Bjork – Integrating Usability Testing with Digital Rhetoric in OWI

Bjork, C. (2018). “Integrating Usability Testing with Digital Rhetoric in OWI.” Computers and Composition 49: 4-13.

               While usability testing can help instructors improve the design of online writing instruction (OWI), its emphasis on student-users sometimes overlooks the networked rhetorical ecologies in which those student-users operate, tilting online composition pedagogy toward neoliberal models of higher education that cater to the student-as-consumer. In response, I propose augmenting usability testing in online writing education with the theories of digital rhetoric. In the context of OWI, usability theory and digital rhetoric share a similar emphasis on the student as a user or audience, but they also have at least two key differences. First, unlike digital rhetoric, usability testing typically elides the political and ideological implications of student-users’ experiences. Second, the usability theories of Jakob Nielsen, for example, tend to view online interfaces as static objects manipulated by users. Digital rhetoric, on the other hand, sees interfaces as dynamic, real-time interactions….

  • Key is in the abstract’s first sentence: rhetorics of “student-users” position students in neoliberal pedagogical models of higher ed that pushes student-as-consumer.
  • Differences between digital rhetoric & user-centered design: usability testing bypasses the political & ideological; and 2) usability studies have tended (following Nielsen) to view the interface as a static object.
  • Adding digital rhetoric to usability studies and user-centered design practices will help researchers’ understanding of how students not only use online writing instruction but how they use it rhetorically.
  • In indicting Nielsen, Bjork notes that usability-as-key-to-survival is dangerous because “This live-or-die attitude toward usability marks the move from late capitalism to a post-capitalist economy driven by a burgeoning technologically-mediated service industry that emphasizes catering to the needs of the user” (5). B. claims that this particular ideology is being adopted by administrators for education: “see education as a service industry designed to satisfy the needs of students.”
  • What’s valuable about UX? “Usability research methods, in particular, provide a simple yet valuable set of tools for evaluating interface design and gathering information about students’ digital composition practices” (6).
  • A reduction: ‘digital rhetoric is not just about he use of digital communicative technologies – as usability theory would suggest – but, instead about the rhetorical implications of that usage” (7). AN ENTRY – I’d argue fundamentally against this reduction of usability theory.
  • The previous reduction claims that “One key difference between digital rhetoric and usability testing lies in the latter’s lack of attention to politics and ideology” (ibid). While that claim may be true (I’d argue it isn’t) there’s some conflation – or at least slippage – between usability, user-centered research, user experience design in these sections. RETURN TO THIS SECTION.
  • A key RGS connection – from Selber, “rhetorically literate students ought to recognize that digital interfaces are also sites of ‘social action’” (ibid).
  • Bjork argues that the iterative design process conceives of the interface as static simply because it is iterative; instead, he posits that digital rhetoric (relying on CGB) sees the interface as elastic. He uses the fandango interface to demonstrate this; however, there’s a lot missing here . . . the embedded affordances of Fandango are what is being tested in the usability testing phase. The multiple “views” or experiences rendered through manipulating a responsive, geolocation-enabled are ignored here in favor of seeing the interface as a static thing (in the generic sense). All users don’t experience the same thing when using the interface based on what affordances & database-driven technologies are embedded in the interface. As such, the interface is hardly static, it is static-for-now for each user experience. That’s what being tested in the usability phase.
  • On 8 Bjork claims that usability theory is, ostensibly, about conducting timed tasks. This is one method among MANY different usability testing protocols but in this argument, it stands in for the entire field and its attendant methods. As a straw man it is then used to stand in as composition’s whipping boy: process theory.
  • B. includes a 4-part ways of including digital rhetoric in UX. They include designing UX testing, interpreting UX testing, configuring interfaces for OWI and implementing pedagogical strategies for OWI (11). The first two UX-centric sections are about rhetoricizing the UX testing process (ignoring the other 4-5 stages of the UX process). The second two sections are about making OWI design and implementation decisions rhetorical.