Rehab Dashboard is an application created by Andrew Paquette and Doug League as part of Dr. Kuber’s Assistive Technology course at UMBC. The app was created in App Inventor, and makes use of the onboard gyroscopic measures in smartphones. These measures supply feedback in realtime on the angle of the phone in space. For this app, those measures are used to guide people performing a number of rehabilitative exercises, such as wrist and bicep curls.
Focus of Participatory Design Sessions
I reviewed Rehad Dashboard with two groups of student participants, each group being 3-4 students. Both groups had sat together during the morning lectures at this event, and seemed very different from each other. The first group had been vocal and volunteered lots of opinions, and the second had been very quiet. Interestingly, in the focus sessions both groups really “delivered”, and came up lots of ideas, readily iterating and developing their own opinions and suggestions.
The group quickly zeroed in on the need for instruction in the app (this content was omitted on purpose by the creators for the prototype). They group mentioned that the exercise readouts, which they liked, could use Help pages that would explain their meaning. The group also suggested instructional video on how to perform the exercises. They also brought up the need for different types of instruction for the disabled, such as voice for the blind. The app gives a slight vibratory “buzz” when each exercise is completed. The group liked that feedback, but suggested an audible count, or visible screen flash, could be useful as well.
The first group noted that cheating on the app seemed a little too easy, which brought up the question of motivation. On this subject the group had a wealth of ideas. Scores could be posted to boards, amplifying competition. Rewards for performance were discussed, as well as raffles based on membership and achievement. The group related all of this to parallels in their own gaming group membership and social media behavior. They also had suggestions based on their own interests for better performance measures. One participant had used Brain Age, a memory and learning application, and liked the way the software gave back graphs on improvement, allowing the user to see their progress in a visual way. They also brought up the need for reminders and scheduling help, to keep users on track with their exercise routines.
The first group also was enthusiastic about adapting the app to martial arts or boxing exercises. When queried about whether that use could damage the phone they quickly developed several ideas for how the phone could be protected. First they sketched some wearable wrist, leg, and arm bands that could hold the device. Secondly, one participant in particular was very interested in the concept of building a second device that would be wirelessly connected to the phone. The second device as described would also measure acceleration and angle, like the phone, while being more shock-resistant and exercise-friendly than a smartphone. The group also wanted to extend the use of the app to hiking and biking (which makes sense given the scenic locale). They described GPS enabled route and time measures the app could support, and drew some sketches of a mounting position for the smartphone on bike handlebars.
The second group had similar ideas to start with, mentioning wrist and arm bands. However, they had no shortage of their own ideas. They mentioned using the web connectivity of the smartphone as the basis for connecting the app to weight loss and exercise websites that help users count calories and maintain their diet. The second group also elaborated on the question of effective instruction. They had plenty of opinions on whether instructional video or images is more useful in general, and specifically for exercise training.
The second group also described Facebook-based feedback, and developed a really interesting discussion of privacy and user intent when posting information. They talked about being able to opt in to meet-up’s with other exercisers geographically.
They also had an interesting take on motivation. Given their own gaming experiences, they pointed out that leaderboards are, for them, often not that big of a motivator unless they are actually in contention for a top spot. Breaking up performance into leagues, was deemed useful to enhancing the sense of competition and achievement. Similarly, they related how the most challenging parts of games, while rewarding to beat, were things that they would never revisit. The payoffs for those tough patches in a game, whether an in-game cinematic or some visceral visual feedback (such as “headshots” in fighting games), would need to apply to a good exercise program app as well, they stated. This group also had a really funny discussion about motivational speakers. They suggested the app could offer encouragement or count reps via celebrity voices. The celebrities the group came up with as worthy voices included Arnold Schwarzenegger, 50Cent, Richard Simmons, and Mike Tyson.
When asked, the second group mentioned that they hadn’t had a lot of experience with actual exercise gaming on platforms such as the Wii or Xbox Kinect. They found those to be a little expensive for their college budgets, and mentioned feeling a little weird gaming while standing up with a group of friends.
Lessons Learned in Conducting the PD Sessions
One clear takeaway was how useful gaming is a participatory design focus for groups in this college age range. Every participant had strong feelings based on their preferences and experiences, and those were the basis more lots of really impressive new ideas. Whenever a line of discussion seemed to “dry up,” a parallel to similar gaming experience would often evoke a flood of new ideas on the topic, and all group members would have an opinion.
In terms of working with participants with cognitive differences, I noted that working with groups that knew each other well was a real benefit. Often they were very familiar with each other, and readily assisted in focusing and developing explanations and ideas. This made focusing the wide-ranging discussions easier in several cases.
The small group I worked with both really impressed me with the how quickly they tried and improved such a wide range of ideas. They had a real variety of experiences and were very articulate about what they liked in software and entertainment media, and how that could apply to improving Rehab Dashboard.