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User Test (a.k.a. The Think Aloud)

July 17, 2011


How to provide startups with successful feedback

How to form positive partnerships with teachers

A Conversation with Brett Kopf of Remind101.

Brett: We as startups often think we know what’s best for our users but I’m learning very quickly that though we have what’s best in mind for you as a teacher…we may not be solving your problem. A user test let’s us “test”  the user, by observing the user navigate or click through the site. An example would be me observing you click through every step of the site. It’s enlightening for us because what we THOUGHT made sense, really doesn’t at all. Your feedback was so successful because of the way it was delivered; you pretty much did a “user test” for us!

Jennie: I had no idea what a “user test” was. Nor was a I asked by any of these guys to provide them with one. All I knew, was that the best way to help them understand how I interacted with their technology, was by performing a “think aloud”, which is how I help my students understand how to actively read. I filmed myself doing a “think aloud” while using each technology. This enabled them to not only see everything I clicked on, my reactions, what I looked at first etc…, but also hear me explain the thoughts that were behind my actions. Because “think alouds” are unscripted, I was a bit intimidated at first. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how the qualities that make a “think aloud” so powerful in my classroom would also apply to this situation. Not to mention the fact that I was kind of tired of typing and personally find talking far less energy consuming.

Brett: So, the term “user test” doesn’t necessarily need to be used…that’s just startup mumbo jumbo. We can say small pilot, or get on a 20 min Skype call etc…I usually Skype with teachers, have them share their screens and watch them navigate through the site. The Edsurge header said it right, “Startups need more feedback from schools if they’re going to have a prayer of building a good product”, and yor feedback is so successful because you respond fast, always give examples and are honest with what you like/dislike. But, if we look deeper at why it was helpful I think it’s more so because you really cared and took the time to do it.

Jennie: And none of it would have been done, if you all hadn’t been as genuinely wonderful conveying your interest in hearing my feedback. I want to be very clear about “genuine” and I think the best way to do that is to include a brief dialogue we had while collaborating on this.

  • Me: teacher’s should not treat the entrepreneurs as therapists, or expect them to care about or try  to solve all of their problems, at least not right away
  • Brett’s Reply: Haha. Hmmm… A teacher has never talked my ear off. I don’t think we should add this. You did say I’m really on the teachers side…
  • Daniel’s Reply: I agree I think listening to complaints, even tangential ones, are part of the game when asking for feedback 🙂

Even if your technologies had been total flops, this is the kind of care and compassion that will convince a teacher to offer the best possible feedback. Being a teacher is not easy. Being a passionate and energetic one is even more difficult. But, your compassionate support of my feedback provided me with the confidence to do everything I did. These highly intelligent and accomplished entrepreneurs’ responses to my first email was very effective:

  • Daniel’s Response:  “Wow! I almost fell over when I read your response on my phone.  I am so glad that a teacher-entrepreneur like you came across Goalbook”,  was as refreshing as a cool summer rainstorm.
  • Brett’s Response: “WOW. What a breath of fresh air. I have to say, it’s such a pleasure to see educators like you who are as excited as we are about infusing tech in the classroom.
  • Sam’s Response: “Wow! I’m thrilled that you’re so excited that what we’re building could be useful to you. I am also really excited by your entrepreneurial spirit – you seem to have such a progressive classroom! I am in awe!”

Given the infinite number of powerful voices in our society telling teachers that they are a problem, menace and detriment, you guys had me at “wow”.

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