Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

Xiaoling Wang

Date: 10 September 2020
Location: Enschede

Dissertation title: 

User-Centered Design of a Mobile Application Using a Combination of Augmented Reality and Maps for Geo-Fieldwork Education

: Department of Geo-information Processing, University of Twente
Promotor: prof. dr. M.J. Kraak
Co-promotor: C.J.P.M. van Elzakker


Technological innovations promote and transform the developments of educational technologies and the ways of using them. Within the domain of geography fieldwork education, in which, typically use is made of maps, it should be the role of both pedagogic and cartographic research to explore and extend new cartographic and technical approaches in order to improve learning and teaching. Recently, mobile augmented reality (AR), augmenting the real with the virtual on mobile devices, is perceived as one of the latest and promising mobile technologies, and education is asserted as one of the most promising application domains of AR. For geo-fieldwork education, a tool making use of the new (AR) and the traditional (maps) could be designed to realize innovative location-based teaching and learning. In designing a new educational tool, there have been little efforts to involve users through the design process, although it is advocated that there should be a shift away from technology-driven approaches towards more user-centered approaches. To contribute to this research gap and to keep pace with evolving technologies, this research, by employing a user-centered design approach, aims to explore the design and the use of an educational tool which combines maps and AR in a mobile context-aware application (GeoFARA - Geography Fieldwork Augmented Reality Application) for supporting a human geography fieldwork.

To guide the research on the user-centered design of GeoFARA, the theoretical developments and practical applications of the user-centered design (UCD) methodology are established. A large amount of secondary sources about UCD and its interrelated fields such as human-machine interaction (HMI), usability engineering (UE) and use experience (UX) were reviewed. This review revealed the initial developments and the major milestones of the UCD method in academic and practical fields in the past century. The basic principles, the interactive process of UCD, and how UCD can be applied in the design of context-aware mobile applications, and the outcomes (good usability) of applying UCD, were also reviewed. The review resulted in three iterative stages of the user-centered design of GeoFARA: (1) specifying the context of use and analyzing user requirements, (2) producing design solutions in terms of conceptual design and prototype development, (3) evaluating the design solution. The review also provided the commonly used UCD methods that can be applied in each stage, followed by an overview of which methods were selected for designing GeoFARA and why they were selected.

The first research objective is to specify GeoFARA’s context of use and user requirements. They were derived from (1) a review of the existing mobile AR applications for outdoor educational use, (2) an online survey of geography fieldwork organizers on the current use of tools, (3) a field experiment making use of an existing mobile mapping tool, (4) an ethnographic study during a real geography fieldwork, (5) post-fieldwork surveys among undergraduates, (6) a use case and task analysis, and (7) a use scenario with persona. This resulted in substantial initial user requirements, which were then reduced, categorized, and prioritized due to the practical tradeoffs between different user requirements as well as between the limited research project resources and the necessity of considering all the user requirements in this first iterative design cycle.

The second objective is to produce design solutions. The conceptual design of GeoFARA in terms of its scope (functionality specifications and content requirements) and the skeleton (user interface and navigation design) was presented, based on which a prototype of GeoFARA was developed. Due to factors such as limited resources (time, expenses), technical constraints, the rational compromises made from the user requirements to the conceptual design to the prototype of GeoFARA were also explained.

The third research objective is to evaluate GeoFARA with its potential users in its use context in order to get insights into its utility and usability. To this end, fourteen representative users were invited to use GeoFARA to perform a learning task in an organized human geography fieldwork simulating GeoFARA’s use context. Collecting data from mental maps, interaction logs, mobile eye tracking, thinking aloud, system usability scale (SUS) survey, interview, and user observation, the evaluation results generated insights about the utility and the usability of GeoFARA in supporting the field learning. Based on the results from mental maps and post-fieldwork interviews, GeoFARA (to a certain degree, together with the direct field experience) plays a positive role in supporting the fieldwork goal of learning about the fieldwork area in the case study. Regarding the usability of GeoFARA, it was found that: (1) the interview and the SUS survey results demonstrated the good perceived usability of GeoFARA; (2) interaction log analysis indicated that participants tended to retrieve POI information from the map view instead of from the AR view of GeoFARA; (3) mobile eye tracking data analysis showed that participants fixated on GeoFARA longer than on the situated objects, i.e., participants extensively relied on GeoFARA instead of the direct experience when learning in the real environment; (4) several usability problems of GeoFARA were also identified from the participants’ feedback in the interviews, the real-time thinking aloud during the fieldwork, as well as through participant observation.

Centering users in designing educational tools continues to grow in research and practice. Following such a trend, this research was a user-centered design scientific research. The comprehensive review of the UCD methodology and the insights generated from the complete design cycle of the mobile application GeoFARA provide theoretical and practical foundations for future scientific research in domains such as HMI, UCD, UX, and usability

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