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New UCISA Higher Education user experience (UX) Community of Practice

Staff from universities across the UK have formed a new UX (user experience) group as part of UCISA – a member-led professional body for digital practitioners in education. Initially established in June 2021, the group became part of UCISA in September 2021.

Beginning  a HE UX community

Recognising that UX is an expanding profession within higher education, Service Design Lead Ellie Wood from the University of Nottingham reached out to fellow UX HE professionals with the idea of forming a group to share experiences, practices and insights and to offer mutual support.

From the first meet-up (held in June 2021) it was clear that this community was welcome and needed. In an exercise reflecting on current levels of UX maturity (using the Nielsen Norman 6 Stages of UX Maturity model), those attending placed their organisations between levels 2 (‘Limited’) and 3 (‘Emergent’). Popular topics for future meet-ups included: connecting with other UX HE practitioners, resource sharing, success stories and failures, and building awareness of UX and gaining buy-in.

Read more about the Nielsen Norman 6 Levels of UX Maturity model

A supportive group to build, grow and champion UX in the education sector

UCISA is the member-led professional body for digital practitioners within education. It supports a number of groups in the digital sphere and runs a wide range of events and conferences to allow those working in the digital sector in education to connect and collaborate. Becoming part of UCISA in September 2021 offered our group the chance to connect with a wider audience across HE and meant the group could become more firmly established. Working with the UCISA events team we received support with administration and event organisation, and were able to access new channels for communication, promotion and collaboration.

We established a core team to take ownership of running the group, and together we developed our vision: To build, grow and champion UX in the education sector together. We also set out a clear purpose incorporating our goals and our scope.

To provide a space for UX colleagues from across the sector to meet, share and learn with one another – considering topics such as UX design, UX strategy, Content design, Content strategy, UX research, Service design, Product design” – Purpose of the UCISA UX Community of Practice

Keen to be a supportive, inclusive space for everyone we also defined our expectations of values for group members:

  • Open to contributing and listening
  • Supportive of others
  • Respects confidentiality
  • Non-judgemental

Members of our core team were appointed to committee roles, and working closely with UCISA in alignment with other UCISA groups, we published details of our Community of Practice on the UCISA website.

UCISA UX Community of Practice webpage

Thought-provoking, engaging events

We’ve ran three UCISA UX Community of Practice events so far. We sought feedback after each event through a survey, to help us iterate and improve the next one.

Personas, cover stories, blockers and plus points

Our UCISA UX Community of Practice event took place on 6 October 2021. Acknowledging feedback from the initial meet-up we planned a session to enable people to connect over a task about understanding typical HE audiences and visualising successful adoption of human-centred design. Using Miro we set up spaces for break-out groups to develop personas around HE audiences, visualise a cover story with human-centred design as the headline and identify factors that could block or promote human-centred design. The session was well-received, although attendees said the activities felt quite rushed. Despite technical issues with break-out rooms, the different groups were able to work through the task and there was positive feedback from people new to UX who appreciated the opportunity to gain some practice with core UX techniques.

User journey mapping with Paul Boag

We decided to focus on one technique in our December 2021 event, in response to feedback about the previous event being rushed. We invited Paul Boag to talk on the subject of user journey mapping, to share his expertise and experience and recommend some tips and approaches. After questions, we joined break out rooms to have a go at mapping out a journey with a festive theme. Feedback was positive, the event was recorded and Paul helpfully followed up his talk by supplying resources on user journey mapping which were added to the UCISA UX Community of Practice website.

Recording of UCISA UX event: User journey mapping with Paul Boag (UCISA member log in required)

Paul Boag’s resources on user journey mapping (UCISA member log in required)

Embedding a user-centred design (UCD) mindset in HE – Panel Discussion

Building on the success of the session ran by Paul Boag, and acknowledging the abundance of questions submitted by the audience, the committee decided on a panel discussion with questions and answers for the March 2022 event. The panel included a combination of HE UX professionals and consultants with expertise working in HE:

  • Ayala Gordon – Associate Director (Digital User Experience), University of Southampton
  • Jennifer Robertson – Head of Service Design, University of Glasgow
  • Paul-Jervis Heath – Founder of Modern Human
  • Paul Boag – Founder of Boagworks
  • Padma Gillen – Director at Llibertat UK

Various topics were covered in the discussion, including the factors specific to the HE environment which help and hinder UCD practices and mindset, how to measure success of UCD, and how to balance user needs versus business needs. The session was recorded and the recording added to the UCISA website.

Recording of UCISA UX event: Embedding a UCD mindset in HE – Panel Discussion  (UCISA member log in required)

What’s next and how to stay informed

We’ve already started planning our next event is scheduled for Thursday 10 May 10:00-11:30, and full details will be sent out soon.

If you’re interested in attending one of our events, you can join the UCISA UX Community of Practice mailing list to receive notifications.

Join our mailing list (JISC mail)


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