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Child Computer Interaction is a part of HCI. It is a growing field for research where there have been many experiments done to develop user interfaces for children which help in their mental and psychological development. It also presents many challenges for designers, as the way children behave with interfaces is completely different compared to that of adults. And the usability is quite different for children when you compare them with the usability of adults.
Children are increasingly using computers nowadays. Even children of age 3-4 are using them quite easily. They mostly play games, but computers do have potential for helping the children in their cognitive development. Therefore there is a need for developing user interfaces which help the children in their overall development. (Gelderblom (2004))
Computers have become a daily part of most children in developed countries. In the future children will be using more of the technology than one could have imagined as the effect of technology in our world is rapidly increasing.
The effort put into developing user interfaces for children will certainly be time well spent. The developers have to consider applications for children in schools, home and as part of their recreational activities. Developers will need to consider the educational system to develop those interfaces as the technology could possibly influence rest of their lives. So they should make sure that they are influencing them in right way and moving them in the right direction.
(Panos, Janet, Johanna & Stuart (2008))
People consider children not to be on the same terms as of an adult in the case of cognitive ability. True, but one must not neglect the importance of the necessity for children's participation in the development of the future IT interfaces. (Iversen & Brodersen (2008))
"When designing software for young children, designers should focus a specific age group, because children of different ages have vastly different preferences and levels of skills."
(Gelderblom, H. (2004))
For different age groups children have different levels of cognitive skills such as reading, writing and story construction. Motor skills and hand-eye coordination also differs for different age groups. But the age of a child serves only as a rough index of their development status because, different children have different personalities, background, temperament, learning style, growth and development pattern. (Gelderblom, H. (2004))
Children interact differently with computers compared to that of adults. Black, Chang & Narayanan have done research on the difference between Child Computer Interaction and Child Human Interaction. According to that research they found that children use gestures while talking to adults whereas they talk loud and clear when they interact with computers. From which the researchers have concluded that children try to emulate their speaking partner whether it is human or computer to help the process of smooth conversation.
(Black Chang & Narayanan (2009))
From children's perspective, they have a need to feel in control of the technology they are using. One of the many problems faced by children in today's computers is the drag and drop operation. Developing a suitable shape for a mouse is worth working on, in this case. Usually the drag and drop operation will be difficult even in case of adults if the size of the receptor is very small. A good user interface should have appropriate sized receptors in the application.
(Donker & Reitsma (2007))
Other aspect of being able to feel comfortable around technology is the usage of the equipment to handle computers. Froehlich has conducted a research on deploying computers in schools and for developing computer games that are suitable for children. In this research he concentrated on whether children feel more comfortable using mice or touch pads. Interestingly he found out that children didn't find much of a difference between them. The usability test results have shown the same results for both the mice and touch pads. Whereas for games he found out that workload plays a significant factor in the usability. And he concluded that designers should consider developing both touch screen and drag and drop applications. (Froehlich (2007))
Children should not get frustrated while using an application. The reaction of users particularly depends upon the type of application one is using. Age group also plays a major role. An application suited for a certain age group might bring frustration to other age groups. In children an application will bring frustration if a child faces trouble completing the task easily, or if he or she faces a lot of warnings on every step. So it is the responsibility of developers to actually build an application that will be more efficient for children. (Yildirim (2006))
For children to feel comfortable around technology, adult mediation can be a useful process. A study has been conducted by Klein, Nir-Gal, & Darom to detect the impact of adult mediation on children while interacting with computers. They found out that child who had the help of adults, i.e. suggestions and help, have shown good progress in their learning and expanding computer knowledge compared to other children who either had little or no adult mediation. This result confirms that adult mediation is important in pre-school and kinder garden children while they are using computers. (Klein, Nir-Gal & Darom (2000))
Children do not feel comfortable when being monitored, so usability testing of computer interfaces on children is quite difficult. Because children tend to behave as their guardians want them to behave. Because they may get the feeling that they are being judged and their behavior gets affected. So usability testing in front of people does not produce dependable results. Children should be able to feel comfortable around an interface before one could perform usability testing. (Gelderblom, H. (2004))
A likeability framework has been developed by Zaman & Abeele which explains how the interaction between basic needs, contextual societal factors and individual characteristics effect the satisfactions the children will get. The basic needs involve the need to be loved, need to develop, need to play, need to be respected. The contextual societal factors include the influence of parents and relatives, social and physical computing environment. Individual characteristics include social and cognitive development. (Zaman & Abeele (2007))
There are five different areas of gratification that will make a user interface likeable and fun. Those are:
The challenge and control:
A child must feel challenge in an application. If an application is too easy the child will get bored, on other hand if the application is too difficult the child gets frustrated. A finely tuned application will become likeable and fun.
A child feels accepted while participating in group activities and feels in control and able to influence others. So a child has fun during these activities in social groups such as classrooms.
Fantasies are those activities that include role playing, pretense play, make believe and mimicry. Children have fun during these activities.
Creative and constructive expressions:
This gratification includes fun during those activities which require creativity and innovation such as drawing, painting, claying, modeling, carpentry, playing sports and building.
Body and Senses:
Other important factor of gratification in children is their physical sensations and sensory stimulation of external things.
Following is the picture illustrating the likeability framework
(Taken from Zaman & Abeele (2007))
A research has been done for monitoring children's musical interaction. In this research children were exposed to a user interface in the shape of a kangaroo which had an input form for tangible CD's and instruments. The music is played according to the instrument and the title of the music is displayed on the background of the display.
On the display a kangaroo character appears named Panze and dances accordingly. First it will only dance a little, with minimal reactions. If a child responds, it will thrill him with more challenging moves. The device has several sensors to detect touch, movement and tangible objects. System is turned on by touching the kangaroo character. It will open its eyes when touched and starts reacting. If there is no interaction for a while, it closes its eyes. Thus the research was aimed at children reacting to musical instruments playing, and associating the instruments with particular types of music at the same time. (Jansen, Van Dijk & Retra (2006))
Figure 1: Screenshot of Panze (taken from Jansen, L., Van Dijk, B., & Retra, J. (2006))
Development of Collaboration
Badly designed multi user interfaces can result in the development of dominant behavior in one, and loss of interest in collaboration in others as they get bored and disinterested.
Children prefer to play games with their friends rather than playing a single player computer game. It is no wonder that multiplayer games are much more popular compared to single player games. Those games are a good example of well designed multiplayer games because they provide role assignments for each of the players playing in the game making the children more interactive with others thus fostering the collaboration. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
A situation where a user interface has only one mode of interaction, but more than one user needs to interact with the user interface, usually results in dominant behavior in the most active child as the most active child will always be the one who will interact with the interface making other children disinterested and developing a feeling of carelessness in them. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
In a research paper written by Leichtenstern & André, they found out that when children interact with a computer interface each having a different device for interaction, there was more creativity and interest compared to that when there was only one input device. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
There has been more significant development when the children have been told that in order to complete the task they each have to do a separate task, i.e. everybody was given a role in the process.Thus when developing user interfaces one should consider developing multi user interfaces which prompt a group to work collectively and equally. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
Research has been done by Leichtenstern & André using mobile phones as the interaction device. A group of children were given mobile phones and asked to perform 3 independent activities each performing the same task. They will have to select a country's flag and one of the four pictures representing a topic. Then they have to answer a question related to the picked information. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
First activity was one in which the children were given only one mobile phone for a group and were asked to select a country and topic, receive the information and answer. In this scenario, results were that the most active child did the most of the interaction with the mobile phone. These types of activities result in dominant behavior in the most active child.
(Leichtenstern & André (2009))
Second activity was one in which one mobile phone was given to each child and they were each asked to perform the whole task by themselves. In this scenario the activity of the least active child increased compared to that of the above task. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
In third activity children were each given a mobile phone and asked to perform specific tasks. Each child were given a role to play in the group, one to pick the country, one to pick the topic, and one to answer the question. In this scenario the interaction of the least interactive child increased considerably. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
Distractions were also minimal in the case of role assignment compared to other cases. In the first two tasks children were involved in off-Task behavior. Off-Task conversations lasting more than a couple of seconds were reduced to almost zero in the case where children were assigned roles. (Leichtenstern & André (2009))
Following are the graphical results of the research on mobile phones as interface.
Figure 3 &4(taken from Leichtenstern, K. & André, E. (2009))
In this paper we have given an overview of Child Computer Interaction and we have explained the importance of Child Computer Interaction in today's world. Then we have explained a few of the design issues faced when developing a user interface that suits children. The developers will have to consider the effect of adult mediation, interactive computing and usability testing. Then we have presented a few applications used for the development of various skills of children.
We believe that Child Computer Interaction is a growing field for research, and plays a major role in the overall development of children. We believe good user interfaces will benefit children and thus benefit our future.