After the last iMoot session I had, I was chatting with Silvia Calvet about usability and its social nature.1

During the iMoot conference I also got a couple of precious chances to hear about different community members’ usability efforts within their organisations. Turns out there are a bunch of people already doing usability related to Moodle, mostly inside their organizations. Even more people are interested, but the environment to discuss usability in the context of Moodle does not exist.

We need an environment where community members can make their usability efforts visible to the rest of the community:

  • A place where people are encouraged to brag about what they have done for usability in their organisation, and to share what has been learned (usability test tasks, results, …).
  • A site that could propose you directions to take with usability: give instructions interactively for usability testing, for instance.
  • A corner in the community to chat in about usability, where you could share your frustrations with Moodle, and with doing usability work, and with usability issues in general.

Another aspect of this effort would be to visualize actual concrete usability data about Moodle.

  • Have a hierarchy on the site for the high level to low level goals, and for red routes of the Moodle UI (of course, these need to be defined first).
  • Allow people to link user interfaces (cvs/git), tracker issues and usability tests (containing test tasks and results) into these goals, although keeping the user goals as the starting point for everything.

The slogan? How about… We are all about the goals of the learners!

The magic I want to make happen: make usability visible socially since it is, at its foundation, a phenomenon of social artifacts. Engineers are creating artifacts to users, when they would be better off with other kinds of artifacts. If we can make this disrepancy obvious in the community’s social sphere, there would perhaps no longer be a need to try to convince software engineers of the concrete need for the work. As it is currently, it seems many perceive usability as something too abstract and distant for them to actually do something about it.

Before any of this though, I believe the first milestone is to do usability testing to determine the current level of usability. This is to set measurable goals for Moodle usability, and to prioritize the things a given part of Moodle is primarily intended for. The fun thing about the above vision is that it is easy to start small: first start filling in data for one activity module while it is usability tested, and then build on the vision I am proposing here, as we go. Even if we end up just creating a site for documenting Moodle’s current level of usability (as a side effect of doing usability testing), it is still worth it.

  1. Silvia is someone who has since summer encouraged me in work with Moodle in a great deal. She is working for CVA, a Moodle partner, herself and we also met in EuroIA09 in Copenhagen to discuss where to take Moodle’s usability efforts. []