow along.
Because our project is still in its early development phases, students had various comments about navigation: they found it hard to scroll from horizontally, as an example. Many students said the pictures and the videos caught their eyes first; this is what we kind of expected, although it's good to have confirmation. Another rather common comment was that they way the content was presented felt a bit overwhelming; they wanted a cleaner layout with more visual components and one that was more aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, we found that students enjoyed going through the stories, and may wanted to "know more." (Ah, the nature of archival material!) Although they enjoyed using it, most said they wouldn't visit the site unless it was for an assignment, which isn't too surprising. They found the questions and the 'why it matters' section useful for hypothetical assignments, although many admitted they wouldn't bother with those if they were just browsing out of interest; again, not surprising.
While we have much feedback to wade through and changes to be worked out, it was fantastic seeing students enjoying seeing all this "old stuff" and really digging the images of original documents.