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The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology

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this paper defines a framework for understanding the various roles children can have in the design process, and how these roles can impact technologies that are created. Categories and Subject Descriptors: H.1.2 [Models and Principles]: User/Machine Systems---human factors; H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces---evaluation/methodology; interaction styles General Terms: Human Factors, Design, Theory Additional Key Words and Phrases: Children, design techniques, participatory design, evaluation, educational applications 1 CHILDREN AND TECHNOLOGY Computers for kids need to be fun like a friend, but can make me smart for school. They should also be friendly like my cat. The real thing is that they shouldn't make me have to type since I don't like that. I can talk much better! (Researcher Notes, April 3, 1999, Quote from an 8 year-old child). Children have their own likes, dislikes, curiosities, and nee
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Allison Druin—University of Maryland
The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology
Allison Druin
University of Maryland
Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
Human-Computer Interaction Lab
College of Education, Human Development Department
allisond@umiacs.umd.edu
Children play games, chat with friends, tell stories, study history or math, and today this can all be done
supported by new technologies. From the Internet to multimedia authoring tools, technology is changing
the way children live and learn. As these new technologies become ever more critical to our children’s
lives, we need to be sure these technologies support children in ways that make sense for them as young
learners, explorers, and avid technology users. This may seem of obvious importance, because for almost
20 years the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community has pursued new ways to understand users of
technology. However, with children as users, it has been difficult to bring them into the design process.
Children go to school for most of their days; there are existing power structures, biases, and assumptions
between adults and children to get beyond; and children, especially young ones have difficulty in
verbalizing their thoughts. For all of these reasons, a child’s role in the design of new technology has
historically been minimized. Based upon a survey of the literature and my own research experiences with
children, this paper defines a framework for understanding the various roles children can have in the design
process, and how these roles can impact technologies that are created.
Categories and Subject Descriptors: H.1.2 [Models and Principles]: User/Machine Systems—human
factors; H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces—evaluation/methodology;
interaction styles
General Terms: Human Factors, Design, Theory
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Children, design techniques, participatory design, evaluation,
educational applications
1 CHILDREN AND TECHNOLOGY
Computers for kids need to be fun like a friend, but can make me smart for
school. They should also be friendly like my cat. The real thing is that they
shouldn’t make me have to type since I don’t like that. I can talk much
better!
(Researcher Notes, April 3, 1999, Quote from an 8 year-old child).
Children have their own likes, dislikes, curiosities, and needs that are not the same as
their parents or teachers. As obvious as this may seem, we as designers of new
technologies for children, sometimes forget that young people are not “just short adults”
but an entirely different user population with their own culture, norms, and complexities
(Berman, 1977). Yet, it is common for developers of new technologies to ask parents
and teachers what they think their children or students may need, rather than ask children
directly (Druin et al., 1999; Druin, 1996). This may in part be due to the traditional
power structure of the “all-knowing” adult and the “all-learning” child, where young
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
2
people are dependent on their parents and teachers for everything from food and shelter,
to educational experiences. At times, these relationships may make it difficult for
children to voice their opinions when it comes to deciding what technologies should be in
schools or at home. In addition, we as designers of technologies have our own biases and
assumptions about children. Some of us may be parents of our own children, but all of us
were once children ourselves with special memories of what we liked and didn’t like
about the world. We may also have our own preconceived notions about learning
theories and educational strategies, thanks to the many years of schooling that we all had
to endure (Druin & Solomon, 1996; Papert, 1972; Solomon, 1986).
All of this adds up to a large amount of personal experience about young people that
we may or may not choose to bring with us when we develop new technologies for
children. But as we know, these personal impressions may not be enough to support
today’s children. While they are fast becoming tomorrow’s power-users of everything
from the Internet to multimedia authoring tools (Report to the President on the Use of
Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States, 1997; Fulton, 1997).
They are still children that must go to school and depend on their teachers and parents for
learning and living in this complex world. In addition, as we know, young children have
a more difficult time verbalizing their thoughts, especially when it concerns abstract
concepts and actions (Piaget, 1971; Piaget, 1973). While children can be extremely
honest in their feedback and comments concerning technology, much of what they say
needs to be interpreted within the context of concrete experiences (Druin, 1999).
For all of these reasons, a child’s role in the design of new technology has historically
been minimized. In the Human-Computer Interaction community, we have a short but
rich history of developing shared paths for communication between diverse users and
technologists. However, this history of shared communication is even shorter and less
developed for our children as users, testers, informants, and partners in the technology
design process. With the emergence of children as an important new consumer group of
technology (Heller, 1998), it is critical that we support children in ways that are useful,
effective, and meaningful for their needs. With this in mind, we need to question how we
can build new technologies that respect children for their ability to challenge themselves
and question the world around them. We need to understand how we can create new
technologies that offer children control of a world where they are so often not in control.
I believe it is in understanding the role that children can play in the technology design
process that will lead to answers. The better we can understand children as people and
users of new technologies, the better we can serve their needs. This paper will suggest a
framework for understanding the role children have historically had in the technology
design process. How these roles can impact the technologies developed and the research
methods that are used will be discussed based upon a survey of the literature. How these
roles for children compare to adult participation will also be examined, along with the
strengths and challenges associated with children in the design process. By
understanding this framework in regards to the child’s role, it is my belief that we can
make more informed decisions about our research and development practices that can
have lasting effects for the future.
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
3
2 THE EMERGENCE OF CHILDREN IN THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
A growing body of literature has emerged that discusses children, technology and human-
computer interaction issues. Once relegated to one or two CHI conference papers a year
(e.g., Frye & Soloway, 1987; Malone, 1982; Verburg, Field, St. Pierre, & Naumann,
1987; Wilson, 1988). Today’s HCI conferences include multiple paper sessions, panels,
demos, and tutorials on these topics (e.g., Colella, Borovoy, & Resnick, 1998; Druin,
1999; Loh et al., 1998; Salzman et al., 1999; Smith & Reiser, 1998; Stewart et al., 1999;
Umaschi Bers et al., 1998). Once thought to be the academic pursuit of educators and
child psychologists, early discussions about children’s interaction with technology
primarily appeared in academic books (e.g., Davis, 1984; Dwyer, 1980; Papert, 1980;
Solomon, 1979; Suppes, 1969), sporadic technology-oriented journal publications (e.g.,
Alpert & Bitzer, 1970; Candy & Edmonds, 1982; Hunka, 1973; Stodolsky, 1970),
publications for educational researchers (e.g., Davis, 1976; Goldberg & Suppes, 1972;
Lepper, 1985; Searle et al., 1974), or conferences for educational researchers (e.g.,
Amarel & Swinton, 1975; Feurzeig & Papert, 1968; Hoyles, 1985; Papert, 1972;
Solomon, 1979).
These early discussions focused on the impact that new technologies could have on
children as learners. With this understanding, researchers suggested new directions for
future technology development, and new possibilities for future learning experiences with
technology. During these early years, there were only rare instances where children had
more direct involvement with technology developers, and actually tested experimental
technology before it was in wide release. Interestingly enough, the development of
programming languages such as Logo (Papert, 1977) and SmallTalk (Goldberg, 1984),
brought children into the process more than any other technologies created for children
during the 1970s and early 1980s.
In terms of the HCI community, the first conference paper publication concerning
children and HCI issues, was published at the 1982 Gathersburg Conference that led to
the establishment of Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI)
(Malone, 1982). This paper discussed a study that was done by Tom Malone (at the time
from Xerox PARC) in which he analyzed children’s use of games. From his results, he
proposed general HCI guidelines for designing enjoyable user interfaces. Malone’s paper
was the only one of 75 papers in the proceedings that discussed children as users.
Subsequent Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference papers on children and
Human Computer Interaction (HCI) issues were not published until five years later, at
CHI+GI’87 (Frye & Soloway, 1987; Verburg et al., 1987). Interestingly enough, the
paper presented by Fry & Soloway (1987) was entitled Interface design: A neglected
issue in educational software.
The sporadic appearance of papers that discussed children and HCI issues would not
significantly grow until the early 1990s (e.g., Berkovitz, 1994; Noirhomme-Fraiture et
al., 1993; Pausch et al., 1992; Steiner & Moher, 1992; Strommen, 1994). As the
literature grew, so too did the active involvement of children in the technology
development process. By the mid 1990s, children’s roles as informants and design
partners were discussed in papers that focused on everything from initial technology
brainstorming experiences to final evaluation phases (e.g., Cypher & Smith, 1995; Druin
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
4
et al., 1997; Druin et al., 1999; Inkpen et al., 1997; Oosterholt et al., 1996; Scaife et al.,
1997).
Based upon an analysis of the literature and my research with children as design
partners, I have come to see four main roles that children can play in the technology
design process: user, tester, informant, and design partner. In the role of user, children
contribute to the research and development process by using technology, while adults
may observe, videotape, or test for skills. Researchers use this role to try to understand
the impact existing technologies have on child users, so future technologies can be
changed or future educational environments enhanced. In the role of tester, children test
prototypes of technology that have not been released to the world by researchers or
industry professionals. As a tester, children are again observed with the technology
and/or asked for their direct comments concerning their experiences. These testing
results are used to change the way future iterations of the pre-released technology are
developed. In the role of informant, children play a part in the design process at various
stages, based on when researchers believe children can inform the design process. Before
any technology is developed, children may be observed with existing technologies, or
they may be asked for input on design sketches or low-tech prototypes. Once the
technology is developed, children may again offer input and feedback. And finally, with
the role of design partner, children are considered to be equal stakeholders in the design
of new technologies throughout the entire experience. As partners, children contribute to
the process in ways that are appropriate for children and the process.
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Figure 1: The four roles that children may have in the design of new technologies
I have come to see that each role, user, tester, informant, or design partner can shape
the technology design process and impact the technologies that are created. While each
role for children is used today by some portion of researchers or developers, each role has
its own historical roots with its own challenges and strengths. These roles are not
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
5
necessarily different from that of adult users however the methods, context, and
challenges can be different thanks to the involvement of children. Choosing to use any of
these roles with children may depend, among other things, on the project’s resources,
timeframe, and the philosophy of the researchers involved. While each of these roles
have clear differences, each role includes aspects of those roles that historically have
come before it (see Figure 1). For example, in the role of informant, children may be
asked to test certain prototypes (as a tester), as well as be observed with competing
software (as a user).
The sections that follow will present a detailed analysis of what it means to have
children as users, testers, informants, or design partners in the design process. The
historical context of each role, the research methods needed for such a role, the impact
that this can have on technology, and the strengths and challenges will be presented.
While all four roles will be discussed in a somewhat similar manner, it should be noted
that this paper was written by a researcher who is actively involved with children as
design partners. Whatever biases and experiences I have had with children will no doubt
color my discussions. In particular, a more personal look at the role of design partner
will be presented. It is my belief that with a better understanding of all of these roles, we
can make more informed decisions about our design practices that can have lasting
effects for the future of children’s technologies.
3 THE CHILD AS USER
The first and oldest role that can be seen in the literature is that of the child as user. With
this role, the child is a user of technology while the adult looks to understand the child’s
activities with various methods. Children may be observed, videotaped or tested before
and/or after technology use. In this way, researchers can come to understand the impact
technology has had on the child’s learning experience. There are generally two reasons
for researchers to ask children to take on the role of technology user: (1) To test a general
concept that may help inform future technology developers (2) To better understand the
process of learning which may contribute to future educational practices. With this role,
the technology used is not continually being developed and changed. The technology has
been created and distributed widely for commercial or research purposes.
3.1 Historical Context
The role of child as user is perhaps the oldest and today remains a common role for
children in the research process. This role first emerged in publications, in the late 1960s
and early 1970s (e.g., Suppes, 1969; Hunka, 1973; Stodolsky, 1970). This was a time
when mainframe computers were common, and educational applications were by and
large “drill and practice” experiences in everything from math to English. The computer
was an individualized teacher and led a child through a series of carefully moderated
exercises. The curriculum was broken down into small concept blocks with exercises
that had different levels of difficulty. When the computer presented reading materials
and questions to answer, and the child was asked to respond. If for example, a correct
answer was given, the child was rewarded by being allowed to go to the next level of
materials. If the child answered incorrectly, he/she was asked to try again (Suppes, 1969;
Davis, 1976; Solomon, 1986).
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
6
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Figure 2: Sample interaction with “drill and practice” experience
While these technologies automated the learning experience, they did not offer a great
deal of control to the child learner and user. What was to be covered and how it was to
be presented was pre-programmed by the computer system. In some sense, this lack of
user control was also reflected in the limited involvement of the technology user in the
development process. In the 1960s and 1970s SIGCHI did not exist and the first CHI
conferences were not until the early 1980s. But even in the early years of CHI
conferences, papers still discussed users in regards to technology development as not
really knowing what they needed. In one paper that discussed a survey of 445 designers,
“almost nobody recommended that potential users become even for only brief periods of
time, part of the design team” (Gould & Lewis, 1983, p. 51). This can be strongly
contrasted with the cooperative design movement that was emerging at the time from the
Scandinavian countries which promoted the notion of co-design with users (Bjerknes et
al., 1987).
In terms of children as technology users, the majority of the literature during the
1970s and 1980s reflected their limited involvement in the technology development
process (the few exceptions will be discussed in later sections). The terminology that
was used to describe children’s involvement, offers a glimpse into the role of users at that
time. Such phrases as, “the subject’s task”, “allow the user”, “children should be used”,
were common and all suggest that users, especially children, had little control in the
research process. The main contribution of children as users was seen in the observations
that researchers could make of them, the work children accomplished using the
technology and the tests children took before and after using technology. These
experiences could tell researchers more about the impact of technology. The role of child
as user can still be seen today. It is more common in the literature of educational and
child psychology, as well as the broader educational research community, but it still can
be seen as a tool to consider the future of new technologies and new educational uses of
technology.
3.2 Methods Used
The research methods utilized when children are users in the technology design process
vary depending on the information of interest, the size of the user population involved,
the research philosophy, and the experience of the researchers involved. Typically
researchers will use some methods of observation to look for patterns of activity, and
general user concern (e.g., Burov, 1991; Candy & Edmonds, 1982; Hunka, 1973; Neal &
Simons, 1983; Nicol, 1988). This can take the form of observations via one-way mirrors
or live television monitors. Video cameras can also be used to capture data for later
analysis (e.g., Fell et al., 1994; Goldman-Segall, 1998; Lester et al., 1997; Plowman et
al., 1999). For example, in a recent study by researchers at the University of Sussex, the
Open University, and the Scottish Council for Research in Education, video was used to
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
7
record two forms of data: “One (video camera) recorded the group of learners at the
computer to capture talk, movement, gesture, and machine interaction; the other
(captured) the screen image, taken from the computer via a scan converter. The
videotapes were mixed in an editing suite, transcribed, and used for very detailed analysis
of learners’ talk and behavior, and their path through the material” (Plowman et al., 1999,
p. 314).
In addition to video, participant observation where researchers are in the room with
users can also be of value (e.g., Nicol, 1988; Pelegrino et al., 1991; Plowman, 1992). It is
common for researchers to become a part of classroom activities demonstrating software,
answering questions, and more. At the same time, it is quite common to include teachers
in the research experience. They too can collect data thanks to their own first-hand
experiences in the classroom (e.g., Koenemann et al., 1999; Rose et al., 1998).
Children’s use of the computer can also be captured and understood through system logs
showing patterns of interaction with different system tools (e.g., Candy & Edmonds,
1982; Jackson et al., 1998; Neal & Simons, 1983; Searle et al., 1974). These methods
were useful, for example, in understanding early hypermedia technologies with children.
Researchers at Apple Computer observed children’s reactions to HyperCard’s menus and
commands, as well as tracked their navigation patterns in various information spaces
(Nicol, 1988).
In addition to activity observation, data concerning user impressions can also be
collected. Qualitative surveys can be given to children concerning their like, dislikes,
difficulties, and interest areas. For instance, interviews can be conducted after the use of
technology, which can help to clarify children’s motivations and pinpoint specific
reactions to particular technology features (e.g., Jackson et al., 1998). More formal
quantitative surveys can also be administered, where questions are answered on a
numerical scale or with various options (e.g., Burov, 1991; Lester et al., 1997; Salzman et
al., 1999). These kinds of surveys can be at times difficult to develop. The survey
language needs to be age appropriate, and easily comprehensible.
Information can also be collected concerning the impact that technology has on the
child’s learning of a subject area. It is common for tests to be given to children before
and after the use of technology over a period of time. Typically, these tests are
quantifiable instruments concerning subject matter knowledge (e.g., spelling, math,
science, etc.) (e.g., Burov, 1991; Candy & Edmonds, 1982; Hunka, 1973; Salzman et al.,
1999; Searle et al., 1974). In some cases, ethnographic or qualitative descriptions of
children as technology users are done to capture data as well. In these case studies, a
small number of children can be observed over an extended period of time (e.g.,
Blomberg et al., 1993; Plowman, 1992; Solomon, 1986). Data collection can be done, by
asking children to write their thoughts in journals. Teachers and researchers may also
write down their observations over time. Interviews with the children and teachers may
also be conducted.
Finally, results of the children’s work using the computer can be analyzed as well.
For example, researchers at the University of Michigan collected software models created
by 9
th
grade students (age 15-16). These students used special software to build for
example, models depicting environmental changes in streams or global warming. These
software models were later collected and analyzed by researchers to better understand the
students’ use of certain software tools (Jackson et al., 1998).
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
8
Many times researchers will collect information about users in multiple ways, so that
results from one research method can explain another. For example, in the case of
Vanderbilt University’s researchers, they gave children an initial “paper and pencil” test
that measured problem-solving capability in mathematics. They then observed classes of
teachers and students with technology (Pelegrino et al., 1991). Afterwards, they again
administered a similar test. What they found was that children’s test scores rose
considerably after their use of technology. Their classroom observations showed them
why. What they saw was an active engagement with the subject matter through the use
of technology (Pelegrino et al., 1991).
Data collection like this can also be useful when comparing users and non-users of
technology. Many early studies compared children who used computers with children
that had never used the technology. The Vanderbilt researchers did just this with their
study. Not only did they look for change in those children who used their technology, but
they compared those changes with children who did not use their technology. This
exhaustive study followed over 1,300 children for over a year and offered numerous
insights into the use and impact of the Jasper Woodbury technology (Pelegrino et al.,
1991).
Figure 3: "Get Out the Vote": Part of the Jasper Woodbury Series on Complex Trip planning
Students must prepare plans to drive as many voters as possible to the polls on election day. Students must
prioritize goals, identify strategies, organize data and develop algebraic shortcuts.
(http://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/projects/funded/jasper/)
When analyzing the data collected in studying children as users of technology, again,
there are numerous methodologies. Depending on the kind of information researchers are
looking for, can dictate the ways data should be analyzed. For example, some
researchers look to see how fast a task can be done (e.g., Burov, 1991; Fell et al., 1994;
Searle et al., 1974; Suppes, 1969); others look to see how many content questions can be
answered after a child uses a piece of technology (e.g., Burov, 1991; Candy & Edmonds,
1982; Hunka, 1973; Salzman et al., 1999; Searle et al., 1974). Still others try to
understand changes over time in children’s activities. Do they recognize their mother’s
voice faster? (Fell et al., 1994) Do they get motion sickness? Is their motion sickness
reduced? (Salzman et al., 1999). In all cases, the research methods are used to
understand the impact that technology has on the child user. From this understanding,
future technologies may be changed or developed. In addition, these new insights can
offer a better understanding of how children learn, which can lead to new theories for
education and new teaching practices with technology.
3.3 Impact of this Role on Technologies
When children are in the role of users, adult researchers can stand back from day-to-day
development issues, and look at the big picture. Researchers may have concerns about
certain kinds of software for children, or they may wonder what the best ways are for
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
9
children to learn with particular technologies. Whatever their questions, researchers look
to develop general recommendations for the future. One such recommendation
concerning multimedia was made after a recent study with children as users. Researchers
suggested, “Multimedia interactive learning environments need to be designed so learners
are able to both find narrative coherence and generate it for themselves” (Plowman et al.,
1999, p. 316).
How much immediate impact can these general research recommendations have on
technology? It is not clear. The time between the development process, the child as user,
and the published study could take years. In the meantime, technologies are continually
changed, revised, and updated. For this reason, the role of child as user is used more
commonly by researchers rather than industry practitioners. The impact that this role can
have on technology may be less immediate or more difficult to pinpoint.
3.4 Challenges of Child as User
The challenges of this role for children can be reflected in the limited input they have in
the technology development process. Children can be thought of as objects to be
watched or tested, they do not initiate changes in research techniques. More traditional
research methods of surveys and written tests can be difficult or stressful for young
children to negotiate. Therefore, this role may be one that children are not as comfortable
with as other roles later described. They may be frustrated with the lack of control or
uninterested in the activities. For example, in the Vanderbilt University study (Pelegrino
et al., 1991), researchers reported that, “Assessments were often less pleasant and
informative for students and teachers than hoped” (McGilly, 1995, p. 76). In other
words, the data collection experience of testing was something that students and even
teachers found difficult. Researchers need to keep this in mind when designing ways to
understand the impact technology has on children.
For teachers, the role of child as user may also be challenging. No matter how simple
the research methods are, teacher involvement is still needed, from changing class time to
accommodate researchers, to spending their own time contributing to the data collection.
In today’s schools, where national curriculums and mandated testing are common, little
time can be afforded for such outside research activities.
For technology developers this role may offer less timely feedback to the
development process. If children are only to use already released technology, then the
results of the research are limited to offering suggestions for future researchers interested
in developing a similar technology. If children can use technologies before they are
released, children may have more immediate input into the technologies that are being
developed (see next section on the role of children as tester).
3.5 Strengths of Child as User
An important strength of this role for children is that they can be incorporated into the
technology development process somewhat easily. Since this role asks for children to be
users, little if any changes need to be made to a child’s school day. Obviously parental
permission needs to be obtained and teachers need to accommodate researchers’
technology, but the majority of today’s children already use technology in some form. In
addition, it is not unusual for children in school to be continually observed and assessed
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
10
by adults. From the child’s standpoint, little needs to change in their day-to-day activities
to be included in the technology research process.
Another strength of this role is the outcome of such comprehensive research studies
as the Vanderbilt University work (Pelegrino et al., 1991). When researchers analyzed
over 1,300 students (8-12 year old) during the 1990-1991 school year, classroom
educators felt comfortable with the striking results that showed technology helped
children learn. These results can affect technology being developed in the future. But
more immediately, results such as these can start to make changes in the classroom.
More traditional educators can begin to integrate new technologies in their classroom in
ways reflected by the research.
For researchers, when a child is in the role of user, it may be easier for them to
accomplish their research more quickly. Researchers have some semblance of control
when defining the research activities. Children are told to do one activity and then the
next. Once these activities are completed the research can be analyzed and conclusions
can be drawn. With children in other roles (described in later sections), children have
more input into the research design, which can at times slow down the process.
The last strength of this role is for HCI researchers. The exciting part of when
children are users, is that researchers come to better understand children. No matter the
limitations, this role enables adults and children to answer research questions that can
have far-reaching impact on the future of technology and education.
4 THE CHILD AS TESTER
A more recent role for children in the development process is that of tester. With this
role, children test prototypes of emerging technologies. The goal of this role is for
children to help in shaping new technologies before these commercial products or
research projects have been released to the world. As a tester, children may again be
observed with technology, and the impact on children can be assessed. Many times
adults may ask for direct feedback from children by asking them such questions as,
“What did you like?” “What was too boring?” “What was too hard?” It is important to
note, that with this role the initial brainstorming and design phase has already been
accomplished by adults. Children do not begin their role as tester until initial prototypes
have been created.
4.1 Historical Context
The role of the child as tester was rare until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Before that
time, only a few unique instances of child as tester could be found. Interestingly enough,
these instances have come to be considered pioneering work in technologies for children.
Today, there are few people focused on HCI and children, who do not know of Seymour
Papert’s Logo research group at MIT. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this group
developed not only a new programming language for children, but pioneered a new
approach to teaching and learning with technology. They suggested that the computer
need not tell the child what to do, but the child could tell the computer what to do in ways
that the child chose. In doing so, the child could construct his/her own paths to
knowledge. This has since come to be called a “constructivist” or “constructionist”
approach to using technology (Hoyles, 1985; Papert, 1972; Solomon, 1986).
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
11
As it happens, these ideas evolved and new technologies were developed with the role
of the child as tester. It may well have been Papert and his colleagues’ deeply held belief
in children as builders, scientists, and learners that led to the early inclusion of children in
the technology design process, much earlier on than most researchers of their time.
Papert and his colleagues frequently point out in talks even today, of instances where
children changed the way Logo researchers considered implementing a feature or where
children found a problem that adults never saw (Solomon, 1986). For example, when the
Logo program was first developed, it was completely text-based. Logo programs could
be created to manipulate words and sentences, but not images or graphics. Realizing the
need for more concrete objects to play with, the Logo “turtle” was developed, so that
children could draw with the Logo programming language (Papert, 1980). This could not
have been developed without the input of children as testers during the earliest
prototyping stages of Logo. Now going on 30 years, the Logo research team still works
in a similar way: develop a working prototype, try it out with children and teachers, and
then revise it based on input.
Figure 4: The Logo “Turtle” was originally a robotic creature that moved around on the floor (A.)
It later became a “Screen Turtle” (B.) Both could be directed by typing Logo commands at the computer.
(http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/logo-foundation/Logo/Turtle.html)
Was this common practice in the early 1970s? No, this was not in any way. What
was much more common was the design practices of Patrick Suppes and his group at
Stanford. They were the driving force behind what we have come to know as “drill and
practice” (Druin & Solomon, 1996). Their research activities consistently involved
children as users. Were Papert and his team the only researchers at that time to involve
children as testers? Not exactly, Alan Kay and Adel Goldberg at Xerox PARC developed
a programming language in the 1970s with children as testers (Goldberg, 1984). This
language was called SmallTalk. While it was not expected to be used only by children,
Alan Kay believed that children could offer powerful new insights into future
technologies (Solomon, 1986).
It was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s, that children as testers were
consistently reported in the literature. This coincided, not surprisingly, with a general
trend in the HCI literature toward developing better interfaces for non-programming end-
users. No longer was the HCI community primarily concerned with developing better
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
12
interfaces for programming (Grudin, 1990). By CHI’90, numerous papers and panels
reflected this move toward embracing non-technical users and bringing them into the
design process. Participatory Design, (Blomberg & Henderson, 1990; Johnson et al.,
1990; Montford et al., 1990) Heuristic Evaluation (Nielsen & Molich, 1990), and
Contextual Design (Wixon & Holtzblatt, 1990) were all discussed in paper and panel
sessions.
At that same time, researchers and industry professionals were beginning to discuss
the child as tester in paper and journal publications. An early example of this was in the
late 1980s, at the Bank Street College of Education where researchers were developing
Palenque, an interactive multimedia environment based on the popular Voyage of the
Mimi product (Wilson, 1988). It enabled children to explore virtual multimedia worlds
that included tropical rainforests, rivers, a temple, museum and palace. Children tested
the technology’s navigation tools, museum database of multimedia information, the
appeal of the interface, and the comprehension of the menus and icons (Wilson, 1988).
Continual feedback from children at the Bank Street School for Children, helped to shape
and change this technology.
During the 1990s, the role of child as tester has come to be common in both industry
and academia (e.g., Berkovitz, 1994; Noirhomme-Fraiture et al., 1993; Moshell &
Hughes, 1996; Strommen, 1994). CD-ROM products have been child-tested at
companies such as Children’s Television Workshop (Strommen, 1994), Electronic Arts
(Super et al., 1996), and Living Books (Druin & Solomon, 1996). Even today’s
interactive plush animal interfaces have been child-tested (e.g., Microsoft’s Barney
(Strommen, 1998), MIT Media Lab’s SAGE (Umaschi Bers et al., 1998). Today, it is a
surprise, if children do not test commercial technology products.
4.2 Methods Used
When children are included in the development process as testers, the methods used by
children and adults can be diverse. As with the case of child as user, researchers and
industry professionals look to understand the child tester’s activity patterns, likes/dislikes
and changes in learning. However, with the role of child as tester, the goal of the child’s
involvement is somewhat different. Children are testing the technology to see if it meets
the design goals. Larger research questions about education and future directions in HCI
are less the focus. What matters more often are the more immediate issues: What parts of
the technology are confusing? What parts do children like? Can children learn with the
technology? Where are the bugs?
The number of times that children and adults may attempt to answer these questions
with test sessions can vary. In the case of the Living Books Company (now a part of
Broderbund which is a subsidiary of The Learning Company) developers work with
children after every few screens they develop. For example, with the CD-ROM title, The
Tortoise and the Hare, children let developers know that they were unhappy when they
selected a particular hotspot (Druin & Solomon, 1996). With this selection, the Hare
would run out, read a newspaper, crumple it up, and leave it on the ground. Many
children felt that the hare was littering. So designers added an additional hotspot
animation. Today, with the resulting product, if children select the crumpled paper on the
ground, the Tortoise says, “Hey Hare, did you forget to recycle that paper?” (Druin &
Solomon, 1996).
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
13
Figure 5: From the Living Books CD-ROM, Tortoise and the Hare (http://www.livingbooks.com)
Other product teams do not have the time or resources to work with children so often.
In the case of Kid Pix, when it was first released back in 1989, Broderbund sponsored
their first Kid’s Day. It was a weekend testing day for 20 children to try out Kid Pix.
Developers offered their testers cookies for a break and a crafts table with paper, glue,
glitter, etc.—just in case the testers got bored. As it happened, no one ate any of the
cookies or used any of the crafts. Broderbund determined that Kid Pix would be a hit
(Druin & Solomon, 1996).
How focused or broad the testing activities are, depends on the needs of the product
or project. There may be certain areas of the product that developers have questions or
concerns about. Therefore, that particular area will be heavily tested. In the case of
Microsoft’s Actimates/Barney, developers wondered if it was alright for a child to be
interrupted in a song or game if the child selected something else. Therefore, developers
observed children with a Barney that could “not be interrupted”. Through child-testing,
they found that children became frustrated with Barney, if they could not interrupt
themselves and move on to another activity (Strommen, 1998).
The number of children needed during the testing process can vary. If the prototype
is still in its early stages, then a few children for a few hours, can be all that is needed to
spot the big problems. For example, at Northwestern University, researchers worked
with six Middle School students (ages 12-14) to initially test the general functionality of
the Progress Portfolio software (Loh et al., 1998). Thanks to these early observations of
children using the software, researchers were able to pinpoint the need for additional
work in the areas of capturing and annotating (Loh et al., 1998).
The number of children as testers may also be limited if the methods used offer large
amounts of data. In the case of SAGE (Storytelling Agent Generation Environment),
researchers were interested in better understanding how this stuffed-animal interface for
storytelling could support seriously ill children (ages 7-16) in a cardiac unit of Boston’s
Children’s Hospital (Umaschi Bers et al., 1998). With this understanding, researchers
hoped to change SAGE for the future, and develop design recommendations that might
be useful for future researchers working with this same user population in hospitals. The
way they chose to answer their questions, was to interpret the stories of eight children
who used SAGE. Researchers looked at these stories to try to understand the role that the
child plays when using the technology, what personality the child takes on, and in what
way the child might be symbolically representing themselves in the story. With countless
pages of data to read and analyze, eight children offered researchers the information they
needed.
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
14
Figure 5: SAGE: Storyteller Agent Generation Environment
(http://marinau.www.media.mit.edu/people/marinau/Sage/index.html)
4.3 Impact of this Role on Technologies
The impact that children can have as testers of technology is somewhat immediate. If a
child suggests a new feature or finds a previously undiscovered bug, researchers/
developers can immediately make changes if they have the time or resources. While it is
ultimately up to adults to make the final decision of what will be changed, children do
have some input. That is empowering for children and good for future technologies.
Ultimately, technologies may be more interesting, usable, and desirable for children if
they have been changed in the design process because of children.
How much can this role impact new technologies? It truly depends on the time the
university researchers or industry professionals have to listen. If a product has a short
development cycle, then it is unlikely that large changes will be made to technology even
if children offer feedback. In addition, we need to keep in mind that ultimately the
technology started out in development by adults. The brainstorming, idea generation, and
the initial technology creation all happened before children were asked to test the
prototype. Therefore, while children can have some impact in the development of new
technologies, their input is minimal compared with that of adults.
4.4 Challenges of Child as Tester
As was the case for child as user, the challenges of this testing role for children have to
do with the limited input they can have in the technology development process. With the
role of child as tester, young people can have more immediate impact on the technologies
than with the role of child as user. However, children’s impact can still be limited.
Adults have the first say in what will be created before children ever see something to
test. Once children have an opportunity to suggest changes, there is a chance that these
changes may never get made, since it is ultimately up to adults to make those changes. If
adults don’t agree with the feedback, or if adults decide that the changes are less
important then getting the product out the door—changes just won’t happen.
For teachers, this role may also be challenging. As was the case with the child as user,
teachers may need to be involved. Spending class time on testing new technology rather
than learning spelling, may be difficult to negotiate. In addition, for parents this role may
also be problematic. It may necessitate children to be taken to a lab outside of school, or
researchers may ask to come to their home. This necessitates time and energy, which
many of today’s parents have little.
For technology developers, this role may offer more than they expected. Children are
incredibly honest and at times harsh in their assessments of technology. Children have
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
15
little patience for what they don’t like and they will let technology developers know
exactly just that. Even adults can have their feeling hurt when they hear a child say they
don’t like a piece of technology that took months or years to create. If children are not a
part of the initial brainstorming process, then children as testers may offer some serious
surprises. While this research information can ultimately make a successful product or
project, it can also derail a development schedule with some surprising results.
4.5 Strengths of Child as Tester
The strength of this role for children is that they can feel empowered. They can feel that
adults want to listen to what they have to say about new technologies. Again, as with the
role of child as user, the role of child as tester asks children to do little more than use
technology. Many children already use technology, therefore few skills need to be
learned to be included in the technology design process.
When a child is in the role of tester, extraordinary amounts of time may not be needed
to find initial results. For researchers or product developers on a tight schedule or
budget, this can be an important consideration. A one-day workshop can be offered at
the lab or in a school. After-school programs can be developed that need little teacher
involvement. Depending on the kind of technology that is being tested, school
complexities may be kept to a minimum.
Ultimately the strength of this role can be in the impact that such a role can have on
new technologies. For educators, it can mean more usable technologies for teaching. For
parents it can mean, better technologies for their family’s home entertainment and
informal learning experiences. For children it can mean technologies that they want to
use, rather ignore or be frustrated by them.
5 THE CHILD AS INFORMANT
With this role, the child plays some part in informing the design process. Before any
technology is developed, the child may be observed with existing technologies, or they
may be asked for input on paper sketches. Once the technology is developed, the child
may again offer input and feedback. With this role, the child plays a part in the design
process at various stages, based on when researchers believe they can be informed by
children.
5.1 Historical Context
The role of the child as informant did not emerge in the HCI literature until the middle of
the 1990s. There was literature before this time that discussed children informing the
design process, but primarily as users for observation or as testers of prototypes. Until
the 1990s, children were not discussed as design participants who offered design
directions, or prompted the start of new projects. Interestingly enough, the emergence of
this informant role for children coincided with the establishment of a new CHI
conference submission category called, “Design Briefings”. This publication category
focused on the methods of design, rather than the technology results. While these
conference submissions were not just about the design process with children, they may
have helped to bring to the attention of the HCI community the presence of children in
the process (e.g., Druin, Stewart, Proft, Bederson, & Hollan, 1997; Halgren, Fernandes,
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
16
& Thomas, 1995; Oosterholt, Kusano, & de Vries, 1996; Piernot, Felciano, Stancel,
Marsh, & Yvon, 1995; Rader, Brand, & Lewis, 1997; Scaife, Rogers, Aldrich, &
Davies, 1997).
From this point on, the design of children’s technologies and the design processes
used, became frequent publication topics at CHI conferences. This timing also coincided
with the growth of the multimedia industry worldwide. CD-ROM software titles were
becoming financially lucrative and CD-ROMs were being sold as a standard component
in most PCs. According to the Software Publishers Association, over one billion dollars
(US) of educational software was sold in 1994 (Investors Business Daily, 1995). In all
likelihood, children as informants were a part of the design process much earlier in HCI
history, but adult researchers were not formally recognizing their presence. For example,
folklore could be heard among industry professionals that described how children shaped
and changed design directions. Craig Hickman, creator of Kid Pix and Roger Wagner,
creator of HyperStudio, were among those with stories to tell, but little was documented
in academic journals or conference publications (Druin & Solomon, 1996).
It wasn’t until 1997, that the role of child as informant became more clearly defined.
It was at that time that Scaife et al., presented Designing for or designing with? Informant
design for interactive learning experiences (1997). In this critical CHI 97 publication,
they described the notion of “informant design.” The authors questioned when children
should be a part of the design process, and what contributions could be important for the
design of technology. Before this time, numerous researchers were including children in
the design process, but not making a distinction of when. Were children testers at the end
of the design process? Were children partners working throughout the process? Were
children informants helping the design process at various critical times? Scaife and
Rogers (1999) continued to question these important notions in their follow-up
publication, Kids as informants: Telling us what we didn’t know or confirming what we
knew already. In this book chapter, they explained, “What is not in doubt, then, is that
children can be brought into the design process and make a contribution. What is less
clear is whether we can generalize about the relationship that they can be expected to
have with designers” (p. 30).
Out of these critical discussions by Scaife and Rogers, a clearer understanding of the
child as informant began to emerge. As this role has come into sharper focus, both
industry professionals and academic researchers have found it quite useful. An example
of this informant role can be seen in the design of Knowledge Adventure’s popular CD-
ROM, My First Encyclopedia. This educational software for young children throws
away the traditional interface elements of windows and menus, and instead uses a picture
of a tall tree as an interface mechanism. By selecting any of the tree’s branches, video
guides support young users in finding information. This simple visual interface for an
encyclopedia was designed by a team led by Roger Holzberg. When this team began
their work, Holzberg went to daycare centers and preschools looking for children’s input.
He asked children, “Where do you most like to play after you go home from school or
daycare?” Their most common replies were, (1) “play outside” and (2) “climb a tree”
(Researcher Notes, April 5, 1995, Telephone Interview with Roger Holzberg).
Therefore, thanks to the inspiration of children as informants, a tree was developed as
an interface. Could Holzberg and his colleagues have developed a tree without the help
of children? Perhaps, but with children suggesting directions at the very start of the
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
17
design process, a tree quickly became obvious as an interface metaphor. Holzberg’s
experience is not unique. Many industry professionals or academic researchers have now
come to acknowledge the role of children in setting directions for everything from new
digital library interfaces (Wallace et al., 1998) to new programming languages for
children (Smith & Cypher, 1999).
5.2 Methods Used
When and how children are informants varies a great deal between design teams. Some,
as in the case of Knowledge Adventure, have an idea for a product, but are looking for an
interface direction. Others, such as Cypher and Smith (1995, 1999), may wonder if their
initial project idea is even appropriate for elementary-school children. While still at
Apple computer, Cypher and Smith asked the question—can children program their own
interactive simulations? To begin to address this, the design team worked with fifth-
grade children (ages 10-12) and asked them to program a friend around a room by
placing 3M Post-It notes with programming instructions on their clothing. For each Post-
It note, another command could be executed. The team learned that children could
program these kinds of simulations, and that they might really like to do so (Cypher &
Smith, 1995). Since that time, a product first called KidSim and now called StageCast
Creator has been developed, and the design team has started a new company
(http://www.stagecast.com).
There are numerous ways to bring children as informants into the design process. At
the start of a project or product design, teams may decide to observe children using
existing technologies. In this way, design directions may not necessarily be expressed
directly by children, but may be implied by their actions. These methods of observation
are similar to the ones outlined when children are users or testers. What differs from
those methods is when these observations happen and how directly it can affect the
design of new technology. In the case of researchers from the University of Michigan,
they began their project by observing 6
th
and 9
th
grade students (ages 11-16 years old).
They watched the students’ use of web search engines and browsers while studying
science (Wallace et al., 1998). From these observations, researchers became convinced
that web tools were not sufficient for learners searching out information. The search
engines returned too many hits, and students seemed to become bored. In response, the
research team developed Artemis, software that supports learning with digital information
resources. This is now a part of the University of Michigan’s Digital Library initiative.
Figure 6: An example of the Artemis software that was developed at the University of Michigan
(http://hi-ce.eecs.umich.edu/software/artemis/)
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
18
Initial ideas or observations of children from the start of a project are not the only
time children can inform the design process. They can be involved at any time the design
team believes it needs direction or support. For example, Scaife and Rogers (1999) after
realizing a prototype they had developed was considered “dull” by children, decided to
probe further. To do so, they used low-tech sketching materials and artifacts. They asked
the children to sketch what they thought software could be like that would teach other
children about food webs. After minimal results from this method, the team gave
laminated cut-outs of organisms to the children. The children manipulated these cut-outs
and told researchers what could be done to make software. With this method, the
children didn’t get caught up in the details of drawing animals (as they had while
sketching) and concentrated on the interaction and behaviors of the animals.
Low-tech materials, interviews, design feedback on prototypes, can all be used
continually as methods for informants. What is critical, is that the materials and methods
are age appropriate for working with children. Many of these methods are similar to
previously described techniques for when children are in the role of user or tester. What
differs is when and how often these techniques are used during the design process. There
is no magical formula of what to do when. However, what is certain, is that a design
team can choose to include children as informants in various ways and at numerous
times. Depending on the needs of the team and the specific project, differing methods
may be chosen.
5.3 Impact of this Role on Technologies
When children are informants, they can have an impact on technology from the very
beginning of the design process. While children are not continually a part of the design
process, children can have an impact on what directions are taken, how the technologies
are shaped, and ultimately how they are evaluated.
How much can this role impact new technologies? It truly depends on the university
researchers and/or industry professionals that choose to work with children. If the project
is pressed for time, then there may be fewer opportunities for adults to work with
children. If the adults on the project choose not to listen or not to agree with the
children’s input, then in all likelihood, children’s impact may still be minimized. The
dilemma has been explained in this way, “On one hand, the kids come up with many
wonderful suggestions that the design team would not have come up with… On the other
hand, many of their ideas are completely unworkable in computational terms, and
furthermore, could conflict with pedagogical goals of the software… So how do we know
when to say yes and when to say no to kids ideas?” (Scaife & Rogers, 1999, p. 44).
Ultimately, it is the adults on the team that choose what ideas may be used and the times
to be informed by children. Therefore, while children can have a great deal of impact
throughout the design process, it depends very much on the context of the experience.
5.4 Challenges of Child as Informant
As has been the case for all the previous roles, the challenge of this role for children is
that ultimately adults are still in charge. While children can have more continual impact
on the technologies that are being created, their impact can still be limited. Adults have
to decide when to work with children, how to work with them, and ultimately what they
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
19
choose to hear from children. Directions are set by adults, as well as deadlines.
Therefore, while this role of child as informant gives children the most say of any of the
previous roles, it still has its challenges.
For teachers, this role may be challenging. No longer may there be regular times to
meet with researchers. Thanks to the flexibility of this role, there may be times when
researchers are not in the classrooms. There may be other times that researchers are in
the classrooms continually. This research flexibility may be problematic to structure
given the limitations of the school day.
For technology developers, this role may need more time than any of the previous
roles discussed. Because it brings children into the design process from perhaps the start
of the project, more resources need to be allotted for activities to be accomplished.
Therefore, the role of informant can cost time and money to accomplish.
5.5 Strengths of Child as Informant
The strength of this role for children is that they can feel empowered and challenged by
the experience. Children can feel that adults want to listen to what they have to say about
new technologies. Since children may be in a position to offer input at various times,
children may also be challenged by many aspects of the problem-solving and
brainstorming experiences.
For researchers, when a child is in the role of informant, there can be flexibility in
when and where activities take place. In some cases, it may be more appropriate for
children to work in schools. At other times, the university lab or industry offices may be
more suitable. Schedules can be worked around for teachers and researchers, since there
will be various times that it is not necessary to work with the children.
Another strength of this role is the impact this role can have on new technologies. As
with previous roles, when children are involved in the design process exciting new
technologies for the home and school can be designed. For children, this can mean
technologies that are less frustrating and more compelling to use.
6 THE CHILD AS DESIGN PARTNER
The role of child as design partner is similar to that of an informant, however, this role
suggests children will be a part of the research and design process throughout the
experience. With this role, the child is an equal stakeholder in the design of new
technologies. While a child cannot do everything that an adult can do, they should have
equal opportunity to contribute in any way they can to the design process. For example,
adult researchers that are visual artists or educators can support the technology design
process with domain specific expertise and experience. The same can be said of child
researchers. They too have special experiences and viewpoints that can support the
technology design process that other partners may not be capable of contributing (Druin,
1999). With this role of design partner, the impact that technology has on children may
not be as significant as the impact children can have on the technology design process.
This role for the child is one that my research is strongly committed to supporting.
For the past five years, my research teams have been developing new technology design
methodologies to support children in their role as design partners. What follows is a
discussion of how these methodologies evolved, what methods we use today, and how
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
20
these methods can impact the technologies that are developed with children as design
partners. As with each of the previous roles, the strengths and challenges will be
examined in comparison to other approaches.
6.1 Historical Context
We have a belief at the University of Maryland that partnering with users is an important
way to understand what is needed in developing new technologies. This belief has been
heavily influenced by research practices over the past 20 years: the cooperative design of
Scandinavia (Bjerknes et al., 1987; Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991; Sundblad, 1987), the
participatory design of the United States (Blomberg & Henderson, 1990; Greenbaum,
1993; Johnson et al., 1990; Schuler & Namioka, 1993), and the consensus participation
of England (Mumford & Henshall, 1979). As Greenbum and Kyng (1991) have
explained, “We see the need for users to become full partners in the cooperative system
development process….Full participation of (users) requires training and active
cooperation, not just token representation” (pp. ix-1).
This partnership between users and researchers from different disciplines was first
exemplified in the Scandinavian cooperative design work beginning in the 1970s. It was
during this time that employee influence through trade unions grew, and collaborations
between workers, management, and researchers influenced how new technologies could
be created for and used in the workplace. Cooperative design methods supported the
development of new technologies for carpenters, typographers, bankers, manufacturers,
and more (Bjerknes et al., 1987; Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991; Schuler & Namioka, 1993;
Sundblad, 1987).
This approach to design attempted to capture the complexity and somewhat “messy”
real-life world of the workplace. It was found that many times there were not sequential
tasks accomplished by one person, but many tasks done in parallel and in collaboration
with others. Interestingly enough, this description could also easily refer to the
complexity and “messiness” of a child’s world. In any case, this workplace design
approach was not confined to the Scandinavian countries for long. By the 1990s, these
practices were being adapted and applied to research with children (Druin, 1996; Druin
et. al., 1997; Druin, 1999; PDC'96: Participatory Design Conference, 1996).
As an individual researcher, my methods with children first took root in an
intellectual environment that embraced building technology for children in a
constructivist model of education. In the early 1980s, at the MIT Media Lab, I was a part
of a community of researchers that deeply felt children should construct their own paths
to knowledge, and that computer tools should support children as builders, designers, and
researchers. It was a community that was grounded in years of developing Logo and
Smalltalk programming languages for children. Yet, surprisingly enough, if you looked
closely at the design practices of this community of researchers, it was not common to
find children as researchers or partners in developing those constructivist tools. Children
were primarily testers, and adults came up with the great ideas.
It would take me almost five years to begin to understand the full extent of a design
partner, why children could be partners, and how partnering can come about (Druin,
1999). It did not happen suddenly one day, but rather, these concepts and understandings
evolved slowly over time with numerous research and development experiences with
children. I found that I personally as a researcher moved from working with children as
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
21
testers, to informants, to finally and firmly as design partners. In my early work at the
MIT Media Lab as a Masters student developing NOOBIE, children tested ideas, offered
suggestions, but I was clearly the one with the idea to build a 6-foot stuffed computer that
replaced the keyboard and mouse with hugging and squeezing (Druin, 1987). In my later
work with children in New Mexico, children were clearly a part of the brainstorming
process, but not continually (Druin et al., 1997). While I referred to them as my partners
even then, it has now become clear that they were only a part of the design process more
sporadically than continually.
Today, children are most definitely our partners in all that we do at the University of
Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab. Twice a week, children ages 7-11, join
researchers from computer science, education, art, robotics, and more. Together we have
become what I now call an “Intergenerational Design Team” pursuing projects together,
writing papers, and creating new technologies (Druin, 1999; Druin et al., 1999). This
intergenerational design team has produced research projects that include storytelling
robots (Druin et al., 1999), collaborative zooming software for storytelling (Benford et
al., Submitted) and most recently web pages for kids about the United States Census
Bureau (http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/2khome.html).
This partnership with children is not isolated to the University of Maryland. Children
as design partners have migrated to Europe becoming a critical part of our research
methodology in a three-year project funded by the European Union’s i3 Experimental
School Environment initiatives (Druin et al., Submitted). KidStory, is a collaboration
between almost 100 children and 25 adult researchers in Sweden and England to develop
new collaborative storytelling technologies for children (Benford et al., Submitted).
Researchers at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science, the Royal Institute of
Technology, Sweden, and the University of Nottingham are collaborating with us at the
University of Maryland in generalizing our methods of children as design partners.
While KidStory has just finished its first year, we can already see how children as design
partners have impacted the technologies we have developed. Two hundred twenty-two
design suggestions have been collected from the children’s journals that have led to
significant development efforts in designing new storytelling technologies.
Figure 7: An example story being created in the KidPad collaborative software. This work is developed
as a part of the KidStory research project in partnership with children in Sweden and England
(http://www.sics.se/kidstory)
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
22
6.2 Methods Used
The research methods we use, whether in Maryland, Sweden, or England, have come to
be called cooperative inquiry (Druin, 1999). These methods have evolved and developed
over the last five years. They began as methods for bringing adult users into the
technology design process. Such methodologies as contextual design (Beyer &
Holtzblatt, 1998), cooperative design (Bjerknes et al., 1987), and participatory design
(Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991; Schuler & Namioka, 1993), call for adults from different
domains to partner with technologists during the technology design process. From
brainstorming methods that ask users and designers to sketch out ideas (participatory or
cooperative design), to interviewing methods that can capture user tasks, roles, and
design ideas (contextual design), innovative research methods are being found to work
with users. While these methodologies for adults offered an excellent beginning structure
for our research, they needed to be adapted to suit a team that included children, for
example, to overcome the teacher-student paradigm invoked by groups of older and
younger researchers in favor of co-equal partnerships. Over the years, our note-taking
practices, interview procedures, data analysis, and day-to-day team activities have
evolved. For example, we have found that interviewing procedures for adults are not
appropriate for speaking with children. We have since changed everything from what
team members should use as notepads (small and inconspicuous) and how they should
dress (informal), to the process of capturing and synthesizing data (Druin, 1999).
In general, we have found that both children and adults need time to negotiate a new
“power structure,” in which neither adults or children are completely in charge. Both
must begin to work together toward common goals. Children need to learn their new role
as design partners. We do this by introducing the notion of invention, by asking such
questions as: What is an invention? How are inventions created? When do we know
something needs to be invented? Children work with team members on introductory
design experiences, such as inventing a new sandwich; redesigning a new milk carton;
and finding objects in their classroom to fix. In each case, children and adults work
together in small groups to brainstorm and discuss “what is wrong” with the existing
“technologies.” Teams might, for example, decide that the problem with a milk carton is
that it is too difficult for young children to pour from, and therefore it needs to be
redesigned so that children can’t spill milk easily. We have had groups “prototype” the
perfect spill-proof milk carton out of plastic tubes, clay, and straws. We have had others
groups decide that milk containers should be more fun and so children should be able to
spill in interesting ways. (KidStory Research Notes, Class Session #8, Stockholm,
Sweden, March 16, 1999).
We have found, as children accept their role as design partners, they better
understand their role in evaluating and redesigning computer-related technologies, such
as a new mouse or a piece of software. Research partners young and old become
accustomed to working together as critics, designers, and inventors. Adults do not “give
assignments” to children who “do all the work.” Instead, all design partners establish
common goals and participate in collaborative development activities. “Low-tech”
prototyping tools (e.g., paper, crayons, clay, string, LEGO bricks, etc.) provide material
to sketch ideas. Researcher journals for children and adults serve as a repository for ideas
and research evaluation. These journals may be used to sketch design ideas, collect
photos of technology artifacts, or reflect on team activities. Depending on the age,
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
23
discipline, or note-taking style of the researchers, different methods of describing or
capturing their thoughts can be used (e.g., drawings, text, photos, computer printouts,
etc.).
As time goes on, our team members have begun to see themselves as technology
design partners: children begin to see themselves as researchers and adults begin to see
themselves as partners. This can take as long as 6 months, but the team moves from
“wondering how this is done,” to planning “what will be done” (Druin, 1999). Children
and adults alike gather field data, initiate ideas, test, and develop new prototypes. Team
members do what they are capable of, and learn from each other throughout the process.
We try to keep in mind that it is not easy for an adult to step into a child’s world, and
likewise it is not easy for a child to step into an adult’s world. We have found that no
single technique can give teams all the answers they are looking for, so a combination of
techniques has been adapted or developed that form the methodology of cooperative
inquiry (Druin, 1999). These techniques do not necessarily offer a magic formula for
working with children, but rather a philosophy and approach to research that can be used
to gather data, develop prototypes, and forge new research directions. Cooperative
inquiry activities include:
(1) Contextual Inquiry: To observe what children do with what technologies they
currently have. Younger children can have a difficult time abstractly discussing the
world around them. Merely asking children what they want in new technologies will not
produce the user input that is needed for the design process. Therefore, observation
techniques specifically developed to understand children’s exploratory activity patterns
are used. This includes having adults observe children and having children observe
children using technology. Notes are taken with drawings, words, and video. It is critical
that children are as much a part of the data collection as adults. For example, we rarely if
ever have adults use video cameras to capture children’s interactions. We found that the
camera was obtrusive and children could rarely feel comfortable (Druin et al., 1999;
Druin et al., 1997). We have since discovered however, if children take the video footage
of other children, the discomfort disappears.
When using contextual inquiry observation and note-taking, we often look for
children outside of the team to observe, so that all team members (children and adults)
have a chance to “watch”. The note-taking techniques of adults and children obviously
differ. But two techniques been developed to suit the needs of adults and children. We
have found that adults gather data effectively by writing short text descriptions of
conversation and activities (see Table 1). On the other hand, children seem to be effective
in combining drawings with small amounts of text to create cartoon-like flow charts (see
Figure 8). Once the adult notes have been compiled for a session, the adult notes are
compared with the child notes. The adult notes are highlighted in the places that the
child researchers have recorded in their notes. In this way, child and adult perspectives
are captured. We have found that the child researcher summaries of the data, enabled
adult partners to see ideas they had originally overlooked (Druin, 1999).
Besides comparing the adult and child notes, we also analyze the text descriptions of
the adults. We begin by analyzing the quotes and activities for activity patterns. By this
we mean experiences children have repeatedly during a session. After identifying these
patterns of activity, we are able then to identify the roles that children take on as they use
different technologies (Note: these roles are not the same roles described in this paper,
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
24
but the roles of technology use—e.g., child as storyteller, collaborator, leader). Lastly,
we look at all of the previous information and formulate design suggestions that can lead
to further development of project work.
RAW DATA: DATA ANALYSIS:
Time
Quotes
Activities
Activity Patterns Roles Design Ideas
0932
F: No, you’re only
erasing all the
time. Lena, stop!
Struggling for
Ownership
Leader
Make ownership
options
L: [To adult:] Can
you help me, I’m
trying to draw a
circle.
F: I know how to!
Asks adult to help her Seeks help Learner
Help option
0935
L: Hello, I want to
move it here!
F: Get the red
instead!
L. is taking the mouse
from F, puts the tools back
again by help of the box
Struggling for
control of input
device
Leader
Multiple input devices
and/or collaborative
software tools
F: But!
F: There!
F: Now you really
have to stop!
L. takes the hand, takes
the yellow crayon, draws a
curve
Drawing Artist
Leader
0945 L: Not a head!
F: What do you
want, then?
L: A sun!
F. takes the mouse, rubs
everything away
Struggling for
control of input
device
Leader
Multiple input devices
and/or collaborative
software tools
Table 1: Portion of a contextual inquiry diagram created by adults observing
two 7 year-old children in a School in Sweden
Figure 8: Contextual inquiry notes by a 7-year old child in the United States
(2) Participatory Design: To hear what children have to say directly by collaborating
on the development of “low tech” prototypes. In addition to collecting data through
observation, we have found that there is a need to hear from children directly (Druin et
al., 1997; Druin, 1999). Participatory design techniques can enhance what we have come
to understand from observation. This does not mean that participatory design must
follow contextual inquiry. However, we have found that contextual inquiry enables us to
first explore numerous ideas through observation. Then, during our data visualization, we
focus on an area of interest to pursue more in-depth participatory design prototyping. For
example, our contextual inquiry observations led to an understanding that children
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
25
wanted to collaborate with technology. This insight was taken into a participatory design
session where low-tech materials were used to prototype collaborative storytelling
technologies for the future (e.g., see Figure 9). In these participatory design sessions,
small groups of three to four children with two to three adults create low-tech prototypes
out of paper, clay, glue, crayons, etc. The low-tech tools give equal footing to adults and
children. We have found that there is rarely a need to teach people how to prototype,
since using basic art supplies comes naturally to the youngest and oldest design partners.
The low-tech prototypes that are developed support the brainstorming and idea
generation stage of the design process. This form of prototyping is inexpensive, yet quite
effective in quickly brainstorming new ideas or directions. It is from these low-tech
prototypes that high-tech prototypes emerge.
Figure 9: An example of a “low-tech prototype” for a new storytelling technology. The design team explained
that you can tell a story by talking through the straw/microphone. Feathers on the machine tickle you and
make you laugh at the story. You can look into the machine’s eyes to see the story going on. In addition, the
machine can fly to other places to re-tell and collect other stories (KidStory Researcher Notes, Nottingham,
England, November, 1998).
(3) Technology Immersion: To observe what children do with extraordinary amounts
of technology (similar to what they might have in the future). This process came out of
our need to understand how children can use large amounts of technology over a
concentrated period of time (Druin et al., 1997). We have found that if children are only
observed with the technology resources they currently have, then what they might do in
the future with better circumstances could be missed. Many children still have minimal
access to technology in their homes or school. If time is not a limiting factor then access
to the newest technologies can be. However, in the future we expect these limitations to
change. Therefore, by establishing today a technology-rich, time-intensive environment
for children, the observation techniques of contextual inquiry can be used to capture
many of the activity patterns that perhaps might be over-looked in lesser circumstances.
With technology immersion, it is critical that children not only have access to technology
intensively, but are also supported as decision-makers in this technology environment.
All too often, we are only able to glimpse what children do with technology, and those
activities are heavily influenced by what adults say they must be. There must be the
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
26
freedom for children to accomplish a task that is meaningful for them. Without these
ingredients, it is difficult to understand children’s technology wants or needs.
Technology immersion experiences can be as large as a CHIkids program (60+ children
and 25+ adults) or it can be as small as camp-like experience for six children and four
adults in our own labs (Druin, 1999).
The combination of observation, low-tech prototyping, and time-intensive technology
use, we have found can lead to the development of new technologies. Activity patterns
and roles can suggest new design directions. Artifact analysis on low-tech prototypes can
suggest new technology features. And technology immersion with alpha and beta
technologies can lead to revision and eventual products.
6.3 Impact of this Role on Technologies
The impact that children can have as design partners is enormous. Throughout the design
and development process, children’s voices are heard and can have a dramatic effect on
the design of new technologies. While children are a critical part of the team, they do not
dictate what must happen. They contribute as partners with adults in changing and
designing technologies.
How much can this role impact new technologies? Again, as with the role of
informant, the amount of impact truly depends on the university researchers and/or
industry professionals that are a part of the team. Being a design partner with children is
not something that comes naturally for adults and therefore, can slow down a team when
a difficult situation arises. As with any interdisciplinary team of researchers, diverse
individuals and experiences can offer a richness of ideas and talents. It can also be
difficult to negotiate effective collaborations and communication paths. Therefore, while
children can have a great deal of impact throughout the development process, it depends
very much on the context of the design partners.
6.4 Challenges of Child as Design Partner
The unique challenge of this role, is that adults are not in charge, but neither are children.
Design partners must negotiate team decisions. This is no easy task when children are
accustomed to following what adults say, and adults are accustomed to being in charge.
Methods of communication, collaboration, and partnership must be developed that can
accommodate children and adults. Due to this unique challenge, the development process
can take more time than with other roles. If tight deadlines are looming, this can be very
difficult on a team.
When children are design partners, the traditional structures of school can also be a
challenge to negotiate. The design team activities must work around the limitations of the
school day. If children are to be an on-going part of a design team that is not located in a
school, then parents must take on the burden of transportation as well. In addition, the
challenge of an on-going partnership with children must also be considered. No longer
are children only a part of the research activities for a day, or a month. On-going years of
collaboration, means at a very young age, a commitment to research team activities that
can infringe on a child’s afterschool activities.
Another challenge that must be overcome is the difficulty in finding researchers or
industry professionals that want to work with children as partners. It is assumed that
educators have been trained to do this kind of work, but they have been taught to “teach”
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
27
not “partner” with children, and therefore, old habits must be challenged. With computer
scientists, artists, and many other disciplinary professionals, the patience, experience, or
desire to work with children may not be the reasons why they went into their respective
professions. Therefore, team members need to be selected that can enjoy the
“messiness,” noise, and unconventional research activities this kind of collaboration can
bring.
Yet another challenge may be in deciding how to best understand the changes that are
occurring in child and adult partners. Traditional methods of observation or testing of
children may get in the way of developing a sense of partnership among team members.
Educational researcher Jan Hawkins has pointed out, it is critical that we develop
evaluation methods that can be “a system in which the pedagogy is not in tacit conflict
with the accounting.” (Hawkins, 1996). This is no small challenge if children and adults
are truly to be partners. Therefore, we believe that it is important to look for change in
social and cognitive development using procedures that are supportive of the partnership
experience.
6.5 Strengths of Child as Design Partner
The strength of this role for children is that they can feel quite empowered and
challenged by the design partner process. Children have so few experiences in their lives
where they can contribute their opinions and see that they are taken seriously by adults.
This experience can build confidence in children academically and socially. It can also
produce what we have come to call “design-centered learning” (Druin, 1999). This is a
kind of learning that can come out of design experiences. We have seen that children and
adults can experience changes over time due to their partnership and common design
goals. Children can grow to see themselves as something more than users of technology.
They can come to believe that they can make a difference. In the case of the KidStory
project, we asked all children to keep a journal in the first year. After coding these
journals, we found that there were 13 instances in the Fall, as opposed to 164 instances in
the Spring where children displayed examples of being an inventor. While there are
almost 100 children we work with, 164 does not seem like a great deal overall, but the
change over time is very interesting. We are examining if this frequency change
continues in subsequent years of the project.
For adults, they too can change as collaborators, researchers, and developers.
Research methods long-used by experienced professionals may have to change due to the
introduction of children. In addition, research directions may drastically change, again
thanks to this collaboration with children. A unique strength of the design partnering
experience is that there is no waiting to find out what direction to pursue. Instant
feedback from children at every moment can be had if needed. This offers a great deal of
flexibility for development activities. If researchers know that children will always be
available at certain times, then less formal schedules need to be made.
Another strength of this role is the impact that such a role can have on new
technologies. For educators, parents, and children, it can mean innovative technologies
for teaching, entertainment, and learning. While this role of design partners is still
relatively new, it has shown promising results for future new technologies.
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
28
7 SUMMARY
“Let me argue, that the actual dawn of user interface design first happened when
computer designers finally noticed, not just that end-users had functioning minds, but that
a better understanding of how these minds worked, would completely shift the paradigm
of interaction (Kay, 1990, p.58).
It is that process of how we come to understand users, which our HCI community
must continually explore and refine. The users we must understand are many times
children, with their unique needs and strengths. There are many ways to come to know
what children want and need in new technologies. It is our challenge to understand those
ways, and take advantage of what they have to offer. This paper has discussed the various
roles children can play in the design of new technologies (see Table 2 for summary).
With each role there are difficulties, complexities, demands, and exciting possibilities for
children and adults. Depending on the development goals, research questions, resources,
and personal philosophies, a certain role for children may be most appropriate. It is
important to remember that no one role is suitable for all research and development
needs.
Role of child Began Strengths Challenges In use by
User
Late ‘60s/
Early ‘70s
Easy to include
children
Researcher in
control
Can suggest future
directions in HCI &
education areas
Less direct impact
on changes in
technology
Children have less
say in changes
Educators need
time to accomplish
Primarily
academic
researchers
Tester
A few examples in
the 1970s—Began
primarily in the late
‘80s/ early ‘90s
Begins to empower
children
Quicker input for
changing
technology
Methods can be
done in and out of
schools
Children don’t have
input until later in
the design process
Can offer surprises
to adults
Adults decide what
can be done given
limits of schedule
Academic
researchers &
Industry
professionals
Informant
Mid 1990s
Empowers children
Brings children’s
input into the start
of the development
process
Flexible when
children and adults
work together
Adults still decide
when to bring
children into the
design process
More time is
needed to work with
children
Academic
researchers &
Industry
professionals
Design Partner
Mid 1990s
Empowers children
throughout
development
experience
Children and adults
can change and
learn from the
experience
Instant feedback
from children
throughout the
design process
Team decisions
must be negotiated
between adults &
children
More time is
needed to work as
partners
School environment
is difficult to work
within
Difficult finding
researchers that
can work with
children
Primarily
academic
researchers with
industry
professionals
beginning
Table 2: Summary of the roles of children in the design process
Allison Druin—University of Maryland
29
In analyzing these four roles for children, we may wonder if there are ever
inappropriate roles for children in the design process. Are there roles that children should
not be asked to consider? This can be answered by asking if there are ever inappropriate
roles for artists, or educators, or even computer scientists in the design of new
technology. I believe the answer is yes. If we ask people to be something that they
cannot be, then it is inappropriate. If we do not take advantage of all that an artist or a
teacher or a musician can offer the design process, then it is wrong. I believe the same
can be said for children. We must understand what they have to offer the design team
process. We cannot expect them to program as well as computer scientists. We cannot
expect them to know what educational goals need to be covered in a school curriculum as
a well as a teacher does. But we can expect children to tell us what excites and bores
them, what helps them learn, and what can be used in their homes or schools. We can
expect children to be creative, honest collaborators.
In the future, we can look forward to greater challenges given the proliferation of new
technologies and new more demanding users that are young people. We have a chance to
change technology, but more importantly we have a chance to change the life of a child.
Every time a new technology enables a child to do something they never dreamed of, it
offers new possibilities for the future.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This paper could not have been written without all of the children over the years who
have taught me how to be a design partner—in particular my partners: Alex Kruskal,
Hanne Olsen, Isabella Revett, Thomas Plaisant-Schwenn, Lauren Sumida, and Rebecca
Wagner. In addition, I would like to acknowledge all of my adult colleagues at the
University of Maryland that have been and continue to be my design partners: Jaime
Montemayor, Jim Hendler, Angela Boltman, Lisa Sherman, Gene Chipman, Houman
Alborzi, Britt McAlister, Aurelie Plaisant, Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant, and Ben
Bederson. Our research could not have been accomplished without the generous support
of the Kennedy Krieger School, 3D Open Motion, Microsoft Corporation, and the United
States Census Bureau. In addition, a significant part of our research has recently been
supported by the European Union’s i3 Experimental School Environments Initiative
29310. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my husband who is also my colleague, who
enables me to think about grand plans while he builds our technological dreams.
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