Undergraduate Ethics: If you're an undergraduate student or you're supervising a final year project then this page is the one for you!
In general, you will only need to follow a very constrained set of procedures for your undergraduate degree, and we have pre-approval (i.e., approval can be given automatically via our online system, without referral to a central committee) for these from the University's central Ethics Committee. You need to make an application via the online system and you will be given an approval insurance number once complete - this should take you no more than 10 minutes to do. You should however, read and understand all text presented in the online form fields, and you can get immediate help by selecting the blue 'I' information button next to each question.
You may change any part of the ethics application, but this will mean that you must attend one of the weekly ethics meetings to justify your changes. We would only suggest that you do this if your work requires it and if you are fully conversant with the changes you will propose.
Once you have ethical approval, you MUST follow the procedures set out in the ethics form when actually doing your work with participants; if you do not follow these procedures then you are not legally covered or insured and could potentially be liable in the event of anything going wrong.
It maybe that your supervisor has told you not to go through the ethical process, in this case you are covered and the responsibility for this moves to your supervisor.
We would expect 99% of students to use be evaluating software for its usability, and be able to make an online application, getting an immediate approval.
If anything goes wrong contact the your supervisor immediately.
We have approval for a number of methods, however for most purposes Software Usability Evaluation should suffice:
It is sometimes difficult to understand exactly what the user is thinking or, in some cases, doing when they are navigating a complex interface. This is especially the case when the user is familiar with the interface and interaction, and may even be undertaking different, but related, tasks at the same time as the primary task. In this case, to understand explicitly the activities and thoughts of the user, as they are performing the interaction, the think aloud methodology can be used.
The think aloud methodology is a classic of the HCI evaluation process evolving mainly from design based approaches. It produces qualitative data and often occurs as part of an observational process, as opposed to a direct measurement of participant performance, as would be normal in laboratory settings. While it is true that think aloud requires tasks to be completed, the object is not the direct measurement of those tasks. Instead, it is the associated verbalisations of the participants as they progress through the task describing how they are feeling and what they think they need to do.
Think aloud is intended to produce data which is deeper than standard performance measures in that some understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and ideas that are running through the mind of the participant can be captured. The main problem with think aloud is also its strength in that, it is very easy to set up and run and therefore the design aspect of the tasks can be ill conceived. In this way it is often easy to implicitly influence the participant into providing outcomes that are positive regardless of the true nature of the interface or interaction. Indeed, the very act of verbalising their thoughts and feelings means that participants often change the way they interact with the system. In normal research use Think Aloud should not be used as a methodology on its own but should provide the qualitative aspects lacking in other quantitative or performance-based measures; however for your undergraduate work we feel that using it on it's own is both appropriate and proportionate.
So if you want to test out your software after you have developed it, then you should use software usability evaluation techniques and in this case we think the 'Think Aloud Method' provides the most straightforward way of doing this.