Another dot in the blogosphere?

When form is favoured over function

Posted on: September 11, 2017

The basic tenet of most types of design is that form must meet function. This principle is applied in the design of cars, buildings, furniture, websites, human-device interfaces, etc.

I tweeted this as I was in a neighbourhood library grading and providing formative feedback on assignments.

The library itself had questionable design. It shared a wall with a community centre. With boisterous activity comes happy noises. That is to be expected at a community centre. When the noise leaks to the study area, the people in the library half of the building become unhappy.

I became doubly unhappy as I was at the library to grade and leave feedback on assignments. The screenshot below illustrates the problem.

Turnitin Feedback Studio logs me out while I'm providing feedback!

Turnitin calls its “improved” tool Feedback Studio. It logs me out in the background while I am providing feedback on an assignment. I find out only after trying to leave feedback on a document and am shown the error message on screen.

I cannot even click on the “OK” button and have to exit the session and start all over again. This means having to close the pop-up window where the assignment and feedback are, returning to the Blackboard interface from which Turnitin was launched, and refreshing that page.

When I do that, I find out that I am not logged out from Blackboard. There seems to be some sort of invisible timer or quota for this “log out” problem. I have discovered that I can process six to eight assignments before the problem rears its ugly head.

This is an unwelcome distraction when I have about 30 scripts per class and a few classes worth of assignments to process. I am never sure whether my next set of comments is going to be saved with the assignment. I only find out when the error message pops up and I have to retype everything I did earlier.

I also cannot scroll the contents of the assignment window with a touch pad or mouse. I have to move the cursor to the scroll bars and move them up/down or left/right. Have we regressed to Apple’s single mouse button and ancient UI era?

The previous version of the same tool did not do these things. It was marginally less pretty, but it let me do my job efficiently and effectively.

It is one thing to be frustrated with the quality of student assignments. It is another to be antagonised by an unstable system. To the application designers and developers I say: Form must meet function. It does not matter if it looks nice but functions like an airhead.

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