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HCIL BBL: Usability of Three-dimensional Virtual Learning Environments: An Exploratory Study of the Think Aloud Approach

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HCIL (2105 Hornbake, South Wing)


A recent review examining 10 years of research between 1999 and 2009 and focusing on the application of virtual reality technology for educational purposes, has found that the majority of interest from the research community has centered on the learning outcomes of such applications (Mikropoulos & Natsis, 2011). Out of the 53 studies reviewed by Mikropoulos & Natsis, 50 have examined the learning outcomes of such environments. While the findings of this review have revealed that learning outcomes were overwhelmingly positive for such environments, the review has also identified other topics of great interest and importance to such applications that have received very little attention from the research community. One specific topic that has not received adequate attention from researchers examining 3D virtual learning environments is usability. This is of great concern as usability has been shown to influence the learning experiences of users of 3D virtual learning environments, which in turn affects their learning outcomes (Dede, Salzman, Loftin, & Sprague, 1999; Lee, Wong, & Fung, 2010; Merchant et al., 2012).

The few studies that have examined the usability of 3D virtual learning environments have predominately focused on the collection of users’ likes and dislikes through the utilization of inquiry-based usability evaluation approaches such as questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups (Dede et al., 1996; Di Blas et al., 2005; Lu, 2008; McArdle et al., 2010; Monahan et al., 2008; Perera et al., 2009; Roussos et al., 1999; Virvou & Katsionis, 2008). While this type of data is of value, it fails to provide usability information based on actual system use; rather, it provides subjective feelings reported by end users regarding system use.

In an effort to examine how other usability evalaution approaches can be utilized to provide valuable data stemming from actual system use, my PhD research focused on exploring the use of the think aloud approach for the usability evalaution of a three-dimensional virtual learning environment by end users. In this talk, I will present the research I conducted to explore the impact of the think aloud approach on the validity of various usability metrics collected during the usability evaluation of a specific three-dimensional virtual learning environment by early-teens between the ages of 14-15 years.


Mohammed J. Alghamdi is a faculty member at the School of Information Sciences at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah Saudi Arabia. He is currently a PhD student in the School of Information Studies in McGill University. He has recently submitted his PhD thesis dissertation titled “Usability of Three-dimensional Virtual Learning Environments: An Exploratory Study of the Think Aloud Approach” and is awaiting to defend it in December of 2016. Throughout his time at the School of Information Studies, he has been involved in research studies focusing on the information seeking process of early-teens engaged in inquiry-based learning as well as research focusing on intergenerational design teams. He has also conducted information literacy seminars for middle school students in the Montreal, Quebec area.