I became a recreational skydiver in June 2016. Why would I learn to jump out of a perfectly good airplane you ask? Well, because it's fun (See Figure 1)!!! And if you haven't done it yet, I highly recommend you do! But I am not here to convince you to go. What I do want to briefly write about is my user experience with the new United States Parachute Association (USPA) Skydiver's Information Manual (SIM) mobile app (that's a mouthful). The purpose of the USPA SIM is to provide the basic skydiving standards, policies, training programs, and recommendations for safe and enjoyable skydives (USPA SIM, 2018). What they have done is take 200+ pages of content and create a mobile app. It was released this year (February 2020). As is the case for most professionals in the human factors or usability fields, it's hard to not immediately critically evaluate any piece of software or technology that dare cross my path. I won't get too far into the weeds, but I do want to highlight a few issues I came across and provide recommendations for improvement. I say these things not to hurt, but because I want this app to be a success. Let's dive in! [Ba-dump tsss]
When the app is first launched it goes directly to the introduction content. This content is exactly was is present in the digital/hardcopy manuals. Surprisingly, there is no splash screen (same thing as launch or startup screen). It may seem trivial, but there are millions of apps on the market, so first impressions are important to keep users intrigued and wanting to continue further. Adding a simple splash screen can help reinforce the identity of the organization or brand. It also helps initiate the user's journey. A simple suggestion is provided in Figure 2.
On the first page you can see there are two floating icons on the bottom of the screen (Figure 3: Left). I assume the house icon is supposed to bring you to a home screen, but this introduction page seems to be the home screen. And if you navigate to any other content in the app, these icons no longer exist. I would expect the home screen icon to bring me to an organized dashboard or menu of content. The second icon says 'glossary' and if tapped it does bring you to a glossary. But the icon is transparent and hard to read over the other text in the background. Simple solution is to remove them unless research was conducted, via front-end analysis or usability evaluation, and identified users really want these items quickly accessible. If so, then dedicate a space on screen for it to always be present. A recommendation is to add a visible menu at the bottom of the screen (Figure 3: Right). This menu could also be programmed to hide, yet still be easily accessed with a quick swipe up. This will eliminate the need for the hamburger menu currently at the top. Other functional icons can be placed here as well, such as a search icon and an appendix icon (both of which are currently accessed from the hamburger menu icon).
Another suggestion is to remove the banner across the top with the USPA SIM name and logo. Users don't need to be constantly reminded that they are in the app. They will know because of their interaction with the content. Either remove this completely to create more space for content or use it as a header bar to provide context for the content on that page (Figure 3).
I somehow came across two different versions of the glossary depending on how I navigated to it. When opening the app, if you click on the hamburger menu (the icon with three stacked horizontal bars on the top left) and choose the glossary it takes you to the one on the left in Figure 4. But if you leave it and access it again, it changes to the one on the right in Figure 4. Differences are seen in the search bar and font size of glossary terms. Choose one version and make sure it’s the only one in the app. Regarding the search bar function, all it does is highlight the text in the glossary, which can only be seen when you scroll through the terms. It does not compile a list of the search results with links to those specific terms that contain the searched words. Also, there are some glossary terms that suggest to see another term (Figure 4: Left). These suggestions should be hyperlinks to the indicated glossary term.
There are a few other issues regarding the app functionality that I could address, but I want to discuss a more important issue. It's more of a concern about the overall app. I've experienced this with many other apps, especially education focused ones. Very often customers want to create a mobile app as a way to support and promote mobile learning. And for some reason, they take their textbooks, manuals, etc. and create a mobile app version of it. So instead of leveraging the technological functionality that is offered with a mobile app, the app is forced into the format and structure of a textbook. With a mobile app, the content can be better organized for easy and fast access. 200+ pages of content is a lot, so break it down into smaller groups to facilitate consumption and retention of information (i.e. microlearning). Hyperlinks can help users navigate quickly to content both within and outside of the app. Graphs, tables, figures, and illustrations that work in a textbook won't always work in a mobile app. This is usually because of size and legibility. Rework them into a mobile presentable form and take advantage of the use of animations and videos to help convey content. There are quizzes and study sheets contained within the content. Makes those much more easily accessible, rather than have them buried within the extensive amount of content.
My conclusion is that there is an opportunity to provide the skydiving community access to all of this updated important information in an easily accessible and portable format. Work with a team that understands instructional design, training, and usability. They (we) can help you design an engaging app that effectively helps new and current skydivers learn and retain this information. Not only will it help improve usage, it will contribute to the safety of the sport. Blue skies!
United States Parachute Association (USPA) (2018). Skydiver's Information Manual. Retrieved on Feb 20, 2020 from https://uspa.org/SIM.
USPA SIM (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.uspa.app
USPA SIM (Apple): http://appstore.com/apple/uspasim
We started the year flying high by attending the SciTech 2020 Forum & Expo hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in the City Beautiful (a.k.a. Orlando, FL). I had two goals: find presentations on human factors topics and meet new folks within the field that are conducting training with immersive technology. After keyword searching through the digital program, I found two sessions called Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology - Human Factors and Training. Killed two birds with one stone or rather knocked out two goals with one session (weak pun). I was excited because in previous years there were only a few human factors sessions because SciTech is heavily focused on aerospace engineering. It was interesting to see how the use of immersive tech has been spreading throughout many fields and has gained importance within this domain.
In one of the sessions, a presentation was given on NASA's Virtual Lab (VR) that discussed the history of the lab, the programs they've supported, and future plans. My one question was (and will likely always be) how do you show the effectiveness of using immersive tech and the benefits they support. And I was shocked by the answer that they don't do it. Not because they don't want to, but because they often don't have the resources (e.g. time, money, personnel, etc.). What continues to drive their work is the validation they receive from the astronauts. I feel this point is often overlooked, getting end-user feedback as a level of validation. And in this case, the end-users are also subject matter experts (SMEs) who can provide insight into how well the VR training will likely transfer into the real-world.
Another interesting talk was about Augmented Eye, which is a pilot instructor support tool. Instead of developing augmented reality (AR) technology specifically for trainees, they created a support tool that allows instructors and trainers to view ocular behavior of pilot trainees during training scenarios in real-time. By using the AR system combined with eye tracking, instructors can now see where pilots are looking, allowing them to immediately provide feedback or correct behaviors before ineffective strategies are developed.
During the second session, there was a presentation on using VR to create what was being termed fused reality. It relates to the concept of mixed-reality by using external cameras on a VR head mounted display (HMD) to project real-world feeds within the display and then adding virtual objects within the projected environment. What really struck me as amazing is that they tested their proof-of-concept with a pilot flying a real-plane (don't worry they had a safety co-pilot). They were able to show how various tasks can be trained, such as formation flying, aerial refueling drogue tracking, and runway approach practice in mid-air, without the need of flying expensive aircrafts or requiring other physical aircrafts to be present. And further, no simulator sickness was felt. This was likely due to the low latency and true sensations felt by flying the real plane. I can see this utilized as a transition training phase between full simulator and real-world training.
And although I may be biased because I am a recreational skydiver, I was very excited to learn about PARASIM. It is a parachute simulator used for pre-jump exposure and emergency egress training procedures. Users wear a VR HMD and are strapped into a parachute harness that is tethered to a frame which allows the user to experience free fall in a horizontal position. When the skydiver pulls the ripcord (since this is used for military training) to release the main canopy (a parachute for those non-divers), the user's legs are released to adjust the body back into a vertical position as it would be under canopy. Again, my question was, have you conducted any transfer of training or effectiveness studies? And again, no, they have not had the resources to support it, but they do have professional skydivers on staff that provide expert knowledge and feedback which helps validate the training content and platform physics.
All in all, SciTech continues to expand and showcase some of the latest work in the aeronautics and astronautics fields with an ever increasing use of immersive technology. Looking forward to see what will be presented next year.
How are you taking innovative approaches to implement immersive technology for training?
Happy (belated) Quitters Day 2020! According to research conducted by Strava, January 19th 2020 is the day when people will likely give up on their New Year’s fitness resolutions. Maybe good news for those annoyed by packed gyms, sidewalks, and exercise classes but not so good news for those who vowed “this will be the year”. What may be even more interesting than this pinpoint prediction, however, is who made it.
Strava is a mobile fitness app created specifically for the endurance sports of cycling and running, though it can track many different exercise activities. Strava strives to set itself apart in a crowded field of health and fitness apps by being part exercise tracking and analysis, part social networking, and part competition inducing. With these elements, can the very company that predicted exactly when people will give up on their New Year’s fitness resolutions also hold the key to helping people stick with them?
Tracking and Analysis
Like many fitness apps, Strava has built-in features to track and measure performance. While these can help monitor progress relative to goals, it does not guarantee you will continue to lace up your running shoes after January 19th. Much depends on users setting appropriate goals then getting feedback and seeing progress relative to those goals. Also, each analysis does not mean much if considered in isolation. Ideally, users would piece all the data together to better understand their performance and adjust to maintain or improve. This can be difficult even for a seasoned endurance athlete.
Self-descried as “the social network for athletes”, Strava allows users to ‘follow’ each other, give kudos (similar to likes on Facebook) and leave comments on other’s activities. Being accountable through sharing seems advantageous when it comes to self-improvement. Joining clubs on Strava allows users to be part of a larger community that can provide support and inspiration. A note of caution about this feature on any fitness app is that upward social comparison may motivate some to push beyond their perceived limits while it may lead to feelings of inadequacy in others, especially for those just getting into a fitness routine.
Strava allows users to compete with themselves (e.g. beating last week’s time) and with other Strava athletes while gaining recognition, such as virtual trophies, for achievements. This may appeal to accomplished endurance athletes who are able to chase records and show-up their friends. It may have less appeal for those who are just getting started with little hope of making a leaderboard. While gamification in fitness apps can be extrinsically motivating, its ability to compel users to power through tough workouts and form long-term exercise habits remains a question.
What do you think? Do fitness apps with features like Strava have the right formula to get people through Quitters Day and form long term exercise habits?
Black Friday 2019 is already upon us, which means your Facebook ads and TV commercials have started going to Jared and buying a Buick. Thanks to the internet, you don't have to fight the crowds at midnight on Black Friday anymore. Also thanks to the internet, the possibilities are endless! You probably have at least one technophile on your holiday shopping list. So, what do you get them? A new phone? An Amazon Echo? A couple of those Phillips smart light bulbs? My advice about buying tech gifts for someone else is the same advice I give to people considering investing in immersive technology for learning: unless you are willing to ask the right questions and do your research, just…don't.
One Christmas, my mom bought me a DVD player and a copy of "The Wedding Planner" starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. This was really generous of her, and something I would have never bought myself, largely because I was a broke graduate student and didn't have a TV. So I bought a TV, a TV stand, cables to run it through my stereo, an antenna, and eventually cable so that I could watch this Jennifer Lopez movie. Spoiler alert: There is no scene in which zombie opossums from another dimension attack, car chases happen, things blow up, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson saves the world, and I will never know why my mother thought I would enjoy this movie.
The morals of this story:
1. Tech gifts are expensive. The Oculus Quest made waves because good VR was finally affordable. But, "affordable" is still at least $400. That's a lot to spend on something you're not sure someone's going to love.
2. Tech gifts don't usually stand alone. My DVD player didn't work without an additional investment on my part. A gaming console is awesome, but to use it, you usually have to have a HDMI cable for your TV, additional controllers, batteries, and, obviously, games. All these costs add up, and they often fall on the recipient of the gift.
3. Tech gifts are platform-specific. If you haven't already, at some point soon, you will develop a committed relationship with either Siri, Alexa, or the Google lady, and much like a live-in girlfriend, they will be a part of every aspect of your life. Think about buying a tech gift like you would think about buying your sibling's girlfriend a present. Unless you understand their sense of style and know exactly what size they wear, do not buy them clothes. Just ask your sibling what stores they like and buy them a gift card.
4. A good deal is probably not a good investment. Some people tell me they "can't use VR" because it "makes them sick." Now, simulator sickness is definitely a thing, and some people have visual conditions that preclude them from having a good experience. But if you ask enough questions, usually what they're experiencing is a headache from cheap VR. When it comes to cookware, you can spend $40 or $400 on a set. The stainless steel pots and pans cost more, but they can last a lifetime. The Rachael Ray set at Walmart costs less, but you'll end up picking non-stick coating out of your omelets in a year.
I'm not saying avoid tech gifts entirely. Much like investing in training technology, if you want to do it right, you're going to have to ask your end users some questions and do some homework. Ask them what they want, what they use, what would make their lives better. Sure, it might spoil the surprise, but at least you know you're getting them something they'll love and use. Bound and determined to surprise them? OK. But make sure you include the gift receipt.
Uber is teaming up with Cargo, an online retailer, to create an app for selling products to Uber riders. It's being described as SkyMall, but for Uber. I would have to disagree. And if this metaphor is guiding the beliefs of how this will impact their users' experience, then they may not have the full picture.
For those of you who don't know, SkyMall is a shopping catalogue that is (was?) available in airplane seat pockets. It contained an assortment of products from multiple retailers all housed in a single catalogue. They offered everything from full size replicas of King Tuts sarcophagus to cat heating pads. It was a great idea at the time when the internet wasn't what it is today. If you wanted to buy something, then you needed to mail a check or call a customer service number.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!