Alexander, Kara Poe. (2013). The Usability of Print and Online Video Instructions. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22, 237-259.

The study conducted by Alexander compares the usability of print and online video instructions for two computer tasks. Alexander’s purpose for the research was to help technical communicators better understand the affordances and constraints of the two potential mediums for instructions, as well as how to consider creating video instructions since most of the research done is on print instructional materials. Alexander measured and analyzed four areas of usability: effectiveness, retention, satisfaction, and preference. She conducted the study using usability tests, comprehension tests, and questionnaires with 28 college students. The students completed two asks using Microsoft word, one shorter task instructed students how to make a table of contents and one longer task instructed them on how to use Mail Merge to create labels.

Alexander points out that the usability is of concern for rhetorical reasons, as well as ease of use reasons. Having a clear idea of how an audience uses a product helps creators of this documentation know how to craft instructions for ease of use, but also rhetorically so the audience responds positively to the instructions. Although Alexander uses these two mediums, she deliberately points out that both mediums are multimodal, as the print instructions still include images. Based on the results of the study, students preferred print materials for finding information and referencing material (such as going back to find information) was quick and easy and expressed frustration with the video because it did not allow them to do this as easily. However, students preferred the video and the video instructions were “considered more usable in terms of the medium’s effectiveness, level of comprehension, preference for completing future how-to tasks, and overall preference” (p. 251). One of the notes that Alexander had was that in order to make the video instructions more usable in terms of speed of finding information,  chunking the video in smaller units and including a table of contents or headings on the side of the video would make it easier for users to move through the video to find the information they needed.

Alexander’s study provides a good framework for considering doing small scale usability testing which I found helpful for considering how I might further my research in the Writing Center after this course. It also gave me some vocabulary to use when discussing the instructions for the synchronous programs I am analyzing for my project and discussing the affordances and constraints of the program because I think the instructional materials provided by the program are important to consider for training our tutors to use it and for students to use it, as we often link them to instructional information in case they run into technical problems or have never used the program before. I also thought of Casey’s project and how it would be helpful for her to consider how she might create usability tests in the future for the resources she wants to create for her Writing Center, as well as if she analyzes OWLs. I already sent her this source! 🙂