Turning the desktop inside-out: Evaluating information access and management through a single interface

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Abstract

Computer users today rely on a wide variety of software tools to manage an ever-increasing amount of information and resources. We developed the Global Information Gatherer (GIG) system to help students in higher education manage, understand, and keep their academic work. GIG provides a comprehensive, integrative interface through which students can access commonly used programs and simultaneously record notes and organize files. This article presents an overview of the GIG program before describing a large-scale, longitudinal, and unrestricted evaluation of its use. We investigate how such a program is received by nontechnical users, which features prove most helpful to students as they work to complete their everyday tasks, how it compares to other software solutions, and whether it helps with information assimilation and management tasks. Results of our study indicate that participants have a strong preference for software that minimizes program window manipulation, facilitates information consolidation and organization, provides citation support and integrated web browsing, and incorporates a progressive user interface design. When comparing GIG to their normal way of accomplishing tasks, students gave particularly high marks for its ability to save materials from the web, gather sources for academic research, manage windows, and copy/paste from the web. On the third and final survey of our evaluation, we learned that a majority (>70%) of remaining participants believed that GIG was helpful for managing and making sense of the large volume of information to which they are exposed everyday, and over half (55%) said they would continue using the software if it was freely available.

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