Understanding Gestures Project: First Experience of Running User Studies with Young Children

Over the course of the last few weeks, I had my first experience of running a user study with younger children, particularly children age 6 to 7 from PK Yonge Blue Wave After School program. My PhD mentor, Alex Shaw, and I went through a week of recruitment and a week of study running at the PK Yonge facility. To me, the recruiting process was quite interesting. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach potential participants’ parents and give a concise introduction about our study. Knowing that I had to spark parents’ interest in our study without being overly aggressive, I observed how my mentor, Alex, carried out the recruiting process and adapted his techniques. I felt that highlighting the potential benefits, emphasizing the low-risk nature of the research study, and pointing out the timeliness of our study are the three factors that most effectively encouraged parents to allow their children to participate. Another thing I learned is that recruiting is a lengthy process. I was little disappointed at first to only receive few responses back, but being patient and keeping a positive attitude during recruitment eventually gave parents enough time to return the consent forms.

On the other hand, running the study was quite challenging for me at first. Prior to the actual user study, Alex and I ran two pilot studies with other members of the INIT lab, but the real deal was little different. I was nervous during the first study, mumbled my words through and made a mistake on the data entrance: I stopped the timer before the participant finished and submitted the wrong time. Luckily, we have the study recorded and I was able to go through the timestamps and save the data manually. I became much more comfortable and the study process was much smoother in the later studies.

A few things I learned from this study include: since we are running the study with younger children, it is important to clearly present the instructions and make sure the participants fully understand them. I realized that during the fine motor skills assessment from the NIH Toolbox®, the participants tended to use both hands or the wrong hand while the instructions said not to. So, I made sure to emphasize those parts of the instruction to keep the data as accurate as possible. Also, I learned that younger children get bored easily: since the study lasts around 30 minutes and involves many repetitive tasks, there are certainly times when fatigue comes into play and children want to quit the study. In order to avoid those situations as much as possible, I found that spending a few minutes when taking the children to our study room asking how their day is going, asking them a few questions to keep them engaged, and showing them the small prizes we will give out can get them more engaged and keep them excited to participate. Encouraging breaks in between study tasks and keeping a friendly atmosphere during the study also helps.

Overall, I felt the recruiting and the study running process was challenging at first, but it became much easier after the first few times and I actually enjoyed the process. Looking at the data we’ve collected also gives me a sense of accomplishment. Our next step is to analyze the data to answer our study’s research questions, which we will be able to talk about soon. We are also planning to conduct study sessions with younger children at the Baby Gator daycare facility. I’m excited and looking forward for the process.