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Digital Learning User Experience: Improving Digital Learning (DLUX)

Headshots of the DLUX project teamAuthors:

  • Emma Rose, she/her, Associate Professor, Division of Culture, Arts, and Communication, University of Washington, Tacoma campus
  • Libi Sundermann, she/her/they, Teaching Professor, Division of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, Division of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, University of Washington, Tacoma campus
  • Darcy Janzen, she/her/they, Director of Digital Learning, Office of Digital Learning, Academic Affairs, University of Washington, Tacoma campus
  • Chris Lott, he/him, Learning Designer, Office of Digital Learning, Academic Affairs, University of Washington, Tacoma campus


Project Description

The DLUX project, led by a team of faculty and staff at the University of Washington Tacoma, aimed to improve the learning experiences of students in online asynchronous classes. By partnering undergraduate researchers with faculty, DLUX conducted usability testing on online courses, providing instructors with valuable data-driven feedback and students with a transformative research experience.

The key elements of the DLUX project were faculty, staff, and students collaborating to improve online learning; student researchers conducted usability studies to evaluate online courses using the UW Online/Hybrid Course Development & Teaching Evaluation Rubric; instructors received specific feedback to enhance their online course design; undergraduate researchers gained practical experience in usability testing.

Project Question

During the pandemic, faculty spent considerable time and effort rapidly building digital courses. In 2022, an opportune moment arose to assess and improve these courses. We knew from experience that online courses don’t always meet the needs of students. Many faculty were new to designing online courses, students didn’t always feel engaged, and course design was sometimes confusing or unclear. The DLUX project allowed student researchers to conduct usability testing on faculty Canvas courses to provide faculty actionable insights on their course design, accessibility, and overall structure.


The students participated as undergraduate researchers in an independent study and were all junior or senior students in the Innovation and Design Minor. Students were given the option of taking the course for credit or just as an experience. Courses who opted for credit, enrolled in TIAS 499: Undergraduate Research. The experience included high-impact teaching practices including undergraduate research, collaborative projects, and writing intensive coursework.


In Spring 2023, we recruited 5 UWT faculty and 5 undergraduate student researchers to participate in the independent study. All course work was completed in teams. Students reviewed the UW Digital Learning Alliance’s Hybrid/Online Course Rubric and consulted with their faculty clients. They then created a usability testing plan and recruited and scheduled student participants. They then conducted 5 usability testing sessions with representative students and analyzed the results. In teams, students created reports and delivered the findings in public presentations to the instructors and larger UWT community.


The DLUX team’s project has benefited three audiences within our campus community. Firstly, it has provided faculty members invaluable evidence-based feedback on their classes, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and iteration around teaching. Their efforts not only enhanced the quality of instruction but also contributed to the overall learning experience for our students.

Secondly, the project has offered a powerful undergraduate research experience for the students involved. By centering student voices and involving them in the iterative process of reflection and refinement, the DLUX team has created a transformative learning experience. This aligns with the criteria for the team teaching award and models our commitment to fostering deep reflection and critical inquiry among our student body through High Impact Practices.

Lastly, the long-term impact of the DLUX project extends to future students who enroll in these classes, promising an improved and enriched learning experience. The final public presentations made by students to their faculty “clients” and university leaders, including deans, vice chancellors, and other interested faculty, underscore the project’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and the ultimate goal of making the DLUX course a permanent fixture within our curriculum.


The DLUX project helped make improvements across a variety of courses, including in Writing Studies, Math, Business, Psychology, and Religious Studies. Any instructor, regardless of their discipline, could benefit from student insights around course design, accessibility and the usability of their online course sites. In fact, the DLUX usability testing conducted by student researchers could be applied to any modality of teaching that included a course site and materials designed to engage students with course content, their peers and the instructor. Faculty participants noted that assessment of their courses could apply to all their courses, and that the experience helped them gain a greater understanding of student needs and experiences. Faculty participants recommended the DLUX project to other faculty and applied the students’ insight in other courses, including a Canvas shell template used by psychology instructors.

Additional Insights

We are currently discussing how we can scale the DLUX project to meet the needs of other faculty across the three UW campuses and beyond.

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