How Students View a Moodle page (Research on Eye tracking across a Course)

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Moodlefacts.nl had an interesting PDF/Paper posted about eye tracking research done on Moodle users in Australia (thanks for the post and information!).  The article was written by Gergely Rakoczi of Vienna University of Technology and was presented at the Slovenian Moodle conference in May 2010.  The paper is in English and is a very interesting read about the research that goes into eye tracking and what the researchers discovered after having students utilize the tracking technology while they used Moodle.

One of the questions they sought to answer is something that all course developers ask: “How can I create eye-catching teaching material?”

From the abstract [link to PDF],

This work describes an eye tracking study  of Moodle outlining how  Moodle’s  components and teaching materials are ‘seen’ by Moodle users. In order to investigate navigation schemes, usability aspects as well as the learning process itself, Austrian students were eye-tracked during using Moodle. The study addressed objectives to find out about user’s visual  scanning of Moodle’s environment identifying hereby core navigation strategies and components that highly affect exploration within Moodle’s pages.

Discussion and analysis of the collected eye tracking data indicate some interesting results. For example, the investigation identified that the breadcrumb navigation and the “My courses”-block were most frequently used for navigation, but lots of students still use the browser’s ‘back’- button. Eye tracking results also demonstrated that some users had remarkable difficulties locating Moodle’s logout button as well as their profile page.

The study also tried to draw conclusions for future development. Within this work recommendations are given contributing to development of  an  effective  as well  as  intuitive user  interface for Moodle 2.0.

From the study there can be gleaned some interesting insights on navigation and block placement within your Moodle course.  To get around the course students relied generally on two modes: the “my courses” block and the back button of the browser.  The report suggests that emphasizing the bread crumb navigation could be one way to improve usability within the course.  Additionally, students tended not to utilize buttons/links at the periphery of the page (at the very top or bottom), or to utilize the “collapse topics” button square which are located to the right hand side of topic areas.  Better placement/emphasis of the logout and profile buttons, as well as the “collapse topics” buttons might make Moodle for usable.

The conclusion of the report cites 7 recommendations for better course design (page 211),

  1. Use enumerations, numerical listings for emphasizing important parts of the education material!
  2. If you want to educate with difficult text, break them apart in small ‘bites’! This relieves visual perception and processing of information.
  3. Make students curious to increase their involvement! Results shows that students of high (thematic) involvement tend to process teaching elements in greater depth and significantly higher fixation intensities.
  4. Use borders to visually pre-segment your education material. Students’ eye movements will focus on parts of your choice! Remember that segmentations guide eye movements unknowingly!
  5. Use text blocks always in combination with high-detail pictures to encourage interpretation potentials!
  6. Use word-wrapping in continuous text to facilitate visual processing!
  7. Use different colours for different semantic approaches and be consistent!

Great suggestions.  Read the full report at http://goo.gl/cUnBO.

Below is an image of the tracking software “heat map” of a Moodle webpage:

  • This will be very helpful in future course development. Thanks for posting!

  • Interesting study. There is a lot useful about it, but excuse me for a little critique. I noticed that student participants involved in the study were not studying for a class they were taking. This means the study was an artificial exercise with no contingent task to accomplish. One weakness that a further study must improve on. The other problem was the recommendations at the end. I think those seven could have lifted from any book on good page design. Nothing special about online learning or Moodle. In particular, this comment is problematic, “Make students curious to increase their involvement! Results shows that students of high (thematic) involvement tend to process teaching elements in greater depth and significantly higher fixation intensities.” How did the eye-tracking study connect with students’ thematic involvement? Maybe an interview found this out, but it is not clear if there was an interview, what questions were asked, etc. From the data analyzed in the paper, you cannot make this claim.

  • Joseph Thibault

    Don, all great points. I agree with you on the 7 recommendations. I also want to point out that these studies are largely self fulfilling. As with the Google study which showed a ‘F’ shaped heat map, it seems that student eyes go to where the content is/where they think the relevant content will be. I do think the suggestions about making breadcrumb navigation (I’ve seen Moodles where they put it at the bottom of the page instead) and the profile/logout buttons more prominent are the best suggestions from the report.

  • I love that ‘heat map’ image!

    I was suprised by the lack of hotspots on the sidebars although there does not appear to be a lot of useful content there anyway.
    The main page content however is very telling where it is that icon and first word or two in the activity/resource title where the eye lingers longest.

    The fact that the only content in the centre of the page that draws attention is the two images makes me happy as it reinforces my decision to replace the content icons with much larger, descriptive designs in my latest project.
    A quick look at any modern website or user-interface suggests to us that the eye navigates by icons rather than text (think about your iPhone or Android, or even the moodle.org index page).

    Anyway, thanks for an interesting read.

  • Mark Melia

    Excellent comment Don. I think the paper by Rakoczi is an interesting start at looking at Moodle usability issues through eye tracking technology and important work. In saying that it is quite limited as Don as mentioned. My principle criticism of the paper would be the small sample size.

    I have outlined my comments in:
    http://markmelia.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-are-learners-looking-at-in-moodle.html

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