Talking Usability with Kids over Milk and Cookies

Young kids at computers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently created a new Web page made especially for students, so who better to give it a test run than children attending “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day”?

We took advantage of this event held on April 24, 2014, at the Department of Labor to hear what students had to say about the new website.

The K-12 page is made for kids from kindergarten through grade 12. The Web page is meant to help students to make informed career decisions and to teach them BLS concepts related to statistics and the economy. The site also has classroom activities for teachers and a timeline of BLS events.

We focused our evaluation on the two sections of the site that would appeal most to students: the Games and Quizzes section, and the Student Resources section, which contains information about careers. We had four sessions, with groups of about 20 students each (one group of elementary school students, two groups of middle school students, and one of high school students). Each session lasted about 20 minutes.

We conducted the sessions in a Department of Labor computer lab, so each student had a computer to work with. Given this arrangement, we had to modify the approach we use for traditional usability testing.

During each session, we started out with a brief demo of the website, and then asked the students to explore the website on their own for 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of the session, we had a 5-minute discussion about their experiences, asking about what they liked and didn’t like, and what they thought we could improve.

This approach combined elements of traditional usability testing and focus groups. The approach worked well, giving us a lot of feedback in a short amount of time. Here’s what we learned about the site from our evaluation:

Findings from the Games and Quizzes section

  • Overall, the students (and the chaperones!) liked the games.
  • Most of the students tried at least one game.
  • The students thought the games should have more of a “celebration” when they won.
  • A couple of students mentioned that they might want to access the games and other information from a cell phone or a tablet, so ideally the site should work on mobile devices.
  • Several students suggested that we should have more games; they were happy to hear we had more planned.

Across all age groups, students were mixed about whether the games were too easy, too hard, or just right. For future releases, we should consider how we might better address the range of capabilities.

Findings from the Student Resources section

  • Students who looked at the career information thought it was useful.
  • The K-12 website listed a number of occupations, but a few students noted that they could not find information for the jobs they were interested in. Our Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information on hundreds of jobs, so the K-12 site should provide an easy way for users to access information on all of these occupations.
  • A couple of students suggested we should include the most popular occupations on the page.

Overall, this approach worked well. We collected really useful feedback from a large number of students in a short amount of time. We are currently working on some improvements to the site based on the results of this evaluation, and hope it will be even more usable and useful for students!

Jean Fox is a Research Psychologist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Robin L. Kaplan is a Research Psychologist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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