Helping UNIX users : an assessment of the effectiveness of various forms of online help - PhDData

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Helping UNIX users : an assessment of the effectiveness of various forms of online help

The thesis was published by Coventry, Lynne Margaret, in September 2022, University of Stirling.


The aim of online help is to make complex computer systems more usable and allow users to exploit more of the system’s power. To achieve this aim it is necessary to provide users with information needed to accomplish their currant task while also encouraging further skill development to facilitate the transition from novice to expert. This thesis investigates the relationship of individual differences to the use of computers and online help. An observational study of real users of UNIX showed that very few commands were used by users and there was great variability in the use of UNIX. “Field Dependency” was identified as a potential source of the variation between users. Two experiments were carried out to assess the effect of Field Dependency. The subjects were required to carry out a number of tasks with help provided via a human expert or an online help system. The help system developed could be configured to behave actively or passively. Two different user communities, computer science students and women trainees, were studied.
Both experiments found Field Dependency to be correlated with the number of commands known by users: the more field -independent a user, the more commands are known. In the first experiment it was found that field-dependents were exposed to more help from the human expert than the field-independents. With the help system, the field-independents were exposed to more help. Field-independents were also found to benefit from increased flexibility of the system where both active and passive help was available whereas field-dependents did not.Conclusions are drawn about the effects of Field Dependency on user interaction with help systems and the effectiveness of two alternative access initiatives.

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