Creating a Better User Experience for the B.C. Open Collection

If you’re an educator in B.C.’s post-secondary system, chances are you’ve heard about the B.C. Open Collection, a repository of open educational resources (OER). There’s a new home for the collection, and not only does it look better and include more content, but also it provides a better user experience for anyone looking for OER course materials. The new site, which runs in parallel to the previous version for now, has some significant improvements in terms of content and layout.  

Post by the BCcampus editorial team

"B.C. Open Collection: Free. Open. Adaptable."

The B.C. Open Textbook Collection started as a page on an early iteration of in May of 2012, sharing a new library of OER for local educators. Since then, the site has gone through a fair few iterations, growing from an accessory page to the primary focus of the site; regularly evolving to meet the needs of the people looking for the materials. By the end of 2014, student savings through open textbooks were estimated to be over $444 000, with 93 adoptions through 14 participating institutions. In early 2018, those numbers grew to be between $5.2 and $5.7 million in savings through 1680 known adoptions at 42 institutions. Earlier this year we reached over $30 million in student savings, with an open library that now exceeds 400 textbooks and 5860 adoptions.  

The initial site was designed to be a repository of 40 textbooks, but thanks to the phenomenal interest and growth in OER, including the addition of ancillary resources and 10 times the number of open textbooks, we knew the next iteration of the site would need to be more robust to handle the needs in this space over the next few years. We examined the current site, looking at what works and what doesn’t, then developed a plan to bring even more high-quality resources to teachers and learners throughout B.C. Compare the two sites to appreciate the difference: the old Open Collection website vs. the new Open Collection website. (Both sites are available for the near future as we transition everyone to the new site.)

Improving Findability

If people can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s hard for them to use it. “We knew that one of the main issues for instructors not adopting open materials was because they can’t find relevant ones in their area,” said Amanda Coolidge, director of Open Education at BCcampus. “It’s not that the open materials don’t exist; it’s because one search engine is not robust enough or doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to parse what people are searching for. We brought in a metadata librarian, Elizabeth Padilla, from British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), to ensure people can find the materials in the niches they want, using the language they already know. Through Elizabeth’s contribution, users can now find the resources they need faster and easier.”

One of the features of the new site is integration with the British Columbia Council on Admissions & Transfer. “Let’s say you’re teaching a business communications course,” shared Clint Lalonde, project manager at BCcampus. “On the new site, you can choose your subject — business, then a course pack — Business Communications. Scroll down to where it says Relevance, and you’ll find that this resource is based on CMNS 1140 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and there’s an active link that takes you to the courses this resource can be transferred to based on the BC Transfer Guide. It’s a quick and easy way for educators to see their course code and know the content in this resource is something they can use. Today.”

Better User Experience

A viral video posted by @tired_actor on tiktok is going around that really underscores the importance of user testing. In it, a user places the various blocks in a child’s toy into a square hole instead of their matching cutout. A QA analyst watching the video is excited to see the relevant hole being used for the square block but then dies a little inside as she sees all the other blocks being put into the same hole, despite what she thinks is a clear and obvious way to use the toy. It’s a cute clip that does a great job of showing that how we think we’ve designed something doesn’t necessarily match how the user will understand the process.

“The very first thing we did for this project,” explained Selina McGinnis, lead user experience designer at BCcampus, “was to have users go in and explore the current site. We gave them some simple tasks, such as ‘find a textbook for your course,’ and this helped us gather lots of great feedback, seeing where they go and how they use things. When identifying possible user pain points, it’s one thing for me to say, ‘This language is a bit confusing,’ but there’s significantly more value in watching the user try to figure out what we’re trying to do. Since we’re virtual, we can’t say anything to the user as they play with the site, so it was useful for us to see people saying things like ‘What’s adopting? Do I have to pay for it? Do I have to like it? Is it like adopting a highway or is it like adopting a puppy?’ while we’re on the other end going ‘No, noooooo.’ These are the conversations people are having with themselves when they use your site and try to use your language. We assume they know the triangle goes in the triangle hole because that’s what it is for you. But if they don’t share your perspective or understanding of the jargon, they’ll find their own answers. Smart design keeps everyone on the same page.”

Beyond Textbooks

While open textbooks are a great start to decreasing the cost of education for students, we understand they are just one part of the equation. The new collection site currently includes 10 fully developed and openly licensed courses created by B.C. post-secondary educators through a series of BCcampus open online course grants awarded over the past 18 months, with more being added all the time. “We hope to see more open courses become a part of this collection,” said Amanda. “We will continue to add relevant open textbooks, open courses, and other vetted resources — ancillary materials with homework and test banks — into the collection, providing an experience to the user that makes them aware these are quality open materials they can use right off the web in their own courses.”

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The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Liza Summer