In a new usability study, experts say that adults are better than teens at finding information online. PARCC, are you listening? Are you designing your tests using research-based usability standards?
Teens are (over)confident in their web abilities, but they perform worse than adults. Lower reading levels, impatience, and undeveloped research skills reduce teens’ task success and require simple, relatable sites.
Their research followed 84 teens doing online tasks and used at usability testing, field testing, interview and focus groups to determine 110 usability standards for designing online interactions for teens. Teens reported using the web for:
- School assignments
- Hobbies or other special interests (including learning new skills or finding fun activities)
- Entertainment (including music and games)
- News (including sports, current events, and entertainment)
- Learning about new topics
- Talking to friends
On similar tests, adults completed an assigned task 83% of the time, compared with only 71% for teens. Nielsen’s results say that teens perform worse than adults for three reasons:
- Insufficient reading skills
- Less sophisticated research strategies
- Dramatically lower levels of patience
The implications for Common Core are clear:
Teen reading, especially online reading, needs to improve. Part of the improvement will involve vocabulary development and increased rigor in content knowledge that might be encountered in reading.
Teens need to be taught better research strategies. I recently did an argument essay unit with teens about search engines and was amazed at the lack of sophistication in how they handle such a basic task.
For example, as a pre-teaching question, I asked students, “How does a search engine work?”
Unanimously, they answered some version of this: “You type in what you want to know, and it tells you the answer.”
Until teens are systematically taught the underlying processes of the internet, including search engines, and then systematically taught research strategies, they will not be able to consistently perform well online–or on multimedia tests.
Usability Guidelines Should Affect Common Core Testing
Of course, Nielsen’s organization makes money from researching performance of a wide range of demographics and then publishing and selling a series of usability guidelines for that demographic. The $149 report, Teenagers on the Web has 110 usability guidelines. (Note: I am not affiliated with Nielsen and make no monies from this recommendation at all.) From the free sample online, here’s an extended example of one usability guideline:
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to place valuable information in multi- media format only. Teenage are likely to miss the information for the following reasons:
- Teenagers don’t watch every video or look at every image on a page.
- Many teens aren’t allowed to or able to install the required plug-ins.
- They might have limited access to multi-media because they don’t have the technical set-up, such as speaker, or because they use an assistive device if they have a disability, such as a screen reader.
When teenagers come to a page on a website they try to determine if the page is going to be useful. They aren’t drawn immediately to the video, instead they skim the page and if they are given the indication that the video (or other interactive feature) is beneficial they’ll use it.
For example, one participant spent 14 minutes on WFP.org learning about the organization and never once watched any of the videos or played a game.
Multimedia can be effective in certain applications and help make the interaction fun and enjoyable. Make sure to provide alternative content for users lacking access to the multimedia. Also, use sound to compliment your site, not as a primary way to deliver content. In almost all homes that we visited, teens didn’t have the right set- up to listen to audio from a website. They either didn’t have speakers, they had their computer muted to listen to their iPod, or they were listening to music online from another website. If you’re going to have a demonstration that uses sound, make sure it has a text version as well, so teens can follow along without having to depend on the audio.
For the online testing for the CCSS, these usability standards have immense implications. If teens regularly ignore multimedia, preferring instead to scan a page, that must be the baseline for testing behavior. Watching a multimedia project would be unusual. Teachers would need to specifically teach students how to use an online video to gather information.
Anyone involved in the testing, in setting up school website, in preparing students to take online tests–in short, most educators, should study these guidelines.