Adaptive Instruction: Tailoring a Usability Course on the Fly

I wrote in my prior blog post about my Ignite experience at UXPA 2013. While I really enjoyed the Ignite presentation, I also had fun teaching a full-day tutorial: “Usability in a Day: Everything That You Need to Know to Jump Start Your Career.”

I had originally proposed this for general audiences, but the conference committee had made the reasonable request that given the topic, it should be focused on those new to the field. So I was extra careful to make sure that the tutorial was very well grounded in the basics.

The class was certainly engaged, and there was a lot of dialog and discussion during the class. I took a moment at the end of the lunch break to ask the class whether the level of the class seemed appropriate. The response I got from most of the class was that they actually had a fair bit of background, and while a useful refresher, they wanted it to be a bit more advanced. This request was not made by 100% of participants, but still a clear majority opinion. What to do?

While still trying to make sure to introduce each topic, I decided to remotely connect to my office computer where I had stored a variety of sample usability deliverables that I use when clients ask to see my portfolio, and I showed how these had been constructed step by step. When we got to the section on card sorting, I actually pulled out real card sort data and demoed how I had actually used Syncaps software to churn through and produce a dendrogram via a statistical cluster analysis. The class really seemed to enjoy this change of direction, and I got a lot of positive feedback as well as unanimously positive evaluation scores from those that completed the UXPA evaluation afterwards.

Still, I thought about how in the future I could make sure that classes could be adaptive to attendee needs.

Prepare with hidden slides

Sometimes I’ve included slides with content that I may not expect to cover. If I’m fairly confident that I won’t get to these slides, I’ve hidden slides. Other times, when I am really not sure whether I’ll be covering the content, I keep the slides visible, but provide hidden hyperlinks that let me skip over a batch of slides if need be. In this case, as seen in the tweeted image of the tutorial, all the slides were printed in advance, which made this kind of adaptation more difficult. Nonetheless, when unsure of how long a group may want to spend on certain slides or at what level you’re going to want to teach, having multiple pathways within a PowerPoint deck could be useful.

Be prepared to wing it

In this case, I was winging it on the fly, but ideally, with more time, consider what kinds of exercises, activities, demonstrations and discussion points you may not have time to cover but can be held in your back pocket should you see that they are appropriate for a given group of people. In my case, I was lucky that I had a solid internet connection to remotely connect to my desktop PC. But if I had thought through possibilities in advance, I would have brought local copies of files to my laptop.

Assess beforehand

If it’s possible to survey attendees before taking the class, consider this option. In many cases, however, this isn’t feasible because there are many last minute registrants or I simply don’t have access to the list of those registered.

Distribute an initial survey or ask at the beginning

As people walk in the door, consider handing them a short paper survey and review these as you get them back. While there won’t be time to aggregate your findings, it should give a general sense of who’s there.

Alternatively, particularly if the class size is not too large, consider going around the room and asking people what their background is. As a rule of thumb, I like to make sure that everyone talks at least one time, even if only introducing themselves, since I believe this helps people feel more comfortable later on when there is an opportunity to participate in a class discussion.

Do a mid-way assessment

If the course is long enough, as this one was, consider asking at a break whether the class level is appropriate. Another option would be to distribute a quick survey at this point. You’d have the break time to then review the results.

Use your own modular feedback form for next time.

The two-day FEMA workshop that I teach is divided into 8 segments. The evaluation form that I use lists out all eight segments, and at the end of each segment I ask participants to fill out their evaluation of that segment. While I don’t actually see the final evaluation form until the end of the class, I do know for next time what might have gone well or not so well. Even if the organization you are teaching for provides their own overall feedback form, consider using your own modular feedback form for longer classes so you can get granular feedback about each section of the training.

2017-04-22T22:36:12+00:00 Aug 1, 2013|Tags: , , |