Monday, 11 June 2012

Experience: Mind Mapping a site map

Image by Raymond Larose, available
under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

Part 1 - Preparation

As part of my Turnitin project I needed to start thinking about getting “down to brass tacks” with the design of the Turnitin site in our CICS webpages. This site would need to be easy to navigate around, aesthetically pleasing and of course, useful to our audience (e.g. admin staff, students and academics).

Over the last few months I had been jotting down and planning ideas for content, layout and structure, but when I had a look back over the wealth of information I had gathered I thought....
a) I might need some help here! 
b) If I am creating this site to provide help for our users - our users must have some input into its creation to tell me what they think would be helpful!

So, I donned my “Turnitin cape” and invited some of my learning technologist peers to a “site mapping exercise”. The premise was that we would spend one and a half hours discussing the content and layouts and come up with a draft site map.

Just before the meeting I had chance to have a chat about mind mapping with my colleague Ken Grace. Ken showed me software that he used called Inspiration to create site maps using some of the principles of mind mapping.

I won't go into too much detail about mind mapping here because of time, and well, I am no expert to be honest! Just to say really that I learnt that mind mapping can really help you straighten out your thinking when you have a complex job to undertake. I may post on mind mapping in a future post...

Part 2 - The session

When it came to the session itself I needed software that could be used collaboratively. In terms of putting down a mind map quickly I felt Inspiration to be better, but there were no collaborative options for that so I went with something called Gliffy.  I have used Gliffy before and find it very useful for presenting information and processes in a visual way....again maybe another future blog post!

I split the attendees into two groups. The first group would create a site map from a students perspective, the second would do the same but from a staff perspective. Each group was given half an hour to mind map or essentially plonk down onto gliffy what they thought should go onto the Turnitin site. It didn't matter whether the site map looked rough or whether it was neatly put together, the purpose was to have all the elements put down onto the software in one place. At the end of the half hour, each group would feedback to the other about why they had chosen a certain layout/map.

Site map - staff

Site map - students

Part 3 - Reflection

As you can see from the pictures above, both groups succesfully put down a site map onto Gliffy. In fact the student version was particularly neatly put together (no points for presentation but still appreciated!). I was part of the staff group and I found that as soon as we started putting some initial ideas down onto the screen we could instantly see how other parts might fit together and crucially what areas we might have missed.

Some of the interesting feedback included:

  • Less complexity in the kinds of support students might need in comparison with staff
  • Students may be primarily going to the site needing instant technical or “how to” help
  • Departmental engagement with these resources will help both staff and student versions be more useful and more visible
  •  Forward compatibility should be built in to the site to cope with changes to software or chaniging user needs
  • The homepage must state the purpose of the site and not be overcrowded with information
  • Icons on the homepage might help the site look more visually attractive (e.g our google apps site)
Overall I think It was a great session. The visual element of this exercise meant that ideas seem to flow a lot quicker than with a more straight forward brainstorming style session. I certainly got a lot out of it and can now put together a site map that is more focused and informed.

Finally I want to thank my colleagues who attended, for giving up their time, and providing me with some great feedback on site design!



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