In addition to the three presentations I did at the Innovative Educators conference last week, I did a session critiquing several sites volunteered by attendees. While these reviews focused on all aspects of what goes into a great site, usability was what everyone was most interested in.
It amazes me that many higher ed sites continue to have serious usability issues. For example, one site we reviewed prevented someone using Firefox from completing the admissions application. Opening the “Apply Now” link resulted in an error message saying “WARNING! Unsupported Browser!” I also shared an example from my school where the housing request form was recently made available online. Here is some of the text from the instructions:
System Requirements :
You MUST ONLY use IE v 6.0+. You cannot use a Mac. Incompatible browsers may prevent some pages from being displayed. Do not use Firefox.
I guess we don’t want any Mac users or Firefox users living on campus!
I wish these were isolated cases, but the majority of higher ed sites I visit have usability issues. So my questions for the group is why does higher ed continue to struggle with usability? I have my own thoughts, but I would love to hear yours.
Not only is this bad practice in general, it’s REALLY bad when you consider who we are targeting with something like an online application.
18-24 year olds are the 2nd highest age group using Firefox. This age group is the 2nd lowest user of IE. (And this is old data, I know it’s continuing to shift in this direction as Firefox becomes more well known).
As for Mac vs. PC, I can’t find a link but know I have seen a shift towards Apple products in the younger age group as well.
Just doesn’t make sense… 🙂
Nice to finally meet you last week! Looking forward to eduWeb.
On my campus everyone has the PC/IE combo, so they aren’t aware of any problems. 🙂
Top 4 in my experience:
– Push by Microsoft and Oracle (or consultants pushing the same) to lock up mega-bucks contracts.
– Top down decisions from older people who have other people use the internet for them.
– Bureaucratic mentality.
This is pretty shocking. I see you are a fan of edustyle though. Some real nice sites on there. I use them for inspiration.
The answer is very simple – because no one cares. Today’s higher ed designer cares more about glitz and flash (not literally Flash) than good design principles, standards compliance and usability. After all, the glitzy stuff is what gets you into conferences, where you get infinite positive feedback. The basics are boring and something that many higher ed web professionals never bothered to learn. I’m going to be expounding on this in a blog either later today or tomorrow, as I became completely convinced of this last week.
I think it’s a resource issue. The money isn’t given for proper hardware to test everything out. The people doing the testing are strapped for time and have more on their plate than can be easily managed. Restricting the usability buys the designer/programmer one platform to develop for, therefore cutting back on the amount of work needed to release something. Absolutely not ideal, but a reality nonetheless.
To follow up with your more recent post about High Ed sites becoming irrelevant, most of these companies developing apps that the higher ed institutions are using are concerned with usability – even aside from just browser issues. It is a tremendous benefit to higher ed web developers because the amount of time invested in usability basically gets pushed into the vendor’s application. The vendor wants to promote their product, ensuring the most people can take advantage of it. It seems to fit in this arena.