Case Assignments and Session Projects on Computer-Human Interaction - Speech Essay Example

Current State of Speech Recognition

The need for bulk transcription work has led to the development of speech recognition tools - Case Assignments and Session Projects on Computer-Human Interaction introduction. The software used to be highly profession-intensive focusing on legal and medical transcriptions. Thus, the goal was to provide these technical professions with a means of eradicating time used for encoding notes or recordings. The software allowed for straight dictation with the computer detecting the sound patterns and translating them into text. Because of the specialized nature of the software, the target consumer group was small and so the cost of the tools was rather high. However, in recent years speech recognition has gone beyond the technical professions.

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In fact, the latest Microsoft Office Edition has integrated into its functions a strong speech recognition system. Because of such a feature included in Microsoft Vista, the phenomenon of speech recognition devices has become available to a broader audience. There is thus now greater utility for speech recognition tools as they are readily applicable to everyday tasks performed on the computer. Take for example the Vista speech recognition tool which may now be used to dictate reports, research papers, articles, blogs, and even personal letters. This not only facilitates encoding work for those bogged down by multiple tasks to complete everyday but also extinguishes the anxiety felt by those not entirely familiar with the basic placement of the letters on a regular keyboard. Thus, not only is encoding made more efficient but the use of computers is promoted to those not entirely comfortable with use.

However, there are still problems with the system as the running of the tool requires particular processors and memory levels. The requirements may vary for the different tools available in the market. However, the issue remains that low-end users would not be able to utilize these tools. Furthermore, there are still translation errors detected requiring the user to review the transcribed work for any errors. This may be a great leap from the traditional method of transcribing yet it doesn’t preclude the room for improvements and growth.

Just as has been the experience with computers, particularly so with computer chips, continued research and development in the field will result in increasingly more efficient products at decreasing cost to the consumer. Moore’s Law in Intel as regards the number of transistors for every chip showed the world that indeed it was possible for the number of transistors to double almost every two years. This allowed for the faster processors and smarter computers. Intel has yet to fail in this goal as imposed by its founder. The same principle can be seen to be at work with speech recognition tools.

Already speech recognition tools have broadened in impact and utility than its original intended use at the beginning – to cater to legal and medical professionals. The number of words recognized by the tool is increasing providing the system with a wide vocabulary. Furthermore, speech recognition devices have already improved to include portable digital recorders which only require to be plugged into a compatible system which would automatically translate the audio recording to text. It will not be long before audio recorders will automatically produce a text output of the material recorded. Not to mention the impending possibility of lesser processor requirements to run speech recognition tools.

Finally, the broadening use of speech recognition devices should not be limited to required written documents. It will not be long before faster processors equipped with speech recognition devices will permit users to talk directly to their computers in order to control the particular functions for which they were intended.

Assessment of Windows Media Player

The Windows Media Player is a player for audio and video files built in with Windows operating systems and licensed under Microsoft. Its copyright indicates the participation of SRS Labs, Inc. in the development of the software. SRS Labs is a company involved in audio technologies. This shows that this player is indeed generally distributed and would be a common fixture to any Windows operated computer. This presents all the more the need to have its interface be efficient and effective so that it might be used optimally.

 The Windows Media Player has a number of integrated functions offered to the consumer. These include playing a variety of audio formats, playing compatible video files, playing of CDs and DVDs, easy ripping of music from CDs and instant saving of the files on the computer, creating playlists, accessing the internet for radio stations, additional information on songs, and downloading, and even burning CDs. The Media Player thus integrates the functions which otherwise might require several programs.

Although Media Player is equipped with many functions, the effectiveness of the interface leaves much to be desired. The interface is a mixture of a graphical user interface and menu-driven interface. The main categorizations of functions is controlled with a text menu which provides options as to what is to be done with Windows Media Player or what window display should be shown (whether the display for ripping music, playing the radio, playing music files, etc.). Once within the chosen display window the controls are mainly graphical. However, basic functions are not represented by icons and the icons used for those options which are represented are either too small to be identified or are too specialized to be understood. Take for example the icon for changing player color: a paintbrush. The paintbrush has been used too much in paint and image editing software as a means of imposing graphics on a program to now be automatically linked to a change in color function. Other icons are not indicative of the use for which they are intended and so the user still has to rely on the text pop-ups indicating what the icons are for.

Furthermore, the main menu showing the major controls for the program – such as File, View, Tools, Help, etc. – is collapsible and in fact automatically disappears when not used. This may give the impression that such controls are not available particularly so to those not used to the Media Player. The operation of the Media Player is thus left to much guess work. However, when reading CDs and DVDs the Media Player automatically plays the same or navigates to the audio ripping display.

To improve the use and control of the player, basic options should be represented by icons. The simple function of adding music to the playing list should be represented by an icon rather than having such control linked to an icon displaying several control options in text. The use of a graphic user interface is defeated with the need to await text commands. However, switching to a menu interface would also complicate the interaction with the player. Most functions required for the player are quite simple and the process of using the player would be too cumbersome if even basic functions should have to be accessed through menu folders and subfolders. Moreover, the player interface would be greatly improved if the icon buttons were bigger and in plain view of the user rather than in corners and sides where they could easily be disregarded. Generally, the Media Player needs to make more apparent to the most unskilled user the range of tasks that it is capable of performing. The multiple functions of Media Player are taken for granted because of its ineffectiveness in communicating the availability of said functions.

User Interface Design

The current trend of programming has acknowledged the need to make designs more consumer-friendly. No matter how ground-breaking the functions of a program or software, the same would be rendered useless if packaged in an interface difficult for the average consumer to use. IBM adopts such a stance in its creation of software as well as to the services it offers to other companies for the creation of software or for the training of computer engineers.

The links provided HCI provide a database of other companies concerned with user interface designs in the creation of their programs and software. A common thread connecting all these companies is their concern for how the end user would interact with the program. The design involves not only the programming of the functions or the utility of the object but more so the appearance of the control buttons and the visibility of the functions to the end user. Without a consideration for the constraints under which the consumer might work, the program would be left without utility. In such a way, even a program answering a great need in a particular industry would not be bought or applied since it would require more costs to train employees to use the same.

IBM and the HCI companies all take time and exert effort to understand the environment of their clients. In IBM’s case, the general characteristics and behaviors of the average person are taken into consideration and the program being designed is customized for the comfort of the hypothetical average joe. While the HCI companies admitted to a more tailored fitting of their programs. Actual interviews and background research were employed to establish the persona and business of the client. Another company utilized the carry-over effect to allow for easier use of a new program. The methods of use employed in a commonly used program – such as Microsoft Office – were adopted in a new program so the user would be able to use prior cognitive understanding of the interface of the former to operate the latter.

Because of the consideration for the consumer’s interaction with the program, the product becomes more marketable. As opposed to companies not involved in effective user interface design, IBM and the HCI companies assess quality where it is in reality gauged – at the level of the end user. Programs and software which are inconsiderate of the unskilled user may be effective for users who themselves are programmers but not for the majority of the buying population. Thus, unlike IBM and the HCI-listed companies, the latter companies will have a smaller consumer base and upon the release of a similar program with a friendlier interface, their products would be out-phased.

Thus, effective user interface design is important to a business for two reasons: (1) the appeal that it presents to the buying population; and (2) the accurate use and effective translation of utility of the program invented. The first issue deals with customer feedback concerning a product. Because of the easy use of a given product, more customers will give positive feedback thus building up the reputation and perceived reliability of the company. This in turn will draw in more buyers thereby increasing sales. As to the second issue, suffice it to say that it is the consumer who determines the usefulness of a product. If the consumer cannot use it then it would be as if the product had not even been released in the market. It is after all irrelevant how much one knows if one is not able to effectively communicate such knowledge to others. The same may be said of reliable and effective programs which consumers cannot manipulate or operate.

Re-assessment of the Windows Media Player

The Windows Media Player although workable, has several points of improvement to facilitate its operation. Despite these difficulties however, no attempt has ever been made by this student to contact technical support. There are several reasons for this lack of interest to ask for assistance. First, there are numerous free programs which are easier to use than Media Player given any of its numerous functions. If we were to consider the audio player functions then there is Winamp and Itunes which are easily downloaded. As regards video player functions, there are also quite a number of free reliable programs found on the internet. These programs provide easy interfaces thus it would be more efficient for a user to download any number of said programs rather than to wait for the impatient instructions of a customer service representative. Also, although cumbersome to get around, the Media Player is still after all a product of Microsoft and so is the control buttons used for Microsoft Office are easily applied when attempting to run the player.

Given the difficulty encountered in using the software, it would definitely be more effective if Windows Media Player adopted a ribbon-like menu system like Microsoft Office 2007. The array of functions offered by the player would undoubtedly clutter a text menu. Given the ineffectuality of the mixed text menu and graphic user interface employed in the current software, there is a need for a more organized control system. One option would be to employ the ribbon menu system. This would allow the user to cognitively compartmentalize control options for each function that the player might assume. Thus, the range of tasks which the player is capable of performing would be fully understood by the user, making the player more useful.

However, even given the added features, it would seem like a loss if the consumer had to pay for the efficiency. After all, numerous softwares are out in the market which the consumer might avail of at no cost. Also, the Media Player would have much to make up for because despite its effective function, it has gone for too long suffering in form. This has tarnished its reputation and more users have developed the habit of using other players or even an assortment of other software comprising the different functions available in a single Windows Media Player. Even when Media Player launched the function allowing minimization of the display so that it was pegged on the taskbar with basic play and pause functions as well as regular song information pop-ups, the crowds were not won over. This was particularly observed when Winamp launched its windowshade mode in response. Simply because of the habit of using winamp for music playback, the lesser quality of its version of the taskbar mode was still widely applauded.

This shows that indeed ease of use should not be taken for granted by entrepreneurs. From the launching of a software and more so in its continued improvement, concern should be taken regarding the ease of its use. Faulty design would establish the reputation of the program and thus determine its marketability. Even with subsequent improvements, if the said improvements are slow and late in coming then the software would remain ignored and discarded. This principle persists even if the product is riddled with numerous functions unavailable from competitors who have considered ease of use. Between the two companies, the one concerned with ease of use would still sell more products.

Implementing Groupware

Groupware is used every day in practically all the departments in this student’s company. However, there remains a question as to whether or not such programs make the system more efficient or simply just build it up to be technologically savvy. Without going into details, one groupware used in the company allows employees to share a project being worked on so that there is no need to physically push papers around. This also allows the team to append changes immediately to the project without the need to approach the other persons working on the same project. Given that each member of the team is assigned to different aspects of the project, there is little or no need for consultation every time that a member accomplishes his or her assigned output. Ideally therefore, the groupware would invite a faster flow of work which would ensure paperless transactions and efficient integration of output.

The introduction and implementation of the software was ill-planned however. For one thing, even though the team utilizes the program, the management does not. Thus, when changes are made to the instructions or revisions are required for the work, memos still fly in and out of the cubicle. The delay in communication wastes precious progress that could have been made on the actual output desired. It also allows the team to continue improving the project for specifications which have in actuality already been altered. This wastes resources of the company and energy of the employees. It should be noted that such a system opens doors for de-motivation of employees when they find out that the portion they’ve been working on has to be completely revamped.

Furthermore, the system is quite reflective of several other companies who only teach and require employees to use the program without considering the corporate culture. The system becomes quite inefficient when deadlines are coming up and suddenly the groupware is relegated to a mere tool to track changes while employees leave their cubicles to look over each other’s shoulders in an effort to hasten the process or to rush their co-employees. This is also quite reflective of the politics played within the office. A supervising officer who feels that the employees are too lax with their tasks will suddenly reject the groupware and push employees to work on the project in a more efficient way. The more efficient way turns out to be skulking in a co-employees cubicle or pacing behind him or her so that the pressure mounts and the project can be finished quicker.

The software is actually efficient in itself and, if applied properly, would provide for more effective administration of tasks. The problem arises because of the poor corporate structuring of the employees. The groupware should be integrated into the system as a means for employees to communicate and interact with each other more. At the current state where it is being implemented the groupware is nothing more than a tool for publishing output. The company therefore needs to restructure and reorganize the actual corporate culture bred within the office. Furthermore, either the groupware should be expanded such that management could utilize the same and leave notes for the employees or additional groupware should be added to afford employees and management alike to communicate in real time without having to leave their cubicles, wasting time that could be utilized on furthering the project. The groupware should be viewed as being more than just an end product. Rather it is a means to an end. The product is the effective communication which it affords to employees and management alike.

Sigchi

Sigchi.org is a company providing information, training programs, and communities for those desirous of improving computer-human interaction in their corporations or programs. The interface of the website is a little cluttered driven solely by text links. There are little to no graphics integrated into the display thus showing an interface cluttered with announcements and links. Although a person visiting the site with a ready view as to what he or she is looking for would not have a hard time following the links, the interface does not allow the user to grasp the full array of services and information offered by Sigchi.

For one thing, Sigchi doesn’t just offer a community where one can keep posted with conference announcements or training programs but there is also a library where publications may be accessed. The user needs to feel that these resources are easy to access and all readily available in the site. However, the clutter of information plugged into one display is a little overwhelming and causes the user to easily tire of the site. The usefulness of the service provided by Sigchi is thus not maximized simply because of its unenthusiastic and haphazard display interface. Even given that the apparent target audience of the site are computer engineers, the system is still too loaded to digest in the little time that such professionals have to spare doing research.

Moreover, considering that the purpose of the site is to impart to the user the importance of effective design in facilitating computer-human interaction, their site leaves much to be desired. This could be taken by other users, particularly of first-time visitors, as a reflection on the company’s ability to deliver the service that they promise. The quality of the material in the publications, the frequency of scheduled conferences and the testimonies of users reflect that Sigchi is able to impart knowledge as to ease of use design. However, this only elaborates on the issue that although the knowledge might be gained there is room for not applying said theories. Certainly if the company that taught the principles found it unnecessary to apply the same in their website yet people still accessed the site and registered for their services, then the same practice can work for the user’s program or company. The main theme of the site thus resounds with the need only to produce quality material regardless of the accurate application of ease of use designs.

The site is undoubtedly worth exploring and the quality of the material that they offer is good for value. This reveals why the community registered with Sigchi has grown to its numbers now and continues to grow still. More than imparting knowledge however, Sigchi should lead by example. There is no greater teacher than experience and no greater method of teaching than modeling. The user who experiences using effective design upon mere entry into the company’s website would thus understand its importance. As well, by simply exploring a site which applies ease of use principles, the user would already learn techniques that could be readily applied or improved upon through extended explanation through the resources offered by Sigchi. Sigchi needs to communicate that the added investment in improving interface is worth its value. For although the resources it offers already entail incurred costs, the additional cost of sprucing up their website makes the difference between effective marketing of their goods and simple pawning of quality merchandise. The added investment makes the difference in letting their clients know that they themselves buy into their product.

Assessing Usability

Usability should be assessed from the perspective of the end user. If a website is usable for its programmers or for computer engineers, then it has to answer the question of whether or not it was designed solely for these groups. It should be remembered that the success of a site is determined solely on the end user’s actual use of the site for its intended purpose and the user’s return to the site for future use. Take a site used to sell goods, if the design is so complex that the user can’t even find the price of a desired item or the manner by which it might be purchased, then the site is useless.

In order to determine usability therefore, programmers have to periodically run testing of the program while it is being completed. In this way, troublesome functions may be modified for the ease of use of the target consumer. The first criterion for usability would thus be the ease with which a consumer would use it. If the site is too complex for the target consumer to understand then the design team has failed. Another criterion is the ability to communicate to the user the purpose of the site. The user needs to be informed of how he or she can apply the site to his or her particular situation. If the site fails to reflect all the functions that it is capable of performing then a significant amount of preparation, service, and programming has been wasted. Also, usability is judged by the user’s ability to correct errors committed while exploring the system. The end user should be afforded an easy correctional option so that a stronger relationship is built between the user and the technology. These are just some criteria by which usability might be judged.

Although seemingly trivial, most companies forget the importance of these details. More often than not companies are content with the ability of the manufacturers to explore a design and use it for its intended purpose. At other times, companies rely on the availability of customer support to address any issues that an end user might have. However, it should be borne in mind that the technological arena is fast-paced and beset with a myriad of options for the user. Thus, where one company fails – even if with regard to only a minor detail – other companies will gain. There is thus a greater advantage in laboring for usability through the step by step process of production.

If the company should find a conflict between its interests and the consumer’s preference then disagreements should be settled in favor of the target audience intended to interact with the interface. If testing reflects for example that a product is very difficult to use and the target users could persist in using it but the intended goal would take a long time to accomplish, then a valid dilemma arises. The user is able to use the program albeit the extended exploration of the interface. Is there really a need to modify then? Usability principle would say that there is. For even though the desired end is achieved, the process to achieving the same is a cumbersome one and there is no telling as to how many target consumers would opt to use an easier program or simply just reject the program being offered. It should be remembered that usability is always judged from the perspective of the end user. Thus, if a company has to launch tutorials or demos and continually has to teach the end user how to go around the system then it has failed. This may be acceptable for some highly technical professions however it breeds the further problem of having to maintain trainers and technical support who would have to address future queries arising from functions that weren’t taught in the first place. The easiest solution would be to run testing with the target audience during every phase of production and programming to ensure that the design is simple, understandable, and usable even without the need for constant technical support interference.

Www.usability.gov

This website is maintained by the United States government. It has been launched in order to provide material for government agencies in the manner that government sites are kept. The rationale for improving design of government sites is the importance and bulk of information released by the various government agencies. Because of the nature of the information being disseminated, there is a need to ensure that those accessing the site can easily navigate the page.

The site provides a formal atmosphere which allows the user to locate the precise information needed. The chunking of related material and the use of colors and changing fonts to segregate the different information available on the site allowed for effective navigation of the links. The text menus here were quite organized making sure that the user would not be overwhelmed by the sheer number of available information. Furthermore, the organization employed an authoritative tone which allowed the user to infer the reliability of the information.

The site is quite useful because is provides extensive research studies regarding usability designs. The research information was quite extensive and explored in detail the various aspects required in design – down to the minute details such as coloring and the like. The tutorials offered by the site were basically for self study and this was quite helpful because they offered the user the option to take the material at his or her own convenience and pace. It was also quite useful to identify the segregation of material thus allowing the user to identify immediately whether or not the information needed was available on the site or not. The extensive data provided by the site broadened its user base. Although the primary goal of the site was to have government sites improved, the principles imparted are of general application and so were quite useful even to non-government employed computer engineers. Take for example the link for research-based guidelines and templates and examples, these links would be quite interesting to peruse. Any individual interested with computer-human interaction would benefit from examining the contents of these links.

The site is incredibly efficient in communicating its purpose and intent. Merely looking at the menu for the links already imparts knowledge to the user as to how usability is assessed and the process which would improve usability in programs. The site is certainly worth the time to visit. It is free to use and all the electronically published material is available to the public without need of further registration. Because of the transparency of the source of the data being presented, users may judge for themselves whether or not the material is reliable. Even granting that the method of research might not meet the standards of some users, the sheer detail of the information published on the site provides a wealth of information that is worth integrating into programs and testing for usability.

Usability Training for Tangible User Interface

A tangible user interface (TUI) course developer first needs to learn about what usability is and what its presence or absence connotes in the ultimate acceptance of a product. Once the importance of usability has been established, then the faculty may be introduced to the major objectives which usability addresses. Thus the perspective of the end user is introduced. There should be adequate showing that although an interface may be relatively simple for a programmer, the same may be too much trouble for the target audience. It should thus be emphasized that in creating a TUI, the developer must acknowledge the limited capacity of the user.

In order to drive home this point, the developer must be assessed of the importance of prior research and product testing. The developer might thus be informed of the various techniques employed by different companies in order to understand the perspective of the consumer. More importantly, the developer should witness actual testing being conducted. The difficulty that consumers have in using what developers might see as simple interfaces would broaden their understanding of the importance of making their products usable.

After tackling such perspectives, the developer can be introduced to the various research studies already conducted and their findings. Thus the developer can be assessed of how to improve program designs. Usually these techniques require minimal changes in programming. The major problem to overcome are built-in biases and deeply ingrained habits. Thus, the crux of the training revolves around attitude changes in the developer. The developer needs to become more open-minded and aware of the end goal of his or her project. Without an accurate understanding of the usability of a product – or its potential for disuse – a developer might stubbornly cling to the belief that it is sufficient to have quality design meeting specifications of the employer regardless of the target market.

Finally, the developer should be apprised of the importance of conducting testing for him or herself. In order to avoid unnecessary work on a product that might not even be usable, the developer should conduct periodic testings at every stage of the programming process. Waiting until launch would require greater changes in the program; if not total undoing of the work already accomplished. It would thus be easier to simply conduct small-scale regular testings. Furthermore, the developer should be made to understand that although previous research has already been conducted, each case is different. Thus, what might have worked for one group might not work for the particular target audience in his or her project. Simply adopting principles written down on a website or in a pamphlet does not ensure usability. Therefore testing such adopted principles with a sample of the target consumer is needed. Such training would allow developers to integrate usability into their discipline and minimize the need for a separate group of usability experts to be maintained by the company. Companies should thus adopt a usability training program and simply ensure the resources for such program and the frequency of trainings.

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