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Posted 12.18.06


Information Experience Lab Examines Web Site 'Usability'

COLUMBIA, MO - On the University of Missouri-Columbia's Web site, how long does it take to find the address of Jesse Hall, where to pay an MU bill or when the next football game is? Researchers in the MU College of Education work to alleviate the stress that comes with searching on the Internet by utilizing the technologies in the School of Information Science & Learning Technologies' Information Experience Laboratory.

"Research shows that people are short tempered and quickly become dissatisfied with a Web site if it is difficult to navigate," said Sanda Erdelez, associate professor of information and library science and director of the Information Experience Laboratory. "Our hope is to alleviate the stress and make the user's time more productive."

The research in the Information Experience Lab focuses on assessing the usability of Web sites and developing better methods for usability evaluation. Two different approaches are most often used - "think aloud" and task analysis. The "think aloud" method allows researchers to understand the thought processes of users as they navigate a particular Web site. The data portion is more straightforward in that researchers compute the length of time that it takes a user to complete a given task such as, how long it takes a student to register for a course on the MU Web site.

The researchers recently helped improve the usability of the MU Admissions Web site. Before the changes, approximately 40 percent of all applications were received online, while 60 percent were traditional paper applications. Following the launch, 68 percent are now received online, while traditional paper applications have fallen to 32 percent.

"The Information Experience Lab serves three important purposes: it supports the research of faculty and graduate students, serves as a teaching laboratory and serves clients," said Gary Westergren, manager of research and development.

"Students can take the skills they learn in the IE Lab and use it in their careers," Erdelez said. "Practical skills in usability evaluation and Web analytics are valuable in both academic research and the private sector, wherever Web-based applications are being developed."

The IE Lab uses the money earned from the projects and to support students by helping them pay for conferences, training, additional technology and specialized research projects.



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