Web Tutorials as a Gathering Place for Community Contribution

Web-based tutorials play an important role in how people learn and use complex software. Unfortunately, tutorials aren’t always as helpful as they could be. The quality of the instruction may be poor (or just not matched to the user’s level of knowledge), and a tutorial may not exist for the exact task the user is trying to do, forcing them to try and adapt tutorials for similar tasks.

Our paper investigates community enhanced tutorials, a new kind of web tutorial system with the potential to enable tutorials that improve as they are used by a community of users. This is achieved by embedding a fully functioning application into the tutorial, turning it into a hub for both learning and actually performing the tutorial task. As the tutorial is used to complete tasks, it can record users’ efforts and generate alternate demonstrations of each tutorial step.

System diagram for Community Enhanced Tutorials

Community Enhanced Tutorials improve over time as they are used by a community of users.

From a crowdsourcing perspective, community enhanced tutorials have two main advantages. First, they create a concrete gathering place for users interested in a particular task in the application. We looked at how this could be used to collect demonstrations from users, but this gathering of users could be mobilized in other ways as well. Small contributions could be solicited from these users to improve the tutorial content, or to assist other users directly.

Second, because community enhanced tutorials exist on the web, they are compatible with all the incentives that drive users to create traditional tutorials, such as earning recognition, ad revenue, or membership fees.

Our paper presents FollowUs, a prototype community enhanced tutorial system that we created to test these ideas. We included a range of features for browsing and working with multiple video demonstrations in a tutorial, which you can see in our video.

We also conducted a study to answer a key question that underlies this approach: Can providing additional demonstrations make a tutorial more robust? We found that users do make use of additional demonstrations when they are available, and our results suggest that multiple demonstrations can improve a tutorial’s quality and make it more widely applicable.

For more, see our full paper, Community Enhanced Tutorials: Improving Tutorials with Multiple Demonstrations.
Ben Lafreniere, University of Waterloo
Tovi Grossman, Autodesk Research
George Fitzmaurice, Autodesk Research

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About Ben Lafreniere

Ben Lafreniere is a PhD candidate supervised by Michael Terry at the University of Waterloo HCI lab. Ben’s research explores how the interfaces to complex feature-rich software can be redesigned to make them easier to learn and use.