Improving the Usability in Learning and Course Materials

Improving the Usability in Learning and Course Materials

Maria Elizabeth Sucupira Furtado (University of Fortaleza and Estadual of Ceara, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch297
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Abstract

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a discipline concerned with the study, design, and development of high-usability interactive systems (ISs) focusing on users’ needs and their experiences with technologies, among others. In a simplified way, the usability of an IS refers to how easy it is to use and to learn. HCI is a very broad discipline that encompasses different specialties with different concerns regarding computer development: software engineering (SE) is concerned with the design and development of high-quality ISs focusing on schedule, budget, communication, and productivity. The quality of an IS refers to how satisfied the system clients and/or users are, verifying whether the system is performing exactly what was requested. In order to achieve both IS usability and quality, it is necessary to go beyond designing user interfaces (UIs) and that they are easier to use and learn. It is important to define methods and use techniques (as ethnographic, semiotic, prototypes), which help designers to understand HCI concepts and build better interactive artifacts (as widgets) and to understand the effects that systems will have on humans (Cooper & Reimann, 2003). Some HCI concepts are characteristics of users (such as their preferences, language, culture, and system experience) and their contexts of use (such as great familiarity with a device, easy accessibility, and good luminosity of the environment). In the interactive learning context, it is necessary to consider HCI concepts into an interactive learning system development method. The pedagogic usability of an interactive learning system is related to how easy and effective it is for a student to learn something using multiple devices (such as palm, camera, cell phone) to interact with the system. For these reasons, it is important not only to think about the IS quality, but about its usability as well. In this text, an interactive learning system is composed of a virtual learning environment (VLE), with tools to support a collaborative learning and interactive course materials available for the users through this environment. So, it is important not only to think about the VLE usability, but also about the interactive course material usability.
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Introduction

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a discipline concerned with the study, design, and development of high-usability interactive systems (ISs) focusing on users’ needs and their experiences with technologies, among others. In a simplified way, the usability of an IS refers to how easy it is to use and to learn. HCI is a very broad discipline that encompasses different specialties with different concerns regarding computer development: software engineering (SE) is concerned with the design and development of high-quality ISs focusing on schedule, budget, communication, and productivity. The quality of an IS refers to how satisfied the system clients and/or users are, verifying whether the system is performing exactly what was requested.

In order to achieve both IS usability and quality, it is necessary to go beyond designing user interfaces (UIs) and that they are easier to use and learn. It is important to define methods and use techniques (as ethnographic, semiotic, prototypes), which help designers to understand HCI concepts and build better interactive artifacts (as widgets) and to understand the effects that systems will have on humans (Cooper & Reimann, 2003). Some HCI concepts are characteristics of users (such as their preferences, language, culture, and system experience) and their contexts of use (such as great familiarity with a device, easy accessibility, and good luminosity of the environment).

In the interactive learning context, it is necessary to consider HCI concepts into an interactive learning system development method. The pedagogic usability of an interactive learning system is related to how easy and effective it is for a student to learn something using multiple devices (such as palm, camera, cell phone) to interact with the system. For these reasons, it is important not only to think about the IS quality, but about its usability as well. In this text, an interactive learning system is composed of a virtual learning environment (VLE), with tools to support a collaborative learning and interactive course materials available for the users through this environment. So, it is important not only to think about the VLE usability, but also about the interactive course material usability.

We have identified some problems to achieve a successful deployment of interactive learning systems (Furtado, Mattos, Furtado, & Vanderdonckt, 2003):

  • Lack of learning quality: Many academic staffs are worried about the learning process quality through the course materials available in VLE. However, the material of a face-to-face course is hardly ever adapted to the students’ needs and experiences. This way, it is expected that a VLE allow students exploring possibilities brought by new technologies in order to participate in the elaboration of this material.

  • Lack of adaptive tools: Learning systems are very useful, but most of them are not adaptive and neither consider the user experiences with technology. Interactivity and personalization are factors that help for allowing a user participating in the community, which he or she makes part of (McCarthy & Wright, 2004).

  • Lack of training in modern and collaborative technologies: Any academic staff (such as a teacher), as part of his/her professional development, needs continuous and sophisticated training. Such training should help overcoming the limits found by this community in accessing to digital technologies for the creation of interactive information and multimedia content, in a collaborative way with their own students. It is necessary to fulfill these needs by adopting an integrated pedagogical-technological content (Perrenoud, 2001).

All of these issues have a critical impact on the usability and quality of interactive learning systems. Thus, we developed a general architecture for such systems, which aims to show the concepts that must be considered to increase the quality of the learning process and to increase their UIs usability.

The remainder of this article is structured as follows: in the next section, we explain the main concepts that helped us to develop such general architecture. Then, we provide the best practices used in a development cycle of an IS, focusing on the usability issue. Finally, we summarize the main points of this text.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pedagogic Usability of an Interactive Learning System: Related to how easy and effective it is for a student to learn something using the system.

Extensible Representations of Requirements: Ways to represent easy requirements that were not necessarily identified nor truly considered in the requirements analysis.

Usability Requirements: Related to users’ satisfaction and the performance of the system.

Requirements Engineering: The human acts of identifying and understanding what people want from an IS. Usability AU8: Reference appears to be out of alphabetical order. Please check of an IS: Refers to how easy it is to use and learn the system.

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