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Journal of the Association for Information Science

 

Bert R. Boyce

497

SPECIAL TOPIC ISSUE

 

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS
Guest Editors: Chaomei Chen, Mary Czerwinski, and Robert Macredie

In this special issue, we are interested in exploring issues related to individual differences, especially in terms of how individuals differ in their abilities to capture, recognize, and make effective use of abstract, implicit, and changing structures found across many large information systems and virtual environments. In particular, we hope articles in this special issue will help us to understand better how to accommodate these differences. We highlight questions that are likely to make a significant contribution to the field. Articles in this special issue address some of these questions in depth. On the other hand, many questions can only be adequately addressed when a critical mass of users of virtual environments emerges and virtual environments with substantial content become available.
The four broad questions are:

  1. What are the predominant human factors concerning the design of a virtual environment?
  2. What is the role of individual differences in the use of a virtual environment?
  3. How do we assess the effectiveness and usability of a virtual reality application?
  4. How do we account for users' cognitive and behavioral experiences in a virtual world?

A wide range of specific issues must be addressed in order to answer these questions.
Five articles included in this special issue address a number of important aspects of the study of individual differences. A common theme that underlines all the articles in this issue is how to strike the balance between individuals' abilities and the demanding task for understanding, interpreting, and utilizing structural information conveyed through virtual environments.

Individual Differences and the Conundrums of User-Centered Design: Two Experiments
Bryce Allen

Allen (1999) focuses on the theme of how to optimize the match between users and system configurations in order to optimize their search performance. A key user interface feature in Allen's experiments is a word map. It is a multidimensional scaling model of 100 most frequently occurring words in a collection of bibliographic references. In this case, the intrinsic structure is reflected through the interrelationships in this bibliographic collection. The word map and a multi-window display are referred to collectively as design features in his article.

Allen's article is thought provoking. It demonstrates the power of theories and methodologies developed in (Egan & Gomez, 1985; Stanney & Salvendy, 1995; Vicente & Williges, 1988). More importantly, it shows how one can adapt and apply these theories and methods to the new generation of systems with greater emphasis on individual differences in virtual environments. Further work is necessary to clarify why high spatial individuals were found to perform better without the word map, as in Allen's experiments, and without the spatial-semantic virtual world, as in Chen's experiments. An ideal user interface design would not only compensate for low-spatial users, but also help high-spatial users to improve their performance.

Spatial-Semantics: How Users Derive Shape from Information Space
Andrew Dillon

The ability to perceive structure in abstract information spaces is crucial to navigation and search performance. Dillon's article distinguishes the role of spatial and semantic cues and explains why this conceptualization may lead to new insights into existing and emerging data. Dillon also introduces the concept of shape as the structural component of the working model of an information space. This is most apparent in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) but is less obvious or conceptualized in abstract information environments.  Dillon's article delineates the argument between top-down versus bottom-up approaches with a range of empirical evidence found in the literature.

Individual Differences in a Spatial-Semantic Virtual Environment
Chaomei Chen

The central theme of the special issue is how individuals differ in their performance in a virtual environment which requires an in-depth understanding of its underlying structure. Chen's article presents two studies of individual differences in searching through a spatial-semantic virtual environment. Qualitative and process-oriented studies are therefore called for to reveal the complex interaction between individuals' cognitive abilities, domain knowledge, and direct manipulation skills.  A call of an investigation of deeper knowledge structures is made based on previous studies of similar knowledge-intensive displays, e.g., (Rewey et al., 1991; Stanney & Salvendy, 1995).

Cognitive Styles and Virtual Environments
Nigel Ford

Nigel Ford's article focuses on the distinction between holists and serialists in learning, and its implications for supporting individual users through user interface design.  Of particular interest to the theme of this special issue, Ford addresses some interesting behavioral patterns of holists and serialists. While holists like to use concept maps, serialists prefer keyword indices. A concept map, or the overview of an underlying structure, is designed for global orientation regarding the overall structure of the subject matter.

Having recognized the fuzzy nature of identifying individuals' cognitive styles and learning strategies, Ford introduces a modeling approach based on Kohonen self-organizing feature maps, an artificial neural-network based classification technique. This self-organized approach has potential as a possible route for further research and development of adaptive virtual environments. Virtual environments provide a wider framework for integrating and directly manipulating global and analytic aspects of an information space.

Ford's article also draws our attention to the connection between field-dependence and cognitive styles in terms of individuals' behavioral patterns in navigation of hyperspace. Like holists, field-dependent individuals use overview maps more often than field-independent individuals. In the next article, Palmquist and Kim examine the effects of field-dependence in Web search.

Cognitive Style and On-Line Database Search Experience as Predictors of Web Search Performance
Ruth A. Palmquist and Kyung-Sun Kim

The Web has captured the imagination of millions of users all over the world. It is crucial for Web designers and indeed for all of us to understand how individuals with different cognitive style, different cognitive abilities, and different background in information systems interact with the vast amount of information presented on the Web. At the heart of the organization of information on the Web, it is the notion of association, as manifested through hyperlinks connecting information that is associated in one way or another. Once again, the ability to understand an abstract structure of information, or derive a coherent structure by articulating fragmented documents becomes a challenge to individuals' ability to find and make the best use of the information available. The significance of accommodating individual differences on Web search is clear.

Palmquist and Kim examine the effects of cognitive style, namely field-dependent and field-independent, and online database search experience on Web search. An interesting finding of their study is that online search experience can greatly reduce the effect of field-dependence on Web search performance.

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RESEARCH

 

The Tale of Two ERICs: Factors Influencing the Development of the First ERIC and Its Transformation into a National System
 Lee G. Burchinal

Burchinal reviews the early history of ERIC from the initial study by Tauber and Lilly recommending a special information service for educational media and a later study by Kent recommending a centralized service covering all educational research materials, through the conceptual years, 1959 to 1963, until 1964 when personal relationships among Office of Education bureaucrats led to it becoming a branch of the Division of Educational Research, abstracting and indexing the reports of research funded by that agency and providing consultation services.

While planning for a centralized ERIC facility it became clear that while a decentralized model of selection and representation of documents would be more expensive and offer less control, it seemed far more politically feasible. The new plan called for subject based semi-autonomous clearinghouses, operated by Universities or professional associations, and centralized computer and reproduction services handled by commercial contractors. When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in 1965, ERIC got a million dollar budget, and a real start. In May of 1966 North American Aviation got the contract to integrate the material from the clearinghouses into one database, and in July of 1967 clearinghouse documents appeared in Research in Education.

Differences between Novice and Experienced Users in Searching Information on the World Wide Web
Ard W. Lazonder, Harm J.A. Biemans, and Iwan G.J.H. Wopereis

Next, Lazonder, Biemans, and Wopereis observed 25 fourth grade students divided into novice and expert classes on the basis of self reported World Wide Web experience and a proficiency test. No significant differences were found among the subjects in domain expertise (based on standard test performance), gender or ethnic background. Each subject preformed three 13 minute search and browse assignments where site location and information location were treated separately. Time and success were recorded, combined to produce an efficiency value, and the number of actions carried out to correctly solve a task was recorded as effectiveness.

Experts preformed significantly faster and better on search engine search for sites than did novices. However, no differences were apparent in the search for information within the sites using the hypertext links available. This argues that user training should concentrate on site location, and only touch on hypertext browsing.

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 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

 

Incremental Benefit of Human Indexing
 Susanne M. Humphrey

ERRATUM

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