Graduate STEM Fellow Profile

Kylie Nash

Project Title: Initiating New Science Partnerships in Rural Education (INSPIRE)
Thesis: Mental Schema Accuracy: Investigating the Impact of Schemas on Human Performance and Technology Usability
College/University: Mississippi State
Research Advisor: Lesley Strawderman
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Industrial and Systems Engineering
Department: Industrial Engineering/ Human Factors and Ergonomics
Research Focus: Mental Schemas, Cognitive Concept Mapping, Human Performance, Technology Usability, User Training, Ed Software & Engr Ed
Teaching Partner(s): Michael Hamilton

Description of Research

An increase in technological complexity, particularly in consumer products (e.g. software, medical or handheld devices), increases the need for incorporation of schema theory to achieve successful product design, interpretation, implementation, and use of technology. The success or failure of a technology is dependent upon the user’s cognitive ability to understand and correctly interpret the procedure of the technology. As the complexity of technology is increasing, many users may experience difficulty adjusting, navigating, and operating new systems, resulting in a technological gap. This gap is a separation between an advanced technology and the user’s ability to comprehend this technology. Based on cognitive science and psychology research, part of the reason for this increasing gap is due to the user’s inability to form correct mental representations, or schema, of the information needed to improve user performance. Mental schemas are valuable constructs to help understand how humans structure, organize, perceive information, make decisions, and modify behavior in various environments. In order to form an accurate or complete schema, users need to adjust, arrange, and understand how new and existing knowledge influences their schemas and overall experiences. However, many users are not conscious of the role mental schemas play on their everyday actions and therefore have trouble successfully completing tasks. There is a need, therefore, in the area of Human Factors and Ergonomics to better understand how schema theory can enhance usability of technology that will result in a more desirable user outcome and improve learning outcomes. Results of this research can be extended to the design of more effective training programs, while potentially reducing the burden of individuals learning a new product or technology in classrooms or on the job.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience

The overall focus of my research is to analyze the relationship between mental schemas and performance and its impact on contributing new knowledge in the area of Human Factors and Ergonomics, the field devoted to making systems, machines, and technology better for people’s use. My classroom experiences and lesson plans have introduced many human factors and engineering concepts and shown the connection between these applications and mathematics, specifically geometry. The lessons generated are designed for the 10th and 11th grade geometry curriculum. One lesson plan in particular introduced students to the idea of using concept mapping techniques to solve math problems measuring the volume and surface area of 3D shapes. I have consistently tried to implement lessons on Human Factors and Ergonomics topics such as Anthropometry (measurements of humans) by showing students how angles and measures can be found on the human body (e.g. symmetry of the face and limbs) and how objects (e.g. boxes, chairs, tables) can be designed to accommodate various body shapes and sizes. My engineering background has allowed me to demonstrate to students how math is related to many applications and tools such as cell phones, specifically the concept of cell phone triangulation using handheld GPS devices. I am also able to bring Industrial Engineering (e.g. Lean Manufacturing) concepts into the classroom, introducing assembly line processes. We have also introduced students to lab equipment used to measure body posture, strength, and limb lengths and measurements, so they could see differences among their peers and gender. I have also led several lessons where students had an opportunity to experience the research process. Students were asked to develop a hypothesis, build geometric structures based on shapes and strength, use their classmates as participants, analyze data, make conclusions, and present the results to their peers and teachers. In all of these lessons, I have endeavored to show the interconnectedness between mathematics, cognition, technology, and humans, in the hope that it will INSPIRE them to become future engineers.