The workshop at Landmark College was a unique experience for me. The application I presented during the participatory design workshop was a procedural memory training application. It consisted of 4 screens: 1) to add new activities, 2) a menu to choose an activity to learn, 3) the activity viewer, and 4) a quiz to test the user’s knowledge of the procedure. The application was programmed using the Android OS and presented to the students using a Google Nexus One cell phone.
Focus of Design Sessions
The workshop was broken into two design sessions. The focus of our design sessions with this application was making it more useful, easier to use, and more like a game. The first session involved 3 students. After giving a basic introduction to the purpose of the application, we allowed the students to freely explore the application. After using it they immediately had suggestions for making it better. At first they began to talk amongst themselves about whether the application would be useful for different reasons. The conversation from that point was dictated primarily by their ideas and desires to improve the application rather than my suggestions. One student asked questions about the applications intended uses and suggested several additional situations where the application could be used. We then discussed ways to motivate people to use this application. They suggested several games that could be played to assist a person with remembering the procedures and they drew examples of how those games would work, along with other personal artwork.
The second group of students was a little less enthusiastic about the application at first. I had to ask a lot of questions and ask people directly to draw things they were thinking of so that we could all discuss their ideas. We would discuss things like the way instructions were presented to the user and then each of the students would draw a solution to the problems we discussed and we would pick and choose which designs would work together and why or why not. One member of this group insisted on writing actual Java code rather than drawing interface designs. It was clear that all three of the students in the second group had different ways of thinking about the problem as well as different levels of concern regarding the level of detail in their solutions.
Lessons Learned: Contributions to the Design
All the students in both sessions were very willing to provide feedback and ideas. They were especially interested in talking about whether or not it could be useful in their own situations or in general with other students like them. They suggested numerous situations where the application could be used. The original intention of the application was for the user to practice using the application to learn the procedure and perform the actual task in real life without the use of the application. The students believed that the application would be useful for that purpose but also just as useful as a step-by-step tool for use during the task.
In the first design session we worked through and discussed ways to motivate people to use this application. They suggested some type of rewards system and the ability to track your own progress through graphs or just score reports. We discussed sharing performance information with friends, or just other users, but came to the conclusion that it would not be useful due to the customized nature of the user experience. Instead the students designed other types of quizzes/games for testing how well a user remembered a procedure. They suggested a game similar to the classic card game of memory matching, where the steps would be shown as cards then hidden and scrambled and the user would have to select a card to identify it then put the cards in order. They also suggested a multiple choice quiz where questions would be asked such as “Which step is next?” and the user would be given up to four options to choose from (either pictures or written descriptions).
In the second design session, the students began with the changes suggested by the students in the first group. In this session the students pointed out that it could be a little difficult to display procedures that had more than six steps or that contained sub-steps. Together we came up with different ways to use colors to identify and convey the navigation and “location” of the user in the procedure. We also worked together to try to figure out how we could track and display performance over time for the user of the application. We decided that having line graphs with options that could be selected and deselected to customize what the user sees. Inherent to this display we also discussed what things could be tracked that could be used to quantify performance. We came up with 4 main things:
- How many times a quiz was completed.
- How many attempts it took to get the sequence correct.
- How many times it was completed correctly.
- How long it takes to complete the sequencing quiz.
The final thing discussed during the session was the name of the application. It was determined that, in order to get people to even consider choosing this application or to remember it, we would need a catchy name. After each student suggested a name we discussed the alternatives and eventually came up with the name, “ProcedurePal”.
Lessons Learned: Conducting the Design Sessions
This was my first time conducting a participatory design session. It was also my first time working with students with learning differences. My first observation from the design sessions was how willing everyone was to offer up opinions of the application. Also, the feedback I received seemed very honest. The students were very willing to offer insight into how the application could or could not help them personally. For those that did not think the application would be useful for them, personally, I tried to encourage them to think of ways that the application could be modified so that it would be useful. This really got the discussion going. At some points during the session the students began arguing amongst themselves but in most cases were easily re-focused. The use of the tangible materials (paper, markers, whiteboard, etc.) seemed to help keep everyone focused on the design tasks rather than talking about other things. Some students did draw “doodles” using the markers but they were still actively engaged in the discussions and were still able to contribute good ideas. At certain points during the sessions, such as when someone was explaining their ideas for a solution, the other members of the group might stop listening, watch something else going on in the room, or play around with the materials. One technique I found helpful for this was asking the others their opinions or having everyone focus on the same sheet of paper or drawing on the whiteboard to encourage discussion of the designs. Overall, it was a very enlightening experience and it was fun.