UX Review

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User Experience Review: Fedora Desktop Environment Comparison


Students will learn about user experience fundamentals and then interact with an existing open source software project to perform a Usability Review. A usability review involves observing a user (another student) while they attempt to use the software, and recording observations. The students will create a Usability Report that details their observations in a structured manner, and pulls together a larger understanding of the results.


For non-CS Majors, Business, Information Systems students. The activity and choice of software could easily be modified to handle more technically knowledged audiences. Prior to attempting this activity, students need to know

  • Have used any desktop-based Operating System
After successfully completing this activity, the learner should be able to:
  • Be able to describe what is meant by the term "user experience", why it is important, and specific challenges faced by open source software
  • Understand the complexity of user testing and the variety of testing that can be done with usability testing
  • Appreciate the fact that the desktop environment is completely separate from the operating system in Linux
Process Skills


Background reading material includes:

Are there other activities the student should have done first?

  • Might be helpful for students to conduct a FOSS Field Trip type activity, such as OS_Project_Comparison_Activity, to learn more about this or other open source projects before working with it

What is the rational for this activity? Usability is an important topic for ensuring the quality of software. With start-ups and open source organizations, unfortunately, they can overlook this inadvertantly. We are asking students to participate in user testing. Nielsen's article describes a three step process of what this involves: identifying representative users, asking them to perform representative tasks, and finally observing their interactions without interference.

Helpful hints for faculty:

  • There will be some prep work required to ensure that the software being tested is installed or otherwise available to the students. For example, one option would be to have Fedora with GNOME 3 on a USB stick for the students to use.
  • This activity can be enhanced by having the instructor develop a relationship with members of a specific open source community. This would allow opportunities such as
    • Having a conference call with open source community manager to answer student questions about the project
    • Having a conference call with users of the open source project that describes how they use it and what issues they have with the software
    • Having the opportunity of suggestions getting accepted back into the community
  • If your students feel that they have found a gaping hole in the usability of the software, this could be a great opportunity to provide feedback to open source community. This could be in the form of a bug. Please see TBD on how to create a bug.


Selection of project: Compare usability of GNOME 2 vs. GNOME 3 vs. KDE

In groups of 3, the students will perform a Virtual Usability Review by doing the following steps

  • Roles: 2 Recorders (screen capture, video recording of the user, and audio feedback) and 1 Participant
    • Observer: Note what the participant does AND what the outcomes were. For example, how many places did they click before getting to the correct place (wrong turns)? How long did it take to complete the task? Did they complete the task? How happy was the participant when doing the work? For example: "On task 5, user first tried to look at Desktop. Then, user tried to look at Taskbar and didn't find it there."
  • Students will complete a set of tasks without any instructions
  1. Open a terminal
  2. Create a text file
  3. Make a directory or folder
  4. Search for and launch the application "GIMP", an open-source image manipulation tool similar to PhotoShop
  5. Launch a Web Browser
  6. Using the Web Browser, find a picture of the Linux Penguin and save it to the computer
  7. Insert the picture into a word processing package


Each group would do complete a usability report for each desktop environment that is reviewed. The table below provides a sample.

Name of User
Name of the Desktop Environment
Prior experience with this Desktop Environment:

(None, Seen it before, Frequent user, Expert user)

Task to perform Time to completion

(max= 5 minutes)

Number of

wrong turns

Level of User Satisfaction

(1: frustrated, 5: Very Happy)

What steps did the user take? Please list all steps, even wrong turns
1. Open a terminal
2. Create a text file and add your name
3. Make a directory or folder
4. Search for and launch the application "GIMP",

an open source image manipulation tool similar to PhotoShop

5. Launch a Web Browser
6. Using the Web Browser, find a picture of the Linux penguin and save it to the computer
7. Insert the picture into a word processing package

Notes for Instructors


  • How will the activity be graded?
  • How will learning will be measured?
  • Include sample assessment questions/rubrics.



Suggestions for the Open Source Project

Suggestions for an open source community member who is working in conjunction with the instructor.

Additional Information:

Area & Unit(s)


Estimated Time
to Complete

During 75 minute class period: 15 minutes for teacher to setup the experience, Group work during class: 75 minutes; Reflection after class: 30 minutes

Environment /

Fedora with GNOME 2, Fedora with GNOME 3, Fedora with KDE


Nannette Napier, Nick Yeates, Gina Likins


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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