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DESIGN OF AN E-LEARNING AUTHORING TOOL USER INTERFACE USING MENTAL MODELS: A CASE STUDY

I. Vazquez1, E. Barra2, A. Gordillo2, J. Quemada2

1Escuela Superior de Diseño de Madrid (SPAIN)
2Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (SPAIN)
Mental models are one of the most important concepts in human–computer interaction (HCI). A mental model is what the user believes about the system at hand. And each user has its own one. These mental models are built by the user when accessing the system the first times and they are based in previous mental models that the user has. For example if the user has accessed web pages and PDF files with a computer and now is told that he/she can read a book in a tablet pc, he/she will create a mental model based on previous experiences. If the model that the user builds does not fit the conceptual model planned by the designers and developers, it will be difficult to learn how to use the application. Furthermore, if the model is inaccurate it will lead to misunderstandings and mistakes.

Three important aspects will influence how the user constructs his/her mental model. Those are affordance, “the idea that the physical characteristics of a design influence its function”, constraints, “methods for limiting the actions that can be performed on a system” and mapping, “relationship between design controls, their movements, and their effects”.

In this paper we present the experience of applying all these concepts to the design of an e-learning authoring tool called ViSH Editor (open source and available at https://github.com/ging/vish_editor). This tool offers a wide variety of functionalities as it allows the creation of enriched online presentations with almost any content present on the Internet and/or directly uploaded by the user. ViSH Editor is publicly accessible at http://vishub.org and has been used for more than 1000 users during the last 2 years.

The application of these concepts facilitate that the mental model the user constructs when accessing the tool is very similar to the conceptual model planned by the development team. To validate this designing approach, this paper presents also a usability and user experience evaluation study that we have conducted together with its results. This study is based on interviews with potential users that perform several tasks with the ViSH Editor tool following the thinking aloud method, which provides insights about the user's' mental model.