BlackBoard Learn — a UX case study

Blackboard is an education management tool used by schools, universities and learning institutions as a virtual learning environment (VLE). Students typically use the service on a daily basis to access work, check for announcements and organise themselves among many other tasks. Given the fact that the platform facilitates the uses above, it should be very user friendly, however it is frustratingly the opposite. It is cluttered, text heavy, outdated in its design, and generally irritating to use. I myself as a student, have had the burden of using the platform daily, so as my induction into the world of UX , I have decided to see if others shares these same frustrations I have found through a case study.

THE PROBLEM

Blackboard is essentially a tool that organises information for students from many different backgrounds, meaning accessibility should be a very key focus in its design. The landing page aims to display the most used/important information first, however it is plagued with poor information architecture. Module content which is the most used feature on the landing page is very difficult to navigate due to a lack of clear boundaries and small text, making it susceptible to misclicks. Other information which is hardly used is easily clicked on and takes up larger proportions of the screen. This is also due to the fact that the modules are not separated by academic year further confusing students with modules that have similar names but are from different years. On top of all of that, reviews from learning practitioners say that the look hasn’t been updated in over 5 years. Users also complained about the the image on the login screen looking performative and spoke about frustration surrounding having to search for the website where they can reset a forgotten password. Although the service is used by teachers and students, this case study is focused on the student side of the platform because I cannot access the staff side of it.

EXISTING PLATFORM

THE PROCESS

The design process I chose to follow for this study was the 6 stage process created by Invision as it seemed like the simplest to follow. As this was my first UX case study, I thought the approach of keeping things simple would be best, however looking back this is not always correct. I found the earlier stages quite insightful, but the later stages didn’t run as smoothly and as dynamically as I felt they needed to be.

  1. Understand

This is the stage in which I became in tune with the users which I found quite straightforward, but also with the brand which was a bit confusing at first. I initially thought that understanding the brand would be a complex concept surrounding specific UX knowledge. I then began to understand that it was simply the case of understanding why any business makes a change which is always ultimately improvement in any given area.

2.Research

In this stage, I used best practice research methods to gain further insight into the user wants and needs, and most importantly, challenged all the assumptions I had initially made. Although I am a user of the service, there is a chance that only a minority share the same frustrations as me, therefore they must challenged with evidence to ensure most people feel the same/a similar way. This also enables me to remove my bias as a user of of Blackboard.

3. Analyse

During analysis, I organised my findings into resources that could be used during the design process to facilitate and guide and justify design decisions. This included deliverables such as journey maps and personas.

4.Design

This consisted of low, medium and high fidelity wireframes, using pen and paper alongside sketch to draft designs.I then used Craft for Invision to create an interactive prototype. Looking back I feel like I separated the design stage and the feedback stage, where they should’ve been intertwined.

5. & 6. Launch and Re-analysis

The context of this case study does not account for an actual product launch, however, I simulated this through some prototyping. I also managed to do some further testing/ reanalysis on a draft final design which did lead to some tweaks being made.

PRIMARY RESEARCH

I decided that a survey would be the most efficient way to collect a wide range of opinions and ideas from a large sample of people. 26 users participated and despite attempts to diversify responses, female and final year responses made up 35% and 7% of the results respectively. Some responses were more useful than others, and vice versa, and I believe that some people didn’t understand the objective of the survey, as they didn't understand the final goal of the project as a whole. I also chose not to explain this in detail to anyone in attempt to remove potential bias. Nevertheless, there were a lot of very useful responses which were essential in designing in the later stages.

Survey

When users were asked to rate their whole experience of Blackboard out of 10, the most common answer given was a 7, however it shows there is some element of dissatisfaction, which was made evident when users were asked why it was given as a next question. Some of these reasons are shown below:

The diagram below shows the rating of the landing page of Blackboard from very poor to excellent(left to right). There are no votes for excellent and a difference of one vote between good and moderate(11 to 10 votes). This is something I needed to understand more, which lead to follow up research being conducted in an interview format.

INTERVIEWS

To focus in on users frustrations, I conducted two follow up interviews via moderated walkthrough of the website. I picked a male and a female from the people that completed the survey, upon the condition that they provided thoughtful answers in the survey to filter out responses. These identified the main pain points of the service. I also proposed on the spot solutions to see what users thought of the fixes and was met with feedback. This lead to the main fixes listed below

  • Drop down menus to increase organisation
  • Decluttering the Landing page
  • Changing the image on the Login page
  • Use of more Icons
  • Implementation of a dashboard structure

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Competitive analysis was difficult to obtain as a result of the nature of these platforms. I could not login to rival platforms such as canvas and moodle as your university must use the service for you to be able to have access, however i was able to get one user to screenshot the platform. I used this as a base towards the structure of the design specifically centering navigation around a side bar.

USER JOURNEY

The red boxes on the User flow above show the main UX flaws that i tackled

SOLUTIONS

  • New forgot password call to action on the login page
  • Updated image and look for login page
  • New help for students and staff pop-up
  • New Dashboard structure for the landing page surrounding a navigation bar with the most important tools
  • Improved information architecture surrounding modules and other elements
  • Personalisable elements so that students can suit their landing page to their needs

LOW FIDELITY WIREFRAMES

MID FIDELITY WIREFRAMES

TESTING

As shown above, only a few of my mid-fidelity wireframes remained stayed the same/similar in my final design because i decided to do my testing in high fidelity and tweak from there. In future I may test in mid-fidelity so that the process is clearer visually.

Through testing at high fidelity users did request a few tweaks that are listed below and were included into the high fidelity design. These changes were:

  • Bigger modules section
  • Modules included into navigation bar
  • Pop-up overlay for adding shortcuts

HIGH FIDELITY WIREFRAMES

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Looking retrospectively, I believe this was a very good choice for a first case study as I came across hurdles that allowed me to learn key practices in a dynamic fashion. The importance of picking a process and sticking to it was highlighted quite early because I began to get a bit lost when I strayed away from the process.

The importance of letting the research lead you was definitely the second greatest takeaway during this case study. Its very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that users think in the exact same way you do, which will lead to you designing for self instead of for the user. Following the research and continuously engaging with users throughout the design process keeps you going in the right direction.

The final key takeaway was the importance of organising my work. Halfway through the design process, I began to become overwhelmed with the amount of layers that had began to pile up and the amount of notes which i had taken, which became very confusing to work with.

Nevertheless the experience as a whole was very thought provoking, and I look forward particularly to refining my process in future projects.