Academic Skills Website

academic skills advice site screen shot

At the school of Health and Social work, Hertfordshire University, there were a set of resources in the institutional VLE that cover academic skills for students.  I am leading a project to improve them, other staff have helped with various aspects of the site including a great deal of editing.


Technical and Design

The brief for this website was to take existing materials from an old resource package, restructure them and present them in a web format which is:

  • Responsive
  • Uses large colourful icons for navigation
  • Promotes search as a major navigation technique.
  • Allows other staff to update materials
  • Captures detailed web analytics

To produce it I customised the CSS of a wordpress theme to which met the criteria.  The development was reviewed by stakeholders and was tested using the think aloud usability technique on typical students.  The results were good, students appreciated the design, the ability to use the site on mobile devices and the search facility.



Development of the site required dialogue and negotiation with a number of key stakeholders:

  • The main stakeholders: students who would use it
  • The team who manage hosting of websites in the University
  • Staff involved in developing the previous website
  • Staff supporting Academic Skills in the school

Following negotiations with staff who manage the hosting of websites I secured permission to host the site on university servers and implemented the changes with the support of all concerned.

Feedback on Usability

The site was tested on three students using a talk aloud procedure to look at usability.  Overall the  site performed well, students liked:

  • The responsive nature, several of them said they would like to access the site on mobile while working on another document on their laptop/desktop
  • The ability to search easily
  • The colourful design

Issues that were identified that have been resolved:

  • As suspected, none of them accessed the ‘introduction’ section of the website when asked to identify the purpose of the website.  This section has been removed.
  • They commented that referencing is the key part of the site they thought they would be accessing often.  This section has therefore been moved up to the top of the site (so it will be the first link they see on mobile)

Students also requested exercises that they could use to practise skills.  This may be added in the future.

Next stages

The ‘workbook’ – a powerpoint with audio, will need updating at some point in the future.  A future round of edits will be undertaken when we have collected a set of web analytics.

January ’16 onwards