by Maria Barklage, SunGard K-12 Education Product Owner
Navigation. Certainly not a sexy topic for software, but a vital consideration when it comes to user experience.
It is a particularly important aspect of a development project for software that is used in sectors of our economy marked by turnover and transition, because there is considerable cost associated with bringing new employees up to speed. Last year this time, the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future again reported on the issue of teacher turnover, calling it a “chronic problem” and a “revolving-door occupation.” The constant influx of new teachers and administrators and the increasing focus on improving student achievement create a dilemma for district professional development staff because, while new educators need to find basic tools in the software, they also need to quickly develop advanced skills in using data to support student achievement.
One small way that developers of K-12 administrative software can help schools is by incorporating a navigation approach that is both intuitive and caters to the preferences of a variety of users. By taking the mystery out of navigation, software can reduce the need to focus precious professional development time teaching new employees where to find the tools and instead can focus on best leveraging the tools to achieve the district’s mission and goals.
An ideal approach for K-12 administrative systems incorporates three features:
- Reflects the Language of the User. Studies by User Interface Engineering (UIE) repeatedly show that when users come to a home page, they have words and phrases in their mind. Navigation that allows users to quickly find these words or phrases is essential. The mega menus featured by many of the world’s most visited websites may find useful application in administrative software. Mega menus allow educators and administrators, both new to the system and those with a wealth of experience, to easily find a listing of the tools and information they need. Highly intuitive and efficient, the functionality can be organized by administrative role to even better support users in quickly finding the tools they seek.
- Offers Quick-Search Functionality. Invaluable to old and new users alike is smart, quick-search capability. This functions much like a modern search engine and allows users to find any tool or student by keying in a word or phrase. With autocomplete functionality, the system could provide options based on just a few letters—alleviating the need for new educators to remember the exact name of the tool or student.
- Provides a Multi-Faceted Approach to Navigation. A one-size-fits-all navigation approach may not meet every need, with schools that are a mix of seasoned veterans and energetic new hires. Marrying the mega menu approach with a smart quick-search capability would create an elegant navigation system that would eliminate the nuisance factor for new employees and seasoned veterans alike.
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