Efficiency of interface design in education
The aim of this research is to prove or disprove efficiency of interface design in education and to explore existing solutions. As the main goal is to provide students with all the needed materials and programs in order to give them profound understanding of the process of the particular field of study, it is necessary to reveal these aspects in sight of user-interface using real examples. In this work we have tried to reveal the principles a good software design in the sight of game development for physical class students, and show how they are realized in the “Physical Virtual Laboratories” project
Nowadays a great deal of scientific studies are aimed to facilitate the efficient usage and integration of information technologies and innovative software into the education process . Not surprisingly, that the results of these researches often turn out be a compromise between efficiency, availability and, which is most important, the mathematical or physical accuracy. But within last years the technological development permitted to make these programs more efficient, fast and accurate that makes them almost an ideal alternative to the existing education tools. One of the most eminent examples of such technologies and their efficient application in practice is virtual physical laboratory. In its broadest definition the virtual physical laboratory is software or a set of software, that implements the mathematical model of physical processes .
A game as an effective tool of learning is now getting more popular during practical classes. During the game students are actively involved in the process, thus professors don’t have any problems with attentiveness and discipline. Gameplay makes the learning process easier, more interesting, and which is really important, more effective. Students don’t have to memorise large amount of data, as during the game the data is given in interactive and challenging manner.
It’s quite evident that the most important factor determining the quality of such kind of software is physical accuracy. But still in some specific cases the interface realisation is really crucial. If the aim of the software is to make students understand the physical process itself, the value of interface quality increases significantly. It is necessary to mention that usability and user-friendly interface in virtual physical laboratories is underestimated nowadays, even if it is common knowledge that such issues are steadily becoming a science. We should always remember that work is much less productive if the software is too hard to use. The user is to have some dull work done, so operating the software has to be as easy and interesting, i.e. it is essential to save time and effort for actual work. As games are not fun unless some difficulty is involved, engineers have to develop interesting and easy in use but still partially complicated software. The given data should be hard to learn, hard to figure out, hard to execute, which makes the process challenging.
In this work we have tried to reveal the principles a good software design in the sight of game development for physical class students, and show how they are realized in the “Physical Virtual Laboratories” project.
2.1 Description of the game engine
During the process of development of the 3D scene prototype model for the Virtual Physical Laboratory “Atwood Machine” our main goal was to implement the software according to the basic principles of efficiency, such as minimal system requirements, scientific accuracy, and realistic physical model (Fig.1).
For the program logic we used Microsoft.NET XNA framework, which is a powerful tool for interactive game development. For creating a realistic 3D model we used Unity which is very easy to use and to learn. Drag and drop is the basis of the developing process with Unity with some occasional adapting of scripts rather which is simpler and faster than writing code. Apart from such features as shaders and effects (they can be easily turned on in some game settings), Unity provides a great deal of scripts which can be dragged onto 3D models. These scripts may be used for character controllers, follow up cameras or other important features. As for disadvantages it is possible to mention lack of integrated modeling abilities and lack of SVN support that makes it complicated for all the members of the development team to work concurrently. 
2.2 Description of the concept: Essential features of user interfaces in game development
The many features are undoubtedly attractiveness and ‘enjoyability’. These features are defined by the quality of graphics, animation, etc. In the context of virtual laboratories the usability is defined by its learning and usage efficiency. It is related to "playability," but still there are a lot of differences. It is quite clear that usability as a technical problem should have technical solutions and requires a well-developed concept, a good theory, and a strict methodology. In our work we tried to reveal these concepts by creating a 3D model of the laboratory and laboratory equipment to let the students get acquainted with the real-life experiment and 2D part to make calculations and reports. Unlike existing products the proposed solution is easy in use as it offers a well-known calculation handling, but provides sophisticated graphics as 3D models of the laboratory and equipment.
3. Work vs fun
As it was mentioned above to complicated usage makes the software less effective. In our project we tried making a gameplay and an interface as easy as possible. As the user first enters the laboratory he faces simple and well-known design, where he is provided all the laboratory works. Even if each laboratory has its own specific interface we have tried to make one entry point to it make it easier to find the needed one and to get used to the design in general. All the 3D features are going later as the user becomes a more experienced user. Thus we are able to save time and effort for actual work. It has been claimed that games may not be fun unless some difficulty is involved.  In our laboratory the user has to make some effort in order to use certain features, but still it is not too complicated, because the user is looking for the thrill of accomplishment. In common software design the “Help” button is an essential part of any program, especially of the game. As the user enters the program he can get a text-based manual, and within the laboratories he may get a full tutorial with screen shots and flowcharts. The ability to pass test in order to drill the skills is also provided.
4. Proposed approach to developing a good software usability
As the virtual laboratory is client-based software, firstly the developer team has to write out the Entertainment Goal, i.e. it is necessary to identify features that are supposed to make the game entertaining and challenging. Secondly, the team identifies features that need to be difficult about it to make the gaming/learning process fun. In other words, we figure out parts that are actually difficult about the program/game.
In certain cases it would be efficient to apply standard usability techniques to:
A specific version of the program concept
A specific version of the user interface
According to the situation in different techniques different approaches may be required, for example:
Design as well
After choosing the strategy, it is possible to identify the difficulties that are not part of the Entertainment Goal, as for example instrumental difficulties. Even if they are not considered to a part of a game they may seriously harm the product as they may interfere with the entertainment. Thus, they are to be fixed to maximize the student feedback. While fixing the instrumental difficulties, the developers should always remember standard usability design concepts.
In this article we tried to analyze the modern development of ICT, especially in the area of education. At first glance, the modern systems require only physical accuracy. But as we discussed in the article the use-interface, especially in game development, it becomes crucial. Nowadays a key challenge for software developers is rapid creation of expressive, dynamic and interactive user interface. And still, it should be effective and engaging. User interface that is able to increase emotional impact may significantly improve performance (comprehension in the case of virtual laboratory). However without awareness of special techniques and tools developing user-friendly and expressive interface is becoming highly complicated. If we are talking about game’s user interface it may even become more time-consuming. The interface impacts the user’s adoption which is the most important in the case of virtual laboratories, that is why it is necessary to investigate the problem, as nowadays games are becoming not only impressive but in many aspects an effective learning tool.
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