Training Wheels for the Command Line

Human-Computer Interaction International 2005

David Herrera, Nigel Ward

Abstract: Using the command line interface can be intimidating for novice users. Primarily designed for seasoned users, others who could potentially benefit from using it get stuck in its awkward and unfamiliar interface. The addition of "training wheels" has the potential to help such learners begin to "ride" the command line without "falling off" and getting discouraged. This paper proposes a "training wheels" interface, designed to support novice users in the step-by-step construction of executable commands, and so ease their transition to becoming a seasoned user of the command line. We created a "Command Line Training Wheels" system where the command line is augmented with various GUI features to support novice users. These features helped the user explore the functionality available; reduced memory load by providing visible, clickable options; provided task-relevant documentation at appropriate times; provided feedback during the composition of commands; and prevented some common errors. 22 lower-division computer science students were given a number of simple Unix tasks to complete using this system or using a Unix book and the naked command line. Most of the subjects preferred using the system and they tended to learn more when doing so.

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