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So as of yesterday, I’ve been approved to move forward with some usability testing on our online application for admission. As an excellent bonus, I’ll be allowed to waive the application fee of the students who help us by letting them observe them.

Our Directors Planning Team, which collectively makes most of the important decisions in the office (which I’m a member of), was somewhat characteristically interested in the details. Who are we testing? Just students who visit? Out-of-state students? Students in the different regions of Pennsylvania? Those who visit our Community Recruitment Centers? I took it a step farther to make it clear that breadth isn’t necessarily our aim considering our resources for the project–as of yet, I have no further funding approved–by suggesting transfers and international students. Further than that, we should look at adult students. But if I intend to test 5 – 10 students, there’s no way we’ll hit all these populations. How do we balance my funding, resources, support, and time? Not to mention equipment and travel, possibly?

The easy answer is: we don’t. Keeping it simple and keeping it close to home (so to speak) keeps it feasible. And we’ll get plenty of useful feedback just with that, potentially more than we can change in the time we have. If I get the funding and time I need, though, the equation changes completely.

This morning (during the Spend a Summer Day admissions presentation, I’ll admit, with the caveat that I’ve seen it five times now) I started mulling over my own questions about the project, which in some ways I find more important. What should we ask on a pre- or post-survey? Do we really strip this down to make it fast and easy and not have either? Do I want to publish/speak on this topic and thus slow us down with the IRB process? (No, probably not. What we do now falls under process-improvement and hasn’t required one thus far.)

Should I contact my Usability Engineering instructor from last semester and see if he knows a student who might be interested in helping with this very important research? Do we want to try to include someone with accessibility issues to make the point that we need to work on that end of things? (One rule of usability testing is not to go in with an agenda, so I probably shouldn’t pursue this.)

The questions go on and on.

In the end, we’ll probably end up on the end of a stripped-down version, because doing that way gets it done. Getting ambitious may mean it doesn’t happen, and I’d hate for that to occur. We need to know what real students do rather than continuing to make suppositions.

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