GMWHelp Design does matter! Supporting knowledge development with design patterns and social computing

Silke Schworm
Help systems are meant to support learners in solving problems and tasks they cannot solve on their own.
However, currently many help-systems of standard software fail to reach these goals.
A major problem is a gap between the intentions of the help system designers and the objectives of help users: The support offered by online help systems is often not perceived to be helpful.
This originates in a lack of comprehensibility of the help-content, due to its text-based format, and often a very technical style of writing.
To overcome these problems, an online-help system for a statistics software package was developed by keeping a strong focus on the users and their specific goals and tasks during the design of the system.
The proposed system provides (a) content in problem-oriented units which were (b) each structured following the structure of design patterns, by providing a description of the problem, a solution to the problem as well as a link to related help topics.
(c) Social Tagging was added to improve retrieval of help content while (d) a commenting function was included to provide a feedback channel between authors and users, which can be used to improve the contents after deployment of the system.

A controlled experiment was conducted focusing on the effects of the implemented design-pattern (problem-oriented units and animated screen-captures to visualize the problem-solution).
Two groups were compared. One working with the newly developed help-system, one with the help-system regularly integrated into the software package.
Thirty-six students of educational sciences where asked to solve complex tasks in the problem domain of the testing of.
For the first task they were allowed to use the help-system.
Afterwards a transfer task had to be done without the help of the system.
Results showed significant advantages for our proposed system, leading to less learning time, higher learning outcome and a higher acceptance by the users.
Silke Schworm   Universit├Ąt Regensburg
GMW | ID178