Computers are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of children. The computer is used as a key learning tool in educational settings and the widespread availability of computers in the home has led to a burgeoning market of game software. Understanding the interface between children and computers is essential for the appropriate application of microcomputer technology in home and school settings. To date, the literature has supported the use of direct manipulation interfaces with children. These require the manipulation of peripheral devices such as the mouse. Although the mouse is thought to be a suitable device for children to use, previous studies have not investigated the achievement of competency in mouse use. Investigations into this issue will facilitate the identification of children likely to experience difficulties with access and inform the development of appropriate methods of intervention promoting mouse skill. This study sought to address the issue of children's mouse competence through the development of an assessment of mouse proficiency (the Test of Mouse Proficiency) for 5 to 10 year-olds and the examination of the impact of age, previous experience, gender and visual-motor coordination on mouse competence.
Items on the Test of Mouse Proficiency (TOMP) were selected after a task analysis of typical children's game software that identified common mouse movements and task types. This analysis formed the basis of the design of each subtest or game on TOMP. In addition, the measures used in TOMP were representative of those used in previous mouse and motor performance studies. A number of investigations were then carried out to establish the reliability and validity of TOMP. A test-retest reliability study involving 28 participants was conducted to demonstrate the stability of TOMP over multiple test administrations. The results indicate that when change due to developmental maturation is accounted for, TOMP is a stable measure. ICC's ranged from 0.68 to 0.93 indicating fairly good to good reliability. A further sample of 221 children ranging in age from 5 - 1 0 years participated in the remaining studies. First, a criterion-related validity study found that some measures on TOMP were able to strongly predict scores on an external measure of mouse competence (F(3,214) = 70.33, p < 0.001; R² = 0.50). Second, the construct validity of TOMP was examined via an analysis of the factor structure of the assessment, testing of hypotheses and a correlation study. The factor analysis of TOMP revealed a two-factor structure strongly supportive of the proposed theoretical explication of the construct of mouse competence. In addition, TOMP demonstrated the expected pattern of results in two of the three hypotheses tested indicating that it mostly behaves in a manner consistent with other tests of visual-motor performance. Age was observed to predict speed of mouse performance (F(1,219) = 184.38, p < 0.000; R² = 0.46), and frequency of mouse use significantly predicted competency in the speed and accuracy of mouse movements (F(1,186)= 118.46, p < 0.000; R²= 0.39). Age also weakly predicted smoothness of mouse control (F(1,219)= 34.44, p < 0.000; R² = 0.14). The direction of the relationship between the two variables was opposite to that expected, however. Finally, low, positive correlations (Pearson's r ranged from 0.15 to 0.26) were found between TOMP scores and a measure of visual-motor coordination partially supporting the association between mouse competence and visual-motor skill.
Preliminary normative data was also produced for TOMP through the calculation of a composite competency profile that indicated children's relative skill in speed/accuracy and smoothness components of mouse control. The normative data provides percentile ranks for each age group allowing comparison of an individual's performance with his/her age peers.
The study also investigated the impact of age, previous experience, gender and visual-motor coordination on mouse competence as measured by TOMP. First, it was hypothesized that mouse competence would improve with increasing age. This hypothesis was partially supported by the study with age significantly contributing to the prediction of speed/accuracy aspects of mouse control (sr² = 0.36, p < 0.000). In addition, the pattern of development observed mirrored that of the development of key upper limb motor control mechanisms (e.g. proprioception). Age also significantly contributed to the prediction of smoothness of mouse control (sr² = 0.36, p < 0.000). Contrary to predictions, however, mouse control demonstrated evidence of becoming less smooth with age. Second, previous experience (as measured by frequency of mouse use and number of years of experience) was noted to contribute significantly to the prediction of speed/accuracy components of mouse competence (sr² = 0.35, p <0.000; sr² = 0.13, p < 0.002, respectively). It was not significant, however, in the prediction of smoothness of mouse control. Third, gender was a non-significant variable in the prediction of speed/accuracy mouse competence. Gender contributed significantly, however, to the prediction of smoothness of mouse control (sr² = 0.15, p < 0.03) with girls performing mouse movements more smoothly than boys. Finally, visual-motor coordination was a weak although significant contributor to the prediction of both speed/accuracy and smoothness aspects of mouse competence (sr² = 0.09, p < 0.02; sr² = 0.19, p < 0.004, respectively). Speed/accuracy competency scores tended to improve with increases in visual-motor coordination scores. This finding was supportive of the research hypothesis. Smoothness competency scores tended to increase with improving visual-motor coordination scores in a result that was not predicted by the research hypotheses.