Degree Navigator:
A web interface to University of Calgary degree requirements

The Product

As you may know the Degree Navigator in a system recently put in use to help University of Calgary students plan and monitor their academic progress. The Degree Navigator can be accessed from Netscape or Internet Explorer . You can run it in the lab or on your own PC. Non-University of Calgary students can make use of this program by registering as a 'hypothetical user'. However, as they have no University of Calgary records, much of the functionality is not available to them. Considerable claims have been made about its usability. Excerpts the University of Calgary Gazette say:

Set course, avoid shoals with Degree Navigator Degree Navigator, a user-friendly PC software program, helps students plan what courses and requirements they need to graduate. …. Besides helping students see what courses they need to get their degree, Degree Navigator can also answer common student questions such as 'what if I change my major?' If students use the tool, it should cut down on the number of routine questions that students come to student advisers with. Student advisers will then have more time to spend helping students with more complex questions about their degree requirements. … To use Degree Navigator, all students will have to do is go to one of the computer labs equipped with the Windows-based program, fire it up, enter their ID number and an access code, and then start asking questions. … "Degree Navigator is a very visual and fun tool that presents complex degree requirements in an understandable way," says Jim Kallsen, system coordinator in the Registrar's Office. …. Degree Navigator uses the concept of a number of islands in an ocean. Each island represents a set of course requirements which together comprise a degree program. Users navigate among the islands using the computer mouse, and subsequently are able to print a comprehensive degree audit report detailing a student's program progress. …. In addition to daily use by advisors, the program will be used by students themselves to chart their own degree programs. The software program shows students what courses they still need in order to complete their degree, the prerequisites to these courses, and when these courses are offered. Students can also chart what would happen if they were to decide to switch to a different faculty or program. The University chose Degree Navigator after Kallsen and Robert Hampton of University Computing Services visited the University of Ottawa, where the Degree Navigator was first implemented. Decision Academic Graphics is the Ottawa-based company, formed by a number of university professors, which developed this system.

To tell your subjects.

The Degree Navigator is a "read-only" program. It doesn't update any files, so you can play with the program as much as you like. You can't hurt anything.

Selecting Tasks

It is up to you to decided what set of typical tasks should be given to the users. The assignment sheet has a section that indicates how you can go about this, and you are already familiar with task descriptions from Assignment 1. As well, the experimenter should try the system ahead of time, becoming as familiar with it as possible. The experimenter should come up with at least six other reasonable tasks to give to subjects, preferably more. A good task one that is likely to be used by many end-users. Tasks should also be selected to investigate different parts of the system functionality.

To get you going, I've included a few sample tasks below. They are phrased as directions that will be given to the user.

Preparing equipment

You can have people use Degree Navigator from their own account, or you can have it set up in your account. If you are reusing Degree Navigator make sure that the previous user's degree information and browser actions are no longer accessible. Depending on how you run subjects, you may want to have a browser (e.g., Netscape) up and ready and Degree Navigator launched. Degree Navigator is a Java-applet. Make sure it can run reasonably for where you want to test it. For example over a modem it can take several minutes for the start button to appear. However, after that its response seems to be reasonable. Remember we are testing the interface, and it is reasonable to assume that students will access this through both a LAN and a modem. Try it out with subjects on both.

A few precautionary notes: The site allows students to register with it and will reveal records including marks etc. Because this is can be sensitive, you should make sure that your tasks do not ask students divulge this kind of information. That is, don't ask them to press the records button, and warn them that it will show their grades.


Administer the pre-test questionnaire. Questions must at least probe for people's experience with the web browser they are using, and if they have experience with a degree information system. These could include the calendar, either paper or electronic, student advisors. In particular, find out if they have heard about and / or used Degree Navigator, how much they have used it, and what their pre-study opinions of Degree Navigator are from their personal use.

At the end of the test, administer the post-test questionnaire. These should include questions that ask people how satisfied they are with the system (e.g., "I would rather check my degree progress with Degree Navigator" (Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree).




See assignment sheet. Don't forget to administer the usability instructions to subjects, and to do the active intervention / conceptual model formation on every major screen (but use your judgment). Also when you complete your study, repeat the conceptual model formation i.e., have them explain what each interface component does in each main screen. Has their conceptual model changed through their experiential learning? Is their model correct?

Sample Tasks

Note: Do at least tasks 1 and 2 before starting with your own tasks. You can do Tasks 3 & 4 as well as your own if you want, but you may find yourself short of time. The experimenter should explore the system. If the experimenter suspects certain problems, the experimenter can develop a task that exercises that part of the system.

Task 1. Locate the Degree Navigator. A) From the University of Calgary home page (, locate the page that will allow you review and plan your academic program and the courses you take. B) If you could not do the above step, go back to the University of Calgary home page ( and locate the link to the page called degree navigator for students. Reason for choosing this task. It doesn't matter how good or bad the Degree Navigator is. If they cannot find it easily, then they will not be able to use it. You may want to time them to see how long this takes, as well as note what links they try (unsuccessfully).

Task 2. Find a course description and its pre-requisites Find out what CPSC 455 is all about e.g., its title and contents. What are its pre-requisites? Do the same for CPSC 481. Find the course number for the Introduction to Computability Course. Reason for choosing this task. Finding out some basic course information is an expected routine task. This should be easy to do for both required and optional courses, and whether the person knows either the number or the name of the course.

Task 3. Selecting courses for next term. Select 5 courses to take for next fall. Reason for choosing this task. Again, this is a fairly routine task and its what the system was designed for. It should be easy to review course information and to ensure that you have the necessary pre-requisites.

Task 4. Find out what required courses you have left to take before graduating. Reason for choosing this task: Again, this should be easy to do because this information is necessary for any student to plan their program