Checking OLPC usability with children

Last semester I took a usability course in my university, as a final project I decided to test the OLPC usability for/with children. The full report is available (in Hebrew), but I’ll summarise the main points.

The checks’ goal was to see how do small children interact with the OLPC, and how does the language barrier affects them. In Israel the children starts to learn reading and writing in Hebrew at the age of 6, and most also start their English (very common as the second language) at the age of 8. So the language also creates another challenge for the child and he must relay on his other skills, as he can’t understand the interface language.

My target audience were children between 4 and 10, while the official target audience for the OLPC is between 6 and 12. I used 5 children:

  • a boy, age 4.5
  • a girl, age 9.5
  • a girl, age 4
  • a girl, age 7.5
  • a boy, age 7

The test environment was a OLPC laptop running Sugar with an English interface. After some of the tests I found out the mouse pad wasn’t functioning all the time, but it was interesting to see how that effected the children.

The tests:

  • Can a child find how to open the computer?
  • Can the child find how to use the computer? Mainly understand the main screen icons and open programs.
  • Can a child find how to exit a program back to the main screen? Don’t forget he can’t look for the butten says “exit/quit”.
  • Record the child’s first impression for the laptop and his thoughts after using the computer.
  • Check whether the child got some educational benefit from the use of the laptop.

Summery of the results:

Only once child (the oldest) succeeded with understanding how to open the laptop without help. The other needed a hint or directions. The small children found in difficult (physically) to open the laptop. Seems that there should be some marks near the antennas that indicate they should be opened first. And maybe making the antennas to open with less force (but still insuring the locking mechanism works in the laptop falls to the ground).

All the children recognized the general meaning of the icons in the main screen as programs or “stuff the computer does”. Not all the icons are clear to the children (and also to me). The language (English) was the main method the big children found out the meaning of the game, while the small one could only guess or just start the program. Clear icons were paint, maze, memory (although one thought it’s tik-tak-toe). Unclear icons were: the snake (python/pippy), the dolphin (distance), tamtam’s multiple icons and the browse icon.

The exit button was a challenge to all children, the old ones used trail and error while reading the buttons labels, but the other needed direction about how can them exit the program. The icon just isn’t clear enough.

The mouse usage seemed to also be an issue, partly by been half broken and partly because the young children don’t handle it so smoothly and can’t always be very accurate. While in most actions that wasn’t a problem, in the task of exiting a program that was a big issue. As the exit button is near the frame edges, missing it makes the frame menu to appear and move or hide the exit button. For some children that was a very annoying experience.

All the children said the computer is heavy for them, but the degree changed with the age. The 4 years old children said it is heavier than the 9 years old children. Don’t forget the from the first grade (age 6) the children start taking a bag to school and carry  books. So any improvement in the weight is good, but I don’t think it’s critical.

Finally, I found out that all the children got some educational benefit from the use of the OLPC. The small one got some math practice with the memory game, or by trying to solve their way out of the maze (I actually saw how they improve while playing). The bigger children got a good practice with spelling words with speak, and one even surprised me and his mother with his spelling.

In the end, the OLPC is indeed revolutionary machine and interface (thought Sugar), but some small changes should be made. The overall experience of the children was very good.


Filed under Proud to use free software

9 responses to “Checking OLPC usability with children

  1. Pingback: Twitted by toorghezi

  2. Couchon

    is is possible to look at the report in english? I don’t understand hebrew.


  3. There is no report in English, this is the reason I wrote this post – so people could have some data in English.

    If you have a specific question, you’re welcome to write it here or to mail me.

  4. Atrh

    Hello Lior,
    I wanna make a point to you that i found some spelling errors in this blog.I’m just want to make this blog perfect.That’s all.

  5. Nice report but I don’t think (ok, I’m sure) that traditional (university style) usability or user centered design applies to children + OLPC interaction…

  6. Noam – Well, the design was tested with children. How otherwise would you test the design ?

    • Noam

      Children learn differently from adults (in many cases faster and better, but with different motivations). For example, satisfaction (a usability criteria) can be achieved from the product, by a child, even without what an adult will consider as operation. Children play or adore actions that adults consider as boring or work, e.g. they like to wash dishes or talk in the phone only because they see adults do it. They should play with a product and explore it for a long time for such a test.
      Any way, the fact that the design was tested with children does not promise it is good. Moreover, I read some bad reviews on the design.
      My guess is that in such young ages, the child is very influenced from the close environment. Therefore, highly customizable interface which is customized by the parents will be helpful. For example using familiar icons from book and stories the child hears, a picture of his/her room as icon for “Home” etc.

  7. Pingback: חדשנות זה עסק קשה – על יוזמת ה-OLPC « תוכנה חופשית בעברית

  8. Atrh – Thanks for the tip. I reviewed the post. This is what happens when you write posts late at night.

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