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Researchers from The University of Nottingham Human Factors Research Group and older volunteers from Lark Hill Retirement Village in Nottingham worked together on an in depth evaluation and validation study of the MyUI system for 5 days in July 2012.
MyUI is a European Union funded research project which sets out to facilitate the development of highly accessible life-enhancing technology-mediated services for older people, including those who are experiencing age-related changes and impairments in the physio-motor, sensory or cognitive domains, in order to help span the "Digital Divide" and reduce "Digital Exclusion". It provides run-time and software development infrastructure, and also demonstrator applications delivered through the attractive medium of interactive TV using traditional or novel hand-held remote controls. Accessibility is enhanced by the use of adaptive systems which detect a user's changing accessibility needs and adapt the user interface in real time to better match those needs.
Lark Hill is owned and operated by Extra Care and is among the largest retirement villages of its type in Europe, with around 450 older residents in 327 homes on a 24 acre site including 10 acres of landscaped parkland, with a "village centre" area providing a wide range of shared health, leisure, support and social facilities including a ballroom, fitness suite, library, shops, cafes, IT rooms, sport and hobby facilities and a well-being centre.
The University of Nottingham HFRG http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/engineering-rg/manufacturing/humanfactors/index.aspx conducts research sponsored by Research Councils, industry, European Commission and charities in the broad area of human Factors and Ergonomics, including Human Computer Interaction, and has a wealth of expertise in working with special user groups in areas of accessibility and usability of technology.
The validation study is the latest in a long series of collaborative work between Lark Hill and the University which have undergirded and shaped the MyUI project, enabling it to be focussed on developing technology which will truly meet the needs of older people. Researchers have visited Lark Hill on a regular basis, set up equipment in a meeting room and hosted a range of engaging activities enabling residents to contribute to the research in and enjoyable way.
This study was based on case study methods and involved five Lark Hill residents individually spending considerable time using the technology while being video-recorded, and answering a wide range of questions about their experiences, attitudes and understandings while using it. Because of the long time commitment involved, regular breaks were offered and tea and cakes provided.
The study method was innovative in its use of a technique known as "retrospective verbal protocols" as a way of gaining a deep understanding. After interacting with the system, the session was replayed on video in front of the participants and they were asked to talk through their thoughts as they had used it. This enabled the researchers to gain a much deeper understanding of the benefits and challenges of technology use than in a typical usability study.
Overall participants liked the system and most of its features, being especially appreciative of its ease of use and how well integrated the features were. They liked the ability to adapt the display themselves more than the automatic adaptation feature. When asked to list the 3 best and 3 worst features of the system they found more to praise than to criticize, and the features they disliked were mainly wording and symbols, which can easily be improved. The system was scored well for acceptance, usability and utility. Participants were also comfortable with the system storing information about their capabilities for the purpose of adapting its user interface to be more accessible. They also enjoyed taking part in the activity and were grateful to be given a small gift of a pot plant or box of chocolates at the end.