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​Website user testing a win-win

When UW-Stevens Point began rebuilding its website last year, enrollment was a top priority. To help ensure website visitors have an optimal experience that supports recruitment goals, the Marketing and Enrollment Division tapped knowledgeable resources on campus.

Susan Weinschenk, adjunct faculty member in Computing and New Media Technologies Department, and students in her Evaluating User Experience course provided valuable insight. They tested one aspect of the Financial Aid webpage to learn if prospective students could find scholarships and calculate costs to attend college – key factors in decision-making. They compared UW-Stevens Point's page with three competitors.

"An institution's website is one of its most impactful marketing tools. Industry studies show that more than 80 percent of prospective students cite the website as having influenced their college decision," noted Lana Poole, chief marketing and enrollment officer.

The UW-Stevens Point website rebuild, expected to be completed in early 2022, is a major investment that directly aligns with the university's enrollment goals. "When you make that kind of an investment, user testing and research are critical to guide the efficacy of redesign strategies," Poole said.

Many organizations spend significant time and money developing websites, software and mobile apps.

"If they don't know about the user experience and human factors, if they don't check that out beforehand, they going to create a product that doesn't work as well as they would like. They're going to create a product they have to redo if they didn't get it right the first time," Weinschenk said.

Many corporations have user testing departments. "While we don't have a marketing budget to hire a team of testers, UWSP is fortunate to have someone with Dr. Weinschenk's background and expertise to guide website rebuild efforts," Poole said. "Equally important, it's gratifying to see our students enthusiastically participate in the process and receive experiential learning they will use in their careers."

Weinschenk has a Ph.D. in psychology and 30 years of experience as a behavioral psychologist, which she applies to the design of digital products and to predict, understand and explain what motivates people. As a consultant, her clients include Disney, Amazon, the Mayo Clinic, Zappos, the Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission. She has written several books and has taught at UW-Stevens Point since 2013.

The web development program at UW-Stevens Point is one of the few in the state that emphasize user research and user experience design skills at the undergraduate level, said Tomi Heimonen, associate professor and Computing and New Media Technologies Department chair.

"Hands-on projects are vital for preparing our students for their future careers in computing. Working with outside clients and end users allows students to put their user research skills to practice and gain valuable experience in a way that is difficult to simulate in the classroom," Heimonen said. "In addition to our capstone experience, instructors like Susan regularly provide students with opportunities to work on real-world projects in their courses."

Students love these opportunities, Weinschenk said. "It's important we give them very practical experience," which also gives them an advantage in the job market after graduating.

Her students use three techniques to evaluate user experience, including a cognitive walk-through. She takes advantage of a user testing tool that is free to students on a limited basis.

Poole hopes user testing by CNMT students becomes an ongoing part of UW-Stevens Point's website management.

Weinschenk said she's impressed with the UW-Stevens Point program. "It's unusual to have a strong human-computer interaction – user experience program at an undergraduate level.  I have also been very impressed with the quality of the students. I'd put our students up against students from any of the elite colleges any day. They are smart. They are hard-working. I've been impressed with what they know, how quickly they learn and how hard they work."


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