David R. Shoaf

Project title: Usability: An Important Consideration for Public Health Education on the Web

Degree: MPH | Program: Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2008 | Faculty advisor: Matthew C. Keifer


The majority of health care providers are not adequately trained in how to diagnose, treat, and prevent pesticide-related illnesses. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation are promoting a nationwide initiative to develop and distribute new educational materials about pesticide-related illnesses. The goal of this initiative is to integrate pesticide content into medical and nursing school curricula. The EPA awarded a grant to create case-based teaching materials and develop a website as a means of providing these materials to medical and nursing educators. The website was designed using open source-content management software and was evaluated in three stages, with particular attention given to the site's usability among its target audience. Test participants provided their opinions of the site's design during a think-aloud walk-through session and then attempted to complete six representative tasks using the website to find specific information. Usability evaluations identified 41 distinct usability barriers, all of which were addressed through modifications to the website's design. Over the course of the design process, scores on the task-based usability questionnaire improved fromo 57% to 86%. These higher scores validate the early design revisions implemented to improve the site's usability. Such evaluations of website usability should be formally considered as reliance on electronic resources increases and public health education continues to shift from print resources to the internet.