Open Apereo 2019 Presentation Spotlight: Agile and UX for the LMS at NYU

At Open Apereo 2019, Kyle Blythe and Minhye Kim from New York University presented on their approach to user experience and agile development for the LMS. In general, user experience (UX) encompasses the entirety of a user's contact with a product or service (1). On a more basic level, though, UX asks the question of "how usable is this product, and how can that usability be improved?". Ongoing usability testing with real users helps to answer this question, providing invaluable insights during the development process and allowing for the continual refinement of existing features. By subscribing to a lightweight approach to usability testing promoted by industry experts such as the Nielsen Norman Group, Steve Krug, and others, the Application Development group in NYU IT conducts regular testing of both existing features and in-flight development work with the university's faculty, staff, and students. This testing is also a critical component of the team's agile development workflow.

When developing new features and enhancements for the LMS, the team works in an iterative, incremental fashion. Following the tenets of Agile Software development (and those of established frameworks like Scrum), the team at NYU works in dedicated "sprints." UX and usability testing are baked into this process, with entire sprints being dedicated to UX design and lightweight usability testing of those designs; this allows for the proposed feature set, UI, and UX to be vetted and refined before code is even written. This, in turn, allows for a faster, more straightforward development process. Each sprint ends with a defined outcome, or increment, and this process of development/refinement continues throughout the project.

Agile Development Workflow

This UX and agile development workflow has been used for a number of Sakai features contributed back to the community, such as the New Gradebook tool (released as part of Sakai 11 in 2016). Usability testing continues to be a major part of the team's process, with features such as a new name pronunciation feature (contributed by Miguel Pellicer and Entornos de formación) making their way into upcoming releases for Sakai.

1. "User Experience encompasses all aspects of a person’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products." Norman, Don, and Jacob Nielsen. “The Definition of User Experience (UX).” Nielsen Norman Group, Nielsen Norman Group,