FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT
Campus research efforts now expend more than $67 million annually.
A rundown of science stories during the past year
THE OUTER LIMITS
New University research center studies the edge of human endurance.
THE ROOTS OF SOCIAL INEQUALITY
Digs in British Columbia offer a groundbreaking view of hunter-gatherer societies.
Research reveals another public health threat from asbestos contamination.
A young UM researcher studies flying rhinoceros beetles in Taiwan.
The Milltown Dam removal allows trapped sediments to travel.
How do prey species react when predators are returned to ecosystems.
THE NEW NOTE-TAKING
UM develops new software to aid college students.
A UM legal scholar reveals Constitution's original intent.
FLIP THROUGH CURRENT ISSUE
Cover: Jeff Cincoski, a triathlete and UM employee, puts a research bike through its paces in a 100-degree, temperature-controlled room at the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism.
is published annually by The University of Montana Office of the Vice President
for Research and Development and University Relations. It is printed by UM Printing
& Graphic Services.
Daniel J. Dwyer. MANAGING EDITOR: Cary
Shimek. GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Neil Wiegert. PHOTOGRAPHER: Todd Goodrich. CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Brianne Burrowes,
Brenda Day, Judy Fredenberg, Rita Munzenrider, Jennifer Sauer, Allison Squires and Patia Stephens. WEB DESIGN: Cary Shimek. EDITORIAL OFFICE: University Relations, Brantly Hall 330, Missoula,
MT 59812, 406-243-5914. MANAGEMENT: Judy
Fredenberg, Office of the Vice President for Research and Development, 116
Main Hall, Missoula, MT 59812, 406-243-6670.
|The New Note-Taking
Software designed to aid college students
By Pamela J. Podger
|Yolanda Reimer, a UM computer science associate professor, uses a SMART Board to highlight the features of a prototype version of her Global Information Gatherer software.
Today’s students manage a digital life as software and Internet research augment the traditional texts, handouts and notes they use in the classroom.
For example, one professor expects his students to stay current by accessing their assignments in Blackboard. In other classes, students are expected to learn Excel, Adobe Photoshop and an array of other computer applications.
Yolanda Reimer, an associate professor in UM’s Department of Computer Science, is attuned to this trend. She says help is on the way for students who juggle course work while learning to master the technology in their lives.
“One of the fascinating things in this day and age is how rapidly things are changing and how students are impacted,” Reimer says. “Students have so much information to manage and incorporate from many resources. We want to help them integrate technology in the most beneficial way.”
This fall Reimer will do additional testing on her new software called Global Information Gatherer, or GIG, in a UM classroom. Her research on student note-taking and information management is funded by a $500,000, five-year National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award.
Reimer says GIG is a “wrapper or container program” that allows students to manage several applications simultaneously, permitting them to open Word documents, drag and drop materials, take notes, launch PowerPoint presentations, view PDFs and conduct Internet research.
“This software makes it one seamless interaction,” Reimer says. “We know when students have to transfer their focus between multiple windows, it interrupts the flow of their work.”
Reimer has published four papers on the design and development of GIG already. She says more upcoming classroom evaluations of her software – most likely done in a computer science, business or humanities class – will provide additional feedback and help her continue to refine the work she first launched at UM in 2002.
“My work really focuses on the end user of a computer program,” she says. “No matter how fast or glitzy the computer application is, it isn’t helpful if people don’t use it. We try to build in feedback early in the process so changes are cheaper and more efficient.”
Reimer, who did her master’s work at UM, says her current efforts springboard from her doctoral research at the University of Oregon, where she studied how geneticists conduct Web-based research, record notes and store information. Her initial research at UM builds on her dissertation. She says the early versions of GIG were sketched out and evaluated before evolving from low-fidelity prototypes to a more robust, stand-alone application.
Together with her graduate research assistants, she evaluated early versions of the prototype by asking students to perform tasks on the GIG system, videotaping them and observing where they got stuck, befuddled or confused.
“Historically, human-computer interaction has been marginalized,” she says. “But our belief is that consideration of the end user needs to be fully integrated into the design process instead of being tacked on at the end.”
From 2005 to 2007, Reimer and several graduate research assistants conducted a number of different user studies on how students manage information.
Their efforts included about 70 interviews, followed by a broad-based questionnaire that targeted more than 280 students majoring in a variety of subjects. In another study, they followed the students around campus for part of a day to see how they took notes and managed their information on a daily basis.
Reimer says her early findings confirmed what she and several graduate assistants had suspected: Students are deeply immersed in technology and many own computers, but most still rely on hand-written notes.
She says the students, even the most tech-savvy, readily cited many of the values commonly associated with hand-written notes. These include portability, flexibility and visual cues – such as doodles or coffee rings – that can help students remain oriented. Many of the students also believe that hand-written notes strengthen and improve their memory of the material.
While electronic notes often are faster to write and organize, hand-written notes also allow students to draw diagrams quickly or add comments in the margins.
This leads Reimer and her team to several conclusions.
“We determined that if we build students software, we should assume it wouldn’t replace their hand-written notes,” she says. “Instead, we should design something that complements these notes.”
Reimer says the students they contacted were interested and receptive to help but also had concerns. They worried the electronic notes would crash, and they needed assurance that such a system would be secure. They also expressed an interest in the ability to store and access their notes from a centralized location, because they moved about campus on a regular basis.
“What we reaffirmed in our minds is that students are very mobile and use a lot of different devices,” Reimer says. “So they develop their own solutions to any problems they encounter. For example, they might e-mail notes to themselves so they can access them anywhere and save the information.”
She says the feedback they gathered helped in the design of a system that would enable students to better manage their digital information.
In the initial five focus groups – each comprising 14 users – Reimer had students critique a prototype design using a SMART Board as the display device, asking them to share and illustrate their own design ideas.
Reimer also had students in her user-interface design course help evaluate the software. In fall 2006 she gave students the challenge of developing their own note-taking program. Later in her spring 2009 class, a more fully developed version of the computer application was tested and critiqued by students.
“We didn’t limit them to certain tasks,” she says. “We asked them to generally tell us what they liked and did not like about the software and how they used it.”
The outcome is a more useful version of GIG, which is a note-taking system as well as a computer application that helps students gather information and organize research and assignments.
Peter Wolf, a graduate student from Whitefish who has assisted Reimer, says testing GIG on students– both computer science majors and others – is vital. He says computer science students literally have a goal of “breaking” the program – finding its faults and limitations.
“When we rolled GIG out to the computer science class, they were very responsive,” Wolf says. “We also need to test it to see the pitfalls for a typical user. How would they use it? View it? Install the software? It is going to be really interesting to get a different view from students who don’t know how the coding and programming works.”
Reimer says the initial evaluation from computer science students who tested GIG ranged from major changes to lesser revisions. The students’ suggestions included improving GIG’s embedded browser to include tabbed browsing to smaller comments about the location and size of interface buttons. Reimer says GIG currently is designed for Windows-based computers and not mobile devices.
She finds the work exciting and important.
“We need to continue trying to understand if and how the fundamental process of note-taking is changing and evolving in the digital age,” Reimer says. “We need to figure out how to provide students with the tools they need to maximize their academic potential.”
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
|A screenshot of Global Information Gatherer, which allows students to manage several applications simultaneously.