After creating a new website to serve as a one-stop shop for Austin Community College (ACC) faculty, the college's Teaching and Learning Excellence Division (TLED) didn't have to look far to find a partner to conduct ongoing improvements.
The team recruited a group of ACC Visual Communication students from the UX (User Experience) Applied Lab experiential learning course.
"We've seen research that shows experiential learning helps students succeed," says Dr. Susan Thomason, TLED associate vice president. "While our Office of Experiential Learning does a lot of work connecting ACC students with companies and nonprofits in the Austin community, TLED recognizes that ACC is poised to create these types of real-world experiences for students right here in the work we do day-to-day."
The experience is a first for professor Molly McClurg. The spring 2019 UX Applied Lab class was her first time to incorporate experiential learning in an entire class setting. McClurg refers to it as her "trial-by-fire" course.
"It's a strategic departmental goal to incorporate real work experience because that's why our students are here," says McClurg. "Most of our students are not right out of high school; they are professionals already and to effectively get jobs as UX designers they need to demonstrate to employers they know how to work with clients and different variables — like coming in in the middle of a project or when priorities have shifted and how that plays into making decisions — and still delivering something at the end of the day."
McClurg's student team, led by Helen E., Richard S., and Anughna K., tested the TLED website for usability with actual users, ACC faculty. The students asked users if they could find what they are looking for on the site and then provided results back to TLED so they could make updates and improve the site.
"Before this experience, our portfolios were just academic work, projects that we've done, but now, whenever I present my portfolio or go over a case study with a potential employer, I can say I've done this in the real world," she says. "The project may be associated with the school but they were a real-world client with real-life challenges and constraints."
This beneficial partnership was forged at the suggestion of a former student of McClurg's, Michelle Atkinson, who is now a TLED UI/UX designer and was involved with the project.
"The students' work helped us align with our goal to improve faculty access to resources and services through the TLED website," says Atkinson. "The insightful ideas they offered based on their research and the faculty feedback they collected will continue to be implemented, and the TLED website further refined."
McClurg's next UX Applied Lab course will take place in Spring 2020. For more information about ACC's UX program, visit austincc.edu/admc.