Tag Archive for user errors

Science vs. Media: Degree of Public Involvement

Recently, there has been an explosion of public discourse (fueled by the media) on whether we should do away with tenure in our institutions of higher learning. The basic argument boils down to “tenured teachers can do as they please due to job security and education suffers as the result.” Tenured professors, we are told, focus on research and publishing incomprehensible articles aimed at a few individuals in the world who could even understand them. What’s the use in that, people ask? My son/daughter/neighbor’s kid are being taught by a TA (with poor language skills) while we pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of these children attending universities with all those lazy good-for-nothing tenured professors! You might say that my summary of this world-view is extreme and simplifies the ideas to their comic representation. But that’s the point: the articles (and the readers’ comments they inspire) are written to get an emotional response. The issues of tenure, of the research that these tenured professors are engaged in and the articles they publish, and of teaching styles are complex. To evaluate the contribution of a scientist to his field, one needs to have a certain amount of expertise in that…

Metacognition Failure: If I find it easy, it must not be important

Making something easy to understand is extremely difficult. A good designer knows this, knows how hard one has to work to make something comprehensible and easy to use. Unfortunately, users and consumers of products (including education) tend not to get it. We live in society ruled by “More is Better” p-prim: more stuff is better, more money is better, more food is good, more medication is great…more, more, more. Movies, television, newspapers, magazines, all reinforce this idea in our minds. We live in a “super-size me” world. But this basic decision-making algorithm leads to very faulty reasoning. There are multiple corollaries to the “more is better” axiom: thick books without graphics are more educationally valuable, more important (this is based on research I did many years ago with 5th graders); longer essays are clearly better and should get higher graders (the students worked harder/longer on them); big words are better than small ones in expressing ideas (thus we get very pretentious writing); work should be judged by the time it took to complete and not by the quality of the results it produces; more expensive clothes (cars, stereos, etc.) are clearly more valuable (this is a true statement, but most…

Color Blind Design

Do you see any difference between these two images? About 10% of the male population (with up to 20% among some ethnic groups) do not. Do differences in the way individuals perceive and process color information matter? Sometimes… Consider this informational graphic: It’s easy to see how the information contained within this chart has been transformed and no longer carries the same meaning. Which is the right one? When designing information for communication, it’s important to consider the totality of the intended audience: What are their strength? What are their limitations? Like cognitive traits, perceptual differences have to be accommodated by good design. Some issues that individuals with deuteranope deficit (red/green confusion) face is inability to tell the difference between colored items that are too thin (lines), point sources, and blinking lights (think traffic lights blinking green or yellow). These problems effect real-life performance and can lead to accidents: think traffic light color confusion. It is the job of a product designer to reduce the difficulties these individuals face. You can use this URL to check your site for color blind usability: http://www.vischeck.com/vischeck/vischeckURL.php

On “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not”

Carey, B. (2009). “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not.” New York Times Online. Visited on 1 July 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/health/01mind.html?hpw=&pagewanted=print Summary: This article discusses destination memory and its affect on different social situations. It explains that people often remember the source of a memory but not its intended destination. The article distinguishes that remembering whom you’ve told a story to uses a different kind of memory from the actual story itself. Source memory, the ability to recall where a fact was learned, is different from destination memory, which is to whom the fact was told. The article goes on to explain that who we tell our stories to is a critical part of our social identity and that repeating oneself can be damaging and embarrassing. In a study at the University of Waterloo 60 students were asked to tell personal and random facts to the faces of 50 famous people. The outcome of the study was that the subjects did not tend to remember which facts they told to whom, even when it was personal information. The results suggest that no matter how personal, or important, the story, there is the possibility that if the audience has heard it before the…

A coffee can make you forget

BBC Staff. (2004). “A coffee can make you forget.” BBC NEWS. Retrieved July 1st, 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3909085.stm SUMMARY: This article looks at the effects of caffeine found in coffee to the short-term memory. It proves that caffeine hinders ones ability to produce one-word answers but instead testers state that the answer is ‘on the tip of their tongues.’ To prove that caffeine does in fact affect ones short-term memory a study was conduction on two groups of 32 college students. One group was given 2oo mg of coffee, while the other was given a dummy drug. When the group with caffeine was asked to answer a question with a one-word answer they were less likely to answer correctly, while the ones without caffeine were successful. It was concluded from this study that caffeine does in fact keep one alert but unless a question is posed, pertaining to the users current train of thought it will be very difficult to produce a word. “It aids short-term memory when the information to be recalled is related to the current train of thought but hinders short-term memory when it is unrelated.” As a regular coffee drinker I found this article really interesting as I…

Response to “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow”

Carr, N. (2010). “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” CNN. Retrieved on 2010, June 29. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/07/carr.internet.overload/index.html?hpt=C2 Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” demonstrates the negative consequences of the internet on the human mind. His article is in response to the media criticism President Obama received after stating that the internet and technological gadgets (i-pad, Blackberry, etc) ‘entertain,’ rather than ‘empower.’ While the media labeled Obama as anti-technology, the author defends and backups the president’s warning statement. Carr’s biggest criticism of the internet and screen gadgets is that they distract concentration, they hinder comprehension skills, and they weaken creative thought. The internet provides the user with an incredible amount of information and knowledge. However, the trouble lies within the manner in which that knowledge is transferred from the screen into the user’s brain. Links, for example, break and discombobulate information (the information is not provided in a linear and coherent format, such as found in a book) from one page of information to another, and thus causing the reader’s attention to rupture and drift. A case study done at Cornell University shows that laptops distract students in class and prevent them from absorbing information.…

Depression’s Upside

Lehrer, J. (2010). “Depression’s Upside.” The New York Times. Retrieved on 29 June, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html Summary: Depression is a disorder that has long been associated with the anguished artist who is fixated on his work. The gloomy state of mind may have an upside and, according to research by psychiatrists Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews, it is this ability to be more attentive to our problems. Approaching the issue of depression from an evolutionary perspective, they believe it is not likely for the brain to adapt “pointless programming bugs”. Unlike other mental illnesses which occur in small percentages of the population, approximately 7 percent of people are afflicted with depression every year. Despite, the evolutionary problem which results from lowering one’s sexual libido (and limiting the urge for reproduction), depression could be viewed as an adaptive to the stressors of one’s environment. Neuroscientists in China observed a spike in functional connectivity in the brain allowing depressed people to be more analytical and able to stay focused on a difficult problem longer. The research of psychologist Joe Forgas, found that depressed people were better at judging accuracy of rumors, less likely to stereotype strangers, and had better recall memory. Rumination, the…