Lutzky-hci symposium formatted

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Usability Analysis of Culturally Situated Design Tools: Inside the Mind of the Multicultural Student User
Raymond A. Lutzky Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 801 Plymouth Ave., Schenectady, NY 12308

Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) incorporate aspects of historical and cultural social identity into software applets intended to increase student interest andlearning in mathematics. These tools were created by Ron Eglash and his team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute through a grant from the National Science Foundation and other partner organizations. The CSDTs are available for free on-line at, and have been incorporated into many after-school programs, math and art classrooms, and educational enrichment programs inNew York State and around the world. The strength of these tools comes not only from the unique demonstrations of advanced math concepts found embedded in cultural designs, but also because they give students the ability to pursue academic success while retaining their cultural identities (a challenge in modern American schools, as evidenced by the literature). This paper seeks to evaluateexemplars of CSDTs from a usability standpoint, measuring the effectiveness of the software in creating a valuable and enjoyable user experience. This analysis will come in two parts; first, an appraisal of the human-computer interaction and usability issues related to student use of CSDTs. Second, the paper will present a more holistic evaluation of the psychological effect, credibility, and rhetoricalappeal of the technology from a user’s perspective. Observations for this analysis were recorded as part of a “Design Your Future” workshop at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in February 2011, where a group of middle and high school students were given the opportunity to explore the software in a five day program. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to offer the basis for heuristics inthe design of future CSDTs that provide a better user experience, relate more directly to the goals and expectations of users, and enhance their effectiveness as innovative math teaching tools.

culture of the student(s) using them. Forslund speaks to this: “Because culture plays such an important role in communication, professionals who develop printed pictorial materials for[audiences] must ensure that these materials are tailored to reflect the environment and the experiences of the audience the communicators are trying to reach” (Forslund 1996, 48). Therefore, the visual elements of CSDTs define their cultural situation and lend themselves to the aesthetic power of the software with students. The relevant impact of these visual elements may vary according to thesubjectivity of their student audiences and the students’ awareness of their cultural identity (and previous interest in mathematics). This is further complicated by interface and user experience concerns. Challenges have been demonstrated by experiences of students participating in Design Your Future (DYF), a Baohouse workshop sponsored by the Coalition to Diversify Computing. These workshops areconducted as after-school programs, primarily at Boys and Girls Clubs in the Capital Region of New York state. One avenue for demonstrating the mental model of CSDT users is by connecting their aesthetic schema to significant cultural and historical “math art” experiences. With this in mind, the DYF workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Arts Center of the Capital Region at Troy, New York inFebruary 2011. Over five full-day sessions, approximately a dozen middle and high school students from under-represented groups learned to use arts and crafts materials as well as software on laptop computers. Each day, a new CSDT was introduced – beginning with cultural and historical context, followed by a relevant CSDT applet that required the use of mathematical concepts (Baohouse 2011). In...
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