Website Evaluation & Web Usability

Introduction

Anyone with a computer and access to server space can publish a web page. There are few restrictions and even fewer established guidelines as to what an author can or cannot put up on a web page. In order to do effective research and locate reliable educational resources, as well as design and publish your own educational resources, syllabi, and online assignments, you should evaluate the author's (or your own) intentions, credibility, and bias, the reliability of the information presented, and the usability of a site. Web usability refers to such issues as the ease with which the site can be navigated, the scannability of text, and the relationhship between texts and visuals. By evaluating the credibility and critiquing the web usability of educational resources already available on the World Wide Web, you will become a better designer and developer of your own highly usable educational resources.

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Website Evaluation

Author/Credibility

  • Who is the author or producer?
  • What is the authority or expertise of the individual or group that created this site?
  • With what organization is the author of the web site affiliated?
  • What is the bias of the author/producer/organization?
  • What are the reasons to assume that the author is an authority on the subject?
  • Is there a way to contact the author or supply feedback?

Reliability of Information

  • Who is the expected audience? Are the content and the links clearly described and suitable for the expected audience?
  • What is the primary purpose of the site (e.g., advertising, information)?
  • Is a date of publication provided? When was the web site last revised?
  • How complete and accurate are the information and the links provided?
  • Are excerpts from texts provided or are entire texts available on the site?
  • Does the information contradict something you already know or have learned from another source?
  • Is a bibliography of print or web resources included?
  • Has the site been reviewed or ranked by an on-line reviewing agency
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Web Usability

Navigating the Site

  • Can you find your way around and easily locate a particular page from any other page?
  • Do parts of it take too long to load?
  • Is it open to everyone on the Internet, or do parts require fees?
  • Is there a text alternative? Text-only? Can you turn off the graphics?
  • Is there a site map to help orientate and direct readers to what they are looking for?
  • Does the site have a consistent navigation scheme, button bar, or text jumplist that will help readers keep track of where they are?
  • Does the site have a repeated image anchored to the same place on every page which returns the reader back to the homepage?
  • Are the individual web pages concise, or do you have to scroll forever?
  • Is the overall site and navigation designed with accessibility in mind?

Linking

  • How up-to-date are the links? Do all the links work?
  • Are the most important and relevant words used as the linked text?
  • Does the site use inline links? The custom of "Click here" has low usability and research shows that inline links help users locate what they want 26 percent faster.
  • Are the links primarily external or internal?
  • Does the site contain links to other resources?
  • Does the site use rollovers as links, making it a mystery as to where the link will go? (While rollovers might look cool and neater because there is no long link of text or no text at all, it is not intuitive, so readers get confused and lost.)

Text and Reading Ease

  • Is the text scannable? (people tend to scan text when reading online)
  • Is the text brief and concise?
  • Are meaningful topics chunked together under precise short titles?
  • Are titles between 3-5 words long?
  • Does the site limit the number of animations per page to one or under? Does the site avoid busy backgrounds? (People read up to 25 percent slower on monitors than on paper, so for optimal reading ease avoid animations and busy backgrounds)
  • Does the site only use pdf documents for documents that readers will want to print? (Using pdf files may reduce usability up to 300%, Nielsen "Avoid PDF")
  • Are the pdf documents that the site does use designed in a way that makes the content accessible to people with disabilities? (See Adobe's recommendations for creating accessible pdf documents)
  • Is the important content at the top of the page? (research shows that only 10% of all users ever scroll down a page)
  • Does the text follow basic rules of grammar, spelling, and composition?
  • Does the content take advantage of the qualities of the web as a medium for communication and not simply just duplicate practices used for paper or other media? (See John December, http://www.december.com)

Visuals

  • Is the site conceptually exciting? Does it do more than can be done with print?
  • Do the graphics and art serve a function or are they decorative?
  • Are the graphics or multimedia included simply to show off, or do they add to the content of the page?
  • Do the graphics correspond with the content of the site and the target audience?
  • Do the colors of the web site make reading easy? Dark font on a lighter background makes reading easiest.
  • Are the color schemes, logos, or visuals meaningful to the organization or educational institution?
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12 Rules of Thumb for Web Design

1. Always Design With Your Audience in Mind.
2. Use Consistent Color, Layout, and Navigational Scheme Throughout a Site.
3. Make Sure a User Can Get Any Place in Your Site in Two Clicks.
4. The Look of Your Page is Important and Should Mirror and Compliment Content.
5. Image Size: "Coolness" vs. Download Time.
6. Be Aware of the Variables (users have different monitor settings, browsers, and platforms).
7. Fix the Position of Your Page Elements When Possible.
8. Stay Current and Do Your Homework.
9. Be Creative and Have Fun.
10. Get Feedback and Take Criticism Well.
11. Keep Your Design Simple.
12. Keep All Linked Files Together.

a detailed discussion of these Rules can be found at http://matrix.msu.edu/modules/designhints/

Sample Inverted "L" Web Design http://www.matrix.msu.edu/educonsult/

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Sample Educational Web Resources and Academic Sites

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Sample Syllabi, Online Assignments, and CVs

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Sample Sites to Study for Design

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Web Usability & Design Links

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Bibliography

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