Genedome Usability Evaluation




3D Environment

Interface Design

Alternative Layouts


Breeding Station Design

Visual References




Team: Christopher Moe, Janani Kannan, Sachin Behere, Masaya Saito, Linda Jang

Instructor: Dr. Alan Hedge

DEA651 Human Factors: Ergonomics, Anthropometrics and Biomechanics Graduate Seminar

Cornell University, Department of Design and Environmental Analysis



The purpose of this project is to evaluate the usability of virtual 3D environments, specifically ‘Genedome’ application developed by Cornell Theory Center. Genedome was a manifestation of Activeworlds technology ( that enables the creation of collaborative learning virtual environments. The specific purpose of Genedome environment is to allow Middle / High School students to learn about genetics in a more dynamic, engaging and interactive way than a conventional classroom.


For the purposes of this evaluation we have focused on identifying the key issues and generating directions for future refinements to the Genedome application. To identify key issues and problem areas we have looked at earlier evaluation methods and literature about 3D environments. In addition, chat-logs from previous experiments with high school students were analyzed. This analysis illuminated major problem areas and also showed us the patterns of interaction within the intended user group. We also looked at the video-tape of the experiment sessions to provide information about offline activities. The developers of the program provided valuable insight into the strengths of Activeworlds program and concerns about its application. Our final step of analysis was a direct user experience with the application.


The evaluation was done by graduate students of Design and environmental Analysis at Cornell University. Given the frame of time period and limitations of post-experiment involvement, the project was intended to come up with usability observations and broad future directions for developers. Because of the complex nature of the application, one of the challenges to the project was to come up with our own structure for evaluation and analysis. This evaluation is presented in a simple format of ‘issue-problem-suggestion’. The suggestions, however, capture many components of the program and also provide basis for future empirical research on concrete design solutions. Many of suggestions are not limited to the feasibility of their implementation, but they provide a wider pool of possibilities and directions to choose from.    











§    Reluctance to ask for help, trying to find solutions by trial and error (depending on user type): unwillingness to wait for help or inaccessibility of help

§    More likely to ask for help when instructor is in the vicinity.

§    Seldom used hard copy of instructions.

§    Assistance from other students - some collaboration, but only within the group.

§   Possibility of elimination of instruction manual.



§    Tutorials - limited to coverage of genetics.

§    Help Link - only for general questions about Active Worlds.


Other Users

§    Limited to certain individuals that want to be helpful and those that have a command on the program.

§    Much more likely to provide help when addressed by name.

§    Limited use of the whisper function.


§    Helpful for introduction and general questions.

§    Likely to get overwhelmed with too many help requests.

§     Assign online instructor to general guidance and encouragement.

§     A virtual character that guides you through a tutorial at the beginning, pop-up help or permanent link.


§    Sources not organized logically: affects ease of use (users have to classify their problems and then determine where to seek help).

§     Consolidate help into one document with separate links for navigation, genetics, breeding station.

§     Incorporate the function of help as an avatar that comes to you and helps you through the problem (e.g. pop-up like Paper Clip feature in Microsoft Word).


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3D Environment






(World size)

Vast landscape with no distinguishable feature

§      Easy to get lost (walk on forever)

§      Does not encourage user interaction

§      Give some boundaries: e.g. dome, fences, woods, etc.

§      Put stations close together


(Breeding stations)

Information not available

§      Poor situational awareness

§      Does not encourage interaction among avatars

§      Provide map: e.g. popup within 3D window

§      Make a public square and put stations around it   (possible starting point)




Currently sixteen

§      Limits user group size

§      Let the instructor choose the number of stations at the beginning: e.g. small class 9, large class 36, etc.



Occupancy signage over the tomato beds (empty: green, occupied: red, Station # is being used by xyz)

§      Not visible from any other direction except the front

§      Not indicated on the teleport panel


§      No personalization for the user

§      Vacancy should be visible from all sides: e.g. 3D blinking lamp, balloon, etc.

§      Occupied stations should be indicated on the teleport panel: e.g. different color

§      Give students options for the station to choose from: e.g. different form, color, material, etc.



§      Sky and land are just sky blue and earth-colored background

§      Looks artificial

§      Add some features that would make a more realistic world that children expect and enjoy: e.g. clouds, texture, foliage, etc.


Form all users have same avatar

§      While in 3rd person view, users cant even recognize their own avatar

Function movement is limited

§      Walking, nodding and putting hands on back (last two are not intentional)

§      Give some options: e.g. different gender, age, hair color, clothes, etc.

§      More types of movement related to farming should be added: e.g. watering



Currently gather on a platform first and then spread out to each station

§      The purpose of this action is unclear

§      Users do not know where they are moving to and from

§      Give the instructor a role: e.g. check attendance, give general instructions, etc.

§      Make a starting point that is physically linked to the breeding stations: e.g. bridges that lead to each station



§     After breeding assignment is finished (times vary), students wonder what they have to do and log off.

§    Instead of hard copy worksheet, assignments may be within software so that as students finish each step the ending is clear.

§    Possible rewards / points for clearing each step may encourage students to participate more actively.


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Interface Design






§      Difficulty in identifying active window.

§      Improve highlighting of active window, clears confusion for the user.



§      Seems bigger and imposing.

§      Teleport grid is very big (disproportionate). Uses too much space within the window.

§      Help links are inconspicuous.

§      Can be placed where the chat window is placed currently or where the telegramming window is.

§      Can be emphasized with some icons to attract attention.

§      Links can open in a new window - eliminate scrolling within the window space.

§      Teleport grid can be made linear and smaller and can be located between the help window and the 3D environment window.

§      The number corresponding to the station occupied by the user can either glow or change to a different color to help user to recognize his/her station.

3D environment window

§      Very small in proportion to the rest - this is the window that needs to be as large as possible in order to keep the interest of the user.

§      Any space that is obtained by resizing the windows should go to this window.

Chat window

§      Very narrow and horizontal - cannot read more than 4-5 lines at a time.

§      Need to scroll up and down for reading messages more than four lines before.

§      First-time user can mistake whisper window message box for the chat message box.

§      Retrieval of messages from a particular user becomes difficult since all the messages appear in the same color and font.

§      The best alternative is to make this window linear and position it either on the left or the right side of the computer screen.

§      Clear demarcation between normal chat window and whisper window to decrease confusion.

§      The names of the users appearing in the chat window can be differentiated using either color or fonts. Specific messages become easily identifiable.


Active World Navigation window

§      Least used but uses too much space.

§      No specific function except indicating people online.

§      Telegram feature is seldom used.

§     Can be made a part of the pull-down menu or a link for this can be given in the help window. This will add space to the 3D environment window.



§      There is nothing in the layout that indicates that the windows can be resized. For first-time users, this may not be common knowledge.

§      A roll over can be added every time the mouse moves over the boundary of two windows.

§      This can be added in the instructions manual.


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§         No position information.

§         Speed of avatar movement is not proportional to mouse/keyboard control.

§         The array of 16 stations (2D) and the position and direction of avatars can be displayed on either a 2D or 3D map.

§         Solar position can be added to make environment more realistic.

§         The map can be based on the concept of car-navigation system that is a juxtaposition of bird's-eye view, plane view, and 3D.

Key board

§         Although simple operations (moving forward/backward and sideways) are easy to use, there is confusion in vertical movements (up and down).

§         No clear preference of keyboard and mouse operation.

§         Instructions can be added to a FAQ Link to enable users of different skill levels.


§         Compatibility issues e.g. moving mouse sideways causes view rotation instead of moving avatar sideways.

§         Clear instructions will ease navigation with mouse.


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Breeding Station Environment







§         Arrangement parallel to the viewing direction – hides tomatoes behind one another.

§         Results appear small – differences are not noticeable from a distance.

§         Layout ideal for a 2D aerial view (or birds’ eye view), in perspective view, the layout is distorted and less effective.

§     The tomato beds may be laid perpendicular to the station and tiered.

§     Layout needs to be redesigned based on architectural principles including human perspective view.


Proportion of objects


§         The consol, sky and the deck dominate the first-person view.

§     Important objects (such as tomatoes, consol, jars, etc) should clearly visible and large enough in proportion to the 3D environment window.

Breeding Action

§         Transformation and breeding action are too fast to be interesting, difference before and after crossing is not clearly noticeable.

§     Slower transformation of tomatoes would allow users to see the breeding more clearly.

§     Breeding action could be made more interesting.

Sizes of tomatoes

§         User cannot quickly differentiate the ‘size difference’ among tomatoes, either because of perspective view or the original design of tomatoes.

§     Tomatoes should look distinct and clear in any view.

Proportion of controls

§         Unnatural proportion of controls.

§     Control buttons to be more proportionate and realistic.

§     The action buttons should have labels.


§         Position of staircase not logical in the sequence of movement in and about the breeding stations (confusion in deciding movement options for returning to station after examination of results).

§     Staircase to be relocated to the side/front of breeding station.

Color Scheme

§         Domination of colors of other features (yellow of console, blue of sky, etc.) over tomatoes.

§     Background could have colors with lower contrast.

Viewing Lens Angle

§         Use of wide-angle lens causes distortion with increase in proximity (only the tomatoes in front look proportionate).

§     Correction of distortion of closer objects by using appropriate lens angle.


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Conclusion :


Genedome application has exemplified the great potential of collaborative environments. Users of the program became very engrossed in the experiment due to the dynamic interactive aspects and three-dimensional nature. The application was a natural fit for children who are used to gaming environment, as well as for those who have social inhibitions and feel uncomfortable in conventional environments.


This evaluation was intended to look at Activeworlds as a technology and Genedome as a specific application. Suggestions directly or indirectly point at both of them. Some key components to look at in the future are the importance of interaction in the environments and how it is catalyzed by the design of the medium (world) itself. In Genedome, the interaction among the users was less than significant and relevant to subject. The developers would ideally keep in mind the implications of the medium; whether it promotes the intended patterns or generates undesired ones. Activeworlds is a very robust program but the central challenge in implementing this technology is focusing on the empowerment that suits the task objectives. 



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Alternative Layouts





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사각형 설명선: The arrangement of breeding tables is parallel to the viewing direction, which makes the tomatoes hide behind one another. It requires effort to figure out what happened to the two tomatoes you bred. You know that they got bred, but since the result appears so small in size, you can’t make out the difference at once.


Visual References





















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