Understanding WHAT is in a plan…


Thought I’d give you an update on one of the projects I’ve been working on.
One of the high level questions we’re trying to answer is how to present a sequence of actions or a plan. We realized that a person needs to understand WHAT they are supposed to do before they start asking questions about WHY the plan is the way it is.

So, for the last couple of months I’ve been setting up and running experiments on mechanical turk (fondly called mTurk).
MTurk is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that enables individuals or businesses (known as Requesters) to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.

Best performing text plan
Best performing text plan
One of the interactive plans
One of the interactive plans

The first experiment looked at six ways of presenting a pizza recipe. It had pineapple and banana on it – you can imagine the sort of comments we got on our topping choices! Anyway, we compared three textual plans with different levels of headers and slightly different formatting, and three interactive plans.

We figured that some ways of presenting the plans would help more for answering questions about the recipe, and we measured cognitive load (roughly mental effort) in a few different ways. Surprisingly, one of the textual versions tended to do better!

So we ran another similar experiment with larger plans (125 steps) – perhaps the advantage for interactive plans will come through when there is too much information to take in at once we thought. These plans were about delivering things (televisions, screens, laptops etc) to different locations.

We also looked at using aggregation, or a label like ‘move the object’ to summarize three other actions: load a truck, drive the truck and unload the truck.

We are currently in the process of analysing the results of this second experiment!


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