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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Pop-up research on campus during Welcome Week

The team came together on campus during Welcome Week to do some pop-up research with newly arrived students. It was a great way to come together as a team, and for everyone to interact first-hand with the people we’re creating digital services for.

What is pop-up research?

Pop-up (also known as guerilla) research involves short informal interviews or usability tests in places used by the people you want to talk to.So no formal participant recruitment process, no incentives to take part. We simply walked up to students in and around McEwan Hall and asked them if they could spare a few minutes to help us improve the website.

“Pop-up research is a team sport” – article by Wellcome Digital

User researchers chat with a student in the street

Flo and Nicole worked together when interviewing students.

Why we were doing this

Our Head of Service, Neil was keen for us to do this primarily as a means to bring the whole team together and see real students using our websites first hand. All of our projects involve user research and usability testing to some degree, but not everyone on the team typically gets to participate.

While user research and usability testing is absolutely the core of my role, our content designers, software developer and performance analyst have other responsibilties. But interacting first-hand with our target audience makes us all better at our jobs.

Plus, because of hybrid working patterns that have developed following the pandemic, we rarely if ever come together as a whole team in person. So it was lovely to all be in the same place at the same time, and as well as the great work we did, we squeezed in a team lunch and a few after-work drinks.

Finally, of course, we were doing this to learn more about how new students tackle their top tasks as they join the University. What we learned is feeding into the Pre-arrival and Induction Team’s plans to improve the New Students website.

What did we learn?

Pop-up usability testing can be intimidating but our students are incredibly friendly and accommodating. We worked in pairs which helped give us all confidence to walk up to people and ask them to help. Operating in teams also really helped with the juggling of clipboards and ipads and all the other logistical stuff you need to cope with when you’re out and about.

Wi-fi around campus is generally pretty good, but we had to always make sure were in range of a strong signal as we wasted a couple of participants when they were happy to help but we couldn’t get web pages to load. Pairing a mobile phone as a back up connection really helped.

When you find a ‘hot spot’ for recruitment, stick with it. It was a lovely day on campus, so there were plenty of students hanging around, taking a break and generally relaxing. Some of the team found some really fruitful places to recruit while others found it more challenging. People in a hurry, or with a task in hand are typically less receptive to our approaches.

For myself, as the person who wrote the test scripts, I learned that I needed to focus our attention on tasks that were suited to the environment we were in. Most of the time, I’m interviewing students at a desk for 30 or more minutes which is a much more focused and involved activity. Here, the shorter, snappier tasks worked best. Having multiple tasks like this meant that we could conveniently work with different students for different lengths of time. Some could spare us 2 to 3 minutes, while others were happy to chat for 10 minutes or more. I’ll definitely be refining my approach next time.

User researchers having a discussion in a busy outdoor setting

Flo and Nicole plan their next approach in a busy location on Bristo Square.

What next?

I’ll be organising a playback session and collaborative usability test review for the Pre-induction and Arrival Team in the coming weeks so we can share what we learned and they can see first hand what students said and did when using their website.

We’ll definitely be doing this again as a team, as we all agreed it was a great experience both socially and for professional development. Neil is keen that everyone in engaged in usability testing and takes responsibility for seeing users interact with what is developed, and this is a great way to build up everybody’s skills and confidence.

Give it a try!

If this sounds like something you’d like to do with your team, I’d be happy to chat through how we did it, and share our materials and set-up details. Drop me a line if you want a little help.

Pete Watson staff profile

There’s also this great post from a member of the User Experience Service, which I found really useful.

“Lessons learned from guerrilla testing” – blog post by the User Experience Service


"Everbody is responsible for the user experience" quote by Lis Hubert

“Everbody is responsible for the user experience” A great quote by Lis Hubert, and something core to our team’s ethos.

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