Beyond Professional and Technical Writing: Practicing Usability Testing in Composition

Presenters: Joseph Bartolotta, Dev Bose, Angelia Giannone, Keith Harms, Angelia Johnson, and Antonnet Johnson.

This workshop provides an overview of usability testing. Participants will apply this information to their own materials and classrooms.


The value of usability testing to professional and technical writing courses is commonly accepted among those who teach in these areas (Breuch, Zachry, and Spinuzzi 2001; Schneider 2005; Chong 2016); however, as evidenced by the need for developing first-year writing courses that can be accessible by a wide array of users, usability plays an important role in the design of composition courses. Composition courses cater to a variety of aims, given, but not limited to, the rise of online and hybrid learning contexts. Writing programs can benefit from applying usability testing to their programmatic agendas, as it is designed to help assess and improve interface accessibility and encourage user-friendliness. Accessibility and universal design, usability and online learning, and usability and composition pedagogy are just some contexts in which usability testing proves to be relevant in first-year writing. Collections such as Miller-Cochran and Rodrigo’s (2009) Rhetorically Re-Thinking Usability: Theories, Practices, and Methodologies and Langon, Lazar, Heylighen, and Dong’s (2014) Inclusive Designing: Joining Usability, Accessibility, and Inclusion are important in supporting writers’ academic success by pointing towards the growing scholarship in usability and writing instruction research. This research points towards the need to prepare teachers and administrators for working with writers of various needs and abilities.

Thus we propose a workshop that centers on usability testing in and for the composition classroom. This workshop will introduce participants to basic design principles and provide an overview of usability testing. Participants will apply this information to their own curricular materials and classrooms during a series of roundtables as well as consider how to bring usability into the classroom. Drawing on current usability, design, and writing scholarship, participants will explore the following questions: How can usability testing help composition instructors shape or revise course materials? Why does design and usability testing matter for composition instructors? How can composition instructors, and their students, benefit from design and usability studies? Through an opening talk and 5 concurrent roundtables, we aim to engage composition instructors with usability testing, both with respect to the ways in which instructors design course materials (e.g., syllabi, online learning environments, etc.) as well as ways that instructors might get students engaged in usability testing in the classroom. Below is our proposed schedule along with roundtable topics.

See full description here.