Usability Research Improves Classroom Website

In 2015, Fairhaven High School’s Art Department developed The website attempted to communicate the achievements and course offerings and provide students with a platform to display their artwork publicly. The team diligently and excitedly crafted the website, uploading photos, videos and writing lots of text. However, the group encountered one major problem. They lacked the training and experience required to develop a solid website.

Their development efforts created a website that achieved their goals and created a website that caused more problems for the user experience than it provided valuable information.  Two years after the launch of, the team began to lose steam, and the website became defunct.

FHSArt Technical Issues relies heavily on a top drop-down menu as its main navigational aid. The links branch out to an overwhelming amount of options for users.

In a short amount of time, the website became severely challenging to navigate, disorganized, and overloaded with information and content. Some of the issues contains include:

  • The website’s navigation relies on a horizontal drop-down menu that expands to other options. The drop-down menus contain an overabundant amount of links and provide too many options for users. 
  • The site lacks core pages that allow users to locate information effectively.
  • The site lacks organization.
  • contains outdated information that is no longer relevant.
  • Important information appeared hidden and difficult to find.
  • The website does not practice standard readability techniques. The site contains few headers, subheadings and relies too much on text.
  • The homepage needs updating, as the page currently displays an abundance of text and does not invite or welcome users to explore the website. 
  • Information presented on the site is not scannable.
  • The text and graphics do not follow accessibility standards and can create conflicts with visual impairment.
  • The website contains no footer elements.
  • Pages across the website feature inconsistent structure and lack a unified design.
Issues plague FHSArt, including difficult navigation, disorganized content, dead links, and templates that have not been fully edited. requires a serious redesign, and the team set a department goal to revisit the website, address the current issues, and improve the site’s experience for future users.

If you’re wondering how an art teacher with limited web development skills identified these issues, I’d like to outline the Usability Study, and the steps taken to identify web issues and generate solutions. 

Prioritizing the user

Without users, websites cease to exist. The point of a website is to engage and inform a user. Designing a website without the user in mind can often lead to failure. In’s case, the team did not prioritize the user’s initial design. Instead, the site prioritized content.

Websites require content. However, if a user can’t access, navigate, or locate the content, the website fails to engage users. Designing a website starting with the user could eliminate design issues.

With renewed energy and an opportunity to prioritize users’ needs, FHSArt researchers used various comprehensive methods to research users’ behaviors to develop a better new website that meets their needs. The research included the following ways:

Competitive Analysis

A study that exams the strengths and weaknesses of similar websites, including structure, navigation, content organization, visual aesthetics, and responsive design.

Personas and Scenarios

To better understand possible users of, this method explores the creation of fictional users and identifies their skillsets, motivations, and potential goals of visiting a website. 

In this sample persona, Shirley Temble would like to access to see her son’s artwork. Researchers developed three different user personas and scenarios.

User Interviews

FHSArt developed this method to gather qualitative information and feedback by interviewing users of

User Surveys

Students, faculty members, and community stakeholders completed a digital survey that provided quantitative data from users regarding their experience with

Diary Study

A research method gathers data on self-reported behaviors, interactions, and experiences over some time.

Instrucitons for the Diary Study

Effective Research

Of the methods used by FHSArt, three ways yielded the most information regarding the issues of Here’s a breakdown of those three methods and the knowledge they generated.

Heuristic Evaluation

This comprehensive study breaks down accessibility and usability by evaluating user experience researcher Jakob Neilson’s 10 Usability Principles. The study analyzes critical issues impacting a user’s digital tool use. endured a heuristic evaluation, a comprehensive and wide-ranging study that focuses on the usability and accessibility of a digital system. The assessment explores and challenges issues that might hinder a user’s experience in a website. The study critically analyzes a website’s system status, language used on the site, the consistency of various pages throughout the site, preventing errors, and aesthetic and minimal design.

Card Sorting Study

This method examines and explores the way users would group content on a website. The study provides a comprehensive look at how designers can best structure content in ways that a user might find it.

FHSArt developed 30 different pages that contain specific content and digitally created a card sort study through the website Three participants volunteered to participate in the study and attempted to group cards where they thought they’d find relevant information. Participants then generated labels for the groups they created.

A recording of The Fairhaven Card Sort Study

Two of the three participants completed the assignment. One participant encountered technical issues and did not complete the study. Participants grouped similarly with minor differences. However, participants did not agree on two groupings, highlighting the need to recognize the challenge of structuring web pages. Results also demonstrate that users are unique individuals that behave and think differently, and developers should design websites to accommodate the majority of users.

A dendrogram illustrates the common groupings between card study participants.

Usability Study

A usability study recruits participants to access the current website and perform a series of tasks while researchers observe. The performance results give critical insights into users’ actions and thought processes on a website.

The usability study garnered the most insight and feedback on’s issues and illustrated how users access a website, the decisions they make, and their thought processes. In this study, three participants attempted to complete five tasks. A recording captured people’s actions during the investigation, and participants spoke their thoughts and actions aloud. Many participants could not complete the tasks, and many provided valuable feedback on the site’s experience.

In this recorded session, a user attempted to complete five tasks associated with’s design and content.

The results of the study confirmed that offers users a poor experience. Users reported difficulty navigating the site, difficulty reading and locating content. Users expressed frustration with disorganized content and lack of visual elements. One user applauded the art department’s effort to display student work publicly but felt wholly frustrated with locating and navigating the website. Another user described as the “worst website they’ve visited in a long time.”

Usability Solutions

  • The main page structure needs simplifying, and navigation requires improvement. The drop-down menus ineffectively assist users in locating content. The team should avoid drop-down menus at all costs.
  • Pages need to become the hub of specific content that can branch users into different pages. For example, Clicking on “Ceramics” should bring the user to a Ceramics page that includes all content related to Ceramics.
  • The team should also limit the number of choices for users. In the testing session, 100% of users reported feeling overwhelmed with the number of options listed under each class.
  • Important information appeared hidden and difficult to find. The team needs to identify important content and provide coherent paths for users to access documents. Two of three users could not locate a comprehensive list of all FHS Art programs.
  • Contact information needs inclusion on the website. Two of the Three users could not contact any art teachers for more information about the art program.
  • The website could benefit from updated graphics and text elements. Users reported that the website lacked many visual images for a visual arts page and included too much text.
  • Participants noticed difficulty identifying student work, and structuring text with headlines and sub-headlines will improve these sections. 
  • The homepage needs updating, as the page currently displays an abundance of text and does not invite or welcome users to explore the website. Users reported the homepage looked like an error message and the page’s text proved challenging to read.
  • Many users failed to read much of the website’s content. The team should simplify text to allow users to scan information on the website. 
The usability study highlighted the impractical structure of important pages, as the contact page remains buried under many links.

Next steps

The team can move forward to build a prototype website that corrects the issues identified in this study. Addressing the site’s structure, simplifying navigation, grouping content more effectively, and developing an improved aesthetic and design will improve Once a prototype exists, more user testing needs to take place. Constant testing will allow to continually enhance and avoid costly errors and issues in the future.

The FHSArt department now set a goal to have a redesigned in the summer of 2022.

Read the Full Report

How Functional is your Class Website?

We’ve all attended a Professional Development session before and had speakers tell educators that developing a class website can improve communication with parents and stakeholders. Feeling energized, we run to free websites like Google Sites, Wix, or Weebly, design a website, and figuratively check that box off.

However, we are educators, not web designers. Even with our best intentions, we might not fully understand how to best structure websites and could create an undesired effect on our audience: a poor user experience.

In 2014, the art department at Fairhaven High School decided to launch, a Weebly website that allowed the department to promote the inner happenings. At the time, the department felt the school community was unaware of the achievements and work of FHS Art students. The site provided a route for people to see students’ hard work.

The site became a successful tool for the Fairhaven Art Department and logged over 1000 visitors. However, in 2017, the team lost motivation to update the website, and today the website remains defunct. Our team misses the information shared on the web and now seeks to redesign the site.

Our first order of business includes studying our prior site and conducting a usability study. In a usability test, a team recruits users to visit a website and then complete various tasks. Then researchers can analyze how people performed on the site and identify issues that require improvement.

I just completed a usability testing session of, and the insight gathered inspires me that our redesigned site can be so much stronger. The following is a report of the findings of the usability testing session.

Fairhaven High School Art Department Usability Testing

The current site requires a usability testing session to understand better the issues presented on 

We designed the usability testing to include five tasks that will provide critical insight into how users interact with the website and identify crucial issues needing improvement with the site’s redesign.

Testing Summary

The above video includes a sample recording of one of our participant’s usability studies.

I conducted the usability summaries on December 11, 2021. Two users participated in the study through a remote Zoom session, and another user completed the survey in person while being recorded through Quicktime Media Player. Each session lasted 15 minutes and included a diverse group of users with various web experiences.

The testing results indicate the current website requires an entire redesign. Users found the website difficult to navigate, frustrated when unable to complete tasks, and struggled to complete the tasks. Only one user was able to meet all five tasks. Two users failed three of the five functions before giving up.

Users reported that the site needs redesigning, needs simplification, and should include navigational aids such as a search bar. They also suggested creating a standard across pages, eliminating vertical dropdown menus, and modernizing the organization of pages.

One user went as far as saying, “I’ve used many sites before, and this has to be the worst experience I’ve ever had. If I had a child at Fairhaven High School, I wouldn’t trust them to teach my child digital skills if they can’t use their digital skills to develop a website.”

The study highlighted many issues about the website, and recommendations include:

  • The main page structure needs simplifying, and navigation requires improvement. The drop-down menus ineffectively assist users in locating content. The team should avoid drop-down menus at all costs.
  • Pages need to become the hub of specific content that can branch users into different pages. For example, Clicking on “Ceramics” should bring the user to a Ceramics page that includes all content related to Ceramics.
  • The team should also limit the number of choices for users. In the testing session, 100% of users reported feeling overwhelmed with the number of options listed under each class.
  • Important information appeared hidden and difficult to find. The team needs to identify important content and provide coherent paths for users to access documents. Two of three users could not locate a comprehensive list of all FHS Art programs.
  • Contact information needs inclusion on the website. Two of the Three users could not contact any art teachers for more information about the art program.
  • The website could benefit from updated graphics and text elements. Users reported that the website lacked many visual images for a visual arts page and included too much text.
  • Participants noticed difficulty identifying student work, and structuring text with headlines and sub-headlines will improve these sections. 
  • The homepage needs updating, as the page currently displays an abundance of text and does not invite or welcome users to explore the website. Users reported the homepage looked like an error message and the page’s text proved challenging to read.
  • Many users failed to read much of the website’s content. The team should simplify text to allow users to scan information on the website. 


The three participants included friends and family of the study’s administrator. These participants are comfortable with the administrator and tend not to shy away from truthful feedback. One participant consists of a colleague at Fairhaven High School, and two other participants included people who visit websites but haven’t visited the FHS Art Department’s website before. Users received a $10 gift card to Dunkin Donuts to participate in the study. 

The sessions took place remotely and in person. The administrator provided an overview of the study and retained permission from users’ involvement before recording and confirming during recording.

The administrator revied the purpose of the study and included the history of the art department. A warmup discussion began the study, prompting users to identify their relationship with web interaction. Following the warmup, users began completing tasks and attempted to speak through their decisions and actions. Afterward, a debriefing conversation occurred after the session.  

Study Script Introduction:

“Hello, My name is Drew Furtado. I appreciate you taking some time out of your day to help me research the usability of Fairhaven High School’s Art department website. In 2016 the FHS Art department developed this website, and it now requires updating. The data gathered from this session will allow our team to understand better how users use the site and identify current issues that we can address in the site’s redesign.

This testing session should take no more than 15 minutes of your time, and we value your insight. We hope that you will be able, to be honest throughout this session. Nothing you say will hurt our feelings, nor are you being judged on your experience. We are testing the site, not you. 

During this study, you will attempt to complete five different tasks. Please try to complete the task as best as you can and speak out loud about the actions and thoughts you are experiencing. This session will help better understand how to improve the site’s redesign.

If it’s possible, would you consider permitting me to record this session? I can revisit the session and gather the information I might have missed by recording this session. At any point, feel free to ask any clarifying questions that you might have. However, please note that I might not answer your question until after the session.

  • Before we start, may I ask you a few questions to better understand your experience with navigating websites?
  • What is your occupation?
  • How many hours a day would you say you use accessing websites on the internet?
  • What types of sites do you frequently visit?
  • What are some of your favorite websites?

At this point, I’d like to start the usability study. Are you ready to begin?

Usability Tasks:

  1. In this scenario, pretend you are a sophomore interested in taking an art class at Fairhaven High School. You heard a friend discuss a mosaic project made in her ceramics class. Please attempt to find the mosaic page for examples of student work.
  2. In this task, pretend you are a student’s parent at Fairhaven High School. Your student came home talking about a friend who received a National Student Production Award in their media class. Navigate FHSArt for a news story that includes this achievement.
  3. In this task, act as a parent who would like to find information about contacting an art teacher about getting your child involved in the FHS Art program.
  4. In this task, you’re a parent of an 8th grader who is looking for a comprehensive list featuring all art programs offered at Fairhaven High School.
  1. In this task, you receive an email from an art teacher about an update about your child’s digital photography bokeh project. The email contains a link to but does not link to the project. Seek the Bokeh project page and locate your child Evan’s project.

Participant Details


Male, age 32, Clinical Social Worker

Josh spends two to five hours a day on the internet and has an excellent understanding of navigating different websites. He regularly visits Massachusetts State websites, the New York Times, Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. 


Female, Age 66, Retired

Susan refers to herself as not a technology person. Her interactions with websites are limited, but she loves to visit the Washington Post and the New York Times and loves seeing updates on her grandchildren on Tiny Beans’ baby photo site. She spends about 45 minutes on the internet and has never visited before.


Female, Age 43, Science Teacher

As a high school science teacher, Amanda is comfortable with technology and understands how to navigate most sites. She reported she spends a reasonable amount of time on the internet and visits sites like Google Classroom, AP Classroom, and social media sites. On average, Amanda indicated she spends at least 4 hours a day visiting websites. She has seen before but couldn’t recall the last time she visited the site.

Analysis and Recommendations

Task #1 

The dropdown menus of ineffectively allow users to navigate the site.

In this scenario, pretend you are a sophomore interested in taking an art class at Fairhaven High School. You heard a friend discuss a mosaic project made in her ceramics class. Please attempt to find the mosaic page for examples of student work.


Participants completed the task with mixed results. Two participants completed the task successfully, and another user gave up as the user got lost in the navigation. 

  • One user immediately went to the Ceramics page and located the project page under the Ceramics II subheading.
  • Another user clicked on the Ceramics link and couldn’t locate the project page on the Ceramics page. The user then clicked on Digital Photo and realized the heading links included drop-down menus. Once the user identified how the website functioned, they could locate the project page successfully.
  • Another user clicked on every link across the page and could not locate the page. The user passed over the link multiple times and became blind to the abundance of options. They shut down if offered more than four options.

Issues Identified

Users immediately demonstrated disdain for the abundance of pages nested under each main header link. The site contains too many options for users and exceeds their cognitive load.

Content lives in unexpected and unpredictable places.

The site should abandon vertical dropdown menus and group content on relative pages. For example, the Ceramics heading should bring users to the Ceramics page to locate Ceramics 1, Ceramics 2, and Ceramics 3 content. 

A search bar would help users navigate the site with ease.

Task #2:

The FHS Media Arts Page features an updated web design.

In this task, pretend you are a student’s parent at Fairhaven High School. Your student came home talking about a friend who received a National Student Production Award in their media class. Navigate FHSArt for a news story that includes this achievement.


100% of users located information about the National Student Production Award. However, the ease of this operation varied between participants.

  • One user immediately went to the Media Arts page and found the news story on the front page.
  • Another user attempted to visit the News and Events page nested under the main Home page. The user noticed the content included information from 2016 and then visited the Photography page, hoping to find information about the story. Then they visited the Media Arts Page and ended up on the Student Projects page until then finding the story on the front page.
  • In this task, a user immediately requested a search bar. They first selected the NAHS link and said: “I don’t even know what NAHS is,” but clicked on it anyways. Unsuccessful, they then visited the Media Arts website and immediately located the story on the front page of that page.

Issues Identified

The FHSArt page hides the News and events from users. The only way to access this page is to hover over the main Home link, hover over the Fairhaven Chapter National Art Honor Society, and select News and events.

Pages across contain a variety of page structures and fail to include similar terminology, navigation, and organize information differently.

Pages across the site should develop a standard page structure. Each page should be designed the same way, contain a similar design, and include elements that are easily accessible.

The team should also develop an FHS Arts newsfeed that lives on the website’s front page and includes navigational links that direct users to the department’s News.

Task #3:

The Contact page of FHSArt is deeply hidden in pages.

In this task, act as a parent who would like to find information about contacting an art teacher about getting your child involved in the FHS Art program.


Only one participant completed this task, and the other two participants became so frustrated that they gave up ultimately. 

  • One user visited each course searching for a contact for a teacher, and finally found a reference for the Media Arts teacher. This user navigated to many pages until finding a contact link in the footer of the Media Arts page.
  • Another user visited each link seeking a contact link but unsuccessfully found one. The user promptly gave up and was frustrated a link could not be located.
  • A third user-worked hard to locate a contact link but could not complete the task. The user visited each page seeking a contact link, and ended up on the Media Arts page. They found a link to the Fairhaven High School and attempted to access a directory of staff, but the link on that site was absent and included a dead link. As they tried to troubleshoot this difficulty, they found a link labeled FHS Art and became frustrated when the link brought them back to his original website.

Issues Identified

While FHS Art does include a contact page, the link lives hidden amongst the website’s pages. The page lives nested under the Home header, the Fairhaven High School Chapter of the National Arts Honor Society link, and nested under News and updates.

No users located this link.

Simplifying and making the contact feature more prominent would be strongly recommended. Burying a contact link amongst other pages would not be ideal, and a contact link requires a priority for users. 

It’s also advisable that the Home link operates precisely like a home page instead of nesting links under the home page header. Most users do not expect pages hidden under this tab.

Developing a footer could solve this problem. Important links could contain valuable pages such as a contact page, privacy policy, and site map in the footer. 

Task 4

Users can only find information regarding the programs offered at Fairhaven Hight School under the Home Header.

In this task, you’re a parent of an 8th grader who is looking for a comprehensive list featuring all art programs offered at Fairhaven High School.


Two of the three users successfully located this page but with various difficulties.

  • One user found the page immediately, as they accidentally stumbled on it during a prior task.
  • Another user visited each FHS Art course until they realized the Home header included nested items. After that, they could successfully access the program of studies offered by Fairhaven High School.
  • The third user clicked every page seeking this information but failed to locate the studies program. Instead, they returned to the NAHS page multiple times, despite not knowing what the NAHS abbreviation meant. The user decided that FHS offered no value and gave up the task. The user commented that they would think twice about sending their child to Fairhaven High School since the user could not locate the information.

Issues Identified

Again, the home header includes nested items that users cannot locate. The practice of having important information under the home header needs serious redesigning.  This task demonstrated that the website does not include multiple pathways to essential details.

It might be beneficial for the website to include multiple ways to access important information. Various pathways to content allow users to correct mistakes if they are on the wrong pages.

Again, removing the links nested under the home header would be a top priority in redesigning

Task 5

The dropdown navigation menu offers users too many choices.

In this task, you receive an email from an art teacher about an update about your child’s digital photography bokeh project. The email contains a link to but does not link to the project. Seek the Bokeh project page and locate your child Evan’s project.


100% of users completed this task, and 100% experienced a severe struggle to access this content.

  • One user navigated to the page by visiting Photography under the Digital Art header and realizing no link was included on that page. They went back to the Digital Art header, advanced to the Digital Photography 1 subheading, and finally located the Bokeh Project page.
  • Another user visited the digital photography page nested under the Digital Art heading. The user attempted to open the Bokeh Project button posted on the page, but the link was dead and did not open. After a few attempts, the user finally accessed the page nested in the Digital Photography 1 subheading.
  • The final user visited many pages, including Ceramics, Media Arts, and Arts, until they landed on the Digital Art heading and located the Digital Photography 1 subheading. From there, it took some effort, but they eventually landed on the Bokeh Page Project. This user also could not locate their son “Evan’s” project.

Issues Identified

The navigation of leaves users with an undesired experience. The header navigation proves to be too difficult to use. The Digital Art header opens links to the right. However, if users select Digital Photography, the menu extends to the left, covering options already revealed by the user. In addition, when users move to choose a page listed in this subheading, the menu collapses, leaving users to try multiple times until they can trick the site that their mouse is no longer moving.

This unpredictable situation confuses users and leaves users frustrated with the site’s design.

Another issue identified from this task includes the site relies too much on large bodies of text. For example, on this page, students’ artist statements are included in the body of work. However, the text is too condensed and does not include descriptions or headers. Users cannot determine what the text reads, who produced the artwork, and many didn’t realize the large blocks of text had student writing.

Organizing the pages more effectively would streamline the navigation process, and removing the dropdown navigation would also improve the users’ experience. 

Introducing headlines and subheadings can alleviate text issues, provide clues to the user to what they are reading, and allow users to scan the website for information quickly. 


While users applaud the art department for showcasing student work, the site needs serious updating. The site requires a navigation overhaul, an improved information architecture, a simplified and consistent standard across pages, a welcoming homepage, and improved graphics. The FHS Art Department’s website can better serve information to the school community, students, and stakeholders by addressing these needs.

If you’re looking to develop a class website, please consider having people test the site first!

The Five Whys Analysis

While many methods exist to research problems and solutions, one more simple and effective technique includes the five whys analysis. This technique focuses on cause and effects relationships and quickly digs deep into the root cause of an issue.

The technique breaks down processes into a sequence of events and identifies relationships within the problem. The Five Whys analysis effectively addresses root issues with human interactions, day-to-day operations, or troubleshooting simple to moderately complex problems.

The Five Why Analysis investigates the root cause of a problem.

The process is simple:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Ask and answer “why?” 
  • Repeat this process at least five times until you can identify the root issue. 
  • Address and solve the main issue.

By asking why five or more times, the root issue begins to manifest itself after layers and layers of steps reveal themselves. Once the root issue identifies, people can now propose solutions to address the more significant problem directly.

Five Whys Origin

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Company, developed the five whys analysis primarily to locate the core failure of Toyota’s vehicles. The practice is still employed today, as engineers continue to seek root issues in manufacturing.

The Fishbone Diagram

One cause-and-effect tool that visualizes the five whys analysis is the fishbone diagram. The tool visually breaks down issues that might be causing a significant problem. In the tool, the situation develops in the fish’s “mouth.” Then contributing categories and topics branch from the fish’s spine, creating a proverbial fishbone.

The Fishbone Diagram organizes the Five Why Analysis in a visual manner.

Five Whys Origin in Practice

In practice, the five ways analysis can help identify more significant issues that impact more minor failures. For example, a lawnmower stopped working abruptly. By identifying the problem and generating five “why” questions,  one might be able to identify the root issue of the mower and ideate a solution.

Problem: “The lawnmower stopped working. 

  • Why? It started making a sputtering sound and then stopped working.
  • Why? The gas tank is running low.
  • Why? I didn’t put gas into it.
  • Why? I didn’t want to go into the house to get the gas canister.
  • Why? I didn’t want to go to the gas station to add more gas to the container.

A quick solution to this problem is to visit the nearby gas station to fill the tank void procrastination.

Educators should embrace the five Whys Analysis

The five why analysis can also elevate educators’ performances in America’s classrooms. By using the Five Whys Analysis, teachers can promote positive reflection and develop core empathy. For example, let’s say a student did not complete their homework. Many teachers would quickly punish the student and assign a zero grade for the missing work. Instead, teachers should use the Five Whys Analysis to investigate why that student didn’t complete the homework. 

Problem: Johnny didn’t complete his homework assignment.

  • Why? Johnny doesn’t see the value in the homework assigned by his teacher.
  • Why? Johnny doesn’t see how the homework is relevant or helpful for himself.
  • Why? Johnny didn’t have time to complete the assignment thoroughly.
  • Why? Johnny worked from 4:00-11:00 pm.
  • Why? Johnny’s dad passed away when he was eight. Most of his time goes to supporting his mother’s financial needs. The only job in town hires teenagers to work long hours into the night.

Learning that information should inform a teacher to reflect on their practices. I’d ask why a teacher should continue to punish students when the teacher’s strategies fail. I regularly use the Five Why Analysis to inform my practice, and the method allows me to think differently about my performance, develop deeper empathy for my students, and realize the complex issues children are faced with daily.

Image: Andrea Piacquadio

Five Why Analysis Case Studies

Teachers should also teach students how to use the five whys analysis to become efficient problem solvers. Researchers Saeed Moaveni, and Karen Chou, published a study in the Journal of STEM Education advocating using the Five Whys in classrooms. They introduced the Five Why Analysis to engineering students. Teachers no longer gave corrections to homework. Instead, they asked students to use the Five Whys Analysis to determine where they went wrong. 83% of students reported the method helped them learn more effectively, and 81% of students indicated the technique was helpful in homework resubmission.

Another application of the Five Why Analysis features research from European construction workers. Skanska Finland developed a Five Whys Analysis method to report and identify accidents during construction. Using this method, researchers identified the root issues that caused injury, increased training opportunities, reduced mistakes from occurring again, and increased preventive actions from further damage. 

Critical Responses

While many people love using the five whys analysis, many detractors disagree with the application. Many suggest the Five Whys Analysis does not go deep enough. Users might not have the experience to solve the problem once the root issue presents itself, and some argue that asking “why” is not simply enough. Instead, questions like How or What might be more relevant. 

Another downfall of the Five Whys Analysis is that the method can identify multiple causes for one problem. Many also argue method is often too simple and leaves more ambiguity of the root issue.

Regardless of what people say, I’m a Five Whys Analysis devotee, and I try to use it in all applications of life.

Planning with Backcasting

Suppose you’ve ever watched the evening news. In that case, you might have noticed that one of the most popular local television segments includes the weather forecast, a prediction of what weather will look like at a given time.

Instead of forecasting and predicting the future, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of backcasting. Backcasting is a planning tool that helps plan complex problems. The process looks at a desired future outcome and then identifies the events that need to occur to achieve that goal. 

Backcast by Design

I’ve grown to love the backcasting model. Effective educators heavily use backcasting to develop curriculum. However, they call the practice backward design. The educator identifies the desired outcome for student learning and then creates all the required skills and lessons students need to become proficient.

For example, I want my students to create a mini-documentary of their community in my media arts class. For these students to be successful in this project, I have backcasted all of the necessary skills students need to have to be successful in their endeavors. Some of the backcasted lessons include:

  1. Setting up a tripod and camera
  2. Developing an understanding of technical camera controls
  3. Becoming proficient with principles of photography
  4. Recording audio
  5. Conducting in-depth interviews
  6. Managing media in digital editing software
  7. Creating  basic video editing cuts
  8. Developing a concise narrative story
  9. Gathering and editing secondary video footage
  10. Color grading footage
  11. Enhancing edits with primary video effects
  12. Soliciting feedback and refining work.
  13. Compressing and delivering video projects for web distribution

By breaking down all of the skills required by students, I can plan more effectively and with intent. It also helps to know what the assessment looks like at the end of the unit, a documentary film.  I can collect additional data from evaluations along the way to monitor progress and adjust my practice as I see fit, ultimately leading students through this journey with a vision of the result.

The result of backcasting: ‘Close to 190,000.’ This student film received a National Student Production Award, and New England Regional Student Production Award.

In contrast, some teachers prefer not to use this method. Instead, teachers look at content, plan a sequence of activities and lessons, and develop an assessment at the end of the task. I’d argue this is not an effective practice of planning, as it encourages disengagement from students, as the assessment is not the driving force of the lesson. Without having a tangible outcome, students will realize that the unit is pointless and incur a regression of student learning.

Backcasting Complex Issues

Photo: Roxi Nicolussi

Backcasting increases value for all sectors and industries, particularly in areas that need to solve a complex problem whose solution is not yet determined. It promotes innovation and forces people to think more critically of unknown possibilities. 

An example of historic backcasting comes from the invention of the automobile. Henry Ford turned to backcast the car when horses caused significant health issues with abundant horse manure in cities across the globe. He didn’t just come up with a solution. He transformed the way people move across the world by challenging the accepted norms of society. 

The vision affords to backcast its strength. Currently, researchers and scientists develop backcasting methodologies to solve immense world problems.

Researcher Simon Elias Bibri utilizes backcasting to develop sustainable cities and identifies backcasting as a critical tool for his research.

‘Backcasting is a special scenario methodology to develop future models for the smart, sustainable city as a planning tool for urban sustainability. Goal-oriented backcasting approaches declare long-range targets that lie quite far in the future. Visionary images of a long-term future can stimulate an accelerated movement towards achieving the goals of urban sustainability.”

Simon Elias Bibri

Researchers David N. Bengston, Lynne M. Westphal, and Michael J. Dockry developed a backcasting wheel method used to revise the US Forest Service plan.

“The essence of Backcasting is developing a pathway that connects a preferred future to the present and identifying milestones along the pathway that can be used by planners and policymakers to track progress (UK Government Office for Science 2017).”

David N. Bengston, Lynne M. Westphal, and Michael J. Dockry

While I don’t know what the future looks like, backcasting certainly can help create the vision of the future, and design a pathway for that future to materialize.

Celebrating Failure with Iterative Design

Do you remember the first time you rode a bicycle?

Here’s a scenario, let’s say you tried to ride your bike nine times but kept falling off. However, on the tenth try, you maintain your balance and ride the bike down the street. A teacher grades your experience in this scenario: one out of ten successful attempts, a failing grade of 10%. Despite developing the necessary skills to ride the bike successfully, you are now forever labeled a failure.

I frequently hear my media art students complain about the test they just failed in another class and the fear of their parents reacting with strict punishments. They act as if failing an exam brand the teenager as a life failure. Failure should be something worth celebrating, and it’s evidence that learning is happening. 

Failure is not the end. Instead, it’s the beginning of real change. People need to fail to develop new methods, new perspectives and truly build understanding.

Failure is Necessary

History reminds us how failure transforms into success.

  • The failure of multiple Polio vaccination attempts ultimately leads to the eradication of the disease. 
  • The failure of numerous lunar missions leads to the successful landing of Apollo 11. 
  • The failure of Steve Jobs transformed Apple into a major success.

Many other people still use failure to their advantage, including artists, filmmakers, web designers, and teachers. This practice is called iterative design, the art of failing a task, reflecting on progress, developing new strategies, and redesigning experiences to adapt, adjust, and overcome setbacks. Each version of the process becomes closer to solving the initial problem. 

Iterative design features five significant steps:

  1. Planning- What is the problem? 
  2. Prototype- What is needed to develop a solution?
  3. Testing- Will this solution fix the problem?
  4. Evaluation- What does the data tell us about our solution?
  5. Repeat the Process- Did our solution solve the problem?

Focusing on the User

Failure organically informs the next step during the iterative design process, and if you’re not failing, you’re doing this process wrong. One of the most common failures with the iterative design process is failing to recognize the people affected by the problem. Many people tend to focus on solutions for the issue and neglect a key component: the user.

For example, a team redesigning a website should not focus on the site’s aesthetic makeup but instead on the people using the website. By focusing on the behaviors and interests of their users, the iterative design process can provide the team with essential information that informs their web redevelopment.

The iterative design process reminds me of the tech giant Apple. Researchers at Apple frequently research their user base and center all decisions based on the user. I would love to be a fly on the wall when Apple reveals how their solutions have failed their users.  I often ask myself, “How many times did Apple fail when producing the iPhone?” I also wonder: “Why didn’t they stop producing iPhones when they created the first Apple iPhone? Why did the company deliver more than 15 improved versions of the same phone?” 

Embrace Failure

The next time a problem presents itself, get back on that bicycle, and embrace failure. Use the iterative design process to learn from your failure, and have your failure fuel your success.

Into the Breach: An Open Letter to Online Privacy

I know conducting business on social media is overwhelming. There are many platforms, each with its strengths and weaknesses, and learning new platforms can be a time-staking process. This letter is for you and outlines the need to promote your business on social media and introduce you to best practices to keeping yourself safe.

First, before I delve deep into social media strategies, let me share with you my story. My digital art and media company, DFurt Arts, is named after my name, Drew Furtado. I’ve felt the same anxieties and trepidation that you currently think. I remember how much fear I had about promoting my business on social media. Once I developed the strategies I’m about to share with you, I found social media promotion advantageous.

Social Media Marketing

Billions of users are using social media platforms daily. Marketing to these potential customers is paramount. Without social media marketing, you could be alienating and missing a massive audience of people who desperately need your services.

If you’re not telling your story, who will?

You cannot rely on people to tell your story for you, nor can you rely on others to promote your services if you’re not willing to promote yourself.

Choose a platform

There are hundreds of social media platforms, and each has its own set of pros and cons. For example, while engaging with billions of users on Facebook appears enticing, it might be challenging to engage with users unless you’re paying Facebook for sponsored promotions. If short, timely posts fill your needs, Twitter might be the best solution, and if your company is image-dependent, Instagram might be the place to share your content.

While many platforms exist, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to be on every platform. Choosing one platform can alleviate the overwhelming feeling and maximize your energy when sharing and producing content.

Remain Safe

Once you’ve chosen a platform to engage with an audience, it’s essential to take the following steps to protect yourself.

Don’t Disclose Personal Information

When posting on social media, it’s essential never to share important personal information.

  • Don’t share the address of your residency.
  • Never share your birthday, social security numbers, or other information such as credit card information.
  • Keep your posts limited to your business objectives.

Keep Passwords Hidden

Your social media password should be something unique that no one will be able to guess. Avoid using first or last names, personal identifiers such as nicknames or birthdays, and always use a combination of uppercase letters and symbols.

The last thing you want to deal with is someone hacking into your social media account and posting or soliciting spam messages on your behalf.

Post Authentically

Your posts should represent your personality and should be crafted with business goals first. There are three good rules to remember when posting on social media: Post regularly, post frequently, and post with your voice.

Gohar Khan, the author of Social Media Analytics, reminds users of ways to protect themselves from legal issues while posting on social media, including:

  • Never reveal personal and senestive information about another person.
  • Never use social media to intimidate, harrass or threaten people.
  • Never post offessive or obsene material.
  • Don’t cause harm or incite violence
  • Post with people’s dignity in mind. Avoid comments that attack people’s race, gender orientation, or disability.

Post Original Posts

Finally, to keep yourself safe while promoting your services on social media, your posts must be original content. Create your media to avoid any copyright and plagiarism issues.

If you’re using someone else’s work, be sure to have permission from that user first and tell your audience who created that content. Be transparent in these posts because people can and will threaten legal actions against those who steal content.

Go forth and be bold

Let me remind you: “you can do this.” As terrifying as it is to promote your services on social media, there are people out there who desperately need your skills and abilities. You can keep yourself safe, your followers safe and improve the lives of everyone that interact with you on social media.

Into the breach with courage, my friend,


‘Restart 2020’ Accepted to Three Film Festivals

Our documentary film ‘Restart 2020‘ travels to New England! The SENE Film Festival, 11th Arlington International Film Festival, and New Haven International Film Festival accepted ‘Restart 20’ in this year’s upcoming film festivals.

‘Restart 2020’ premieres in Rhode Island on Thursday, October 13, 2021at the SENE Film Festival. The festival takes place in person at the Artist Exchange, 50 Rowlf Sq. Cranston, Rhode Island. Tickets are available here.

The film travels to Arlington, Massachusetts, during this year’s Arlington International Film Festival in November. The event takes place virtually this year, and films screen virtually on the AIFF’s website.

Finally, in May of 2021, the New Haven International Film Festival will screen ‘Restart 2021.’ More information to come!

‘Restart 2020’ tells A story of perseverance and creativity that Artists could adapt to any town in the world. Restart 2020 is the story of three artists from New Bedford, MA, with big plans for 2020. Unbeknownst to them, the COVID-19 pandemic would challenge and alter their endeavors dramatically. Yet undaunted, artists worked through the pandemic, creating art installations that inspired hope to the residents of the Whaling City during a dark time.

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Diving Deep into TikTok’s Privacy Policy

We’ve all been there. We install the latest and hip new cell phone application, and right after it opens for the first time, a 20 page privacy policy appears. In our excitement, we promptly close the window and don’t read the policy. Maybe we should start reading these policies.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but mobile application and technology companies are collecting vast quantities of user data. These privacy policies lay out what a company is collecting and how they use the data they collect on people.

I’ve been curious about TikTok’s privacy policy lately and decided to take a deep dive. For those who are unaware, TikTok is the latest application to engage billions of people each day. The application allows users to view and create an infinite supply of short videos and uses an aggressive algorithm that specifically personalizes and targets content for users.

tiktok’s Privacy Policy

TikTok’s 3200-word privacy policy illustrates the company’s strategy for collecting data. The app collects an abundance of information from its users, including images, text, video, audio, usage data, location data, and messages sent through the app. The app also retains keystrokes, rhythms, keypad entries, IP addresses, file names on the device, and the battery status of the app. TikTok also collects information from third-party applications such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and learns how you use those applications as well.

If you choose to link or sign up using  a third-party social network or login service (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Google), we may collect information from these services, including your contact lists for these services and information relating to your use of the Platform in relation to these services. If you link your TikTok account to another service, we may receive information about your use of that service.

Excerpt from TikTok’s Privacy Policy

How data is used

I’m sure many people assume TikTok exists as a form of entertainment, a simple, fun, and innocent application. I’d also believe many might overlook what TikTok is doing. TikTok collects user data for other purposes. According to their privacy policy, it indicates the motive of the application, makes money, specifically engages users with personalized content, and provides relevant advertisements for the companies paying TikTok for their services. The privacy policy includes:

  • To customize the content you see when you use the Platform.
  • To send promotional materials from us or on behalf of our affiliates and trusted third parties
  • To measure and understand the effectiveness of the advertising we serve to you and others and to deliver advertising
  • To make suggestions and provide a customized ad experience
  • To use User Content as part of our advertising and marketing campaigns to promote the Platform
  • To understand how you use the Platform, including across your devices
  • Consistent with your permissions, to provide you with location-based services, such as advertising and other personalized content
  • To inform our algorithms
  • To facilitate sales, promotion, and purchases of goods and services and to provide user support

Alarming Data collection

While it’s discomforting to see TikTok’s privacy policy in plain text, some practices alarm me further. The first is TikTok’s collection of biometric identifiers such as faceprints and voiceprints. The privacy policy does not delve deep into what these terms mean, and we can assume the app is collecting scans of people’s faces when they use a special facial or voice filter. It begs the question, what could TikTok’s parent company ByteDance be doing with all the biometric data they are collecting?

We may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information as defined under US laws, such as faceprints and voiceprints, from your User Content. Where required by law, we will seek any required permissions from you prior to any such collection.

Excerpt from TikTok’s Privacy Policy

The statement above is vague and does not identify which US laws they mention. Is the company referring to federal, state, or local laws? Only five US states have enacted biometric laws, Washington, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and New York, and it’s unclear how TikTok is collecting this type of data.

Sharing information with coporate offices

In addition, TikTok tells users they do not sell their data but are sharing it with “service providers and business partners to help us perform business operations and for business purposes…” The company further adds that the data shares with “Advertising, marketing, and analytics vendors.” They do not clarify who these companies are and what they do with the information they receive from TikTok.

I’m also concerned to see that TikTok shares the data they collect with their corporate office group, ByteDance, a Chinese company that owns and runs many other platforms. It’s unclear what the parent company does with the data shared with them and stores user data in centers in California and Singapore. I’m also wary that ByteDance might have connections to the Chinese government, and who knows how the Chinese government uses the information they collect from users across the world.

I recognize American’s generally distrust the Chinese government, largely thanks to former President Trump’s stance on TikTok and attempting to ban the social media app from the United States.

After viewing the privacy policy, I have to ask myself how many people read these? I wonder if people read these privacy policies, how many users would continue to use the app? I can only assume that tech companies don’t want people to read these policies, which explains hiding policies in lengthy documents.

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Locating Business Insights from Digital Mapping

The area nestled between Eastern Rhode Island and hugging the Atlantic ocean to the cape is known as Massachusett’s Southcoast. The area is home to many communities such as Fall River, MA, New Bedford, MA, and Fairhaven, MA. These communities are also home to excellent restaurants, bars, and ice cream shops.

There are many places the Southcoast offers to eat or drink, I thought it might be helpful to map out the restaurants that I would highly recommend. I used Google Maps to map out locations that I find worthy of a visit. These locations are based on my previous experiences, and I did not choose to map any franchise restaurants and chose areas that are independently run.

While making this map, I also used different categories to distinguish various places, including dine-in restaurants, take-out restaurants, bars, and ice cream shops. You can view the map below.

I made this map manually, and only tracked my preferences for restaurants, but artificial intelligence has probably already mapped my behavior and preferences. In fact, artificial intelligence is tracking everyone’s location, and giving tools to businesses to capitalize on that data.

Locating Influencers to Map Connections

There has been a significant push lately to use location based analytics to pinpoint customers precisely. Many companies are turning to location based analytics to precisely target their customers. Businesses can send alerts, advertisements, navigation aids, and enticements to customers when they are within the business’ location.

As creepy as that is, other tools can identify and create a map of influencers in digital spaces. This week, I’ve been curious about searching location-based data through Twitter. is a tool that marketers can use to locate possible influencers on Twitter. The data from this tool is expansive, and I can use this data to identify potential influencers who could increase my brand’s visibility.

Mention Mapping the Southcoast

Busi can use this demonstrates the people who are primarily using #NewBedford on Twitter.

I was surprised to see that the Southcoast of Massachusetts is not frequently mentioned on Twitter. Instead, the results features more data from the United Kingdom’s Southcoast. I also searched the area communities and found a tiny number of people and influencers discussing these communities. These folks also had relatively small followers.

While searching for #NewBedford, realtors, tattoo companies, and temporary work providers tend to be using #NewBedford frequently. A skincare company out of Florida also tends to use #NewBedford in their posts. These pages have a relatively small following. However, there was one influencer that appeared in my search.

I did find the New Bedford Guide, a for-profit social media re-poster with a sizeable following. If a company agrees to pay the New Bedford Guide, it could be a valuable platform to engage new audiences.

However, the New Bedford Guide frequently shares content that disparages immigrants and foreign nationals, criticizes the Black Lives Movement, and regularly uses click bait and controversial headlines to increase clicks onto the site. Anyone attempting to engage the New Bedford Guide should understand the social media’s audience and how they might perceive content.

Unreliable Searches

I attempted to use another popular New Bedford Hashtag, NBMA. The results were not as expected.

Mention mapping proved to be quite unreliable. I found that it was difficult to find influencers in my area. The only assumption I can make is that many people aren’t using location based hashtags. I attempted to search for #NBMA instead of #NewBedford, and ended up finding a group of people using that hashtag to discuss something in Madrid, Spain.

While the tool was interesting and fascinating, it did not provide me with any real insight to what I was searching for. I really had to dig deep and search multiple hashtags and accounts to see what people were mentioning on Twitter. I also wonder how many people are actively using Twitter in this area, and the data I collect could be inconclusive.

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