Exploring Evaluation Techniques for Children’s Websites

Exploring Evaluation Techniques for Children’s Websites

Colleen Kaiser (Melio Lab, USA) and Ginger Butcher (Sigma Space Corporation, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4046-7.ch001

Abstract

Children are an important target group on the web and assessing their user experience presents a unique challenge. Special consideration when conducting sessions with children includes: their difficulty articulating their thoughts, getting shy children to open up, keeping their attention focused on the test activities, understanding their non-verbal cues, and providing enough encouragement without “leading” the participant. Additionally, children have a broad range of cognitive skills, reading skills, and vocabulary comprehension, which makes it difficult to ascertain whether they understand the given task and difficult to ensure their responses are valid. Usability tests for children not only need to be designed to effectively solicit subjective preferences and objective content comprehension, but also to assess how well they are able to use the site. Verifying their understanding of the task activities (to ensure the efficacy of their response) is critical for the validity of the data. This study reports on a two-phased testing approach and the lessons learned in redesigning an agency’s web portal for science content targeting 5-12 year olds.
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Setting The Stage

The challenge for this organization has been to develop a web portal that would help school-aged children (as well as adults) locate content developed for children by different organizations within the larger agency. Prior to this project, agency-level websites were developed to provide access to content for all audiences from one location. The team that developed these sites consisted of designers, web developers, an information architect, and a usability expert. The testing effort employed a variety of methods and included funding for testing in a usability lab. While these sites had sections specifically designed for kids, the testing tools were primarily targeted for the adult audience and as a result were tested on just a handful of children.

The ultimate goal of the project was to design and develop a website focused on earth and space science content that appealed to the broadest scope of the target audience -- without alienating any one segment of that audience. Children respond similarly to adults, in that they leave a site if it does not immediately meet their needs or expectations (Kamishlian & Albert, 2011). This science site needed to appeal visually and engage children in the science content, but also must allow children to easily search and navigate the various science content from across the agency. However, designing a site for young children (early readers) and older children (teens) is difficult because they are two very different audiences (Nielsen, 2010). Older children are ‘turned-off’ by content designed for a young audience (Hanna, Risden, Czerwinski, & Alexander, 1998), while younger children find it difficult to read and navigate content developed for an older audience. Agency management decided to proceed with two separate sites, and the following study was implemented for the section of the site for a younger audience of children ages 5-12.

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