Children's Navigation of Hyperspace – Are Spatial Skills Important?

S. Jones and G.E. Burnett (UK)

Keywords

Hypertext, spatial skills, cognitive maps, webbased education, children

Abstract

Hypertext is becoming increasingly popular as a platform for educational material, allowing the user autonomy and flexibility in choosing a route through the presented information. However, the required decision-making process places extra cognitive demands on the user, and this may result in disorientation and the phenomenon known as “lost in hyperspace”. Individuals with high spatial ability appear to demonstrate superior navigational skills within hypertext, completing tasks more quickly and with fewer errors then those with low spatial ability. They tend to form more accurate internal representations, or cognitive maps, of hypertext systems that correspond better to the underlying physical structure. Little research has been carried out with children to assess their formation of cognitive maps of hyperspace. In this study, 32 children aged 10-11 years from a primary school in the UK were given search tasks to complete on an environmental Web site. Various measures were made of their navigational efficiency, their degree of lostness, and their ability to complete a map of the routes they had traversed. Those with high spatial ability completed the tasks in shorter time, became lost less frequently, and completed the maps more accurately. This paper discusses the implications of these results to the success of hypertext learning environments for learners with low spatial ability.

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