Chapter 7:    Discussion, implications and conclusion

7.1     Introduction

Chapter 7 is a summary of the thesis, a discussion of issues emerging from the evidence, and implications for future practice and further research into improvements in the quality of interactive multimedia for young children. The first section of the chapter begins with a summary of the thesis, which makes a contribution to the knowledge of the subject and draws attention to three aspects that make the study of special interest to others involved in the field of interactive multimedia for young children. The second section of the chapter identifies the several ways the holistic paradigm can make a new contribution to the knowledge of the subject. The final section makes suggestions for improving the quality of interaction and interface design that could not be encompassed within the thesis.

7.2     Improving the quality of educational software design

The paradigm alerts practitioners to a range of coherent physical and physiological relationships between children and computers that work together to enhance features that deepen the quality of engagement including: an open-ended beginning to the software, inspiring audio instructions, enjoyment and pleasure, increasing complexity, and discussion. In addition, the paradigm contributes to a particular understanding of the educational value of the mouse as a tool for manipulation of object. The revised holistic view also provides a deeper understanding of the human-machine paradigm than conventionally held by ergonomists and HCI specialists. Coherence is provided by the experiential metaphorical concept container with its physiological aspects.

There are three general areas of the thesis that will be of special interest to others involved in the field of study:

  • The researcher can reasonably claim that as far as he knows from and extensive literature research there is no other thesis concerning the subject of transferring educational radio resources to a multimedia format.
  • The Research Tool in the thesis uses the technique of manipulation of objects as a key central feature of a software product, unlike many products that use the technique as one small, even ‘gimmicky’ element.
  • The thesis has children and computers as its central focus and has not assumed to apply accepted general ergonomic principles based on adult work environments.

Particular attention is drawn to the third element: a reassessed holistic paradigm facilitates improvements in the quality of computer interface interaction because the multimedia design process is now focussed firmly on the clients– children. The total impact assessment toolbox provides a set of guidelines helping practitioners identify the client’s own level of possible interactions with the computer.

In the next section several aspects of methods to improve the quality of interaction are described in detail prefaced by comments from the point of view of the original sponsors of the study, the BBC.

7.2.1     Education radio resources for multimedia

The research began five years before the current trends in the British Broadcasting Corporation to create educational radio resources on the Internet, and at a time when the only other activity was focussed on creating CD-ROMs using television, video and publication assets. There are three specific areas in which the advantages of using radio resources for multimedia are justifiable:

  • * The original educational aims of radio programmes can be retained and given added value. For example, the structure of radio programme ideas and content created by the original education team and manifested in the teachers’ notes have been shown in the research to be transferable as a design brief for the new medium of multimedia.
  • * The process of deconstructing a continuous linear radio programme has been demonstrated to be achievable. The results retain an effective structure despite the segmented multimedia educational experience. Physical follow-up activities, existing as ideas described in the radio notes can be replicated as real learning events involving physical manipulation on the computer.
  • * The traditional educational radio values for children are retained and can be given added value in the new medium. Existing audio-triggered inspirational, motivating, creative stimuli become, for example, activities involving repetition, independent of teachers and the constraints of classroom organisation.
  • * The opportunities presented by the DVD-ROM technology developed since the research was carried out provide a greater opportunity to include more audio, visual and video educational broadcast resources. The conclusions in this thesis are still valid in the light of changes since the study ended and continue to be so in the expectation of further developments such as the Internet.

7.2.2     A new approach to the manipulation of information

The paradigm proposal here applies the technique of manipulation in the context of educational program software as an integral part of the learning process. In the Research Tool the mouse becomes the beater of percussion instruments, it also becomes the hand putting stars into pockets. Children manipulate toys, books, clothes, and musical instruments. They talk and learn as they do so as described by Piaget (1952) (see chapter 3 p. 96). It should therefore have been no surprise that the mouse-as-multi-functional-tool involves children in talking to the computer and discussion between each other. The research has not studied the forms of discussion in detail, but discussion was demonstrated to be part of a greater degree of engagement with the computer. However, the thesis does demonstrate that multimedia design tools can be made to manipulate interface elements as a valid method of improving acquisition of information. The evidence provided by Piaget (1952) (see chapter 3, p. 97) and Vygotsky (1962) (see chapter 3, p. 97) pointed to the value of manipulation in the educational learning process in the real world. When manipulation is capable of replication in pseudo 3-D or virtual environments then the paradigm may result in further improvements in the quality of interaction.

The advantages of manipulation in conjunction with pleasure and attention to tasks that enhance learning have been demonstrated in the main study. Pleasure and attention are applicable not just to music, but any curriculum subject. Manipulating information using the computer mouse in combination with recognition of visual search theory make the paradigm especially meaningful to media practitioners. For example, consider users who might be exploring a product or location by clicking on an element on the screen with the result that suddenly the product image disappears and another separate page appears too quickly to notice. The paradigm could help design interfaces that engage users more effectively by using the method of an overlay or pop-up information panel, and ensuring the panel is placed within the narrow visual field where attention is focussed around the mouse pointer.

7.2.3     A new approach to audio instructions

The use of audio for instructions, for feedback, for clarification, for inspiration, for sheer pleasure and general enhancing of the quality and speed of learning has been explored in the Research Tool. The researcher’s experience as a radio producer has led to special attention being applied to the use of audio, which may otherwise be given less significance in products that originated from individuals working in a conventional publishing, TV or design-orientated background. The value of teachers’ easy control of the use of audio and its volume is also a necessary requirement of good design.

Most significant for good educational multimedia practitioners, the research suggested that the educational value of the software activities can be enhanced by the ‘sequenced construction of audio instructions’ discovered from testing Activity 6 in chapter 5 (see p. 153). The success of the sequence has further implications. Not only do the audio instructions for Activity 6 suggest that students can follow traditional didactic audio instructions independent of mediation by teachers in a multimedia product, but also audio instructions with future interactive and manipulation designs suggest opportunities for deeper learning experiences as yet undefined. For example, hidden elements ready for discovery, and its method of using pleasure, revelation and success in a structured way for children, under the control of teachers.

7.2.4    Eye and visual search theory

There are several implications arising from the study of the eye and visual search aspects of the thesis. The research found that looking down on a screen had two advantages. In physiological terms looked down was more effective for faster acquisition of information – up to 4% faster than the same information presented in the vertical plane. In addition looking down was also the preferred natural emotional state for reflective, safe, concentrated activity of reading and writing referred to, amongst others, by NCET (Bowell et al., 1994). Furthermore, the admitted compromise of the early keyboard-desk-TV screen standards by ergonomists suggests there was an unresolved design issue that deserves review.

Second, the research found there was an increase in speed of recognition resulting from the use of 3-D objects on a screen (Grossberg et al., 1994). The findings supported the view that these objects, if viewed from a vertical oblique angle were also easier to identify, which was a cause of the increased speed of recognition times.

The context of three children using a computer at one time – the common practice in primary schools – needs review. In a group of three, a central child in the group will have advantages of speed of recognition. Children on the periphery have to contend with distortion, and in the case of flat screens, a very limited angle of view in the horizontal plane because the intensity change is greater than tube screens.

7.2.5    Pleasure in learning and educational simulations

The holistic paradigm creates an authoritative framework not only for recognising the value of pseudo 3-D perspective interfaces but also simulated learning environments by showing the educational value in concentrated activity that gives users pleasure. Many of the activities in the Research Tool were open-ended, as in many simulations. The activities were open to children making a sequence of further discoveries, another feature of simulations, through repetition and refocusing under the guidance of a teacher.

The activities did not have the didactic structure of contemporary CD-ROMs favoured by many educationalists. The potential for sophisticated CD-ROM simulations in educational software appears to have had its source in United States imports of commercial edutainment material into UK schools.

The value of educational simulations is most frequently justified by educationalists because the activity involves children in problem solving, gathering information, and planning strategies (McFarlane, 1997). The qualities in an edutainment adventure game that create engagement were difficult to analyse. The educational acceptance of an interface that has planned hidden features not immediately revealed was very much against conventions. But the need of discovering and understanding the whole picture was at the core of a dialectical, reiterative educational process that was known to be good traditional teaching. Discovery and revelation are the exciting and enjoyable features of learning. The same elements of discovery are some of the exciting and enjoyable features of good shoot ’em up games software! However, harnessing these elements and using it to educational advantage, structured and managed has coherence through the new paradigm and the total impact assessment toolbox.

The new paradigm may help those teachers who see the clear educational value in simulations, yet do not understand why they worked. It is hoped that in providing a model that allows the incorporation of flow theory, the paradigm will stimulate a revival of adventure games and simulations and advance the genre.

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7.2.6     Metaphors – the physical component

The value of redefining the meaning of metaphor as currently applied to new media is, the researcher proposes, a useful contribution of the thesis. Informed by Lakoff and Johnson (1980), the thesis attempted to understand why interface metaphors may continue to operate less efficiently than interface designers intended. The reason, it was suggested, was the tendency for metaphor to be applied by interface designers in a superficial rather than the deeper, comprehensible way in the new paradigm where more emphasis was placed on user’s ontological and interactional experience of computers.

7.2.7     Teachers’ control of software

At the time when the Research Tool was originally designed there were few CD-ROM media with a teachers’ control panel built into the design. Those that did chiefly employed the technique of users choosing their own level of ability and skills at the outset. The principles of guiding and recording learning have always been a core theme of CAL software too. At the time, the general view was that multimedia products could operate without teacher mediation, and even took away their responsibility for enabling learning. The criticism of educational CD-ROMs was that they were full of a great deal of unorganised information, too much for teachers to discover. Arranging information to meet an individual teacher’s needs for differentiation and progression in the classroom within a realistic daily work schedule was not addressed. The claim of the thesis is that the teachers’ control panel in the Research Tool was a coherent, integral and hidden element for everyday use in a busy classroom, which gave teachers full control over all aspects of the teaching content.

7.3     Future directions for improving the quality of interaction

In the penultimate part of this summary chapter of the thesis are suggestions and implications for further developments and research into ways of improving the quality of interface design that could not be encompassed within the thesis.

7.3.1     Applications for the container metaphor

The implications for the use of the container metaphor have drawn on evidence of not just the metaphorical and physiological aspects, but the powerful operation of the two in combination (see chapter 3, p. 105). However, the advantages of more effective acquisition information in a pseudo 3-D perspective interface could not be widely applied in the Research Tool because of commercial constraints in the development schedule.

Whilst the advantages in the new paradigm of the experiential metaphorical concept, container have been proposed and applied partially in the story interface of Research Tool interfaces, a higher level of 3-D navigable interface remains an educational goal worth achieving. This goal has had to be left to others to complete, with software becoming available since the research began such as Director 8.5, which has a built-in 3-D library, and the easy-to-use and cheap Flash software.

7.3.2             Software ergonomics

The significance of screen orientation and screen position on the desk, which reflects the fundamental requirements of eye physiology, could not be fully explored in the research, but the implications were encompassed in the classroom context tool of ‘the total impact assessment toolbox’. Further study in a classroom is required in the context of the use of personal computer screens investigating the relationship between upright and sloping screens and the speed at which data is accessed. The results might lead to a greater understanding of user comfort, attention span and reduction of stress in the classroom.

7.3.3     QuickTime VR in an education environment

The recent development of QuickTime VR could not have been foreseen. Indeed it had not been commercially available when the thesis began. Its origins came from sources other than visual search (essentially software experts exploring algorithms that result in images being compared and ‘stitched’ together seamlessly). However, the experiential metaphorical container described in the new holistic paradigm seems to be already widely available in QuickTime VR. Indeed, though it is a ‘rough and ready’, relatively low technology in relation to immersive virtual reality methods, the container metaphor functions in its spherical distortion of space imitating the human eye before the brain ‘sees’, as a more effective method of navigation. Pixel-based virtual reality photography is being applied in many websites and for educational purposes. QuickTime VR may have educational value to children without waiting for fully immersive virtual reality technology to arrive.

7.4     Implications for further research

In the final part of this thesis summary are suggestions and implications for further research into the interrelationship between children and computers arising from the new holistic paradigm.

7.4.1     Education software design

Eye and visual search theory

There are no references in the marketing information for flat computer screens of their real advantages expressed in terms of the discoveries made in this research. The implications for manufacturers of flat screens are relevant, as they currently appear to be only concerned with selling the technology itself, as well as the space advantage it provides, in contrast to conventional cathode ray tube screens.

Laptops are now in general use and have more flexibility to be used at different vertical angle of view. Which vertical viewing angle is preferred? If users were aware of the value of options would they change their habits? Is the screen angle determined by convention or by visual clarity of current LCD panel design? The advantages described in this research of tilting the screens to around 40??q to 50??q from the horizontal have yet to be explored fully. Current government sponsored research is focussed on advantages of laptops from factors such as flexibility of room use and advantages of wireless connectivity ‘we were impressed with the potential of laptops with wireless connectivity to enrich teaching and learning’ (Sawtry Community College, 2002). Further research into the ergonomic aspects for example the potential for creating screens that can be used in a variety of positions should be carried out.

Observations about screen tilt have special research applications to the recent huge growth in internet use too. Are there research opportunities for establishing whether designers of website pages really should avoid the presence of text and pictures hidden below the field of view of users in the page? Is it, as evidence in other contexts suggests, because the hidden element below the line of sight creates an instinctive anxiety related to the absence of lower body awareness?

It may even be possible to develop a simple test using a metre ruler for children to identify their own preferred angle of view and dark vergence point and adjust their own screen accordingly (especially with the introduction of laptops). A general raising of awareness of visual fatigue and difficulty in fixating would also inform ICT providers in the school environment.

Manufacturers might find evidence in the thesis significant enough to encourage research into future developments for detachable screens, which can be used both on the lap and written on, and also tilted near vertical for other kinds of tasks. At least users should have the flexibility to reposition the screen to suit mood, temperament and perhaps certain specialised tasks. Further precision into user requirements might be revealed by more research exploring the new paradigm provided by a tilted screen with different orientations for different tasks.

What are the ergonomic effects of users continually using the mouse for scrolling down to reveal the hidden element? Is the browser environment exhausting users? Also a menu on the left-hand side of the screen with tiring mouse moves to a right-hand side-scrolling bar might be unacceptable in the future.

Metaphors – the physical component

The thesis has considered Lakoff and Johnson’s work (1980), and placed it in a context unexplored by the authors themselves – educational environments. The container metaphor might be applied not just to children and computers, as in this thesis, but to the education environment generally and the classroom in particular. The classroom as a container may require teachers to re-synthesise their separated academic and physical experience of the world. However, advantage for the education community is the potential for reassessing and redefining the features of good teaching in terms of a dynamic, 3-D learning process. For example, by applying the container principles to generic educational tasks so including physical activity to help children understand concepts, the description and operation of technical devices, and visualising ideas. The groundwork for the way forward in both these respects is proposed in this thesis.

A new approach to the manipulation of information

Future research in the area of manipulation of information should be carried out into testing recognition times for various tasks at different angles of screen tilt, not just writing and hunting for information, but also carrying out manipulating tasks. There may also be a case for testing flat screens which users can write on directly (only currently available for high-end graphics systems) and which could be of value to children in an educational environment. Manufacturers may find support in this research for promoting the greater use of this kind of screen in schools that should be included in development programs.

A new approach to audio instructions

Further testing to explore the apparent attractiveness of Activity 6 of the Research Tool could be of interest to researchers. The focus might be the replication and development of didactic teacher instructions recreated using the recent techniques in multimedia software programming. Researchers might refine the sequence and provide children with the controls to activate the elements more effectively now programmers are more experienced and functions are more advanced.

The educational value of audio is shown in the results of the research. Even though the trials in the research have been on a CD-ROM product, the findings can be equally applied to web-based children’s audio activities, especially through Java applets. The principal direction will be to enhance the accessibility of text-based website pages for younger children by the extensive and specialised use of audio. The visual element might be improved with audio repetition, audio revelation responses and feedback, audio associated with manipulation and the ‘sequenced constructions of audio information’(see chapter 5, p. 153).

Pleasure in learning and educational simulations

The total impact assessment toolbox could be used to aid the design of simulations, enshrining principles that do not involve the high cost of developing commercial gaming software. These principles can be used to incorporate essential features. The process will allow educationalists to have an informed input to an interactive gaming design team. Research is called for to re-evaluate the use of simulations within an educational environment.

Teacher organisation of software

Developers of CD-ROMs might consider further research into providing teachers’ control panels used in the Research Tool to enable the more effective use of the vast quantity of resources on one CD-ROM disc. The efficacy of revising existing assets by adding teachers’ control panels that provide structure to learning is possible while maintaining the pleasure and fun of the learning experience. The use of a teachers’ control panel to manage presentation of material on a CD-ROM, manifest in a practical manner the educational value of putting teachers and their need to structure computer use first in the classroom environment. It may be a valuable method to use to inform the use of teachers’ controls for web-based learning too.

7.4.2     Interactivity and the Internet

The research in the thesis points to some important implications for current educational developments of the Internet, and in particular for website interactivity. During the period of the research, attention has shifted from educational CD-ROM multimedia products to the educational potential of the Internet. The thesis has demonstrated the potential educational advantages of turning a radio programme into an interactive CD-ROM. The research suggested that taking a step further and creating an interactive radio product using Internet technology may also have similar advantages.

Educational radio is, in fact, a great potential asset for the Internet for the following reasons:

  • * Developments in streaming audio, advances in server technology and the future potential of broadband delivery methods.
  • * The slide tape or Radiovision products that were such a feature of the BBC Education Department in the 1970s were a powerful and unique educational experience defined by the technology of the time. They had an impact on children’s visual experience of large-scale searchable still images enhanced by an audio picture. Now, using the current Internet technology, children can have the advantages of the Radiovision experience, but with the added value of a close-up, focussed, audio-visual experience delivered when children want it, not confined by past problems of a blackout, dim slide projector and indistinct tape recorder.
  • * The evidence of navigable structures in a radio script and the role of textual coherence provided in the thesis inform those working on the Internet, where navigation is a key issue.
  • * Developments in Internet software will make visually three-dimensional (3-D) interactive navigable radio programmes on the Internet a possibility. The ability to use enhanced manipulation techniques in the Internet environment is currently more complex, though Java-based applets and software such as VRML, SuperScape and QuickTimeVR are increasingly allowing the use of a mouse as a tool for manipulation and immersive experiences.
  • * The ideas of a teachers’ control panel explored in the CD-ROM Research Tool could be achieved in the Internet environment with little practical technical difficulty. Planners of future projects may find the results in this area of the thesis of value when exploring the potential in their own website design.

6. Finally, though not directly proven by the research, the evidence points to general environmental problems that children might experience in the classroom arising because of the relatively crude features of current HTML design used in, for example, educational websites such as:

a. Visual strain problems arising from scrolling down pages to find hidden elements.

b. Ergonomic factors relating to continual scrolling and clicking on menus in visually or physically uncomfortable places around the computer screen.

  • * The application of the navigation metaphor, shown in the research to be flawed in many respects is almost universally used on Internet page design. The implications of the role of the container metaphor and the need to involve users in a three dimensional metaphor have been identified in the research.
    * Manipulation as a technique on the Internet is still in its infancy. The technique exists but the examples of applications appear to be limited as yet. The conclusions from the Main Study (see chapter 5 criteria 1, p. 174 and 6, p. 185) suggested manipulation methods already available in Java and other new scripting methods could be applied in a constructive manner to the advantage of educational products.

7.5     Implications for future research methodology

The thesis can claim to have employed new technical methods of conducting research that were not in use at the time the main study was carried out. This section summarises the advantages which others may like to employ in their own work.

7.5.1     The digital audio recorder

Researchers who have had to carry out or supervise the lengthy, time-consuming and exhausting research using conventional tape recorder and typed transcripts will recognise from the descriptions in the methodology chapter just what advantages the new technology used in the thesis can provide. It has been shown how the technical needs for the ability of recording for long periods, unobtrusively and confidently, with clarity of signal and without interference from the computer have been met. The ability to search, collate and transcribe far more accurately and efficiently allowing for more time spent on the analysis of the content should also be self-evident. The methodology demonstrated the value to future researchers of a systematic approach using the new technology and pointed to benefits in other research contexts.

7.5.2             The digital database

The advantages of the digital recorder were fully realised in conjunction with the computer database software (FileMaker). The principle of using a database itself might not be new. What is a new development is the technique of being able to turn a generic database product quickly and easily to support manual data analysis, specific to the task. A second feature is being able to load the digitally transcribed information into the searchable electronic file cards quickly, accurately and effectively. The research shows that problems such as quality of sound, battery duration, and transcription using conventional tape recorders as observation tools may have been successfully overcome. It is suggested that advice against the use of tape recorders in current research methodology textbooks should be reviewed to include the use of digital recording methods.

7.6     Conclusion

What are the design features required to improve the quality of computer interface interaction for 5 to 7-year-old children?

The research question has revealed a complex set of factors that challenges assumptions of the early screen designers, and proposes a new paradigm that accounts for the design features that improve the quality of interaction. Attention is focussed on new directions for Internet development.

The process of the research has been one of reviewing, reconstructing and testing factors that influence effective interface design for children, of redefining known elements and of introducing new ones in a coherent strategy for a greater depth of engagement through a new holistic paradigm of child and computer. Ergonomists knew of the unresolved controversies in their analysis of the human-computer relationships they designed. Now, technology has provided new opportunities to solve the inconsistencies.

The contribution of the thesis is to inform design ideas emerging with the new media technologies. Educational ICT practitioners have a reference in the thesis to inform opportunities for child-centred developments with deeper engagement and a fuller learning experience.

The researcher intends that those interested in education will consider the proposals in this thesis for improving the quality of interface interaction, a useful contribution, and apply them to their own computer media to achieve and maintain high standards in education.