Since it was the end of the semester, we had limited access to students. The client team suggested that a lot of students would be at an upcoming event, so we designed a test that they could take in a few minutes at a table near the event entrance.
We created a very simple prototype using OmniGraffle that included a simple black and white mockup of a bare home page frame, and several cutouts of proposed paper features and content elements.
For the test, students selected the paper elements that interested them most and placed them on the paper home page frame while telling us why they'd chosen those elements. We photographed each student's selections as documentation and asked two direct questions from our test plan. With two test facilitators each conducting one-on-one tests, we had 15 responses in less than 20 minutes!
The students got the idea of the paper prototype right away and had no problems understanding the test or the interactivity suggested by the paper features. We heard stories of how they imagined using the new site and the proposed features. The test provided simple data for the "what" and the "why," which helped the group make decisions.
One test gem was that about half of the participants interpreted one of the features differently than intended – they saw a pair of small photos as staff member photos rather than student photos. Since they commented about how nice it would be to see a staff member and click on their contact information, we learned they valued a feature that we hadn't anticipated.
After the test, we tallied which features were selected most, reviewed the reasons students gave us for their choices, and created OmniGraffle wireframes showing proposed content and features based on what we learned.
This test could be adapted to be run remotely via screen-sharing software, such as GoToMeeting. Hand over the keyboard and mouse, and participants can place content and feature elements on an onscreen frame. Either way, it was a quick and effective method to determine what users value.