Jul 30 2021

5 Higher Education UX Mistakes to Avoid

At a time when student satisfaction is critical, consider these user experience pitfalls in educational technology solutions.

Technology can be a powerful way to improve learning on and off campus. While the adoption of educational technology may have accelerated during the pandemic, some faculty and students are still struggling to use their tools.

A recent Promethean survey of 2,000 educators found that a third refrain from teaching with technology because they believe the tools to be unreliable. To effectively deploy solutions, IT departments need a better understanding of existing shortcomings and processes.

To achieve good user experience design, it may help to consider these common higher education UX mistakes.

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1. Forgetting the Faculty User Experience

When leveraged properly, learning management systems can be an effective way to facilitate immediacy during hybrid learning. Because an LMS is the interface for most course content these days, everyone’s user experience — including faculty’s — is important.

According to Douglas Peterson, a South Dakota University professor who researches human-computer interaction and educational technology, some UX designers struggle with designing learning platforms in a way that caters to multiple, convergent end users.

If a poor LMS experience forces faculty to avoid certain kinds of content, students miss out on learning opportunities. “If I can’t make a review quiz easily, I won’t add it to my course,” Peterson says. “And if I don’t add it to my course, the student doesn’t get the benefit of the review quiz.”

Peterson, who leads the EDUCAUSE User Experience and Service Design Practice Community Group, calls it a “dual-user, dual-use issue.” “Every product has two levels of users — students and teachers — and most have a third, administrator level,” he says.

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 2. Renewing Software Contracts Before Getting User Feedback

A second mistake that higher education IT leaders often make is renewing software contracts without asking users if the software met their needs.

Even though UX for students is often dependent on the quality of instructor user experiences, educators and students rarely have input in IT investment decisions.

“Until those who use a product daily have the power to influence purchasing, I don’t expect optimal UX,” Peterson says. “Most ed tech purchases are made by an IT professional or administrator who watches what a product can do during a canned demo. The user has little choice.”

After years of disappointment, students and faculty may no longer expect good experiences. Most won’t even bother to give feedback to IT decision-makers. “If they did complain, it would be to the teacher, who might say something to his or her boss. But the likelihood of change is low,” Peterson says.

In short, higher education institutions may need to rethink their UX assessment practices. Surveys alone will not lead to comprehensive understanding of user experiences. Kelly Dagan, a UX librarian at Amherst College in Massachusetts recommends combining surveys with methods such as usability testing and contextual inquiries.

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3. Not Prioritizing Fast Response Times

A slow response time to technical issues during hybrid learning can negatively impact retention rates. “Student engagement is critical. But a five-minute delay, or difficulty launching an audiovisual product, hurts student engagement for the remainder of the experience,” says Peterson.

If universities and colleges can address chaotic videoconference experiences sooner rather than later, it is a much more efficient use of manpower. “Quality UX not only gives you happier students and faculty, but also fewer requests for support and fewer complaints,” he says.

Since network problems are often the culprit behind audio and video issues, IT departments that need to augment their staff may want to hire a managed service provider. MSPs can be a cost-efficient way to offer 24/7 help desk, network and application support.

Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, for example, uses CDW•G to offer around-the-clock support. “If we need general support, advice or guidance on a product or to troubleshoot an issue, we have one point of contact,” Lincoln CIO Justin McKenzie told EdTech. “It gives us the ability to connect to expert-level ­people quickly.”

To ensure successful deployment and adoption year after year, IT departments must have the right people and processes in place.

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4. Using Hardware That Isn’t Compatible with Mobile Learning

In this day and age, a mobile-friendly LMS is essential for students. According to a 2017 EDUCAUSE poll, 94 percent of students are interested in mobile learning.

Some students are even writing essays using their smartphones. Ensuring that learning materials are accessible on smartphones and tablets is more important than ever, considering that mobile learning has become more common since the pandemic.

If students can’t take a quiz from their phones, that’s a problem. When IT departments force students to use only tablets or a computer, Peterson says, they may be “imposing the wrong tools on teachers and students.”

In short, the hardware must easily integrate with the software. “UX always suffers when we ask a tool to do a job it wasn’t designed to do,” he says.

COMPLIMENTARY INSIDER CHECKLIST: Take these actionable steps. Avoid common UX mistakes. 

5. Delaying Infrastructure Upgrades

At a time when universities and colleges must quickly adapt to changing public health requirements, having affordable and scalable infrastructure is key. In the event of more school closures, IT departments can limit learning loss by scaling remote operations quickly.

Ryan Lufkin, the senior director of education product marketing at Instructure, maker of the Canvas learning platform, recommends Software as a Service for learning continuity. “SaaS is the superior, easier and more secure way to go. Its servers are in the cloud, so it scales rapidly and makes software more affordable.”

At the end of the day, delaying important investments such as infrastructure upgrades can leave a college’s financial health in a worse place. “The old standard in UX is that money spent up front preventing UX-related issues saves far more money in support or update expenses later,” Douglas says.

Illustration by Alex Williamson