The Impact of Computer Input Devices, Interaction Methods, and Parental Assistance on Young Children's Computer Competence
Lynn-Garbe, Cynthia A.
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A growing number of children are being exposed to computer technology at very early ages. The rapid increase in computer hardware and software being marketed to young children has not been accompanied by similar growth in our knowledge of children's experiences with this technology. The present study attempted to address this information gap by investigating: (1) the performance of 3 and 4 year old novice computer users utilizing two different input devices (mouse and stylus) in the execution of three different interaction methods (click, point and click, and drag) by measuring response times and error rates and; (2) the patterns of parental assistance that occur when these preschool children use these input devices. Twenty-four families (child and parent) participated in this study. The primary measures used to examine key variables included pre-and post-computer measured tasks to assess children's performance when utilizing the two input devices to perform the three interaction methods; parent-child computer sessions to observe the kinds of parental assistance provided as children initially utilize the two input devices; and a 10 day in-home practice period. Parents also completed pre-and post questionnaires to assess the children's experiences with computers and a daily practice diary to assess input device usage and parental assistance given during the in-home practice period. Descriptive, inferential and qualitative techniques were utilized to analyze the data. Both the mouse and stylus were found to be comparable with one exception. Children's response times were significantly slower using the mouse than the stylus when performing the drag method. There was also a significant effect of practice on response times for both 3 year olds and 4 year olds, with response times decreasing significantly from pretest to posttest. The effects of practice on error rates, however, were restricted to the drag method only. There was also a significant effect of gender on response times, with females performing faster than males. In addition, parental assistance techniques were found to be broadly categorized as visual, verbal and physical. These assistance techniques were in direct response to the difficulties the children were experiencing with the device mechanics and impacted, to a large degree, their success or failure in addressing these difficulties.