Designing Non-traditional Interfaces for Educational Applications in South Africa

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This is the deck of slides of a paper presentation at IFIP INteract 2013. Here's the abstract (Full paper can be purchased from Springer),
As a specialised design consultancy for interactive learning environments and tools, Formula D interactive has gained valuable project experience in designing nontraditional interfaces for digital educational content and tools in the culturally diverse context of South Africa. The aim of this paper is to share the company’s experience in the field using prominent examples of their recent work, related research and user testing in order to discuss the merit of large-scale interactive surfaces, gesture-based and tangible interfaces in culturally diverse contexts. The company’s work includes interactive displays for science centres and museums as well as digital learning tools for classroom environments.

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  • - project examples of Cape Town based design firm Formula D interactive key considerations in the design process, challenges and lessons learned when designing nontraditional interfaces for learning applications in South Africa.
  • Introduce Michael Wolf Designer Came down from Germany Fraunhofer, HCI In SA started company Formula D interactive Science center and museum interactive exhibitions Playfield of interaction design
  • additional instructional signage was required even though using bold icons as touch points in the GUI. Touch screens were quite common at the time in South Africa (for example in ATM’s which had been in use across all levels of the working society), so we concluded that various contextual elements did not support the user interaction although the GUI was carefully crafted: The screen size did not correspond with the conceptual model people had of a touch surface at the time. Apart from a photo booth, the screen was the only interactive exhibit in the aquarium. The first impression of the exhibit design was reminiscent of the live exhibits at the aquarium (fish tanks). These exhibits are usually not being touched or touching them is prohibited.
  • In summary, our observations seem to confirm that the context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers, which were familiar to at least a part of the audience. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. On the other hand, this contextual distance from traditional interfaces could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality almost naturally.
  • In 2009 we installed our first 6 metre by 2 metre interactive wall at the Cape Town Tourism information centre, which uses visitor’s body motions as a means to navigate digital content. The wall projection showcases 40 activities and sights in the Cape region, set against an animated backdrop of interchanging panoramic representations of iconic areas around the Cape. When visitors step in front of the wall, and align themselves with one of the projected icons on the wall, they trigger animations, sounds, and pop-ups with information on the selected attraction
  • There are many challenges and limitations when multiple users interact in a shared digital environment which is based on one shared output. Online, or in AR scenarios where users have individual devices or headsets, a subjective render of the environment with personalised content is possible. However, if there is only one shared output, the “real estate” of the digital space needs to be shared just like our physical spaces. In the design process of this project we had a lot of debate around managing the physical interaction area and its corresponding digital space for an unknown number of simultaneous users. We were concerned about conflicts arising between users who aimed at triggering events in proximity to each other. This resulted in a quite rigid partitioning of the interface area with finite positions of trigger points, so we could be sure there would not be spatial conflicts between interacting users.
  • As part of a larger installation of various interactive displays for the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) near Pretoria, we created several user interfaces for a hand and finger-tracking device developed by HHI Fraunhofer in Berlin ( Fig 5 ). iPoint accurately tracks one or multiple finger gestures, which can then be calibrated to navigate a Graphical User Interface. We developed two applications for this system for an educational exhibition environment, one information kiosk with best practise examples of innovation in public service, one assessment of the users’ understanding of innovation principles.
  • In 2009 we installed our first 6 metre by 2 metre interactive wall at the Cape Town Tourism information centre, which uses visitor’s body motions as a means to navigate digital content. The wall projection showcases 40 activities and sights in the Cape region, set against an animated backdrop of interchanging panoramic representations of iconic areas around the Cape. When visitors step in front of the wall, and align themselves with one of the projected icons on the wall, they trigger animations, sounds, and pop-ups with information on the selected attraction
  • In summary, our observations seem to confirm that the context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers, which were familiar to at least a part of the audience. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. On the other hand, this contextual distance from traditional interfaces could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality almost naturally.
  • In summary, our observations seem to confirm that the context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers, which were familiar to at least a part of the audience. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. On the other hand, this contextual distance from traditional interfaces could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality almost naturally.
  • In summary, our observations seem to confirm that the context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers, which were familiar to at least a part of the audience. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. On the other hand, this contextual distance from traditional interfaces could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality almost naturally.
  • In summary, our observations seem to confirm that the context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers, which were familiar to at least a part of the audience. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. On the other hand, this contextual distance from traditional interfaces could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality almost naturally.
  • Video virtual chemistry lab The Virtual Chemistry Lab Table is an interactive multimedia learning tool that uses tangible objects to navigate and control a simulated chemistry lab. Young learners can explore chemical experiments and demonstrations without having access to physical laboratory facilities and equipment. The system is designed to cater for up to 2 learners at the time who can trigger chemical reactions by placing tokens that represent chemical elements and catalysts in proximity to each other. The reactions can then be further explored with tool tokens.
  • Having received good feedback from Science Centre visitors, we explored variations of the Lab which would be more suited for schools. Considerations included cost implication as well as flexible use in a classroom setting. So we created a smaller low cost version (a webcam in a box + reference objects + software), which could plug into existing computer hardware. Although this concept seems to be a step back toward the desktop and screen setup, the feedback and activity displayed by these girls from a Cape Town Junior school , suggest that the interface works very well in collaborative situations. Video Junior school test We are currently working on converting the software to be usable on the Microsoft tables with PixelSense, a technology which will overcome major constraints of camera based systems like focal distance to the object, and ambient light.
  • Having received good feedback from Science Centre visitors, we explored variations of the Lab which would be more suited for schools. Considerations included cost implication as well as flexible use in a classroom setting. So we created a smaller low cost version (a webcam in a box + reference objects + software), which could plug into existing computer hardware. Although this concept seems to be a step back toward the desktop and screen setup, the feedback and activity displayed by these girls from a Cape Town Junior school , suggest that the interface works very well in collaborative situations. Video Junior school test We are currently working on converting the software to be usable on the Microsoft tables with PixelSense, a technology which will overcome major constraints of camera based systems like focal distance to the object, and ambient light.
  • When discussing the project with science teachers, it became clear that a tool like this is not a true alternative to actual chemical experiments. Pre-rendered chemical experiments are suitable for demonstrations and introductions to chemistry, but cannot be used for actual scientific experimentation, since the outcomes are predetermined. Image content management However, the addition of a content management system, which is currently in development, empowers learners to create their own virtual experiments. With this functionality the tool becomes a modelling and demonstration tool, which would be used to document and share chemistry research using other media or in a real Chemistry Lab.
  • A recurring dilemma in designing nontraditional interfaces is that the designer’s intention of supporting more meaningful and user-friendly interaction through more “natural” interaction frameworks (like gesture, locomotion or tangible interfaces) is prone to failure when the user’s conceptual model of how technology works is predominantly based on traditional interfaces they have been exposed to. These preconceptions can only be influenced if designers use strategies that make provision for the context of the user and the environment in which the tool is deployed. Through project work on the Virtual Chemistry Lab Table it became apparent that using a combination of traditional and non-traditional interface elements can be a good strategy to offer the user a familiar environment on one side, building up the confidence needed to engage with new forms of interaction on the other. Beyond these design considerations and strategies, Formula D interactive’s project experiences indicate that non-traditional interfaces such as the Virtual Chemistry Lab Table improve co-located learning and collaboration in the classroom and make interactive digital technology more accessible to audiences with no or little experience with traditional interfaces.
  • A recurring dilemma in designing nontraditional interfaces is that the designer’s intention of supporting more meaningful and user-friendly interaction through more “natural” interaction frameworks (like gesture, locomotion or tangible interfaces) is prone to failure when the user’s conceptual model of how technology works is predominantly based on traditional interfaces they have been exposed to. These preconceptions can only be influenced if designers use strategies that make provision for the context of the user and the environment in which the tool is deployed. Through project work on the Virtual Chemistry Lab Table it became apparent that using a combination of traditional and non-traditional interface elements can be a good strategy to offer the user a familiar environment on one side, building up the confidence needed to engage with new forms of interaction on the other. Beyond these design considerations and strategies, Formula D interactive’s project experiences indicate that non-traditional interfaces such as the Virtual Chemistry Lab Table improve co-located learning and collaboration in the classroom and make interactive digital technology more accessible to audiences with no or little experience with traditional interfaces.
  • Designing Non-traditional Interfaces for Educational Applications in South Africa

    1. 1. IFIP INTERACT 2013 Lessons Learned from Designing Non-traditional Interfaces for Educational Applications in South Africa Michael Wolf CEO & Interaction Designer at Formula D interactive, Cape Town
    2. 2. Playfield Go to youtube.com for this video
    3. 3. Multi-user touch wall FROG WALL MULTI-USER EXPERIENCE Go to youtube.com for this video
    4. 4. In 2008, visitors did not identify the large screen as an interactive surface. The multitouch “pinch” gesture was only used after iPhone became popular. Users mostly did not understand that the content windows could be moved around. Once the screen was in use by at least one user, other visitors frequently joined in. ‘OBSERVATIONS & LESSONS LEARNED
    5. 5. Assumptions Context and size of the display was in conflict with the conceptual model of touch screens and desktop computers at the time. This resulted in certain GUI elements common to desktop applications not being identified. Distinction from traditional UI’s could have led to users embracing the multi-user functionality naturally. ‘OBSERVATIONS & LESSONS LEARNED
    6. 6. CAPE TOWN TOURISM INTERACTIVE WALL Go to youtube.com for this video
    7. 7. Differentiation between intentional and non- intentional interaction. Digital “Real estate” : Spatial “etiquette” is maintained when multiple users interact in large interactive environments. ‘OBSERVATIONS & LESSONS LEARNED
    8. 8. Multi-user touch wall POINT SCREEN FOR THE CENTRE FOR PUBLIC SERVICE INNOVATION Go to youtube.com for this video
    9. 9. Multi-user touch wall POINT SCREEN FOR CPSI
    10. 10. ‘POINTING INTERACTION CHALLENGES GUI EXPERIMENTS Bad performance with standard GUI menus (e.g. web browser)
    11. 11. Ergonomics ‘POINTING INTERACTION CHALLENGES GUI EXPERIMENTS Better hit results with larger (tile) surfaces
    12. 12. ‘POINTING INTERACTION CHALLENGES FINAL SOLUTION Support for circular hand movement to support wrist ergonomics
    13. 13. ‘POINTING INTERACTION CHALLENGES TRIGGER METHODS #01 ROLL-OVER #02 SELECT BUTTON
    14. 14. ‘OBSERVATIONS & LESSONS LEARNED Today, it still seems “unnatural” to users of various cultures and backgrounds to interact with a screen by pointing at it. It needs instruction. Pointing gesture interfaces require specific ergonomic considerations and interaction design. The trigger problem: Multimodal solution?
    15. 15. ‘VIRTUAL CHEMISTRY LAB TABLE TANGIBLE INTERACTION Go to youtube.com for this video
    16. 16. ‘USER TESTING AT GIRLS’ SCHOOL Today, it still seems “unnatural” to users to interact with a screen by pointing at it. Pointing gestures GUI approach. The trigger problem. Multimodal solution? Go to youtube.com for this video
    17. 17. ‘LESSONS LEARNED The observations confirmed that: The interface was easily understood without instructions by majority of the users. Most users were able to memorise the experiment details The tool invites collaboration since the tangible interface objects can easily be shared and jointly operated. Users liked that they could “see what they are doing” through the strong representation of the active state in the interface (objects/ingredients on the table).
    18. 18. ‘FUTURE DEVELOPMENT DESKTOP UNIT & CMSC
    19. 19. CONCLUSION Successful use of non-traditional UIs in educational environments is strongly linked to user’s concepts and experience with traditional UIs. Combining traditional UI elements with non- traditional elements can help to introduce innovation. Non-traditional UIs have significant advantages in educational settings, when supporting multi- user experiences and co-located collaboration. Non-traditional UIs have the potential to be more accessible for users with limited exposure to traditional UIs.
    20. 20. BY THE WAY LEARNLAB.CO.ZA
    21. 21. Thank you. Michael Wolf CEO & Interaction Designer at Formula D interactive, Cape Town @michael_w_wolf

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