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H807 – How ‘usable’ is the website?

May 8, 2011 is the online learning portal from The Open University and the BBC.

Using the pyramid framework, I identified the follow usability issues.

1. Technical usability (e.g. server availability, download times, broken web links, audio quality)

  • The site downloaded quickly, and all pictures and content was quickly visible
  • the links seems to work, as well as audio and video works with good quality.
  • Subscription to RSS feeds are for parts of the page possible, e.g. to the OU programmes on BBC, but they offers as well an extra Open2feeds page that show all the subscriptions possible.

2. General usability ( e.g. clarity of structure, efficiency in navigation, learnability (is it easy to learn to use). Issues of accessibility and ergonomics (the comfort and safety of the users’ physical body)

  • The page appears overloaded, there are countless of information to take in  and a great amount of links to follow-up. The site provides so many information that you could spend years exploring it.
  • However, the same design and navigation (horizontal navigation bar on top of the side, and navigation on the left side is a constant theme. Different colours are used for different pages, but there is no clear theme recognizable. However, the horizontal navigation bar is always visible and below is a path ‘You are here’ … displayed.
  • accessibility issues for disabled students are partly considered
    • It offers different display options, but can be also controlled with CTRL +/- to increase font size
    • However, there is no option to change e. g. font colour or font style or to change the overall colour of the whole page which increase readability of the page for certain disabilities, like e.g. dyslexia. The website from the British Dyslexia Association is a good example
    • not all links have a description
    • images have no descriptions and cannot be accessed by visible impaired or blind people, however brief descriptions are provided in the site map version of the page

Many more accessibility test could be conducted, but that would go beyond the range of the activity. The W3C consortium is a helpful website and provides a list of web accessibility evaluation tools. I used FANG, WAVE and the W3C markup validation service.

3. Academic usability (addressing educational concerns. Pedagogical and practical issues are involved here)

The page offers endless possibilities to explore learning content to different areas such as health & Education, Social, Money & Management. There are many links provide to subsequent pages within like the Open University like OpenLearn resources or to resources outside the OU.

It provides a certain degree on interactivity, e.g. to subscribe, to leave comments, to bookmark, to rate, etc. However, it seems more appropriate for self-study, or to substitute e.g. course material and serves more for information provision instead of interaction and collaboration with others.

4. Context-specific usability ( depends on the subject and the intended audience)

The site serves its purpose to provide a rich source of information that substitute and broaden course materials and is therefore a good a valuable part of the OU website. Unfortunately I neglected that resource too much, mainly because of lack of time. Because, it is such a rich source of information that new students might need some guidance, to not get lost or feel overwhelmed by all the sources and information.


W3C (2008) Complete list of web accessibility evaluation tools [online], (accessed 19 November 2010).

W3C (2010b) WAI Guidelines and Techniques [online], WAI/ guid-tech.html (accessed 30 October 2010).

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