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Effectively use mental models together with direct manipulation to support higher level thinking
Symbols as metaphors are a necessary and integral part of navigation design today. They help the
user find information quickly by bridging the gap between the real and the virtual world through
translating familiar objects into digital pixels that the user can visually relate to, and bridging the
gap between the real and the virtual world. 
For example, when we see an exclamation mark both in reality and on a web page, we intuitively
know that it represents a problem, or when we see a trash can, we know automatically that it is
used to discard unwanted items. In ‘What Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and
Literacy’, James P. Gee highlights the importance of targeting metaphors to its users language.
He argue that semiotics are used in the physical and the virtual world to help us understand
complex and abstract ideas through intimate concepts. 
In ‘Information visualization’, Colin Ware argues that we acquire more information through
vision than through all of the other senses combined. He further argues that the visualization
tools provide the ability to better understand large amount of data and thus facilitate the
understanding of complex information.
For example, MacSpartan visualization tools enables chemistry students to view, rotate, and
measure molecules using different views and also to modify or construct new molecules to make
abstract chemistry concepts much easier to understand. 
Today with the new technology, visual simulations as mental models have become part of the
new web trends in how users interact online. For example, Adobe Kuler application allows
designers to interactively create custom color schemes for creative projects. 
Other tools such as Yahoo body map website, allows the user to better understand human body
parts and their functions through connecting with a virtual human body.
There are also photography simulators that allow the user to manipulate the different camera
settings such as the film speed or aperture simultaneously and see an immediate result. These
applications are generally helpful for users with some basic understanding of the theory and
techniques behind the tool at hand, but they are not effective for beginner learners who may not
be familiar with the fundamental concepts behind each tool such as foundation color theory, or
basic camera functions like aperture or shutter speed. 
To improve and facilitate the higher concept of learning and thinking for visual learners, this
paper proposes building a customized simulator as a visual mental model through direct
manipulation and interaction with a virtual digital camera for online beginning photography
students. By allowing the learner to manipulate the virtual sliders and dials related to the lesson
at hand and instantly seeing changes and results on an image, the student can visually and
directly learn about the basic yet abstract technical photography concepts such as film, shutter
and aperture setting and immediately establish the relationship between how the interaction
between these settings can effect the overall image.
In ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, Donald Norman emphasizes the importance of connecting
the designer’s conceptual model to the user conceptual model by only making visible the tools
that the user will be manipulating. He further argues to avoid confusion, the tools should also
provide visual feedback to the user so they could see the result of their actions immediately. 
For this prototype, I propose unifying the user’s and the designer’s conceptual model by breaking
the technical information down to allow the learner to gradually develop and build a more solid
understanding of the technical photography topics. For example a lesson plan on introduction to
aperture, would allow the learner to only manipulate and change the aperture dial while the other
settings such as film speed and shutter speed would stay locked into standard daylight position.
Once the student completes the aperture exercises through direct manipulation using the
simulator, they can move on to the next lesson which would allow them to manipulate and
interact with additional settings, such as film speed in conjunction with the aperture dial.
As the lessons progress, the level of complexity in using the camera settings through the
simulator also advances.
What makes this application a much more powerful learning tool than standalone simulators or
traditional online textual lessons, is that through direct manipulation and exercises with the
simulator providing immediate visual feedback, the learner can instantly bridge the gap between
the abstract technical photography concepts and the theory behind those topics.
There are many books and guidelines in Human- Centered Design best practices such as ‘ Don’t
Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability’ that discuss many techniques to
enhance the usability and accessibility of interactive design through user testing and common
However my proposed solution, take this argument further by suggesting the use of metaphors
and mental models through direct manipulation, to teach higher and abstract concept of thinking
and learning and not just for usability in interface design; thus unifying the designer’s conceptual
model to the user conceptual model, allowing the learner to articulate and materialize their
mental vision more clearly and accurately.
Once I design and program the prototype camera simulator for my final thesis, I plan to test it for
my photography classes and evaluate it’s effectiveness as a new teaching aid to enhance and
facilitate the higher concept of learning.
1- “Human-Computer Interaction: Design and Development Approaches.” Springer.com. N.p.,
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2- Gee, James. (Dec 2007)” What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
Second Edition” . Pal Grave MacMillan : (pp 23-27). Digital PDF. Last accessed July 30th, 2012
3- Ware, Colin. (Dec 2007)” Information Visualization – Perception for Design (Dec 2004)”
MorganKaufmann : (pp 1-5). Digital PDF. Last Accessed July 01, 2012.
< Website: http://www.ifs.tuwien.ac.at/~silvia/wien/vu-infovis/articles/book_informationvisualization-
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Thinking”. web. Last Accessed July 01, 2012.
5- “Kuler.” Kuler. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2012. <http://kuler.adobe.com/>.
“Human Body Maps | 3D Models of the Human Anatomy | Yahoo! Health.” Human Body Maps |
6- 3D Models of the Human Anatomy | Yahoo! Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2012.
7- “CameraSim.” CameraSim Simulates a Digital SLR Camera. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2012.
8- Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. (92-103)London: MIT, 1998. Print..
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Berkeley, Calif: New Riders Pub., 2006. Print.