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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Adapting the human-computer interface to support collaborative learning environments for children Inkpen, Kori Marie


The presence of computers in schools has grown tremendously over the last ten years. In the wake of this enormous growth, sound research on how to effectively design learning environments and successfully integrate computers into the classroom is needed. The research described in this dissertation evaluates computer-based collaborative learning environments for children using three important criteria: (a) the social environment in which the technology is placed, (b) the technology that provides for explicit collaboration, and (c) the low-level interface design. An additional focus of the research, which crosses all three themes, is gender. The research comprised three experimental studies that were conducted in the three research themes. All these studies employed a creative problem-solving game as the research vehicle. The social theme of the research focuses on the interactions between children mediated by computers. We examined whether the ways children were assigned to work on computers affected their achievement and their motivation. Our results show that how children are asked to use computers does in fact affect their achievement. Grouping children around a single computer can have a positive effect on both achievement and motivation compared to having children play on their own computers. The technology theme of the research focuses on extending computer technology from single-user computers to technology more suited to supporting collaboration in a multi-user environment. We modified the computer environment (both the hardware and the software) to allow the addition of a second mouse to see how this change would affect the children's achievement, learning, and behaviour while playing a puzzle-solving game collaboratively. The results show that the addition of a second mouse to the computer can positively affect children's achievement and learning in the game as well as the temporal patterns of who controls the mouse. The interface design theme of the research focuses on the usability of the graphical user interfaces found in children's software. Even if we understood how to structure the computer environment in the classroom, and we knew how to modify the computer to support children's collaboration, our learning environments might still be ineffective if we are not careful with the design of the low-level details of the user interface. We examined children's use of two common mouse-interaction techniques, drag-and-drop and point-and-click, to see whether the choice of mouse interaction style affects children's ability to move objects around on the screen. The results show that children are able to perform a point-and-click movement faster and with fewer errors than with a drag-and-drop movement and that more children prefer the point-and-click interaction style over the drag-and-drop interaction style. When these two mouse-interaction styles are used in a commercial puzzle-solving environment our studies reveal that the choice of interaction style can affect both achievement and motivation. While many children adapt to the user interfaces with which they are presented, our results show how even a widely accepted interaction style such as drag-and-drop can be difficult for some children and can affect motivation and achievement in a learning environment. Gender differences were observed in all stages of the research, which strengthens the conventional wisdom that girls and boys often interact differently with technology. We emphasize the need to be sensitive to these differences and we provide specific recommendations in this regard.

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