Flashlight as a Process Tracing Method

Flashlight as a Process Tracing Method

Michael Schulte-Mecklenbeck (ETH Zürich, Switzerland & University of Basel, Switzerland) and Ryan O. Murphy (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch007
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Flashlight is an open source process-tracing tool that records mouse movements in real time during an information search task (Schulte-Mecklenbeck, Murphy & Hutzler, 2011). Using this tool, acquisition behavior and visual attention can be recorded in an unobtrusive way with a wide variety of different stimuli. Because of the structure of the stimuli in Flashlight, information acquisition behavior can be measured similarly to how eye tracking works, but unlike eye tracking systems, Flashlight can be implemented without any special equipment. The motivation for developing a new process-tracing tool comes from experience with existing process tracing methods and their limitations. Other existing process tracing tools restrict the structure of information (often in a rigid matrix similar to an information board); require a fixed and confided laboratory setup; and need specialized hardware and software that is both expensive to purchase and operate. Flashlight solves these issues by providing a free open source adaptable software package that can work via a Web browser on any Internet connected personal computer. Moreover, the researcher has great flexibility in how stimuli are constructed and presented, and Flashlight also enables easy access to a large number of participants through Internet based experiments.
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Methods That Record Process Data

A considerable number of process tracing tools have been discussed in the literature. In what follows we will introduce different tools that collect data in the laboratory or over the Internet and which had conceptual influence on how Flashlight was developed.

Eye tracking. The observation of eye movements in psychological research has a long history. Rayner (1998) provides an excellent overview over the historical and technical development as well as the basic characteristics of eye movements. In contrast to the rather laborious recording of eye movements in earlier days (e.g., Javal, 1878), the technical advances in recent years have resulted in ready-to-use, computer-based eye trackers with relatively low technical demand to the end user. While there are a variety of different methods to measure eye-movements, recording corneal reflection (video based eye-trackers) is the most common method used today (Duchowski, 2002). High performance eye-trackers record observations often over 1000 times a second and thus deliver data at resolutions of over 1000Hz. This resolution allows for the measure of both rapid micromovements (i.e., saccades), as well as fixations (i.e., resting of the gaze on a single location) with high precision.

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