Carrie Garzich :: Usability Test B (Soap Box Derby)

The subject for this usability test was a teacher who has been using computers for more than 15 years. She has used some CD-ROMs before, but not many. The subject understood the basic purpose of the CD-ROM — learning about science — and got the navigation on the initial screen (activities and teacher tools). She thought that children would like the CD-ROM, particularly boys. "I can see where kids would like it," she said. "But, you know, you would have to do some explaining beforehand."

The most substantial problem she encountered with the interface was the format of the directions for each activity. She went to the Ratio and Proportion activity first, read the directions, and then attempted to enter a number into the text box. When the program did not respond, she attempted to click on other areas of the screen, asking, "Is something supposed to happen?" Eventually, she gave up on the activity, clicked on the close button, and went on to another activity (without recognizing that she could do the activity with the directions now closed). This lack of recognition that the close button was necessary to begin the activity continued through attempts at several other activities. When the subject grew frustrated, the tester gave her a hint to click on the close button and then attempt the activity.

Suggestions for making this clearer for the user would include changing the wording of the "Close" button to something that indicates the user is going to begin the activity, such as "Begin Activity." It would also be more intuitive to move the button so that it is located directly below the directions. This subject read through all the directions and then immediately began to try to follow the directions. It might also be helpful to blank out the screen behind the directions so that the user does not have other portions of the interface available to distract or confuse them.

This user also encountered other times in which she was slowed because she was unsure of what to click on. This included the Friction section, wherein she read "You chose: Choose a car" as meaning that she should click on one of the cars. However, when she clicked on a car, and then clicked on "Start race," the race did not begin, because the CD-ROM requires the user to click on a "Tire style." "It says choose a car and I chose a car and started the race and nothing happened," she said. After some trial and error, she did figure out that she needed to click on the tire shadows, but this added to her frustration with the CD-ROM. This could be corrected by also allowing the user to select a car by clicking on a car. Additionally, it might be beneficial to change the wording of "Tire style," or make the tires look more like tires.

The user encountered a similar problem in the Simple Machines section. She knew what a pulley was, and clicked on the pulley, but nothing happened. This is because the image map for the link did not cover the entire pulley, but rather portions of it. This could be fixed by extending the image map for the link to contain the entire pulley. Other image map links in both this and other activities should also be examined.

Another substantial issue that this user encountered was the use of the numbers "1," "2," and sometimes "3" in the lower left hand corner of each activity to denote that there were more activities in a given section. As she went through each activity area, the user attempted the "1" activity, but did not move on. After she had gone through some of the information in the Collection & Analysis section, and observed that it was "just information," the tester asked her if there was more to this section — a place where there would be more information. She thought that perhaps you could click on one of the table rows to get more information, and tried that, but did not ever recognize the numbers in the corner.

Because the numbers are somewhat difficult to notice, and also somewhat cryptic as to their function, it might be helpful to users to change them. This could include replacing the numbers with meaningful names (such as the subsection headings: "Who's Won The Most?"; "Order Up!"; and "Mean. Median. Mode." in the Collection & Analysis section, although this would need to be changed in every section). It might also be useful to move that navigation to an easier-to-see location, perhaps in tabs across the top of the activity field.

The user was a bit confused by the link to the "Main Menu." When she first went to the activities screen, she said that she wanted to go to the main menu first. Later in the usability test (when she was in the midst of trying activities and not being able to do them because of the aforementioned close directions problem), she clicked on Main Menu and was surprised that it took her back to the garage. This could be easily solved by changing the terminology. Main Menu depicts something a bit more extensive than a garage with two basic links. So perhaps going with the garage metaphor and just calling it "Garage" would be an effective change. Adding the phrase "Return to" might also reinforce that the user had come from the garage originally.

A final, smaller point of confusion for the user was in the directions to the race course in the Friction section. Because the first "race course" was essentially a series of squiggly lines, she was confused. "The race course thing I don't get. It's a jumble," she said. This could be fixed by simply swapping the first and second friction races, so that the more race-course-looking course is first, reinforcing the concept of the activity.