Alignment Drawing

Partial View of Alignment Drawing

Partial View of Alignment Drawing

Purpose and Use of the Alignment Drawing

This alignment drawing represents:

  1. Goals and tasks related to teaching and learning math, as expressed by participants in usability evaluations and training discussions.
  2. Website content and features that might support those goals and tasks.
  3. The goals and tasks, located in the top half of the framework, are organized into focus areas (homework, studying for tests, general learning, and teaching). Tasks that were mentioned by five or more people have a green shaded background. Website content and features are displayed in the bottom half of the framework, aligned with the goals and tasks they can support. Content that is considered essential has a purple shaded background.

    The alignment drawing is not a site map to identify organization of content. Rather, the drawing addresses the problems (goals) a person may be trying to solve, and suggests types of content that will address these problems.

    We used the alignment drawing in support of the creation of the proof-of-concept algebra learning resources that were part of this project. By comparing our website, or any math support website, with the drawing, we can assess which tasks and goals are best- and least-supported on the website, and we can identify new types of content we would like to test.

    The alignment drawing is based on the approach described in Mental Models (Young, 2008).

    Alignment Drawing [PDF]

    Development Process

    Elicitation Exercises: Information Gathering

    The alignment drawing is a visual display of the information we gathered through usability tests, interview responses, focus group discussion, observations, and written feedback. These activities were carried out with members of our target audiences: developmental algebra students and instructors, as well as students taking credit classes. Students assisted our work throughout the user research and development phases. The student researchers were funded through the NSF-supported STARS (Students and Technology in Academia, Research and Service) Alliance. Some of the students were members of the STARS Leadership Corps and two were funded through Research Experiences for Undergraduates opportunities.

    Student Researchers Katie and Matt

    Student Researchers Katie and Matt

    Data Analysis

    Grouped Tasks with Audience Segmentation

    Grouped Tasks with Audience Segmentation

    The team combed the data for common themes among the usability evaluation transcripts, observation notes, focus group notes, and written feedback. We performed an affinity analysis: grouping issues, tasks, and goals into logical sets, with overarching goals.

    We identified potential user groups (audiences) to ensure the website addressed the range of their goals and tasks related to online math learning resources: struggling students, average-performance students, prospective students, and instructors. We found very little difference among the likely tasks and goals of the current student groups, and consolidated our audience segmentation to students, prospective students, and instructors.


    Producing the Diagram

    We used a Python (programming language) script available at the Mental Models book website to generate the top half of the diagram from our spreadsheet of grouped tasks. (This required installation of the Python compiler, something neither the students nor staff had experience doing. We were pleasantly suprised at how quickly and smoothly this went.) The script generates a file that can be opened in concept-mapping software Microsoft Visio or Omni Group’s Omnigraffle.

    Close-up View of Homework Section of Alignment Drawing

    Close-up View of Homework Section of Alignment Drawing

    The close-up snapshot above shows the sections of the alignment drawing that address the areas of focus, “Homework” and “Studying for tests.” The “Homework” section shows the goals: “Try to solve problems,” “Learn a concept,” and “Get unstuck.” Tasks related to each goal are listed below the goal. Underneath “Get unstuck” are “Find alternative explanations of a concept,” “Understand language,” and “Discover steps to solve my problem,” among others. Tasks that were mentioned by five or more people in our usability tests are shaded green.

    Refining the Diagram

    We posted the first draft of the alignment drawing on campus to gather feedback. We taped the diagram to common congregating areas, such as photocopier areas and kitchens, and asked people if there were things they would add and if they had questions about what the diagram was. Based on feedback, we refined the legend to stand out more and to visually align better with the top half of the diagram.

    Identifying the Supporting Website Content and Features

    The website content and features listed in the bottom half of the diagram were derived from recent research in supporting math success, common usability guidelines, and from usability evaluation comments and observed actions. We identified items we expect would be essential to support of the goal above. We then looked for gaps where few supports were identified.

    Close-up View of Website Features and Content in Support of Homework Tasks

    Close-up View of Website Features and Content in Support of Homework Tasks

    The close-up snapshot above shows website content and features in support of homework-related tasks. For instance, the alignment drawing suggests that people whose goal is to “Learn a concept” will be supported by “Topic outlines,” “Examples with steps written out,” “Mathcasts (video explanations),” and “Practice problems with feedback.”

    Using the Alignment Drawing

    The alignment drawing can be used by instructors to think strategically about the kinds of content to include in your site or to look for when offering students links to other sites. Identify the task or higher level goal you would like to support, such as “Getting unstuck.” The column in the top half of the alignment drawing lists tasks related to getting unstuck, such as “Understand language,” and “Discover steps to solve my problem.” Think about the website you are planning or evaluating: what elements of your content support these tasks? Do you have any of the elements listed in the alignment drawing below the column of tasks, e.g. “Sidebar with related basics and study aids,” “Vocabulary definitions.” If there are features in this column you do not have but think would be helpful, can you find some to which you can offer a link?

    Alignment Drawing [PDF]


    Hackos, J, & Redish, J. (1998). User and task analysis for interface design. NJ: Wiley.

    Holtzblatt, K., Wendell, J. B., & Wood, S. (2004). Rapid contextual design. CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

    Snyder, C. (2003). Paper prototyping: The fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces. CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

    Young, I. (2008). Mental models. NY: Rosenfeld Media.