ystems design, Usability and Instructional design applied to E-learning environments

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Chapter Three Systems Design, Usability and Instructional Design applied to E-learning environments


This chapter discusses human computer interaction (HCI) aspects relevant to this research, namely systems design, usability, and instructional design. Section 3.2 covers different types of user-centred design methods: user-centred systems design, learner-centred design, interaction design and usability engineering. Section 3.3 develops the concept of usability, and includes subsections on usability of virtual environments and usability of e-learning.
As this study focuses on virtual reality training applications, the chapter also discusses relevant learning theories in Section 3.4. Section 3.5 takes an in-depth look at instructional design, with subsections covering the psychological theory underpinning design, design of multimedia learning, and methodologies that facilitate learning. The last section of this chapter, Section 3.6, discusses various usability evaluation methods and concludes with heuristic evaluation, one of the primary research methods of this study.

Human computer interaction and systems design

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) defines HCI as a discipline concerned with the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use and the study of major phenomena surrounding them (ACM, 1996). The ACM defines four major areas within HCI, namely the use and context of computers, human characteristics, computer system and interface architecture, and the development process. To successfully develop an interactive system, knowledge is required regarding the intended users of the system, the behaviour and tasks of the users relating to their environments, technical possibilities, limitations and development tools, and processes or frameworks to guide design and development.
HCI provides a context in which to consider user-centred design methods and a basis on which to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of design methods. The following sections discuss different types of user-centred design methods.

 User-centred systems design

According to Smith-Atakan (2006), traditional design methods tend to have a technology focus because user interfaces are often designed around a technical view of how systems work. In so doing, requirements, preferences, abilities and training needs of users can be overlooked. Further disadvantages apparent in traditional design methods, such as the Waterfall Model, include:

  • The view of the designer is frequently reflected rather than the views of other important stakeholders. The user is often ignored or given a minimal role.
  • Designers may find the system easy to use and may overlook critical design faults due to the familiarity paradox‘, which means the person who is most familiar with the system is often the least appropriate to evaluate it. When evaluating a system, designers may overlook an omission because they may hold some information in their minds which they automatically apply without realising it, or designers may find an item of information at a location because they know where to look, but it might be difficult for the user to find. A process that was developed and used many times by the designer may seem easy for the designer, but could prove to be difficult for the user.

Norman and Draper (1986) were the first to use the term User-Centred Design (UCD). They emphasised that the purpose of a system is to serve the user, and that the needs of the user should dominate the design of the interface. The importance of having a good understanding of the users was paramount, but they did not describe how to involve them actively in the design process. Karat (1997:33) defined UCD as an ―adequate label under which to continue to gather our knowledge of how to develop usable systems‖.
Emphasis was placed on involving users in system design without describing exactly how this should be accomplished.
Gulliksen, Goransson, Boivie, Blomkvist, Persson and Cajander (2003:401) defined UCSD as ―a process focusing on usability throughout the entire development process and further throughout the system lifecycle‖. They developed a number of principles for the adoption of a user-centred development process, which they believe can be used to communicate the nature of UCSD, to develop processes that support a user-centred approach and to evaluate such development processes. Indicated below are some important principles.
Even though the basic principles and techniques are the same, there are different variations of user-centred system design processes (Henry, 2007). Figure 3.2 indicates the UCSD approach as advocated by Smith-Atakan (2006). The rectangles in the figure show activities, the black arrows indicate the sequence of activities and the blue arrows show the flow of information. Key to this approach is that users are involved in every stage. Figure 3.2 also indicates the outputs of each phase of the process. The output of each phase forms the input to the next phase in the process.

Task analysis

Task analysis provides a means of analysing and describing the tasks of users, so that they can be supported by interactive computer systems. It helps designers to understand existing systems and the users‘ existing tasks in order to better understand the user requirements of a system. The result of task analysis is a description of the tasks that users undertake when interacting with a system (Endsley & Jones, 2012). The inputs to task analysis are the problem statement and observations of existing systems and the output is an analysis in a hierarchical or matrix structure, called the hierarchical task analysis (HTA). An HTA involves identifying the goals that users want to achieve, decomposing these goals into tasks, further decomposing the tasks into subtasks, and this decomposition is repeated until the level of actions is reached (Smith-Atakan, 2006).

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Requirements gathering

The purpose of this phase is to describe what the proposed system should do, without being concerned about how the system will support a task or how the system will appear. Inputs to this phase are the HTA, usability principles and factors such as technological limits or legal issues. The output is the requirements statement, consisting of functional requirements specifying the system functions and data requirements, and non-functional requirements which will include requirements relating to the environment, user groups and usability (Carroll, 2000; Teixeira et al., 2012).

Design and storyboarding

This phase provides designers with an opportunity to visualise their designs and to review them in a fast and cost-effective way. Storyboards are created to indicate how the system will work and what it looks like. A storyboard is a hand-drawn mock-up of the system to be designed. Justification on why the system is going to work this way should also be included (Jantke & Knauf, 2005).

Prototype implementation

A prototype provides an early opportunity for users to evaluate a proposed system. The user interfaces look and behave like the complete system, but with limited functionality. Prototypes can be developed as throwaway (design ideas are carried forward into new developments and the prototype is discarded); evolutionary (the prototype is retained and more functionality is added); or incremental (the system is built as a set of separate components and each prototype is incrementally improved until it becomes a working component of the system). Prototypes can be of three types.

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Background
1.3. Problem statement
1.4. Research questions
1.5. Rationale behind the study
1.6. Value of the research
1.7. Literature study outline
1.8. Research methodology
1.9. Scope of the study
1.10. Ethical considerations
1.11. Structure of the thesis
1.12. Chapter summary
Chapter Two: Virtual Reality
2.1. Introduction .
2.2. Defining virtual reality
2.3. Virtual reality applications
2.4. Virtual reality and training
2.5. Applications of virtual reality in the mining industry
2.6. Conclusion
Chapter Three: Systems design, Usability and Instructional design applied to E-learning environments
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Human computer interaction and systems design
3.3. Human computer interaction and usability
3.4. Learning theories
3.5. Instructional design
3.6. Usability evaluation
3.7. Conclusion
Chapter Four: Mine Safety Practice
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Mine safety legislation
4.3. Major stakeholders in mine safety practice
4.4. Mine safety statistics
4.5. Competency certificates
4.6. The Presidential Mine Health and Safety Audit
4.7. Conclusion
Chapter Five: Research Design and Methodology
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Research questions in the context of the study
5.3. Design science and Design research
5.4. Design science research
5.5. Research paradigm of this study: Design-based research
5.6. Research design of this study: a design-based research model
5.7. Research methods
5.8. Synthesised evaluation framework for heuristic evaluation of desktop VR training applications
5.9. Validity, reliability and triangulation
5.10. Ethics
5.11. Conclusion
Chapter Six: Usability Context Analysis
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Background to Usability Context Analysis
6.3. Examples of Usability Context Analysis in the literature
6.4. Application of Usability Context Analysis
6.5. Findings of the Usability Context Analysis
6.6. The Look, Stop and Fix Prototype
6.7. Early evaluation of the Look, Stop and Fix prototype
6.8. Conclusion
Chapter Seven: Prototype Design
7.1. Introduction
7.2. Case study: fall-of-ground incidents
7.3. Design lifecycle model
7.4. Detailed design of the ISGC prototype
7.5. Design improvements
7.6. Conclusion
Chapter Eight: Evaluation
8.1. Introduction
8.2. The heuristic evaluation instrument
8.3. The user satisfaction questionnaire
8.4. Evaluation of the Look, Stop and Fix prototype
8.5. Evaluation of the Interactive Simulated Geological Conditions prototype
8.6. Comparison of findings
8.7. Conclusion
Chapter Nine: Revised Evaluation Framework
9.1. Introduction
9.2. Meta-evaluation of the DEVREF Evaluation Framework
9.3. Findings of the meta-evaluation
9.4. The DEVREF framework revisited
9.5. Conclusion
Chapter Ten: Conclusions and Recommendations
10.1. Introduction and background
10.2. Revisiting the research questions
10.3. Practical, theoretical and methodological contributions of this study
10.4. Implementation of the design-based research model
10.5. Validity, reliability and triangulation
10.6. Limitations of the study
10.7. Recommendations and future research
10.8. Conclusion
An Evaluation Framework for Virtual Reality Safety Training Systems in the South African Mining Industry

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