Contextual Inquiry Guide for Students

Date & Time:

*Getting Started*

Introduce the team and give an overview of why your'e there.

Have the participant sign the consent form.

Be sure to make notes about the user's context throughout the CI. 

Have fun!

Gather demographic & background info / Ice breakers

Demographics & Characteristics

  • Where are you in your studies? What's your major?
  • Do you live on campus?
  • Where do you normally do your course work? Do you use a laptop? How often do you have it with you?
  • What do you normally use a computer for? 
  • Any favorite applications or websites?  Why?
  • Any you don't like?
  • What other technology do use on a regular basis (phone, pda, ipod, etc.)? Can you tell us the kinds of things you do with it? What do you like? What don't you like?
  • On a scale of 1 - 5 (1 being low and 5 high) how would you rate your technology skills?

Interview Portion of CI

The goal is to gain a general understanding of the kind of activities the user does to get their work done.  It's important to note the user's primary (most critical, most often, etc.) activities.  You'll want to ask them to show you how they complete these activities during the transition portion of the CI.  You are looking for "hooks" between the users work and your focus.

Global Questions (start off asking a few of these questions)

  • Tell me about a typical day (include activities around their studies, course work, interacting with friends/classmates/instructors/TAs).
  • Goals: What makes a good day? A bad day?
  • Opportunity: What activities currently waste your time?
  • Priorities: What is most important to you?
  • If you could change anything about your courses, what would it be?
  • If you could change anything about your instructors or TAs, what would it be?
  • What makes a good class? What makes a good instructor? What makes a good TA?
  • What courses are you taking? How are each structured (sections, TAs, etc.)? Is there an on-line presence? What's the main way your instructor and TAs share information with you?

General Questions About Sakai/Moodle/uPortal

  • Function: What are the most common things you do with the product?
  • Frequency: What parts of the product do you use most?
  • Preference: What are your favorite aspects of the product? What drives you crazy?
  • Failure: How do you work around problems?
  • Expertise: What shortcuts do you employ?
  • What frustrations do you have have with managing your courses and their content in general? What frustrations do you have with this within uPortal, Sakai, Moodle and/or other similar products?


  • How do you access and view course content from your instructor/TA? Can you tell us about what that process is like?
  • Can you add content to the course site?  If so, what types of content? Tell us about the last time you added content to one of your course sites.
  • How often do you interact with your course sites? What would you say you are normally doing?
  • Can you change how you view any of the course content?  Would that be helpful if you could?
  • How do you turn in assignments for class? And how do you get them back? Do you get them with feedback?
  • Do you have a space on the course site where you can collaborate on class projects?  If not, would that be helpful?  If you do can you show us how you use it?
  • If using Sakai do you have any project sites?  What do you use them for?  Can you show us one of your sites?
  • How would you describe the Resources tool to someone who has never used it? [Have them open resources]
  • What do you like/not like about the Resources Tool? File Management systems in general?

Transition to observation mode

Once you've gathered enough background and general information shift from traditional interview mode to CI mode.  This is where you ask the user to perform some of the tasks you learned about earlier.  Let the user know you may interrupt with questions but mostly you'll be observing at this point.

Use what you learned in the interview portion to ask the user to show you particular activities.  Below are some areas of interest for our content management research.  Use these categories as guides to remind you of important areas of their work you may want to see and or discuss.  The questions are meant to be guides rather than a script.  You can use them if you get stuck around a particular area.

Types of Content

  • What type of content is provided for you on your course site?  Readings, Calendar, Assignments, Forums, Feedback, Chat, Workspace?
  • If you can put up content onto the course site, what type of content do you put up and why?
  • Is there material you would not keep in the site?  Why?
  • What frustrates you most about viewing, reading and or sharing course material?

Access & Organize Content

  • How do you keep yourself organized with such a busy schedule?
  • How does your instructor or TA let you know when content has changed/what's new?  Is this way helpful?  Could it be improved?  How?
  • How do you organize any content either for a course or personally?

Create/Collaborate on Content

  • What kinds of class assignments do you have?  How do you create them?  How do you turn them in?  Can you show us an example?
  • Do you have group projects?  How do you collaborate with each other?  Can you tell us a little about that?
  • Are there other times you collaborate with other students on content?
  • How do you keep track of the most recent version and changes that have been made?

Communication (w/Instructor/TA)

  • How do you communicate with your instructor?
  • How do you communicate with your TA?
  • How do you communicate with other students?
  • How do you as a student use (content creation) tools to participate in class or interact with other students/TA/Instructor?

Other questions you may want to include:

  • Whether users need to work in multiple sites at once (and if so, why)
  • How users currently navigate to/switch between their sites
  • Whether users understand the concept of, and use, browser tabs
  • Whether users need to "save state", and if so, why?
  • How do users search for/become members in new sites?


Thank them for their time.

Ask if they can suggest a TA, student or another faculty to talk to.

Ask if it would be OK to contact them with follow-up questions and/or design review as we move through the project. 

Back at the office... check off participant on [Users to research profile matrix|User Behavior & Characteristic Matrices] as you talk to people with each characteristic