A Look at the Current Version
On a more serious note, here are probably the two most important design features that are part of the current prototype.
User Control Over the Text Size of the Statements
The issue of text size is a problem not easily solved given the limited screen space of most computer monitors. I've added two options in response to requests from users with moderate visual impairments (and frankly, I easily fall into this category). The first is the option to turn on and off a magnification window showing in large text the statement most recently clicked or moved. And, although I don't highlight this fact in the video, the user can drag this magnification window anywhere on the screen.
Now, I thought I had "nailed it" with this modification, but one person in my summer class who was the first to call for some adjustment to the statements' text size wasn't satisfied, and I'm very glad she was forthcoming enough to tell me so. What she really wanted from the beginning was a way to increase the text size of the statements directly. I had dismissed attacking the problem head on in this way because I just felt there wasn't room, but I went ahead and explored it. In the end, I was able to give users the ability to increase the text size of all of the statements, though to a limited degree. Most important, this seemed to meet the needs of the people who gave me this feedback.
Another related change was the option to quickly shift all of the unsorted statements either left or right on the screen. This option was the idea of another person in my class and I found it very easy to implement. Even with these changes, the limitations on screen size still makes the sorting activity feel cramped, but they seem to have surmounted the big, early objections of users.
As mentioned in one of my previous blog postings, other computer-based Q sort tools overcome this problem by having the user do multiple sorts beginning with a general sort (e.g. into high, low, and middle groups), then having the user do secondary sorts with the smaller sorting groups. Although this seems adequate, the Q sort literature makes it clear it is preferred for users to have access to all the statements throughout the sorting activity. So, at least for now, I'm trying to stick to this "pure" form of the Q sort activity.
Developing an Instructional Strategy for the Sorting Activity
One of the most exciting developments over the past few months has been the emergence of an instructional strategy to use the Q sort activity within my teaching. This strategy took shape throughout the entire summer and I am again trying it out with my fall design course. The strategy can be briefly summarized as follows:
- Collaborate with the students to identify a topic for a Q sort activity.
- Ask each student to complete a short online survey about the topic resulting in a short statement of no more than about 15 words. (I use a simple Google form for this.) I then compile the statements and edit them for redundancy, resulting in a total list of 15-25 total statements to be used in the Q sort activity.
- The students complete the Q sort activity on the assigned topic either shortly before the start of an online virtual class session, or at the start of it. (I've had mixed success and problems with each.)
- The students then participate in a small group discussion during class using their Q sort answers as a guide for the discussion.
- During the small group discussion, I create a summary report of the Q sort data, which is then shared with the class when they return from the small group discussion.
- Using the summary report, a whole class discussion is held. Individuals or groups are given the opportunity to make comments as they wish.
The Option for a User to Review Their Choices to Any Previously Completed Q Sort
This feature is critical for step 4 of the instructional strategy, though it wasn't available until recently. Instead, I had asked people to write down their top-most and bottom-most statements, but this turned out to be a bad approach. I now have the app save each Q sort the person completes to a text file on their computer. (Actually, I had been saving this information all along as a redundant "safety net" for research purposes. So, it was a pretty easy to option to create.)