CamGuides evaluation, testing and editing

This post is by Amanda Hawkes, who along with Sheryl Wombell, organised a comprehensive independent review of the new CamGuides UG resource. With thanks also to Frankie Marsh for designing postcards and other promotional material an example of which is below.

CamGuides UG instagram3

Following hot on the heels of the success of CamGuides for Masters students will be Undergraduate CamGuides, to be released later this summer. The project team have been working away on producing this new resource but, as with the Masters version, there was a need to test it with students and others to check it delivers on what students arriving in Cambridge really want to know.

To get a user view of the resource, Sheryl Wombell and I were tasked with carrying out usability testing with first year undergraduates – as those nearest to our main target audience for the resource. This was no mean feat in itself, as it was pretty tricky finding first year undergraduates, and across all subject areas, who were not in the throes of exams in late May and in early June. Luckily, with the assistance of library colleagues who helped to promote the testing, and a slightly longer timescale to catch some STEMM students, we were able to carry out tests with a total of 13 students, as well as some Supervisors, Directors of Studies and Librarians.

Testing took the form of observing participants as they navigated Undergraduate CamGuides, asking them to narrate their experience of using the site, including how they navigate it, and what they like, dislike or comment upon. Before showing participants the website we asked what types of information they would expect in a resource like CamGuides, and which were most important? A range of themes emerged, including getting to grips with reading lists and using libraries; finding your way around; how to prepare and what to expect; juggling lectures, classes and supervisions; and generally managing your week.

All testers agreed that Undergraduate CamGuides contains useful information for incoming students. One student described the resource as ‘immeasurably’ valuable, noting that these were individually small things which would make the transition to university a lot easier when combined. Some commented that, while there was an abundance or information available through e.g. colleges on student life, information on academic skills had been lacking and this resource addressed that well. Participants liked the information on the skills associated with lectures, feeling that study skills advice was often lacking for new students. Several mentioned a ‘gap’ between applying to Cambridge and arriving, in which they were likely to have forgotten everything they had read about their course or student life.

Something new for Undergraduate CamGuides is a section on terminology, which users liked. Students noted that Cambridge had its own jargon and new students can feel a bit bamboozled at first. A key part of settling in to Cambridge life is understanding what is meant by Plodge, supo and pidge.

Testing has been very useful and has already led to some changes being made. Comments from testers suggested giving an outline of contents to help navigating around it, and having more introductory material on the resource. We now have these, having created a section for ‘Using CamGuides for Undergraduates’. Another theme raised by testers was the nature of the resource, was it compulsory and did new undergraduates have to read all of it before arriving here? Some testers noted they would feel obliged to complete each section, whereas others felt more confident to dip in and out of the resource. In response, the resource now notes its non-compulsory nature more clearly. A further theme from testing was that information on reading lists and finding resources should be together, and this has now been combined into one section.

Undergraduate CamGuides will be available for all in August, when it will be launched via Senior Tutors and Tutorial Offices in colleges. Do look out for more information, via e-mail, twitter and Instagram.

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