We asked you to put our primary science website through its paces. Here’s what we learned.
If you teach science in a primary school, what you do is special. It also comes with unique challenges, from accessing appropriate funding and equipment to teaching across multiple subjects.
We created Steps into Science to make it easier for you to find high quality resources and support specifically for primary science teaching. The website brings together activities and experiments, tailored professional development support, enrichment opportunities and more.
To make sure you can use Steps into Science to find what you need quickly and easily, we invited primary teachers to help us test it. We used insights and feedback from this process to tweak and improve the website.
What’s in this article
Why conduct user testing?
We carry out user testing for many different reasons, using a variety of methods. We used it to help us evaluate and refine our website design, while learning about what you – our users – need and value.
When testing Steps into Science, we wanted to investigate three aspects of the website:
- Can our users navigate the website quickly and easily to find what they need? Is the structure of the site logical? Do the titles and headings we’ve chosen make sense?
- How well does the website reflect our users’ needs, priorities and expectations? How effectively will it support teachers in different regions, or with different responsibilies and specialisms?
- Is the layout and design of the website clear and intuitive? Is it attractive and engaging?
People sometimes distinguish between ‘usability testing’ and ‘user testing’, but in this article we’ll assume they mean the same thing.
What the tests involved
The tests took place across two rounds. The first was designed to evaluate our initial plans for the site navigation and key pages, using a series of simplified images illustrating different parts of the website.
We used the second round of testing to evaluate a working version of the website, assess the impact of any changes and further refine the design. This round involved focused interviews with a smaller number of participants.
Who we talked to
In total we talked to 27 teachers from across the UK. They included a wide range of responsibilities and professional backgrounds, including headteachers and science leads, specialists and non-specialists.
What you told us and what we improved
Our page titles needed to be clearer
In addition to classroom activities, experiments and funding information, Steps into Science offers support and resources for professional development (PD) as well as ideas and opportunities for pupil enrichment.
Before the first round of testing, our pupil enrichment page was called simply ‘Enrichment’. This meant that if you wanted to find tips and ideas for running a science club, for example, you would need to click on Enrichment on the navigation bar.
User testing revealed the title Enrichment was ambiguous, and many of you felt it wasn’t specific enough. The word could refer to pupil or teacher enrichment, and so there was a potential for confusion with our CPD support.
We’ve tweaked our titles
To reduce ambiguity and confusion, we changed the title of our pupil enrichment page from ‘Enrichment’ to ‘Beyond the classroom’. During the second round of testing, we found that most users were able to distinguish more easily between our PD and pupil enrichment pages.
We said ‘practicals’, you say ‘experiments’ and ‘investigations’
When we conducted the first round of user testing, our practical resources were labelled ’Practicals’. You told us that this was the wrong word to use in a primary context – you felt it was more strongly associated with secondary education. Instead, you suggested that you would be more likely to look for ‘experiments’ and ‘investigations’.
We’ve adjusted our vocabulary
We need to speak your language if we’re going to help you find what you need. Throughout the website, we stopped referring to ‘practicals’ and started talking about ‘experiments’ and ‘investigations’.
You wanted to see key information at a glance
Some pages on Steps into Science collect related resources in one place – see, for example, resources for teaching 7–9 years. On pages like this, individual activities and experiments appear with their title, a featured image and often a short description.
During the second round of testing, you told us you liked the descriptions but we could highlight key information about the resources more clearly. This is so you could see at a glance:
- The type of activity involved (eg is it an experiment, or a directed activity related to text?)
- The recommended age range
- The topics covered
We’re thinking about how we highlight key information
We’re exploring several options to make it easier to see at a glance what individual resources involve when you discover them across our website. In the meantime, we plan to review the descriptions that appear alongside resources, prioritising important information such as the type of activity involved or the topics covered, so you can spend less time searching.
You felt some pages were overwhelming
When we asked you about some of the key pages on Steps into Science, including our PD resources and support page, some of you indicated the layout could feel cluttered and overwhelming.
In a few cases, there were so many resources and so much information, it was difficult to find your way around the page or to distinguish the different types of content and support available.
We’ve worked on the layout
To improve the appearance of key pages and reduce information overload, we’ve juggled the layout around and added more space between different elements. On our PD support page, we’ve also added a box at the top summarising what’s on the page, with clickable links to each of the main sections.
A few of you asked us if it might be possible to filter resources on some pages, or make greater use of features like drop-down menus to make it easier to navigate between sections. While not featured in the user testing, the quickest and simplest way to filter resources on Steps into Science is by using our search bar. You can then filter your results by age, resource type, topic and more.
What you loved
The visual design
The teachers we spoke to during the second round of testing were able to use a working version of the website, featuring playful typography, a fresh colour palette and a lively use of pattern. You really savoured the new design, and felt it was clear, exciting and eye catching.
You were delighted to discover the range of support that Steps into Science offers, and you felt confident and excited about using the website to find resources to support your teaching. You felt support for non-specialists was particularly valuable, and some of you were especially pleased to find features like our science news articles (part of our PD support) or our ‘Meet the scientists’ resources.
Our resources page
Our main resources page is a great place to start exploring our teaching resources for primary science, including cross-curricular activities as well as experiments and investigations. You felt the page was attractive and accessible, and you particularly liked how resources were clearly categorised by age group.
Watch this space
Throughout user testing, you came up with all sorts of exciting suggestions, ideas and insights beyond those explored here. As we keep an eye on how you engage with Steps into Science, we’ll keep these in mind and use them where possible to continue to improve the website as well as the support and resources we offer.
Read more about Steps into Science
Find out more about the launch of Steps into Science at RSC Education News.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who generously volunteered to help us test and improve Steps into Science.