Designing Interfaces that Stimulate Ideational Fluency in Science


This research investigated how the presence, basic features, and match of interface input capabilities to a task domain can either stimulate or impede thinking about science. Students’ hypothesis generation in biology was compared while they used: (1) non-digital paper and pencil tools, (2) a digital paper and pen interface, (3) pen tablet interface, and (4) keyboard-based graphical tablet interface with a supplementary pen. Results showed that students expressed 44% more nonlinguistic representational content (diagrams, symbols, numbers, marking) when using pen interfaces. They simultaneously generated 36% more appropriate science hypotheses. Furthermore, knowledge of nonlinguistic communication predicted 72% of the variance in their idea generation. In contrast, the keyboard-based graphical interface primed 36% more linguistic input, which suppressed ideation. Results are interpreted in the context of Affordance and Activity Theories. In summary, basic computer input capabilities can substantially facilitate or impede ideation in science.

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