Striving for interactivity within universal usability

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					Striving for interactivity within universal usability
Universal usability is the new paradigm in website design whereby focus is no longer just on accessibility but usability of your website. In a world of digital natives that have been suckled on highly interactive and sleek console games, striving for interactivity while maintaining a focus of enabling a diverse audience to not only access but be able to use your site, is a new challenge facing web and eLearning designers.

Kim Gillham Q9121231

3rd May, 2008 Word count: 2155 This paper is also available online at:

2 Kim Gillham, Q9121231 Striving for interactivity within universal usability

Striving for interactivity within universal usability
Appealing websites, in this world of fast cars, media rooms and mobile phones, is certainly a challenge. Whether you were born into the eGeneration (Entelysis Technologies, 2006) as a digital native or you fall into some part of the digital immigrant continuum (Prensky, 2001), in this day and age, we can safely assume that most people, even if they don‟t know how to use it, know of the existence of the internet. Additionally we can assume that an instructional designer, while they may not be a „developer‟ have highly developed computer skills and are able to access, navigate and use a range of online and mobile technologies. This rise in the level of awareness of online and computer based technologies, raises the expectations of those people in the application of the same. So how do we “ensure eLearning is not eBoring” (Waldron, 2007) through putting into practice principles of learning rather than reading pages of text, but at the same time, ensure our materials are not only accessible but usable? To begin our investigation, let‟s start by taking a look at what we mean by interactivity and „universal usability‟ and, why there is a constant struggle for a designer, to get the best of both worlds.

What is interactivity?
Engaging Interactivity is that component which turns a click only site, often referred to as a „page turner‟ (inXsol, n.d.) into an engaging and interesting experience. Interactivity occurs when there is two-way communication (BAF Satellite & Technology, 1999). Sims (1995) explains that interactive components in educational products are what distinguish educational technologies from other more consumer based interactive products. Sims (1995) further describes interactivity as a dialogue between a computer-based application and a learner. The quality of this dialog depends on the success of alignment between the response or feedback provided and the needs of the learner (Jonassen cited in Sims, 1995). Quality interactivity then could be described as „a degree of responsiveness and reflexivity‟ (Lowry, Spaulding, Wells, Moody, Moffitt & Madariaga, 2006). Surfing around the web it is quite apparent that there are different types of interactivity starting with a click, to watching a movie, to chatting online in real-time. This distinction in type of interactivity is more correctly referred to as „levels of interactivity‟ (Entelysis Technologies, 2006; inXsol, n.d.; Schulmeister 1997; Sims, 1995). inXsol describes levels of interactivity as, „general classes of richness, sophistication and realism of interactivity the student experiences in the Computer Based Training (CBT).‟ The main goal of this interactivity is to either deliver information or feedback. So what are the levels of interactivity?

Levels of interactivity
There are a range of approaches to the levels of interactivity for online learning. For the purpose of providing a framework in this paper, the four levels described by Entelysis Technologies (2006) and inXsol (n.d.) are favoured because of their: May 3, 2008   Alignment with military levels of interactivity known as MIL Spec. Acknowledgement of four essential communication relationships (Wild & Omari, 1996; Chou cited Paton, 2008): 1. learner to content;

Kim Gillham, Q9121231 3 Striving for interactivity within universal usability 2. learner to interface; 3. learner to learner; 4. learner to facilitator. Let‟s take a closer look at the four levels of interactivity.
Level 4. Real – time interaction Involves all of levels 1, 2 & 3 plus real time engagement through a real life set of responses and cues. More often than not, this interaction is a simulation that mirrors the actual situation. Decisions, layouts, activities, consequences, feedback, etc all relate to the environment commonly associated with this activity. Collaboration with the online facilitator and other learners enable learning and assessment to take place in real-time. Supports all communication relationships synchronously. Use: Allow transfer of complex or dangerous concepts and skills in a safe environment. Emerging technologies could include Haptic and bio- feedback devices. Examples: F111 flight simulator, Second Life, Moodle (or similar collaborative environments) LMS, etc. Development tools: 3D rendering and animation applications, java, Flash, .NET, XML, etc. Level 3. Complex participation Involves all of levels 1 and 2 plus increased ability for the learner to control the interaction. Techniques might include complex simulations where data may be entered and consequence dealt with the learner. Communication flow is learner to content and learner to interface, while also supporting asynchronous learner to learner and learner to facilitator. Use: Enables simulations with lower fidelity however allows the learner to practice and investigate a simulated environment. Feedback is highly responsive and contextual. Examples: Complex simulations such as a simulated database system with field masking to enable simulated and contextual responses, simple branching scenarios, etc. Development tools: 2D rendering and animation applications, java, Flash, .NET, XML, etc. Level 2. Limited participation Involves level 1 plus enabling the learner to make simple responses to stimuli. This may be achieve through use of components developed using Flash to enable drag and drop type interactivity elements providing constructive learner feedback which may or may not be contextual. May support additional interfaces including light pens and touch screens, and so forth. Communication flow is learner to content and learner to interface. Use: Non complex interactions where the pathway is singular and does not require the user to enter data or make independent decisions. Examples: Web pages with components including one or more of: text, images, video, simple step through animations including frames and carousels, click and reveal interactions, multiple choice questions, open ended response checkers. Development tools: XHTML, XML, CSS, Flash, etc.

Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

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4 Kim Gillham, Q9121231 Striving for interactivity within universal usability

Level 1

Level 1. Passive The lowest level of interactivity where the learner is simply a receiver of information. Navigation is linear and is generally forward, back and possibly a menu which is either text or image based. This level is characterised by very limited user control with regard to sequence of materials. Communication flow is asynchronous learner to content. Use: Presenting underpinning information, introducing a concept and supporting static materials. Examples: Web pages with components including one or more of: text, images, automatic video and animation players. The majority of online learning used today. Development tools: Predominantly XHTML which may be supported by CSS.

Jonassen (cited in Sims, 1995) suggested that the level of interactivity of a learning product, does have an influence on whether surface or deep learning can occur. While Schulmeister (2001, p16) argued that „relatively lower levels of interactivity tend to assume a behaviourist character, while higher levels rather presuppose and transport cognitive concepts of learning such as discovery (Bruner) or constructivist paradigms of learning (Schulmeister 1997, pp71ff).” Anderson (cited Mariluz, Covadonga, Gorka & Alicia, 2006) also connects mode of interactivity with depth of learning suggesting a link between each of these theories that may be visualised in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Interactivity communication continuum. However, the reality is that the majority of today‟s elearning is what is known as passive (Entelysis Technologies, 2006). But it‟s not all bad news; any level of interactivity, correctly selected does improve the overall effectiveness of a training product. Why? Because interactivity is the medium by which we tell a story (Shedroff, 1994) or communicate an idea, etc. This concept is not new to people, just (relatively) new to the online world (Shedroff, 1994). As Shedroff (1994) reminds us, as people we regularly create wonderful experiences for others, sometimes considered, such as a dance or theatre performance, sometimes impromptu such as conversations over a meal. Interactivity, therefore, has a large role to play in creating a valuable learning experience. It seems unfair then that this component of an educational web site could actually be stopping some of our audience from learning anything because it stifles universal usability. So what is this universal usability and why is it important?

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Kim Gillham, Q9121231 5 Striving for interactivity within universal usability

What is universal usability?
According to Jakob Neilsen (cited in Yank, 2002) usability has its origins in World War II when too many planes were crashing which lead to loss of pilots lives. Neilsen also goes on to explain that the area code for Manhattan is 212 because it‟s the fastest number to dial on the rotary phone. All of this led to companies such as IBM, Xerox PARC and Apple investigating the graphical user interface (GUI) for main frames. GUIs that we take for granted today on our PCs, mobile phones, ticket machines, iPods, etc. But, it wasn‟t until 1988 that Microsoft introduced usability testing on its products, finally accepting that just making something available or accessible didn‟t make it usable. “Ben Shneiderman a pioneer in the field of human-computer interaction, defines universal usability as “enabling all citizens to succeed using communication and information technology in their tasks.”” (Lynch, 2006) Universal usability extends the concept of accessibility to include successful use of the web or online environment (Lynch, 2006). Today, it must be the aim of the educational environment developer to ensure that universal usability is at the forefront of their mind during development to ensure that the widest possible audience may be appropriately served.

The dilemma
As Lynch (2006) tells us, the basic HTML web page is very capable of delivering hypertext pages online. Where HTML falls short is in application delivery. In order to produce a web page that has a higher level of interactivity than level 1 – passive, means that developers employ third party options (or plugins) such as javascript, Adobe Flash, activeX, etc. Once used in a site, these options sidestep the standards and create havoc for those users who elect to disable or have no access to these options. On the surface it might appear unbelievable that users may opt to disable or not utilise these options. Imagine the interactivity they are missing? However Ceaparu & Demner (2001) identify that this may occur due to:       Slow connectivity issues; Outdated minimum configuration; Screen size; Use of text readers; Lack of expertise, due to age, education or motivation; Disability such as blindness, deafness, cognitive impairment or other physical concern.

Does this mean that we must remove interactivity that utilises these non-standard components from our sites altogether? No. However, from a transfer of learning perspective, as education technology developers, we must expand our strategies and techniques to work with these wider parts of our audience.

Enabling co-existence
Ultimately, we really don‟t want to disadvantage any of our audience. That is, we don‟t want to exclude the majority by eliminating the opportunity to employ interactivity that may help them learn. Conversely, it would be a very arrogant move to exclude the minority just because we don‟t want to produce passive materials.

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6 Kim Gillham, Q9121231 Striving for interactivity within universal usability Why can‟t we do both? The concept of alternate versions of a site is not new so, with this flexibility at the forefront of our minds let‟s consider some possible strategies for employing universal usability:

Images, animations Image maps Multimedia Page organisation

Insert metadata using ALT Use client-side maps and text hotspots Attach captioning and transcripts of audio and/or descriptions of video Use a hierarchical and consistent structure. Provide alternative CSS for layout and format if improves usability. Use the LONGDESC tag for detail Provide alternative content where the feature is not supported. For example a text and image based page or a downloadable static text page. Use text that will make sense even when used out of context. Avoid “click here” or “go now”. Avoid use of frames. If they must be used, use the noframes element and meaningful titles in the XHTML header. Make reading each line at a time produces sensible information. Provide a summary. Use checklists and guidelines available at W3C. Validate both your XHTML and CSS as a matter of standard practice. Table 1. 10 Quick Tips. Adapted from W3C (2001).

Graphs, charts Scripts, applets, plug-ins

Hypertext links Frames

Tables Validate

Using the strategies above will help to ensure that our foremost goal of learning transfer may still occur for the widest possible range of the target audience. The fight of interactivity and usability will still rage but I consider this; one of those learners may be the one that helps to bridge the gap between interactivity and usability, and I‟m just not prepared to sacrifice that loss.

Throughout we have looked at the struggle between maintaining interest through employing interactivity within our educational web site and enabling access and usability for our diverse audience. While there is inconclusive evidence to support the theory that there is a connection between interactivity and usability (Lowry, Spaulding, Wells, Moody, Moffitt & Madariaga, 2006), we have identified within that it is clear that the third party applications used to create them mean that many users accessing sites through readers or other accessibility technologies, are impacted detrimentally (Horton, 2006). May 3, 2008 The key is flexibility: by providing alternative options for users so that we can pass control back to them without sacrificing the possibility of engaging our median audience through interactivity via third party applications. This consideration of flexible design raises the workload of the designer and those required to maintain a site. Project managers, client liaison personnel and anyone involved in the negotiation of instructional design projects must acknowledge this increased requirement urgently else we face the alternative; an unpalatable elitist discrimination in delivery of online education.

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The following sources were consulted and/or referenced in the development of this paper: 1. Ceaparu, I. & Demner, D. (2001). Principles and strategies for practitioners designing universally usable sites. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from Usability in practice Website: 2. Entelisys Technologies LLC. (2006). eLearning: From Level I to Level IV of interactivity. Why choosing the appropriate level of interactivity is important. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from 3. FET8601 Module 3. Designing & Developing an Educational Web Environment. (2008). Retrieved March 3, 2008 from University of Southern Queensland USQStudyDesk website: 4. Horton, S. (2006). Access by design [Electronic version]. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from 5. inXsol. (n.d.) CBT Levels. Retrieved April 19, 2008 from 6. Lowry, P. B., Spaulding, T., Wells, T., Moody, G., Moffitt, K. & Madariaga, S. (2006). Proceedings of the 39th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences – 2006. [9 pages]. A theoretical model and empirical results linking website interactivity and usability satisfaction, 123a – 123a. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from IEEE Xplore online database (Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/HICSS.2006.33) 7. Mariluz, C., Covadonga, R., Gorka, L, & Alicia, O. (2006). EADU‟s Annual Conference 2006. Open and distance learning methodologies in Higher Education. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from European Association of Distance Teaching Universities Website: 8. Paton, W. (2008). Interactivity: A critical component of educational web design. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from University of Southern Queensland USQStudyDesk website: 9. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf 10. Shedroff, N. (1994). Information Interaction Design: A Unified Field Theory of Design. Retrieved 20 April, 2008 from 11. Schulmeister, R. (2001). Taxonomy of Multimedia Components Interactivity: A Contribution to the Current Metadata Debate. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from 12. Sims, R. (1995). Interactivity: A forgotten art? Retrieved April 25 from 13. W3C. (2001). Quick tips to make accessible sites. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from Web Accessibility Initiative Website:

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8 Kim Gillham, Q9121231 Striving for interactivity within universal usability 14. Waldron, N. (2007). Top 10 Tips: How to ensure eLearning is not eBoring! Retrieved April 17, 2008 from Workstar Website: ps%20How%20to%20ensure%20eLearning%20is%20not%20eBoring.pdf 15. Wild, M, & Omari, A. (1996). AusWeb96 The Second Australian WorldWideWeb Conference. Developing educational content for the web: Issues and ideas. [Online]. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from AusWeb Website: 16. Yank, K. (2002). Interview – Jakob Neilsen, Ph.D. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from Sitepoint Website:

Image references
1. Image of Kim Gillham. Taken November 18, 2007 by Alishya Gillham using Fujifilm S5500, manipulated January, 2008 by Kim Gillham.

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