Blogs

Using technology to improve communication in panels


Authors: Jonathan Grudin
Posted: Fri, September 30, 2022 - 11:34:16

Panels can be fun to develop—they can also be much more effectively executed. This spring I was on two large panels that were the best organized of any I’ve participated in. Technology was used in advance to reduce psychological uncertainties, which increased interaction and kept us focused on our message. Expectations were exceeded. Both of the panels were in person, but the method is even more promising for hybrid panels.

The first panel was organized by SIGCHI Adjunct Chair for Partnerships Susan Dray and VP of Finance Andrew Kun to discuss CHI’s 40th anniversary. Structure that one might assume would squeeze out liveliness instead promoted it. Impressed by its success, I reprised the method in another 90-minute panel at my Reed College class reunion. These are only two data points, but the underlying psychology is compelling, especially for large panels and future hybrid panels.

The 40th anniversary panel was an exceptionally diverse group of eight, plus Andrew as moderator. Our backgrounds, interests, and priorities differed substantially. Forty years earlier, one of us wasn’t yet in school and only one was involved with CHI. Yet we wanted to avoid eight 10-minute talks—we wanted to engage with one another.

Andrew’s solution was to address psychological barriers to effective time management that I had never noticed. Panelists like to talk. The trick: Make it possible for panelists to avoid saying more than they really want to.

A large panel should minimize moderator control onstage to give panelists time to get their points across, but if panelists are undirected, meandering and a lack of coherence are inevitable. Andrew directed the panel, but he did so in advance, which greatly reduced the cognitive effort required of panelists at the event.

Before the event

Weeks in advance, Andrew shared a Google Doc that asked panelists to draft text for four sections:

  • A bio

  • A two-minute opening statement or “provocation”

  • One or two questions from each of us directed to another panelist (encouraged to ensure that each panelist was asked at least one question)

  • A one-minute concluding summary.

Two virtual meeting deadlines ensured that we completed drafts in a timely fashion. Everything could be revised up to the event, but Andrew could also sequence opening statements early to create a coherent topic flow. Seeing one another’s drafts and the presentation sequence enabled us to keep statements to the same length, reduce redundancy, share terminology, and shape questions and summaries. 

Seeing a question that would come our way in advance, we could organize a response, but responses were not shared. They were fresh to other panelists at the event, and anyone could contribute thoughts if the initial respondent didn’t cover them.

At the event

We had crafted crisp bios that Andrew read to introduce us. Our opening statements were practiced, fluent, and within the allotted two minutes.

The key innovation was the handling of the Q&A. Andrew had carefully thought through the questions and prepared a sequence of invitations. For example, “Daria, do you have a question for another panelist?”

The crucial point: We knew that Andrew was always ready to solicit the next question. Think of your experiences on a panel. Panelists are often unsure about the best way to continue and keep the discussion going. This leads to fuzziness or discontinuities. Three scenarios:

  • I ask a question and receive a satisfactory response. If I have nothing to add, I’m in a bind. Not knowing whether someone else will jump in if I stay silent, I often politely respond or ask an unnecessary follow-up question to keep the conversation going. In our event, I could pause and glance at Andrew. If no one immediately spoke, he moved on: “Tamara, do you have a question for another panelist?”

  • There is a pause in the discussion. Has the current topic been covered adequately? I haven’t spoken yet, Should I break the silence, even if what I will add is mostly to agree or digress? At our event, there was no pressure to do this. Andrew was ready to break the silence and move on to the next cogent question.

  • A topic is exhausted. It’s clearly time to move on. I have a very different topic, but someone else may have a more relevant continuation. Should I jump in? In our panel, we could leave graceful transitions to Andrew, knowing that our question would get its turn. Andrew was following the discussion and knew the range of questions remaining.

I felt that a cognitive load had been lifted—it was great! The navigation of conversational conventions adds many small efforts that compete with focusing on what is said and the overall topic. There were no space-filler comments as we engaged with one another. 

I’d initially thought that although structure might be necessary for an eight-person panel, it would sound scripted and diminish spontaneity. That wasn’t the case. We added follow-up questions and comments after one of us responded. The conversation was brisk and focused on things we cared about. Little cognitive work was required for conversation management. 

A replication

For my 50th college reunion six weeks later in Portland, Oregon, five people who spent careers in tech formed a panel to discuss how tech had evolved, our roles, and what we recommend younger people think about. I introduced Andrew’s structure. With five panelists, we doubled time allowances and mixed our prepared questions with less predictable audience participation. It went well. People go to college reunions more to hang out and socialize than to attend lectures and panels, but we drew a large crowd who stayed throughout.

Natural for hybrid panels

Efficient conversation management is critical for large panels. This approach also offers benefits for virtual or hybrid panels. Hybrid planning is by necessity online—which means there’s no opportunity to get together for breakfast the day before—so coauthoring a structured document and holding a couple of preliminary meetings is a natural fit. More significantly, navigating conversation transitions is more challenging when panelists have less awareness of one another’s body language. Hybrid panels may gravitate toward larger sizes, and cultural diversity could require bridging conversation styles.

This structure requires more preparation, but it was distributed over time, getting a better sense of other panelists’ contributions reduced some of the effort, and the collaboration was enjoyable. It was worth it.



Posted in: on Fri, September 30, 2022 - 11:34:16

Jonathan Grudin

Jonathan Grudin has been active in CHI and CSCW since each was founded. He has written about the history of HCI and challenges inherent in the field’s trajectory, the focus of a course given at CHI 2022. He is a member of the CHI Academy and an ACM Fellow. jgrudin@hotmail.com
View All Jonathan Grudin's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


An American Zen Buddhist’s reflections on HCI research and design for faith-based communities


Authors: Cori Faklaris
Posted: Tue, August 16, 2022 - 4:29:20

Computer science seems in opposition to Zen Buddhism, a spiritual practice best described (if it must be) as “without reliance on words or letters, directly pointing to the heart of humanity” [1]. Yet with so much of today’s human experience bound up in computing, some words, and pixels and bits, to address their overlap seem necessary. My aim in sharing the following reflections is to set forth the historical and modern faith context for a secular wellness practice that we design for— meditation—and to model the statements of positionality and reflexivity that I feel are essential for research in such personal and cultural domains.

Zen Buddhism

Zen’s origins were first documented during China’s Tang dynasty in the 7th century CE. At that time, Buddhism had already spread from Nepal, the birthplace of historical founder Siddhartha Gautama, or “the Buddha,” throughout neighboring countries in Asia for more than 1,000 years. The Indian monk Bodhidharma is credited with introducing China to the dhyana practice of stillness and contemplation. Dhyana (a Sanskrit word) predates the Buddha and is commonly described as his vehicle for achieving enlightenment, or the transcendence of his limited human existence. The renewed focus on dhyana was a reaction to the older branch of Buddhism known as Theravada, the “way of the fathers” [1]. The chief text of the newer Mahayana branch of Buddhism is the Heart Sutra, the English translation of which fits on one page. Zen takes this minimalist approach even further, proclaiming the superiority of empirical knowledge gained through dhyana —renamed ch’an in Middle Chinese—over scriptural learning or formal religious observance. A famous poem of the Tang dynasty sets forth this formulation for Zen [1]: 

A special transmission outside the scriptures
Without reliance on words or letters
Directly pointing to the heart of humanity
Seeing into one's own nature.

Today, the largest Zen communities remain in China and Japan (the origin of the word zen), but the practice of Zen has spread throughout the world. Like other Buddhists, who number in total 488 million worldwide [2], they venerate the “Triple Treasure” of small-b buddha (inherent enlightenment-nature), dharma (the teachings and practices), and sangha (their faith communities). Zen practitioners also particularly value upaya, or “skillful means” (the ability of an enlightened being to tailor a teaching to a particular audience or student for maximum effectiveness) and mindfulness (in Zen, the continuous, clear awareness of the totality of the present moment). Through seated meditation, alternated with practices such as chanting, bowing, and contemplative walking, a Zen Buddhist aspires to a state of mindfulness that will facilitate their own perception of buddha-nature and help them express this enlightenment in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. To check the validity of their meditation experiences, Zen practitioners are urged to consult with a teacher in an established lineage who is certified to guide others in enlightenment. Among a teacher’s “skillful means” are stories or riddles known as koans (Japanese), gong-ans (Chinese), or kung-ans (Korean). Such consultations will help Zen practitioners achieve a “before-thinking,” other-centered orientation and avoid self-centered fallacies—for example, “wanting enlightenment is a big mistake” [1]. 

Personal experiences and observations

My own experiences with Zen are Western. I began in my teenage years, when I bought a secondhand copy of D.T. Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism and was intrigued by his discussions of satori, the Japanese word for enlightenment. I had already liked what I had heard about Buddhism during a unit on world religions at my (Catholic) grade school. However, it wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. state of Indiana that I was able to connect with an in-person group, practicing in the Kwan Um School of Zen (KUSZ) in the lineage of Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. I began sitting with the Indianapolis Zen Center sangha once or twice a month as my schedule permitted: 30 minutes of seated meditation bookended by a 20-minute prelude of chanting and a 10-minute epilogue of a reading and announcements. I progressed to sitting weekend retreats and to taking precepts (like Christian baptism, this signifies formally joining the faith). Eventually, I studied for and became a KUSZ dharma teacher—qualified to explain subjects such as meditation forms and the history of Zen, but not to guide people to enlightenment. In KUSZ, such teachers are called Ji Do Poep Sa Nim (JDPSN, for "dharma master") or Soen Sa Nim (Zen master). I have studied with both types of “enlightenment” teachers at the Indianapolis Zen Center and with a group in Pittsburgh, PA, while helping as a dharma teacher.

As a Zen teacher, I do not take a binary view of computing as good/not good or useful/not useful. The “middle way” is to acknowledge that it is a dharma aid in some contexts and a distraction in others. Below are some examples.

Computing as obstacle to Zen practice

My advice to beginners is to turn off their smartphones completely. This is because a buzz or ding is liable to take meditators out of the moment, and beginners often will struggle to refocus. For my in-person group, I model another best practice by taking out my phone or smartwatch, silencing them, and turning them face-down on my meditation cushion, so that I cannot see the flash of a notification. I prefer to use such manual safeguards for attention rather than the “Do Not Disturb” settings, because enacting the exercise of putting away our digital helpers is an important signal to our bodies and minds that what we are doing is important and different from the everyday flow of our distracted lives. In the same vein, I recommend use of a battery-operated analog clock over a smart device for timing seated meditation, because it will not tempt you into checking messages.

In the world of Covid-19, much of our group Zen practice has joined others online. Now, it is no longer possible to physically remove ourselves from our Internet-connected devices. I am grateful to be able to see and hear my fellow practitioners even at a distance, but I miss having the break from my busy digital life and from the allure of its distractions. The “Do Not Disturb” settings help, to a point. Sitting in front of my MacBook, however, I catch myself touching my mouse and calling up screens whenever I experience a fleeting thought about, say, the status of a project. Meditating from home also means interruptions from family members, pets, or Internet outages. I confess that I do not have enough “dharma energy” to avoid breaking my stillness in response to my cat waving her tail in my face! 

Going forward, this type of Zen Buddhism will benefit from computing research and design to solve similar problems of distraction and focus as those faced by those working from home or who are “digital nomads,” connecting to their customers or clients via the Internet away from an office. I would love to flip a switch inside my home environment and be free from all ability to access Netflix or Slack while I hunker down on either a research paper or a kung-an. Even better if the “switch” is a timer, so that I do not forget to turn off my “Do Not Disturb,” or a learned routine of my home network, so that it is context-aware and picks up on the signals that I am ready to concentrate. I use Siri now to set a meditation timer by voice, although the screen and keyboard is still nearby, and it would be better for my ability to stay in concentration if  “she” could turn off everything at the same time and then turn it back on again after the timer ends. 

However, like the meditators in Markum and Toyama [3], I am wary of letting technology intrude too far or replace in-person experiences. I am doubtful that it will no longer be necessary to visit a Zen center or monastery for the sustained concentration required for intensive practice. My Pittsburgh group has returned to offering a weekly in-person (and masked) practice so that people can get a break from remote meetings and reap the benefits of in-person group meditation. I look forward to the day when we can begin traveling to other temples and learning in situ about others’ spiritual practices, perhaps with the assistance of interactive displays or augmented reality overlays. 

Computing as support to Zen practice

Is reading an obstacle? After all, “words and letters” are considered a hindrance in Zen tradition. However, reading is often the first step undertaken by someone who wants to try meditation and/or to learn more about Zen Buddhism. As Bell has noted [4], the internet has been enormously helpful for spreading Zen knowledge and for connecting seekers with faith communities. My sanghas have made use of the same computing affordances as other interest groups: websites, online groups, platforms for event discovery, and secure no-contact payments. 

I will always prefer in-person Zen practice. But, like the online group members in Katie Derthick’s work [5], I now can join a Zen meditation session or a retreat from anywhere in the world. I can take part in a distant reading group or a book club (we have those!). I can receive an interview via video and audio from a variety of Zen teachers. For those who don’t want that group experience, a variety of apps can guide them in contemplating peace or following their breaths. Headspace even dims the screen so that you can use it to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Going forward, the main item on my wish list is better audio support for remote Zen practice. We have experienced glitches in teacher interviews where one person trips over the other person’s statements, adding to the problem of not being present to pick up on nonverbal cues to turn-taking such as angling back or tilting forward. Worse, audio problems have almost killed our group chanting. This is unfortunate because, in my tradition’s Zen practice, chanting is essential for aligning participation and building an energy within the group that supports its focus. Participants cannot stay in sync—the farther from the source, the more obvious the transmission delays. Our Zoom apps also struggle to figure out which voices to prioritize, instead of blending every audio source into a unified output. For now, the workaround is for everyone to mute and only listen to the leader’s chanting. We need apps like JamKazam or Jamulus, which were designed for musicians to play together online and at a distance. Such an app will need to integrate with our existing remote meetings and be usable by anyone. 

Suggested best practices for computing researchers

Religion is as sensitive a topic as it is central to the human experience. From my N of 1, I suggest that computing researchers will do themselves good to consider their positionality and biography with regard to this subject, before embarking on faith-minded research [6,7]. Clarification of our personal experiences—how we were raised and how we have directed our adult lives with regard to religion—will make explicit our social, cultural, and historical position with regard to the faith domain. Reflexivity requires time, but reading, discussing, and thinking will help us to identify what assumptions we bring to the project. Once articulated, our preexisting assumptions will be less likely to warp our research or to stymie our openness to new ideas. (In my case, I sat and thought about whether I have a bias toward adding technology to any faith domain, regardless of whether it is truly needed. I also challenged myself as to whether I assume that adding technology will lead to only negative downstream effects for a religious community.)

For the conduct of this research, I suggest three ethical pledges that will reduce the potential for exploiting participants: adherent-centeredness, getting close-up, and considering relationship ethics. Researchers should prioritize the faith population’s needs, preferences, and values, and incorporate them to the extent possible: “Nothing about us, without us.” Careful, respectful qualitative work such as Wyche et al. [8] follow Genevieve Bell’s prescription to use techniques informed by anthropology, focusing on the particulars of place, location, and critical reflexivity [9]. Researchers should make use of practices such as participant observation that foster empathy and consider layering different participants’ accounts, rather than aggregating them into a majority narrative [6]. And they should recognize that such research will involve leveraging existing relationships and fostering new ones. Discuss issues of privacy and confidentiality upfront, for example, that it may not be possible to de-identify anyone [6]. Share work and ask for responses and comments. In publications, alter specific personal or topic details to protect their privacy, security, and safety. 

These suggestions may sound like standard operating procedure for some qualitative researchers in human-centered computing. But many of us are trained in a positivist orientation, in which reason and logic are prioritized. We will benefit from having these or similar principles explicitly articulated for our consideration and commitment, just as a Zen master benefits from reciting the temple rules about not borrowing people’s shoes and coats. We all need help staying mindful.

Endnotes

1. Sahn, S. The Compass of Zen. Shambhala Publications, 1997.

2. Buddhists. Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. Dec. 18, 2012; https://www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-buddhist/

3. Markum, R.B. and Toyama, K. Digital technology, meditative and contemplative practices, and transcendent experiences. Proc. of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2020, 1–14; https://doi.org/10.1145/3313831.3376356

4. Bell, G. Auspicious computing? IEEE Internet Comput. 8, 2 (Mar. 2004), 83–85; https://doi.org/10.1109/MIC.2004.1273490

5. Derthick, K. Understanding meditation and technology use. CHI ’14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2014, 2275–2280; https://doi.org/10.1145/2559206.2581368

6. Darwin Holmes, A.G. Researcher positionality—A consideration of its influence and place in qualitative research—A new researcher guide. Shanlax Int. J. Educ. 8, 4 (Sep. 2020), 1–10; https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1268044

7. England, K.V.L. Getting personal: Reflexivity, positionality, and feminist research. The Professional Geographer 46, 1 (1994); https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.0033-0124.1994.00080.x

8. Wyche, S.P., Hayes, G.R., Harvel, L.D., and Grinter, R.E. 2006. Technology in spiritual formation: An exploratory study of computer mediated religious communications. Proc.  of the 2006 20th Anniversary Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. ACM, New York, 2006, 199–208; https://doi.org/10.1145/1180875.1180908

9. Bell, G. No more SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, religion and techno-spiritual practices. In UbiComp 2006: Ubiquitous Computing (Lecture Notes in Computer Science). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 141–158; https://doi.org/10.1007/11853565_9



Posted in: on Tue, August 16, 2022 - 4:29:20

Cori Faklaris

Cori Faklaris is a doctoral candidate in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. She researches the social-psychological factors of cybersecurity and other protective behaviors. She also is a dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. cori@corifaklaris.com
View All Cori Faklaris's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Designing for religiosity: Extracting technology design principles from religious teachings


Authors: Derek L. Hansen, Amanda L. Hughes, Xinru Page
Posted: Thu, August 04, 2022 - 3:16:31

Religious beliefs have a profound influence on billions of people across the globe, affecting nearly every aspect of their lives, including the use of technology. While there is a continuous rise in atheism, the majority of people in many countries still believe in a deity, self-identify with a religion, and regularly participate in religious practices such as prayer. For example, in the U.S., 69 percent self-identify with a religion, 66 percent consider religion very important (41 percent) or somewhat important (25 percent) to their life, and 67 percent pray daily (45 percent) or weekly/monthly (22 percent) [1]. For many people, religious beliefs and teachings frame every aspect of their life, influencing behaviors related to diet, social relationships, dress and grooming, sexual practices, mourning for the dead, raising children, and financial decisions, among others. 

It is no surprise, then, that religions have much to say about the use of technologies, such as the Internet, social media, and mobile phones. Yet design guidance is mostly absent on how to design technology in ways that support various religious values and beliefs. While philosophers, sociologists, and humanities scholars have studied the intersection of technology and religion, relatively few studies have examined religion and technology from a design and HCI perspective [2]. This is unfortunate, since religious traditions often seek to transform the lives of their adherents and the world for the better. Such inclinations can be highly compatible with core HCI values, which often focus on the betterment of the world through the novel use of technology.

Few HCI researchers make time to look through the lens of religious teachings at the technologies that surround us [2]. Thus, we don’t fully appreciate basic questions related to religious teachings and technology. How central a role does technology play in religious teachings? What stances do religions take on the appropriate or inappropriate use of technologies? How do religions frame the discussion around technology, given that many of their teachings are based on ancient texts written by those with vastly different technologies? What role does religious doctrine play in informing religious practice around technologies? How do these answers differ for different religious traditions?

Religious values are integral to many people’s lives and should be considered a key value for the HCI community to integrate into technology design. All physical and digital artifacts convey and enforce certain values, whether they are purposefully designed to do so or not. Thus, value clashes can occur when the affordances of the technology are not aligned with the values of the system’s users. In fact, a system that is designed from the perspective of one group may impose the values of that group on other target users of the system. For example, the idea that a mobile phone is attached to one individual and thus a unique phone number can be required for each person’s account setup for an online service may be a fair assumption in many contexts. However, it causes issues for countries, settings, or religious contexts where a mobile phone is a shared object between a married couple, family, or even extended community, creating an account setup roadblock for anyone who does not have their own phone number. Technology infrastructures meant to support people with many different values should account for this diversity of values and validate assumptions about its users.

A very limited number of HCI studies have investigated how technology practices complement or hinder religious practices via empirical studies (we expand on a number of these in the next section). Existing HCI research has also focused on understanding how religious practices can inform design in nonreligious contexts. For example, several studies apply strategies employed by religious organizations to enhance commitment, build community, and/or motivate behavior change in nonreligious organizations. Ames et al. explored how religious ideological practices can serve as a useful lens in understanding how nonreligious engineering and design organizations affirm membership and a shared vision [3]. Similarly, Amy Jo Kim discusses the use of rituals (a concept inspired by religions) in building commitment to online communities [4]. 

While this prior work gives us initial insights into the interplay of religiosity and technology in practice, there is an element that is missing and yet key to understanding values we might aspire to incorporate into our technologies. While studying how people use technologies in practice gives us a descriptive understanding, there is also a prescriptive element of religion that is vital to understand. In many religions, there are a set of values that believers aspire to, and they hope to engage in practices that reflect those core values. Thus, we need to not only understand how technologies are used in practice, but also the guiding principles that a given population might be influenced by or aspire to. This also helps us to identify new opportunities for supporting religiosity.

How religious doctrine and teachings can inform design

Many religions provide specific prescriptive guidance to their adherents on the use of social media, the Internet, or other modern-day technologies that are of interest to the HCI community. Such guidance is often based upon doctrines, or the foundational beliefs, principles, and teachings of a religion. These come in the form of ancient scriptural texts, commentaries, sermons, pronouncements by religious leaders, official publications of religious organizations (e.g., magazines), and a variety of other resources. While it is tempting to consider only the practical, prescriptive advice about technology use given to members of a religion, it is essential to also understand the religious doctrines and teachings that underly such advice. Designers can benefit in several ways from learning the core doctrinal beliefs of a religion in order to better design for its members. 

First, doctrines can inspire the use of religious metaphors that tap into believers’ deepest spiritual desires and insights. For example, Pope Francis used the metaphor from St. Paul’s teachings in the New Testament that views Christians as “members of the one body whose head is Christ” when discussing the importance of using social media to build up others and not tear them down [5]. This metaphor stresses the value of a community (i.e., a body) having different body parts (e.g., eyes, ears, legs, hands), each of which serves a different purpose for the benefit of the whole. By invoking this metaphor, the Pope encourages Catholics to see the Church as “a network woven together by Eucharistic communion [a central Catholic ritual, where unity is based not on ‘likes,’ but on the truth, on the ‘Amen,’ by which each one clings to the Body of Christ, and welcomes others.” Religious metaphors can summon strong emotions and spiritual insights in believers, providing motivation to use technology in certain ways (e.g., being kind in online discourse).  

Second, understanding religious doctrine and teachings can help designers solve problems and achieve goals that are religious in nature. For example, Woodruff et al. studied the home automation practices of American Orthodox Jewish families [6]. Jewish laws generally prohibit manually turning electronic devices off or on during the Sabbath. These families had long designed and automated systems within their home that would perform mundane tasks (e.g., turning lights on/off with timers or sensors) to abide by this law. Without a deep understanding of Jewish teachings and practices, designing to meet their needs would not be feasible. Another example comes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose doctrine encourages members to be eternally “sealed” (i.e., connected) to their family, including deceased ancestors through vicarious ordinances performed in their Temples. This focus has led them to invest significant resources in developing genealogical tools that help members identify their ancestors, such as FamilySearch, which has a collaboratively generated family tree with over 1.38 billion names and had over 200 million site visits in 2021. Additional tools allow church members to track and manage the vicarious work that members perform in the Temples. Thus, an understanding of the core doctrines related to Temple work has been essential to the development of unique tools that support such work. 

Third, understanding religious teachings can help designers modify existing technologies to better meet the needs of believers. For example, HCI researchers have recognized that technologies supporting financial services within Muslim communities must work within a religious framework where charging interest is forbidden [7]. Thus, micro-lending websites that rely on interest must be modified in fundamental ways to be viable solutions in Muslim communities. Many religions have their own dating sites, helping people find singles with a similar religious background. In some cases, these include specific features that differ from general dating websites. For example, Shaadi is a popular Hindi “matrimonial” website with 35 million users that focuses on finding a spouse rather than hookups. 

Finally, understanding religious doctrines can help designers identify core values that can then be used to design solutions that are in harmony with and reflect a believer’s core beliefs. Susan Wyche and Rebecca Grinter [8] examined how American Protestant Christians use ICT in their home for religious purposes. Their findings suggest many opportunities for designing systems that acknowledge, honor, and support religious values in a domestic setting, such as creating digital calendars and displays that recognize and change their content based on significant religious holidays or milestones. In 2005, an Israeli wireless company launched a mobile phone specifically designed for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel [9]. The phones were modified to disable Internet, text messaging, and video and voice messaging, after religious authorities and community members became concerned that these services could infiltrate the community with unacceptable content. 

There are many open questions about how to best use religious doctrines and teachings in design. How can design methods be modified to incorporate and prioritize religious teachings? How can products be evaluated based on religious teachings? How can technology help achieve uniquely religious goals, for which technology has not historically been used? How can systems be designed that meet the needs of diverse religious groups, given their different teachings? What values can be derived from religious teachings that can be incorporated into design?

In asking these questions that seek to understand the prescriptive aspect of religious values in the context of technology use, we can better understand which values people may want represented in technologies. We also hope that this work will serve as a call to action for the HCI community to engage more holistically with religious values. A set of values that are such an integral part of so many peoples’ lives should be acknowledged and given priority; HCI should support people’s priorities and values. We call on the HCI community to take steps toward understanding the interplay of religious values and technology to be able to create truly value-sensitive technologies. 

Endnotes

1. Smith. G.A. About three-in-ten U.S. adults are now religiously unaffiliated. Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. Dec. 14, 2021; https://www.pewforum.org/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/

2. Buie, E. and Blythe, M. Spirituality: There’s an app for that! (but not a lot of research). CHI’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2013, 2315–2324; https://doi.org/10.1145/2468356.2468754

3.Ames, M.G., Rosner, D.K., and Erickson, I. Worship, faith, and evangelism: Religion as an ideological lens for engineering worlds. Proc. of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. ACM, New York, 2015, 69–81; https://doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675282

4. Kim, A.J. Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities. Peachpit Press, 2006.

5. Pope Francis. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 53rd World Communications Day. 2019; https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20190124_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html

6. Woodruff, A., Augustin, S., and Foucault, B. Sabbath day home automation: “It’s like mixing technology and religion.” Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2007, 527–536; https://doi.org/10.1145/1240624.1240710

7. Mustafa, M et al. IslamicHCI: Designing with and within Muslim populations. Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2020, 1–8; https://doi.org/10.1145/3334480.3375151

8. Wyche, S.P. and Grinter, R.E. Extraordinary computing: Religion as a lens for reconsidering the home. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2009, 749–758; https://doi.org/10.1145/1518701.1518817

9. Campbell, H. ‘What hath God wrought?’ Considering how religious communities culture (or Kosher) the cell phone. Continuum 21, 2 (2007), 191–203; https://doi.org/10.1080/10304310701269040



Posted in: on Thu, August 04, 2022 - 3:16:31

Derek L. Hansen

Derek L. Hansen is a professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Technology’s information technology program. His research focuses on understanding and designing social technologies, tools, and games for the public good. He has received over $2 million in funding to develop and evaluate novel technical interventions, games, and simulations. dlhansen@byu.edu
View All Derek L. Hansen's Posts

Amanda L. Hughes

Amanda L. Hughes is an associate professor of information technology in Brigham Young University’s School of Technology. Her current work investigates crisis informatics and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) during crises and mass emergencies, with particular attention to how social media affect emergency response organizations. Amanda_Hughes@byu.edu
View All Amanda L. Hughes's Posts

Xinru Page

Xinru Page works in the field of human-computer interaction researching privacy, social media, technology adoption, and values in design. Her research has been funded by the NSF, Facebook, Disney Research, Samsung, and Yahoo! Labs. She has also worked in the information risk industry leading interaction design and as a product manager. xinru@cs.byu.edu
View All Xinru Page's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Faith informatics: Supporting development of systems of meaning-making with technology


Authors: Michael Hoefer, Stephen Voida, Robert Mitchell
Posted: Mon, July 25, 2022 - 3:23:37

In seeking to apply HCI to faith, religion, and spirituality, we turn to existing work in theology and psychology—in particular, work that studies the development of faith in individuals and communities. James Fowler is a pioneer in faith development, having developed a stage-based model after conducting over 300 interviews with individuals from a variety of religions [1]. In his work, Fowler suggests that faith is universal to all humans, and he provides an understanding of faith that we believe would serve the HCI community in grounding further efforts to integrate HCI practice with spirituality, faith, and religion. 

Fowler describes how most religious organizations fall short in supporting the development of faith in their constituents, as they fall prey to a modal developmental level—the most commonly occurring level (the mode) of development for adults in a given community (empirically, stage 3 of 6, explained in depth below). In other words, the developmental level that is most common in the adults of a community shapes the culture and normative goals of individuals growing up in that community, which Fowler calls an “effective limit on the ongoing process of growth in faith” [1].

HCI researchers are good at understanding how individuals form and act upon mental models. That is one of our aims when we try to develop technology: to understand people and what might help them. In helping individuals with their systems of meaning-making (faith), we might want to do something very similar. This, we suggest, is one of the prime challenges and opportunities for HCI researchers when engaging with faith and spirituality: to seek to understand and support individuals through their faith-ing. Here, we outline future research directions for what we are calling faith informatics: the study of systems that facilitate growth in individuals’ systems of meaning-making.

One direction for faith informatics could involve structured reflection, visualization of the self, and social connection. One goal might be to reify the existence of all stages of faith, beyond the normative, modal developmental levels present in many faith-based communities. By developing systems that support faith development regardless of religious (or nonreligious) orientation, computing and HCI hold the promise of supporting faith development and maintenance, highlighting convergence across religious traditions and supporting universal mature faith. 

Faith as fundamental to the human experience

The word faith is often associated only with “belief,” in that having faith is just a matter of what one believes to be true. Wilfred Cantwell Smith suggests an alternative: that faith is not dependent on belief [2]. In this vein, faith is neither tentative nor provisional, while belief is both. 

Fowler draws on this and suggests an alternative conceptualization that views faith and religion as separate, but reciprocal [1]. Fowler views religion as tradition that is “selectively renewed,” as it is “evoking and shaping” the faith of new generations. Faith is an aspect of the individual, while religion represents the tradition of the culture in which the individual grows and develops. Faith is an aspect of every human life, an “orientation of the total person,” and, as a verb, an “active mode of being and committing.” Faith is considered to be “the finding of and being found by meaning” [3]. This focus and widening of faith to include the association with meaning-making is not only inclusive of many religious and spiritual traditions, but is also vital in nonreligious traditions such Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-Step Program. For HCI, this conceptualization resonates with existing research developments devoted to understanding the role of computing in finding and supporting meaning-making [4].

Specifically, Fowler describes three contents of faith that every human subconsciously holds in mind as they go about their life: 1) centers of value, which are whatever we see as having the greatest meaning in our lives, 2) images of power, which are the processes and institutions that sustain individuals throughout life, and 3) master stories, narratives we believe and live that facilitate our interpretation of the lived experience [1].

If faith is a universal human condition, as suggested by Fowler and Smith, then HCI researchers have much more purchase to engage with research questions related to faith, as that work would therefore have the potential to be applied to all of humanity.

Stages of faith development

Fowler describes a series of six stages of faith that are loosely aligned with age during the beginning of life, but development can be arrested in any stage [1]. Similar to Robert Kegan’s forms of mind [5], each progressive stage of faith is represented by a changing relationship between subject and object as an individual starts to consider a larger system as part of the “self” with regard to meaning-making. An overview of each stage suggests a diversity of use-cases for faith informatics.

Stage 1: Intuitive-projective faith. According to Fowler’s interviews, intuitive-projective faith is found in 7.8 percent of the population and is the dominant form found in children ages three to seven. Intuitive-projective faith is marked by fluid thoughts and fantasy, and is the first stage of self-awareness. Fowler explains that transitioning out of stage one involves the acquisition of concrete operational thinking and an ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Stage 2: Mythic-literal faith. Mythic-literal faith is estimated to be found in 11.7 percent of the population, and largely in children ages seven to 12. Mythic-literal faith involves the individual starting to internalize the “stories, beliefs, observances that symbolize belonging to his or her community.” Individuals in this stage create literal representations of centers of power, which often involves anthropomorphizing cosmic actors. Individuals in this stage may take religious texts literally as a foundation for meaning-making. While Fowler’s work did find a handful of adults in stage 2, many would transition out of this stage in their teenage years, as they experienced multiple stories that clashed and required reflection to integrate. 

Stage 3: Synthetic-conventional faith. Synthetic-conventional faith is the most commonly found stage of faith in Fowler’s sample, and appears in 40.4 percent of the population. Transitioning into this stage often occurs around puberty, and is associated with a growing connection to social groups other than the family, perhaps with different collective narratives and centers of value. Synthetic-conventional faith systems attempt to “provide a coherent orientation in the midst of that more complex and diverse range of involvements...synthesize values and information...[and] provide a basis for identity and outlook.”

This stage is highly aligned with Kegan’s view of the self-socialized mind [5]; both are intended to deal with meaning-making involving multiple social relations and belonging to various social groups. In this stage, individuals create their personal myth: “the myth of one's own becoming in identity and faith, incorporating one's past and anticipated future in an image of the ultimate environment.” Transitioning to the next stage often involves a breakdown in the coherence of the meaning-making system, such as a clash with religious or social authority or moving to a new environment (i.e., leaving home). 

Stage 4: Individuative-reflective faith. Developing an individuative-reflective faith system (32.9 percent of the population) requires an “interruption of reliance on external sources of authority.” Individuals in this stage are characterized by separation from previously assumed value systems, and the “emergence of an executive ego.” Fowler notes that some individuals may separate from previous value systems, but still rely on some form of authority for meaning-making, which can arrest faith development in the transition to individuative-reflective faith. This stage involves taking responsibility for one’s “own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs, and attitudes” and would be aligned with Kegan’s “self-authoring” form of mind.

Stage 5: Conjunctive faith. Stage five, according to Fowler, is difficult to describe simply. Conjunctive faith was found in only 7 percent of the population, and not until mid-life (ages 30 to 40). Conjunctive faith involves a deeper acceptance of the self, and integrating “suppressed or unrecognized” aspects into the self, a kind of “reclaiming and reworking of one’s past.” This stage is similar to Kegan’s self-transforming mind, as both involve the embrace of paradox and advanced meta-cognition about the self. Individuals in this stage must live divided between “an untransformed world” and a “transforming vision and loyalties,” and this disconnect can lead individuals into developing rare universalizing faith systems of meaning-making. 

Stage 6: Universalizing faith. Stage six represents a normative “image of mature faith” that was found to be present in only one interview participant [1]. Fowler describes these individuals as:

grounded in a oneness with the power of being or God. Their visions and commitments seem to free them for a passionate yet detached spending of the self in love. Such persons are devoted to overcoming division, oppression, and violence, and live in effective anticipatory response to an inbreaking commonwealth of love and justice, the reality of an inbreaking kingdom of God [3].

Developing a universalizing faith is seen as the “completion of a process of decentering from the self” [3], described by: 

taking the perspectives of others...to the point where persons best described the Universalizing stage have completed that process of decentering from self. You could say that they have identified with or they have come to participate in the perspective of God. They begin to see and value through God rather than from the self...their community is universal in extent [3,4].

The goal of faith informatics, as a direction of inquiry, is to better understand the systems (social, ecological, information, or otherwise) that support faith development and how they can be improved. A tool for research, and perhaps an intervention in itself, may be an information system that allows an individual to gather faith-related data about themselves and then visualize and interact with these representations of the self.

A design paradigm for faith informatics

Figure 1 highlights the components of a potential faith informatics system based on a smartphone or other computing-based application (the “system”). The theory behind this system design is drawn from research interviews used by both Fowler in Stages of Faith and Kegan in the subject object interview [5]. Both researchers relied on what we call the “research interview” to determine the stages of faith (or, in Kegan's case, “forms of mind”) present in the individual.

Figure 1. A depiction of a framework for designing faith informatics (FI) systems to support the elicitation and reflective revision of mental models of one's faith. The FI system prompts the user to systematically reflect on themself in the style of Fowler's faith development interviews [1]. This elicitation is combined with objective data about the individual's life and presented to the individual in a visualization. This visualization is then used to reciprocally influence the mental model the individual holds of their faith, facilitating development into further stages of faith.

The interview methodology relies on trained interviewers to communicate with and assess subjects using semi-structured interviews. Questions that might be asked in the interview include (selected from [1]):

  • Thinking about yourself at present. What gives your life meaning? What makes life worth living for you?
  • At present, what relationships seem most important for your life?
  • Have you experienced losses, crises or suffering that have changed or ``colored'' your life in special ways?
  • What experiences have affirmed or disturbed your sense of meaning?
  • In what way do your beliefs and values find expression in your life?
  • When life seems most discouraging and hopeless, what holds you up or renews your hope?
  • What is your image (or idea) of mature faith?

One critical insight is that this methodology, by asking these deep questions, appears to support development by itself. Jennfier Garvey Berger notes that individuals who undergo the subject-object interview “changed the way they were thinking about things in their lives” and wanted to “come back for another interview” [6]. Some individuals reported making significant life changes after the interview, such as leaving an unhealthy relationship [6]. Fowler, using his faith development interview, also notes that interviewees tend to say things along the lines of “I never get to talk about these kind of things” [1].

HCI researchers and practitioners can help make these “developmental interview” experiences more available to the general public. The subject object interview is noticeably costly, both in time required for the conducting of the interview (60 to 75 minutes per subject), as well as required training for the researcher. One potential avenue for faith informatics, therefore, is to attempt to recreate the essential conditions of developmental interviews, allowing for the deep reflection that occurs during the interviews. 

For example, mobile or Web apps could attempt to recreate the conditions of a conversation that promote self-reflection and capture the outcomes of the reflection. This approach would be aligned with the notion of reflective informatics, which seeks to support reflective practices through technology [7]. Research has already highlighted the promising effects of this kind of digital intervention. The “self-authoring” application, aligned with Kegan's forms of mind (particularly the self-authoring form) has been shown to improve academic performance, reduce gender and ethnic minority gaps, and improve general student outcomes through “future authoring.” 

In Figure 1, the hypothetical faith informatics system provides prompts to individuals about aspects of their life related to meaning-making. These prompts may draw from both Kegan’s and Fowler's developmental interviews. In this particular diagram, we use the example from Fowler of eliciting the “life review,” which seeks to break the life history into episodes of meaning [1], and allows for reflection on each stage in life. This is, in essence, a large-scale version of the day reconstruction method—a kind of life reconstruction method—where individuals can break their life up into discrete episodes that mark turning points in their development of meaning-making systems. We envision a role for interactive systems in providing an interface for eliciting the construction of these episodes and any associated metadata (e.g., real-world context).

This is one of the key benefits afforded by an informatics system: the possibility of incorporating real-world, objective data in these reflective dialogues. As an individual’s system of meaning-making would be used for both answering prompts and governing an individual's behavior, the system can play a role in helping an individual compare their own perception of their meaning-making structures with how they (objectively) live their life. For example, life episodes could be colored by social contacts elicited from text messaging or email data, or behavioral activity derived from calendar entries or financial activities. 

Faith informatics would therefore also connect with the field of personal visual analytics, where an individual’s data (coming directly from the experiences described earlier) is visualized into an external representation that can enable the individual to confront their mental models of themself and of their life, potentially resulting in reciprocal feedback loops to prompt insights about and support faith development. The design and creation of these visualizations is an open challenge and may benefit from co-design activities and think-aloud visualization interaction studies.

We might expect that an individual’s current stage of faith would inform design decisions. For example, an individual transitioning into stage 5 (conjunctive faith) may benefit from exploring objective data about their life history as they “reclaim and rework” [1] their past.

Facilitating social connections via faith informatics

Another promising avenue for faith informatics is that of fostering social connections that span both religious and non-religious faith traditions. While Fowler's stages of faith are largely based on Western religious traditions, it is possible (and perhaps likely) that similar developmental structures of meaning-making exist across religions and traditional beliefs worldwide, given the focus on structure of faith instead of contents of faith [1]. As such, faith informatics could facilitate the connection of individuals based on stage of development, rather than relying on religious communities that may suffer from the limits of particular modal developmental levels. Such a system could help to connect individuals in similar stages of faith across different cultures, facilitating connection and development, perhaps via the sharing of narratives and experiences. 

Challenges and future work in faith informatics

Faith informatics is ripe with challenges and opportunities for the HCI community. One significant challenge is in the visualization of representations of faith that facilitate systematic reflection about an individual’s meaning-making structures. While we can draw upon Fowler’s research interview methodology to understand the types of prompts that may facilitate individual faith development, this kind of data (to our knowledge) has not previously been explored with contemporary visualization techniques. We expect that advances in personal visual analytics are necessary to support the effective visualization of self-reported faith data in a way that promotes development. 

In addition, the HCI community must confront the undigitizable nature of faith and spirituality, especially with regard to users in the later stages of faith. Fowler only encountered one individual in stage 6, the universalizing faith stage. It may be difficult to attempt to reify late stages of faith in a digital system, especially when the presence of these stages is limited to few individuals. Future work could include in-depth interviews with individuals in these advanced stages of faith to better understand their life trajectory, in hopes of better understanding and sharing how they reached these particular forms of meaning-making.

Endnotes

1. Fowler, J.W. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. HarperCollins, New York, NY, 1981.

2. Smith, W.C. Faith and Belief: The Difference Between Them. OneWorld Publications, Oxford, U.K. 1998.

3. Fowler, J.W. Weaving the New Creation: Stages of Faith and the Public Church. Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2001.

4. Mekler, E.D. and Hornbæk, K. A framework for the experience of meaning in human-computer interaction. Proc. of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, NY, 2019, Article 225; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300455

5. Kegan, R. In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998.

6. Berger, J.G. Using the subject-object interview to promote and assess self-authorship. Development and Assessment of Self-Authorship: Exploring the Concept Across Cultures. M.B. Baxter Magolda, E.G. Creamer, and P.S. Meszaros, eds. Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA, 2010, 245–263.

7. Baumer, E.P.S. Reflective informatics: Conceptual dimensions for designing technologies of reflection. Proc. of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, NY, 2015, 585–594; https://doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702234



Posted in: on Mon, July 25, 2022 - 3:23:37

Michael Hoefer

Michael Hoefer is a third-year Ph.D. student studying computer and cognitive science at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is generally interested in studying social systems at various scales, and developing informatics systems that serve as problem solving interventions at each level. His application areas include dreaming, sustainability, and systematic well-being. michael.hoefer@colorado.edu
View All Michael Hoefer's Posts

Stephen Voida

Stephen Voida is an assistant professor and founding faculty of the Department of Information Science at CU Boulder. He directs the Too Much Information (TMI) research group, where he and his students study personal information management, personal and group informatics systems, health informatics technologies, and ubiquitous computing. svoida@colorado.edu
View All Stephen Voida's Posts

Robert Mitchell

Robert D. Mitchell is a retired pastor in the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and an Oblate in Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. He holds a Ph.D. in education and formation from the Claremont School of Theology. revbmitch@gmail.com
View All Robert Mitchell's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Stream switching: What UX, Zoom, VR, and conflicting truths have in common


Authors: Stephen Gilbert
Posted: Wed, July 20, 2022 - 12:08:28

I use the term stream switching to refer to people simultaneously processing multiple streams of input information, each of which has its own context and background knowledge. This definition sounds similar to multitasking, but multitasking research usually focuses on a single individual, divided attention, and working memory capacity. Stream switching focuses on multiple people’s interactions and their mental models of each other. Below I offer examples and argue that stream switching merits further research. 

Stream switching

Stream switching draws on 1) the economic concept of switching costs and 2) the psychological concepts of perspective-taking and theory of mind. Economic switching costs are the financial, mental, and time-based costs to switch between products. The costs of switching from an Android to an Apple phone, for example, go far beyond the price tag and include learning how to use the phone’s software and much personal information transfer. Analogously, stream switching includes not only the basic attentional cost of focusing on a different input stream, but also the additional cognitive load of updating one’s mental model of the stream source. Is it accurate? Is it trustworthy? These questions relate to the psychological concepts of perspective-taking (Can you imagine others’ perspectives?) and theory of mind (Can you understand how different others’ knowledge and beliefs might be from yours?). 

Stream switching includes the more specific practice of code-switching. Code-switching was originally the linguistic practice of switching between languages depending on your context, and now refers more generally to the switching of identities depending on who’s around you. Someone might behave one way at home with family and another way in the outside world. Minorities often become quite skilled at code-switching since they have daily practice working within a different majority culture. I would hypothesize they are also highly skilled at stream switching. 

The idea that people vary in their stream switching ability is one of the reasons stream switching deserves more research. Can this critical skill be practiced or trained? We already know that some people are better than others at empathizing, understanding what other people are thinking and feeling. Research has correlated these individual differences with factors including reading more fiction, role-playing and reflection, the general practice of thinking more about one’s thinking. Perhaps this research could be extended to develop methods to measure one’s stream switching ability and methods of improving it. 

User experience (UX) implications

In user-centered design, we try to empathize with our users. We create personas to reduce our cognitive load of doing so. Here is Maria, the young professional with two children; what are her jobs to be done when she opens our app? A product designer with better stream-switching skills will truly be able to step into Maria’s world and build an accurate mental model of her goals and expectations in order to design a product that fits perfectly. That product then allows Maria to accomplish her goals more quickly with fewer errors. 

On the other hand, low-usability software requires the user to switch streams mid-use to imagine the intentions of the software designer or to model the inner workings of the software itself. You may have experienced an accounting system that was well-designed for accountants but not for you. While the accountants can easily track expenses, you can’t figure out how much money you have. Or consider a social media system. If you post certain content, is it clear who will see it? Will it lead your friends to see related ads? Or in a corporate calendaring system, if you invite people to a meeting, is it clear who will see the invite list? Being able to answer these questions requires highly usable software. Norman warned about gulfs in evaluation; today’s sociotechnical context requires evaluation of not only the system, but also of other users’ experiences with it. 

Frustrating usability situations increase stream switching, which burdens our cognitive capacity. When you have to switch streams to figure out where to click next, you have less attention to devote to the streams you were already juggling, for example, home life versus work life, or your supervisor’s mindset versus your teammates’. Bad interaction designs effectively steal our attention. 

Asymmetry, monitoring, and conflicting versions of truth

Many systems present asymmetric information to users, i.e., collaborators receive different information or levels of access, as in the calendaring example. It’s not always a problem; a person presenting slides should be able to see their presenter notes while the audience should not. But when you’re Zooming and ask, “Can you hear me?” or “Can everyone see my screen?”— that’s problematic asymmetry. You don’t have good cues about what other people are experiencing, so you have to ask explicitly. Having this information enables you to update your mental model of your colleagues’ experience in the meeting and enables you to stream switch more smoothly between conveying your points and monitoring your colleagues’ understanding. 

Asymmetric stream switching also appears if you use a virtual reality headset. When you enter the virtual world, you partially blind yourself to cues in the real world. To avoid tripping over a nearby chair, you need to switch streams consistently to monitor both the virtual world and the real world. If you carefully arrange the furniture in your room beforehand, creating a safe space for virtual exploration, then you can reduce the mental workload required to monitor that stream and focus more on the virtual stream with less overhead. 

Analogously, as supported by research on stereotype threat and Goffman’s idea of roles that people play in life, when people have a metaphorical “safe space” for collaboration with others despite diverse backgrounds, they can focus less on monitoring the stream of how they’re being perceived (“Will I say something offensive?”) and more on the stream of the collaborative task at hand. 

Finally, consider the number of people who have difficulty speaking with each other because of their dramatically different beliefs about what is true. This is a stream-switching problem with high asymmetries. It has become more difficult than ever before to imagine what it’s like to be on the other side, because the affordances to do so barely exist. Only by investing significant time in creating alternative social media accounts and filling them with clicks could someone start to experience the other’s perspective. The cognitive load of stepping into the shoes of the other person has become so high that it’s easier to discount them as foolish or deceived. It’s easier to stream switch and model the perspective of someone similar to yourself. In part, that’s why similar people are drawn to one another. But there is a very high likelihood that many people we work with, as well as our customers, are not similar to us. Research on the “contact hypothesis” shows that talking with people who are different than ourselves enables us to understand their perspectives with more empathy, even if it’s difficult. More than ever before, we need to increase our stream-switching abilities, which will enable us to understand others. 

Thanks to Joanne Marshall and Kaitlyn Ouverson for thoughtful feedback on these ideas. 



Posted in: on Wed, July 20, 2022 - 12:08:28

Stephen Gilbert

Stephen B. Gilbert is associate director of Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Application Center and director of its human-computer interaction graduate program, as well as an associate professor in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. His research interests focus on technology to advance cognition, human-autonomy teaming, and XR usability. gilbert@iastate.edu
View All Stephen Gilbert's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Unavailability: Food for thought from Protestant theology


Authors: Sara Wolf, Simon Luthe, Ilona Nord, Jörn Hurtienne
Posted: Tue, July 19, 2022 - 9:45:16

The past two years of living in pandemic times have accelerated the spread of technology into all areas of life. This was also evident in the context of religious communities and churches, where the number of applications and users has increased enormously. Not only individual communities but also the great church institutions had to expand their presence in the digital sphere [1]. As a result, interaction with technology in religious and spiritual contexts is now more widespread than even a few years ago. Understanding how technology and interaction design influence experiences in such contexts is more important than ever. However, this increased need for knowledge is not yet visible in HCI publications. We also believe that through more research in these areas, HCI can gain new perspectives on technology use, design, and evaluation more generally. Similar to how work on religious objects in households inspired a broader call for extraordinary computing [2] , we would like to introduce a theme that emerged from our work with Protestant believers, and that can bring new impetus to HCI: unavailability.

We derive this claim from a continued cooperation between HCI researchers and Protestant theologians. Together, we have been working on several projects that aim at designing technology for religious communication in the form of rituals, blessings, and online worship services. In the following, we want to demonstrate that integrating aspects of faith, religion, and spirituality in HCI might be valuable and lend HCI new perspectives.

Unavailability

The development of current technology is about making everything available at any time: Vast amounts of music and films are available through media streaming services, our loved ones are available through video (chat), and worship services are available online. In most of the Western world, many of our desires can be fulfilled immediately using technology, which focuses on making everything visible, accessible, controllable, and usable [3]. However, this ubiquitous availability might not always be valuable. Sometimes the opposite, unavailability, might be the better choice. Unavailability can highlight what one values most about what is available and can evoke the experience of resonance, specialness, or meaning. In the following, we will present two examples that demonstrate how we came across the theme of unavailability in our research.

The first example originates in our work on blessings. In a design probe study with Protestant believers, we tried to understand what blessing experiences are, and where or when they happen in believers’ everyday lives. Participants described that the feeling of being blessed can occur anytime, anywhere, but is most intense when it is unexpected and surprising (i.e., unavailable). One participant shared the following story when asked to describe an experience of being blessed:

I had a conversation with a friend who told me about her happiness as a mother, how it was to hold her newborn baby in her arms for the first time, how much love she was surrounded by, and how proud she was. And that was very strange for me because she had to deliver the child dead. And, um, I didn’t expect that. And at that moment, well, that was so.... so that overwhelmed me…. So she knew her child would be born dead, she knew she would have a silent birth, and yet there was a lot of pride and happiness and love, and she is still proud to be a mother, even though her child was born dead. And I just find that..."Wow"! So my rational brain said, "Well, that cannot be for real, that doesn’t fit," and I was also afraid of the conversation with her. Um, and then I was, so that’s what got me… So that was surprising, yes, or maybe also what I hoped for.  So sometimes it [the blessing] is also a fulfilled hope.

Not all examples of blessing experiences were as drastic as the one described here. However, this story demonstrates the aspects of unexpectedness and surprise very well. The participant did not expect that the conversation with her friend could take place in a positive atmosphere—she was even afraid of the conversation. And then everything turned out quite differently than expected. She could not have worked out this twist or influenced the situation in this direction with certainty—it simply came as it came. The unavailability was also evident in other examples within the same study. Many participants described that they used to bless each other, although they can never be sure whether the blessings are effective—it is beyond their control. For our participants, Protestant believers, this control was attributed to God. The aspect of unavailability generated friction and excitement in people’s experiences: It opened up room for hope, speculation, and surprise—for example, when something absolutely unexpected and positive happens.

Our second example on unavailability shows the opposite: namely, what happens when the unavailable becomes available? In another project, we investigated the experiences of online worship services during the pandemic [4]. We accompanied Protestant believers while participating in online worship services and tried to understand how specific design elements lead to specific experiences. One prominent element that influenced the experiences dramatically was availability and ease of access. Usual worship services are not an everyday occurrence for believers, but rather something special; believers usually invest some effort to mark the worship service as distinct from everyday life and routines—for example, dressing up, going to a special place, and reserving the time to attend. In contrast, online worship services are available anytime and anywhere, which invites specific modes of usage (e.g., watching it on the side). 

One couple reported a situation that shows the tensions such constant availability can create. On one Sunday, the couple woke up later than usual, and were in the middle of their breakfast when realizing that the worship service was about to start. Invited by the flexible and accessible design of current online worship services, they watched it using a laptop at their breakfast table. Although this was practical, they quickly became annoyed with themselves. They realized that they had turned what formerly had been an extraordinary experience into something ordinary. Availability changed the way worship services were experienced. The online worship service turned into something everyday and less essential. Constant availability may be convenient and allow for flexible access. However, convenience and flexibility are nothing compared with the cherished unavailability of worship services that take place only at a specified place and time and are unavailable in between.

So far, unavailability seems to be a concept that is given little consideration in HCI, and that even opposes current trends of making everything available. The two examples show how unavailability affects experiences. We think it is worth looking at the concept more closely, as it can reveal new perspectives on technology design. In the following, we will turn to sociology and Protestant theology in order to learn more about the concept of unavailability. Theology has long been concerned with unavailability, and sociology shows how the concept of unavailability is essential for human experiences beyond the context of religion, faith, and spirituality.

The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa has studied unavailability (German: Unverfügbarkeit; he translates it as “uncontrollability”) in his works [3,5]. Rosa describes our time as a time of acceleration, suggesting the concept of resonance as a possible solution [5]. For Rosa, resonance is a type of world relationship formed by affection and emotion, intrinsic interest, and the expectation of self-efficacy, in which subject and world connect and at the same time transform each other. That is, the nature of the world relationship is to be understood as reciprocal. Not only is the relationship defined between subjects and objects, but they also define a new relationship to the world [5]. The experience of resonance is opposite to the experience of alienation, a world relationship in which the subject and the world are indifferent or hostile (repulsive) to each other and thus inwardly disconnected from each other—a relationship of "relationshiplessness" [5]. For Rosa, resonance is the human motivation that guides all actions. A central, constitutive aspect to resonant experiences is unavailability. Four conditions for resonant experiences must coincide [3]:

  • Touch (something touches me)
  • A response to the touch
  • Transformation: a change of world-relationship
  • Unavailability.

Even if conditions one to three are fulfilled, unavailability is necessary for a successful, resonating experience. The individual experience of the world can be neither planned nor accumulated. This perspective highlights a fundamental problem with the current focus on making everything available through ubiquitous technology: It is not the availability that renders experiences successful, resonating, and thereby valued but rather their specific quality. And part of what makes their quality is that people are not in control of everything and cannot make the world available to the last. It is precisely in this that Rosa sees a necessity. Space must be given to the concept of unavailability because only in this way are resonating experiences possible [3].

Regarding Christian religion, the necessity of the unavailable for a successful world experience as described by Rosa becomes particularly clear. All objects of the Christian religion, such as God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace, living a fulfilled life, and blessings, cannot be made controllable to human beings; they cannot be commanded. Even in an increasingly secularized world, the objects of religion and their unavailability remain something that fascinates and attracts people—albeit no longer only in the forms of the established religious communities. This search for meaning is both an attempt to make the unavailable available and the realization that ultimately unavailability is constitutive for religious experiences. It is precisely this unavailability that makes dealing with the objects of religion interesting to people. If God, the Holy Spirit, or Christ were made available, religion would become uninteresting and lose relevance for the resonant experiences as illustrated above.

The theme of unavailability prompts HCI to reconsider current trends of making everything available. Recognizing that unavailability might be an essential experiential quality, HCI is challenged to engage in the topic. How can unavailability be experienced when interacting with technologies? What ways, if any, are there to design for the unavailable? 

To design or not to design?

Although there seem to be no simple, singular answers to the above questions, we would like to present different perspectives to stimulate discussion within HCI. 

Unavailability is a key topic in the Christian religion and tradition. As such, the Christian tradition is constantly confronted with unavailability and tries to create conditions to make experiences with the unavailable more probable. Such efforts can, potentially, be considered as design. To this end, the Christian tradition offers (or designs) activities such as rituals, liturgy, and experiential education that serve as supportive measures, knowing that the unavailable is ultimately unavailable.

On the question of design for unavailability, Rosa builds his argument for resonant experiences. He argued that resonant experiences can arise only with counterparts (e.g., human beings, objects, nature, art) that are not entirely available—meaning visible, accessible, controllable, and usable [3]. Following this, Rosa doubts that technology can be designed at all to become a resonant counterpart: unavailability is uncontrollability and thus “non-engineerability.” He expects that translating unavailability to, for example, unpredictability in technology design might lead to frustration rather than resonant experiences. However, Rosa also identifies manufactured objects that evoke resonant experiences, such as poems or art. He expects a poem to be a resonant counterpart as long as one has not fully grasped and processed it, as long as it continues to occupy one and still seems to hide something [3].

With the above arguments and examples in mind, we turned to HCI searching for artifacts and design strategies that might correspond to unavailability. An artifact that shows an essential aspect of the integration of unavailability and technologies, namely the type of activities that a technology enables, is the Drift Table [6]. The Drift Table is a coffee table displaying slowly moving photography that is operated by the distribution of weight on its surface. One could argue that this interaction represents a kind of “control” of the table. However, what is most related to unavailability is not the exact interaction, but rather what the table encourages us to do: The Drift Table was designed not to perform specific tasks or efficiently achieve goals but rather to support ludic activities, “activities motivated by curiosity, exploration, and reflection rather than externally defined tasks” [6]. It is exactly in this way that we think it might correspond to unavailability: A technology that is supposed to have an inherent unavailability must invite us to explore it and not work through it—similar to a poem or a work of art. If it is at all possible to design for unavailability, then the first step must be a change of perspective on the what of technology: Away from technology as efficiency-enhancing task support, toward technology as a stimulus for open exploration, reflection, and curiosity.

The figure contains three sketches, each representing a concept. The concepts are sketched in black and white and essential elements are highlighted in yellow. In addition, the essential elements are described in short text notes. The text notes are: Left, The Drift table: “Ludic activities. Promote curiosity, exploration and reflection. De-emphasise the pursuit of external goals. Maintain openness and ambiguity. Withhold a clear interpretation or narrative of use.” Middle, The Projected Realities bench: “Ambiguity. Present information with limited context. Create tension through the combination of contradictions (viewing vs sitting, familiar vs strange). Leave space for individual interpretation. Right, ThanatoFenestra: “Ephemerality. Include elements that last for a limited time. Use materials that evoke multisensory perceptions. Rely on mechanisms known from the living nature.
Three design strategies that can serve as a useful starting point for thinking about design in the context of unavailability. Left: The drift table as an example of design for ludic activities [3]. Middle: The Projected Realities bench as an example for ambiguous design [2]. Right: ThanatoFenestra as an example for ephemeral interfaces [1]. Sketches: Vyjayanthi Janakiraman.

Apart from this concrete example, we also found two particular design strategies within the more speculative and exploratory areas of HCI that are more concerned with the how of interaction suitable when designing for unavailability. The first strategy is to design for ambiguity [7]. Gaver et al. [7] suggest that ambiguity “frees users to react to designs with skepticism or belief, appropriating systems into their own lives through their interpretations.” One way to integrate ambiguity into the design is to distort displayed information to stimulate curiosity and thought. The second strategy to design for unavailability might be ephemeral interfaces [8]. Ephemeral interfaces consist of at least one element that lasts only for a limited time and typically incorporate materials invoking multisensory perceptions such as water, fire, or plants [8]. Ephemerality is a design strategy seldomly used in popular, widespread technologies. However, it is an element everyone recognizes from the living, natural world that corresponds well with unavailability. 

In conclusion, we hope to have demonstrated the value of turning to contexts such as spirituality, faith, and religion to gain new perspectives for HCI and hope to stimulate discussions on making everything (un)available. We conclude with one last quote for reflection:

We should…speak of God. But we are human beings and as such cannot speak of God. We are to know both, what we ought to and what we cannot do, and precisely in this way give glory to God. –translated from Barth (1929)

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all of our participants who shared their experiences with us. May you be blessed! Parts of the research have been funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), project CoTeach (project number 01JA2020).

Endnotes

1. Nord, I. and Adam, O. Churches online in times of corona (CONTOC): First results. In Revisiting the Distanced Church. OAKTrust Digital Repository. 2021, 77–86. https://doi.org/10.21423/revisitingthechurch

2. Wyche, S.P. and Grinter, R.E.. Extraordinary computing: Religion as a lens for reconsidering the home. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2009, 749–758; https://doi.org/10.1145/1518701.1518817

3. Rosa, H. The Uncontrollability of the World. Polity, 2020. 

4. Wolf, S., Mörike, F., Luthe, S., Nord, I., and Hurtienne, J. Spirituality at the breakfast table: Experiences of Christian online worship services. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts. ACM, New York, 2022; https://doi.org/10.1145/3491101.3519856

5. Rosa, H. Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World. Polity, 2021. 

6. Gaver, W.W. et al. The Drift Table: Designing for ludic engagement. CHI '04 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2004, 885–900; https://doi.org/10.1145/985921.985947

7. Gaver, W.W., Beaver, J., and Benford, S. Ambiguity as a resource for design. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2003, 233–240; https://doi.org/10.1145/642611.642653

8. Döring, T., Sylvester, A., and Schmidt, A. A design space for ephemeral user interfaces. Proc. of the 7th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction. ACM, New York, 2013, 75–82; https://doi.org/10.1145/2460625.2460637



Posted in: on Tue, July 19, 2022 - 9:45:16

Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf is a passionate HCI researcher working at the intersection of faith, spirituality, religion, and technology. She is currently doing her Ph.D. with a focus on technology-mediated (religious) rituals and works in the CoTeach project, and as an HCI lecturer at the Institute of Human-Computer-Media at the University of Würzburg. Sara.wolf@uni-wuerzburg.de
View All Sara Wolf's Posts

Simon Luthe

Simon Luthe is a practical theologian and religious educator working on pop culture issues and at the intersection of faith and technology. He is currently doing his Ph.D. in a research project on blessing spaces in VR/AR at the University of Würzburg. He is also a vicar in the parish of Heide, Schlewig Holstein. simon.luthe@uni-wuerzburg.de
View All Simon Luthe's Posts

Ilona Nord

Ilona Nord is professor of Protestant theology and religious education at Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Würzburg, Germany. Her research interests include religious teaching and learning, developing new methods for teacher education in a digitalized world and churches online in times of Corona. Ilona.nord@uni-wuerzburg.de"
View All Ilona Nord's Posts

Jörn Hurtienne

Jörn Hurtienne is a professor of psychological ergonomics at Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Würzburg, Germany. His research interests include the theory and design for intuitive use, image schemas and primary metaphors as well as user experience design for fundamental values. joern.hurtienne@uni-wuerzburg.de
View All Jörn Hurtienne's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Breaking stereotypes: Islamic feminism and HCI


Authors: Hawra Rabaan, Lynn Dombrowski
Posted: Thu, July 14, 2022 - 9:28:33

As HCI matures into a richer discipline interlacing with the humanities and social sciences, there has been a growing consciousness to embrace pluralist [1] and intersectional approaches in understanding and addressing systems of oppression within computing [2]. Islamic feminism and intersectional feminism are highly complementary approaches to understanding oppression and power. While both focus on gender, each brings its own distinct attention to how gendered violence manifests. In research, Islamic feminism is a theoretical, analytic, and design lens to understand and attend to the needs of Muslim women. Beyond being useful for understanding issues that only Muslim women face, as a theoretical approach, it expands how we understand agency, sheds light on the historic and sociocultural contexts, and explores design around cherished and socially familiar values [3,4]. This article calls for expanding HCI feminist theories to account for nonsecular and non-Western contexts, and answers the following questions: 1) What is Islamic feminism? 2) Why should we as academics care about it? and 3) How can we bring it into HCI research and design? 

What is Islamic feminism? 

Islamic feminism scholarship, similarly to mainstream Western feminism, centers studying gender and systems of power and oppression. Primarily, Islamic feminism differs from mainstream feminism in 1) its perception of religion and 2) definitions of agency and resistance. While there are many dangerous tropes portraying Islam as anti–female empowerment or as patriarchal, within Islamic feminism, Islam is viewed as feminist for several key reasons. Islamic feminists see Islam as a way to promote social justice and equity; however, Islamic feminists are critical of orthodox interpretations of Islamic texts and cultural praxis and often position them as the sources of patriarchal beliefs [5]. Thus, Islamic feminist scholars (e.g., Amina Wadud, Husein Muhammad, Ziba Mir-Hosseini) have worked extensively and continue to produce alternative interpretations of sacred texts to challenge the patriarchal elements in Islamic jurisprudence and shift the paradigm of religious authority. For example, verse [4:34] is commonly used by religious scholars to promote wife-hitting, whereas Islamic feminist scholars interpret the verse to encourage temporary separation and reflection. The interpretation is inferred from a holistic Quranic stance on spousal relations rather than verbatim explanations, concluding its focus on respect, reconciliation, and justice, and consequently opposing harm and violence [4].

The second dispute between mainstream feminism and Islamic feminism is how agency is defined and identified. In mainstream feminism, agency is fundamentally based on the liberal political theory’s concept of freedom, where an autonomous will is fulfilled through “universal reason,” unburdened by tradition, customs, or transcendental will. Islamic feminists view this definition of free will as limited; instead, agency is not just about a person’s capacity, but rather about how societal, economic, and political structures create and reinforce conditions, cultural norms, possibilities, and oppression around gender [6]. In Islamic feminist thought, resistance and agency are often inseparable and extend agency to include non-resistive actions. For example, a woman in an abusive relationship patiently remaining married is an autonomous choice made within layered constraints that takes time, careful consideration, and effort [4]. Another form of agency that is regularly overlooked by Western feminists is religious agency, which consists of acts grounded in religious beliefs—to adhere to a transcendental power (i.e., their God) rather than to the abusive figure or patriarchal norms. Lastly, using an Islamic feminist lens reveals more depth of the human experience and urges us to practice greater empathy and reduce harm, by acknowledging and working within the practical conditions influencing participants’ autonomy. 

Why and when to use Islamic feminism?

The HCI community centers diversity, equity, and inclusion. Islamic feminism provides tools to conduct justice-oriented research and design, where participants are not “othered” or looked down upon, where we value our participants’ voices, and build upon community assets and values. As an HCI scholar, I call for us to turn inward and surface the biases we may have as researchers and designers, find and routinely use tools to help us overcome our biases, and bring about the progressive change we seek as academics and global citizens.

As the field continues to broaden its reach and impact, the problem-solving standpoint familiar to the HCI community must shift. By using an Islamic feminist approach, we strive to provide implications and design within the context of entangled political and cultural norms, rather than eradicate those norms or perceive our user as a passive victim [4]. 

How to use Islamic feminism in HCI 

Next, we leave you with three takeaways on how to begin following an Islamic feminist approach in HCI: 

  • Dare not to take on a savior’s complex, orientalize, or deem cultures as less than the West. When approaching social issues that concern sensitive problems and vulnerable populations, be diligently cautious of causing more harm, whether it’s in perpetuating stereotypes, interacting biasedly, or superficially tackling the problem. 

  • View practicing agency as culturally and historically specific. It is the researcher’s job to acutely understand the practical conditions and sociohistorical processes contributing to the autonomy of participants. Such lenses are essential within all roles of research; problem formulation, analysis, implications and design, and research evaluation [7].

  • Call for empowerment from within the participants’ structure, by designing around cherished, internalized, and socially familiar values when evaluating current technologies or providing implications for future inclusive designs [3]. Include norms beyond social impositions, and focus on the participants’ cultural dimensions, historical developments, and different ideas of justice.

While it goes without saying that Muslims are not a homogeneous group, portraying Islam as a violent religion or Muslim women as passively oppressed is inexcusably prevalent within the broader society and this unfortunate stereotype has not escaped the academic realm. I have faith in our community and the future of inclusive technologies. When in doubt, connect with fellow Muslim scholars or groups such as the IslamicHCI group [8], who will be open to sharing their insights when needed. We can do better, HCI! 

Endnotes 

1. Bardzell, S. Feminist HCI: Taking stock and outlining an agenda for design. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2010, 1301–1310.

2. Rankin, Y.A. and Thomas, J.O. Straighten up and fly right: Rethinking intersectionality in HCI research. Interactions 26, 6 (2019), 64–68.

3. Alsheikh, T., Rode, J.A., and Lindley, S.E. (Whose) Value-Sensitive design: A study of long-distance relationships in an Arabic cultural context. Proc. of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. ACM, New York, 2011, 75–84.

4. Rabaan, H., Young, A.L., and Dombrowski, L. Daughters of men: Saudi women's sociotechnical agency practices in addressing domestic abuse. Proc. of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction  4, CSCW3 (2021), 1–31.

5. McDonald, L. Islamic feminism. Feminist Theory 9, 3 (2008), 347–354; https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700108095857

6. Mahmood, S. Feminist theory, agency, and the liberatory subject: Some reflections on the Islamic revival in Egypt. Temenos-Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 42, 1 (2006).

7. I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the CSCW reviewers who pushed my work into maturation by providing constructive criticism and actionable feedback.

8. Members of the group can be reached at islamichci@googlegroups.com



Posted in: on Thu, July 14, 2022 - 9:28:33

Hawra Rabaan

Hawra Rabaan is a Ph.D. candidate in human-computer Interaction at IUPUI’s School of Informatics and Computing. Rabaan’s work combines social work and HCI by focusing on examining sociotechnical practices in response to domestic violence and designing for countering domestic violence within the Muslim community through a transformative justice lens. hrabaan@iu.edu"
View All Hawra Rabaan's Posts

Lynn Dombrowski

Lynn Dombrowski is an associate professor in the human-centered computing department in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis. She runs the Sociotechnical Design Justice lab, where she studies, designs, and evaluates computational systems focused on social inequity issues with her students. lsdombro@iupui.edu
View All Lynn Dombrowski's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Faith, modernity, and urban computing


Authors: Nusrat Jahan Mim, Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed
Posted: Fri, July 08, 2022 - 12:17:25

Cities have long been a center of attention for modernization projects, so it is no surprise that most of today’s computing ventures are choosing cities as the main avenue for demonstrating their prowess. The idea of a “smart city,” for example, has been attracting a wide range of academics and practitioners in computer science and related fields whose works concern sensor systems, smartphone applications, human-computer interaction (HCI), computer supported cooperative work (CSCW), social computing, ubiquitous computing, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI). Related to the dream of smart cities are the dreams for driverless cars to claim the city streets, drones to deliver food to city apartments, and large-scale smart displays to inform and entertain citizens.

These dreams are also being partially realized in various cities around the world, with a mix of successes and failures. In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say that computing technologies often define what cities are in today’s world. While the concentration and intensity of dazzling, cutting-edge computing is generally higher in cities in the Western world, their Global South counterparts have started to catch up. Under the government mandate of digitization, countries like Bangladesh and India, for example, are updating their cities and the lives of their citizens with new mobile applications, biometric identity, the digital gig economy, online education, and social media, to mention just a few. However, this rapid advancement of “urban” computing is often devoid of ideas of faith, religion, and spirituality; even worse, their insensitivity to such sentiments is creating an agonistic and uncomfortable situation for many citizens, especially in the Global South. A deep understanding of the historical conflicts between modernity, science and technology, and urban religiosity is required to trace the role of computing within this tension.

Let’s go back a couple of years, when Covid started to unfold in Bangladesh. Alarming images of Bangladesh shared on social media included photos of religious gatherings of faith-based communities. Here, we use a broad definition of religion that incorporates both organized religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) and traditional and Indigenous beliefs and non-beliefs. By faith-based communities, we refer to the groups of people who participate in activities that are motivated by their religious beliefs. While faith may influence and shape every action taken by a person, for the sake of simplicity, we define religious practices by the activities that are driven primarily by religious motivations (e.g., prayers, congregations, etc.).

While the government of Bangladesh mandated “social distancing,” and there were nationwide campaigns to create awareness among people to avoid crowds, those suggestions were often not effective in practice, especially among faith-based communities. In many places in the country, including major cities, huge religious congregations kept taking place at mosques during Friday prayers, ignoring all cautionary notices. At one point, when the city authorities closed mosques and asked people to perform their prayers at home, many Muslims started to gather on their rooftops to perform their prayers (Figure 1) in jamat (groups)—the call for social distancing kept getting ignored. In mid-April 2020, thousands of people gathered at the funeral ceremony of a local influential religious leader in the Bramhambaria district, ignoring the strict ruling against such gatherings. Then, in the month of Ramadan, the nation feared a spike in the number of infected people as a series of religious festivals, including Shab-e-Qadr, Jumatul Bida, and Eid ul Fitr, were forthcoming. Those tensions between the city and religious communities allowed us to see the politics around the formulation of modern cities and the historical struggle of the religious identities within them.

While modernity is often defined by a set of values, processes, technologies, and the time period when scientific revolution, industrialization, and capitalism rapidly expanded across the West, urban modernity is characterized by the adoption of modernist ideologies in the urban built environment and as a tool to respond to emerging social and political tensions. Predominantly concentrated on the modernity-driven urban development strategies and planning policies engendered in the West, urban modernity is also globally understood as a product of secular institutions, practices, and discourses [1]. A major portion of this scholarship was developed in the 19th and 20th century, which read cities through the lens of scientific rationality and measured a city’s performance against a scale of “industrialized progress.”

With the theorization of the Global City in the 1980s, this new paradigm of modern urbanism started to expand beyond the West and influence the spatial, political, and economic readings of modern cities worldwide. These scholarly and design practices reinforced the qualities of Western modernity as the standards of a successful, global, modern city. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, scholars such as David Harvey, Edward Soja, and Saskia Sassen mapped urban-spatial responses around global flows of capital, technology, information, and other streams, pointing toward the failures of such modernist advancement at different scales in an urban setting. Soja, Jane Jacobs, Susan Fainstein, Leonie Sandercock, Lisa Peattie, and many others shed light on different forms of social inequalities and injustices that were introduced by modern cities. Although it was not at the center of their criticism, the Western concept of modernity has also always upheld the idea of secularization, and there has been a predominant secular spirit among modernist planners and scholars toward understanding cities.

While the cities in the Global North have often relied on their secular institutions, one cannot understand the cities of the Global South, especially South Asian and African cities, without understanding their religious spirit. However, the externalization of religion to the core discourse characterizes the development of modern South Asian and African cities of the recent past [1]. Hence, the cultural pluralities and the alternative visions of modernity that could develop in this part of the world, which have the potential to generate a dominant body of knowledge in urban studies, are often marginalized [2]. Such marginalization not only hampers the tolerance and productive public engagement of people from different religious backgrounds [3] but also limits the scope of “vernacular” development in the cities of the Global South.

 
Figure 1. Religious people praying on the rooftop of a building after praying at the mosque was halted. (Image courtesy of Rubayet Tanim)

As a Global Southern city with a strong religious backdrop, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is often considered a “non-modern” city. To achieve the Global City aesthetics, Dhaka like any other developing city in many respects, attempts to abide by the “rules of modernity” that were developed in the West. Hence, the urban religions often remain outside the development discourse. The presence of religiosity therefore gets limited, neglected, and often ridiculed outside spaces of worship such as mosques, temples, churches, and pagodas. For instance, when a mosque in a neighborhood starts to be treated as merely another “building,” the much-needed socioeconomic and spatial connections between the city and the religion are overlooked. The associated design conversations fail to capture how the “donation box” placed at the entrance of a mosque and the business of informal vendors standing outside the entrance are deeply integrated with the complex network of the city’s economy. It fails to understand how a low-income rickshaw-puller feels when he wants to pray his afternoon prayer but can hardly find a secure place to park his rickshaw near the mosque. Hence, the conversations fail to address the challenge of better handling the traffic during any religious events within or around the city. Since Dhaka is a Muslim-majority city, we are focusing on examples of Islamic practices here. In reality, such spatial and socioeconomic marginalizations can be traced in other religious practices as well.

Modern cities also put limits on religious rituals, and this soon escalates to a contention between the city and its religious citizens. When religious communities feel that the city is being “developed” without including their input, they start developing resistance and try to hack into various spatial arrangements of the city to make their presence visible. Keeping urban religion outside the prominent design discussions results in different infrastructure-level failures as well. For instance, severe traffic gridlock occurs in Bangladeshi cities before Eid ul Fitr, when a huge number of rural people temporarily visit to collect zakat (financial help from the rich obligated by Islam). Similar spatial complications occur during the congregational religious event Biswa Ijtema, where millions of Muslims gather to empower their Muslim identities. If the city development plans incorporated such religious festivities with due significance, Bangladeshi cities like Dhaka would have been developed in a distinctively inclusive way.

The borrowed concept of modernity, on the one hand, has limited possible design conversations with faith-based groups. On the other hand, excluding religiosity from the dominant urban design and planning decisions has created additional pressure on the city’s infrastructure. When the connections between the city and religion become parochial, it becomes quite difficult to expect thoughtful, tolerant responses from the marginalized faith-based communities during emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, every now and then we observe alarming crowds at religious gatherings in South Asian cities, defying lockdowns and mandatory social distancing. These crowds are not an immediate “unthoughtful” response to the pandemic situation, but rather simply the result of a deeply rooted resistance to the city’s “secular interventions.”

This brings us to the point where we can think of urban computing in a broader perspective. The discourse of “smart cities,” in both the West and the Global South, lacks a discussion on how to incorporate religious practices. If a religious practice is essentially communal, such as adhaan (Muslim prayers), how should the city strike a balance between the individual choice of not listening and the communal choice of hearing the sound? How is the city supposed to respond to the massive inflow of people, material, and livestock during religious festivals that challenge its infrastructure? If digitization develops a physical distance between people, how does that affect religious practices? How is the liberal, nonhierarchical model of online social media affecting value-laden religious communities? More importantly, how safe are the digital spaces for religious people? These and many other questions are critically important, and yet rarely discussed in the domain of urban computing.

We identify faith, religion, and spirituality as an underexplored territory of HCI in general, and urban computing in particular. Computing’s historical alignment with science, technology, and modernity has made it difficult to capture such sentiments, which are built upon belief, respect, tradition, fear, and purity. Furthermore, computing technologies, when acting as a force of modernization, often end up silencing and marginalizing the voices of religious communities by creating a “secular” space. However, a new paradigm of HCI can be imagined that challenges this top-down modernist program by strengthening the voices of marginalized religious sentiments.

Endnotes
1. Hancock, M. and Srinivas, S. Spaces of modernity: Religion and the urban in Asia and Africa. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32, 3 (2008), 617–630.
2. Simone, A.M. On the worlding of African cities. African Studies Review 44, 2 (2001), 15–41.
3. Greed, C. 2016. Religion and Ssustainable urban planning: ‘If you can’t count it, or won’t count it, it doesn’t count’. Sustainable Development 24, 3 (2016), 154–162.

Posted in: on Fri, July 08, 2022 - 12:17:25

Nusrat Jahan Mim

Nusrat Jahan Mim is a doctor of design candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her research focuses on post-colonial, post-secular urban designs and human-computer interaction. nusrat_mim@gsd.harvard.edu
View All Nusrat Jahan Mim's Posts

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Toronto. For the past 12 years, he has been conducting ethnography and design research with various marginalized groups in the Global South. ishtiaque@cs.toronto.edu
View All Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Reflections on the politics of African ‘limitations’ in HCI research


Authors: Muhammad Adamu, Shaimaa Lazem
Posted: Tue, July 05, 2022 - 10:46:44

Last year, I read Shaimaa’s reflection on how Indigenous cultures and folk heritage may act as a steppingstone for sustainability in the absence of resources [1]. This led to extensive correspondence with her on how lessons from Saeed El Masry’s book [2] can reframe the common dualities of scarcity and sufficiency found in African perspectives on innovation in HCI. We pondered the question of how we, as researchers and practitioners, can challenge as well as celebrate the “lacks” and “gaps” connotations affixed to HCI development in Africa. This blog thereby offers a different reading of the meaning of terms such as limits and scarcity, showing how such terms entail considerable future thinking and planning efforts. Our reflection has more to do with the politics of naming and the power dynamics underpinning the internalization of such narratives in mainstream discourses, and less to do with the practices of design research in African communities where supposedly these limitations are amplified. We draw upon existing decolonial works that explore the politics of computing research within the African context [3,4].
 
It is our understanding that terms such as resource-challenged, resource-constrained, underserved, and underresourced are used to represent the unfortunate realities of global inequalities. Such terms in HCI discourse mirror a certain worldview of what constitutes scarcity and sufficiency in computing and are often associated with the limited adoption of modern state-of-the-art computing technologies (e.g., smartphones, AI, drones, VR). Our concern with such a way of thinking about Africa is that it unintentionally reproduces interventionalist narratives that suggest how the introduction of technological innovation can bring about economic and material prosperity. The use of the term introduction here is deliberate as it denotes how dominant social imaginaries have cemented the thinking that Africa is not a site of innovation, and that technocratic thinking and modern technologies are the only way out of its predicament. Our frustration here is that the common narrative of lacks and gaps reduces social life in African communities to a set of problems that need computational solutions, a view in which digital technologies are necessary to catch up or transition to Western ideals of progress. This way of thinking thus pushes for the politics of organizing knowledge against a backdrop of consumerist development models that are undesirable and unsustainable.

Additionally, the performativity of limits and scarcity centers certain kinds of utilities over others, thus bringing to the fore economic, infrastructural, and technological products and pushing to the periphery human capital, natural resources, and Indigenous knowledge with which Africa is notably wealthy. Arguably, foregrounding the former repeats simplified accounts of Africa as a historical site for the extraction/production of raw materials and Africans as passive consumers of processed end products. Such accounts of African users invited us to question the extent to which the limits of the computing technologies could have been misrepresented as the limits of its users. Imagine for a moment that, instead of text, early computer interfaces relied heavily on embodied interaction and voice as the main interaction modality; that would have been a better fit with the oral traditions of some African communities [5]. As such, literacies would not have been emphasized as a limitation in the way it’s been presented in mainstream technological discourse.
 
To provoke different thinking about limitations in Africa, research has shown how folk practices of food preservation were adopted in Cairo as a mechanism to plan and cope with food scarcity [2]. In some districts of old Cairo, ensuring food security involves a considerable amount of planning that must be dynamic and resilient in coping with the changes in the availability of resources (e.g., unfixed income). The number of daily meals, their timing, and the content of meals are planned so that, for instance, planning the biggest meals for dinner guarantees that the person will have enough energy to get through the next day without needing breakfast. The leftover food is used as a supplement for next-day meals and snacks, and recipes are made to keep expensive food items for a long time [2].

Another example of different thinking around limitations is the adoption of the cultural model of Igwebuikem (i.e., strength in numbers) in rebuilding the community wealth of the Biafran communities of Southern Nigeria [6]. Among the Igbo tribe, shared prosperity was considered a political instrument for futuring in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. The Biafran civil war brought about the need for building communal solidarity in coping with the dynamic situation of hardship and tribulation—from which the Igbo apprentice systems came about as a scalable entrepreneurship program that built upon the commonwealth of the community [6]. Through its adoption as a localized model for building business ecosystems, communities were able to identify the strength of the collective, learn from each other, and scale-up instruments for rebuilding community wealth. The point raised here is that conditions of scarcity demand situated knowing that does not rely on the limitations of the past but rather on the possibilities that a differentiated thinking about the present might offer to the performance of the future.  
 
From the two historical scenarios of future thinking in the Old Cairo and Biafran communities, one can identify the resourcefulness that accompanies a different reading of limits and scarcity, showing how communities continuously innovate new ways of balancing present living conditions with future ones. By bringing to focus the politics associated with limitation as a concept and a reality, we are seeking to problematize its current use in HCI projects taking place in Africa. Recent efforts in HCI have been critical of technology solutionism, highlighting the nuances surrounding the use of technology as well as the importance of considering contextual and cultural specificities in design (e.g., the work of Kentaro Toyama, author of the seminal book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology). We’re nonetheless concerned with how dominant HCI has framed interaction design from the Global South in relation to development, design, and context, which has led to alternative framings of African design in HCI (e.g., the postcolonial, Indigenous, and decolonial approaches to design). Following decolonial thinking, our reflection sought to elaborate on this concern by bringing to the fore the geopolitics of technology solutionism and the interventionist narrative associated with it as Western ideologies that reproduce the imaginary of primitiveness and backwardness in relation to African innovation, and where postcolonial baggage and the promise of pop development—or the development that doesn’t really develop—remain. We argue that a differentiated identity for African innovation does not require a distinction between the unacknowledged past and the unfortunate present but rather recognizes how the relations between the past and the present give rise to the future.

The message from this short reflection should not be understood as shying away from inequalities and masking struggles resulting from socioeconomic limitations. Rather, we invite ourselves and the HCI community to rethink the “incomplete” realities we might portray and perpetuate when we only focus on and communicate lacks and gaps to inspire research encounters for and with communities from Africa. As African scholars, our hope, by sharing personal reflections, is to encourage HCI researchers to rethink the terms used in research framing and dissemination in light of colonial histories and the realities of globalization. Our call to action is to encourage HCI researchers, ourselves included, to reflect on the limit of the “limitations” described in HCI research, and to exercise humility in articulating the potential mismatch between the users and the technology introduced to them, bearing in mind the context technology was designed from and deployed to, and the worldviews that might be represented.

Endnotes
1. Lazem, S. What are you reading? Shaimaa Lazem. Interactions 26, 5 (2019), 12–13.
2. El Masry, S. Reproduction of Folk Heritage: How Poor Cling to Life in the Context of Scarcity. Cairo Supreme Council of Culture, 2013.
3. Bidwell, N.J. Decolonising HCI and interaction design discourse: Some considerations in planning AfriCHI. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students 22, 4 (2016), 22–27.
4. Lazem, S., Giglitto, D., Nkwo, M.S., Mthoko, H., Upani, J., and Peters, A. Challenges and paradoxes in decolonising HCI: A critical discussion. Comput Supported Coop Work 31 (2022), 1–38.
5. Allela, M.A. Technological speculations for African oral storytelling: Implication of creating expressive embodied conversational agents. Proc. of the Second African Conference for Human-Computer Interaction: Thriving Communities. ACM, New York, 2018, 1–4.
6. Kanu, C.C. The context of Igwebuike: What entrepreneurship development systems in Africa can learn from the Igbo apprenticeship system. AMAMIHE Journal of Applied Philosophy 18, 1 (2020).


Posted in: on Tue, July 05, 2022 - 10:46:44

Muhammad Adamu

Muhammad Adamu is a postdoctoral researcher in ImaginationLancaster, a design-led research lab at Lancaster University. His research focuses on developing approaches to the design and deployment of Indigenous technologies with and for African communities. m.adamu@lancaster.ac.uk
View All Muhammad Adamu's Posts

Shaimaa Lazem

Shaimaa Lazem is an Egyptian associate research professor at the City of Scientific Research and Technology Applications (SRTA-City). She completed her Ph.D. in HCI from Virginia Tech. She is interested in HCI in non-Western cultural contexts, participatory design, and decolonizing HCI. She is the cofounder of the Arab-HCI community (https://arabhci.org). slazem@srtacity.sci.eg
View All Shaimaa Lazem's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Speech is human and multifaceted. Our approach to studying it should be the same.


Authors: Arathi Sethumadhavan , Joe Garvin, Benjamin Noah
Posted: Wed, June 22, 2022 - 9:57:27

Whether it’s the friendly virtual assistant in your smart speaker, the auto-generated captions on your YouTube video, or the software that physicians use to dictate clinical notes, voice AI has already become a fixture of modern life. It’s the promise of hands-free convenience: Simply speak naturally, and the computer listens, analyzes, and recognizes what you’re saying. With things like voice-controlled homes and cars on the horizon, our relationship with voice AI looks to only deepen. But the task of building speech recognition technology remains a tall order: We want it to work well for everyone, but there is no one way of speaking.

People speak differently depending on how old they are or where they live on a map but less obvious demographic factors like socioeconomic status and education can also play a role. Layers of intersecting variables all come together to influence how we verbally express ourselves. We humans use language like code-switching chameleons, reflecting and creating culture every time we talk. Speech, in other words, is so much more than a mechanical system of words. It is organic and fluid, forever entangled with identity, values, and self-expression.

So it makes sense that studying speech to improve AI models would be more than just an engineering job. In other words, teams grappling with complex problems involving people require diverse representation across disciplines. Working alongside engineers and data scientists, social science experts like sociologists, anthropologists, and sociolinguists can offer essential insight and context while navigating the intricacies of our many voices.

Lingering inequalities in voice AI

Use of computer speech recognition extends far beyond asking Alexa or Siri to play a song or ask for the weather. Court reporters use it to generate transcriptions; people with disabilities use it to navigate phones and computers; and companies use it to make hiring and firing decisions. As voice AI has proliferated in recent years, overall accuracy and reliability has improved dramatically. But even state-of-the-art speech recognition tech does not work well for everyone. 

A Stanford University study from 2020, for example, tested services from major tech companies used for automated transcriptions and found large disparities between ancestry groups. The cause? Insufficient audio data when training the models, the study suggests. In other words, the voice AI powering the services was trained on datasets that left out many ways of speaking. In addition to certain ancestry groups, speech recognition systems also struggle with the accents of non-native English speakers, regional accents, and voices of women.

Biased AI starts with a biased worldview

These divides in voice AI have been documented for years, and so have the data-collection missteps that perpetuate them. Why, then, is collecting enough of the right speech data such a stubborn problem? One factor at play here is the out-group homogeneity effect, the cognitive bias that assumes people unlike you are more similar to each other than they really are. “They are alike; we are diverse,” or so the bias would have you believe.

Especially when classifying language, the bias is insidious. Consider, for instance, how all people over 60 are often lumped together into a single group: “older people.” This broad category might be useful in some contexts, but relying on it when studying speech would be irresponsible. Data shows that the way we talk continues to change as we age into our 60s and beyond, and that it even changes differently depending on gender. Tremendous variation exists within the group “older people” that deserves attention. But if someone isn’t 60 or older themselves, out-group homogeneity bias might blind them to all that variation.

Even the terms commonly used to describe Black and African American language—African American Vernacular English (AAVE), African American English (AAE), or African American Language (AAL)—can themselves be seen as examples of the out-group homogeneity effect. In reality, a language variety is never exclusively part of an entire demographic group, and there could also be people of different ancestry groups who happen to speak similarly. When it comes to studying speech for voice AI, creating false monoliths out of certain subgroups isn’t just inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Glossing over meaningful differences in the ways people speak shuts them out of tomorrow and leaves their voices unheard.

The many nuances of language

Many different factors play into speech. Some might be obvious, like where you live or whether that’s your native language. But other factors like health, education, and even historical migration patterns also play significant roles in shaping how a person speaks. Social factors like these contribute to linguistic variations. Anthropological linguists go a step further, suggesting that these factors also actually construct social meaning. In this view, when someone speaks, their voice is doing so much more than simply reflecting their region or ancestry: It’s expressing an identity.

Our gender identity, for instance, can influence how we talk. Culture or ethnic association can also influence how our speech develops, how we use it, and how it may evolve. When we define a specific variation of speech, therefore, we must include these societal factors as its foundational pillars.

Level of fluency, education, gender identity, age language was learned—which of these many interconnected factors are the most decisive in shaping the ways we speak? It’s crucial information to have, as it quickly becomes unwieldly to account for all possible aspects that determine speech. When collecting samples of spoken language to train a new speech model, for example, there are real-world limitations affecting what can be collected: time, money, personnel, and geography, to name a few. Prioritizing all the social factors is a complex job, one beyond the narrow scope of any one discipline. 

A multidisciplinary approach

To build speech recognition technology that works well for everybody, we need to capture the right diversity in our data-collection strategies. This involves turning toward those nuances in language, being attentive and curious about them. We know that we want to capture an accurate picture of the incredible variety of human speech, and we also know that many complex dynamics are at play. This calls for a multidisciplinary approach for a better informed, more inclusive perspective.

An engineer might be able to notice the different word-error rates between demographic groups, for example, but a sociolinguist can help explain the different speaking patterns at play, how these patterns show up across communities, and historical reasons for why they emerged. A data scientist can tell you how many people in what groups need to be sampled. Sociologists, demographers, and anthropologists can speak to social behaviors and psychology, aspects that illuminate the subtleties of language. Domain experts like these offer invaluable insights and context, and involving them early on will help us design better datasets that capture human diversity.

Toward more equitable voice AI

Even with the help of other disciplines, building speech recognition systems is incredibly hard work. Training a voice AI model requires a huge amount of speech data. Collecting this data means bringing in lots of people from different population groups, some of whom are difficult to access and recruit, and some of whom, like Native Americans and the First Nations peoples of Canada, haven’t had their speech studied extensively. And when subjects are finally recruited, they need to be taken to a noise-controlled recording facility, asked to follow specific directions, and instructed to read aloud carefully designed paragraphs of text. 

The process of creating voice AI is painstaking and resource-intensive as it is—detecting and reducing bias on top of it all only makes the process more difficult. And yet, we must be up to the task. The fact is that speech recognition systems of today, trained on largely homogenous datasets, still don’t work for all groups of people. This is more than a matter of services performing poorly; it’s a matter of dignifying real ways of speaking, real identities and cultures. We must first acknowledge that this problem exists and educate teams about ways of building more equitable voice AI.  Then we need to act. Acknowledging the intricate social and cultural dimensions of speech, we might team up with experts from relevant disciplines. With the help of experts like social scientists, product teams are better equipped to think carefully about inclusive dataset design and to devise creative approaches to thorny data-collection obstacles.

Human speech poses engineering problems that transcend the technical. Building voice AI is in fact a sociotechnical endeavor, one that requires diversity in disciplines. The stakes are high, but with an intentional focus to seek out our blind spots, we can collaborate to build voice AI that truly works for everyone.



Posted in: on Wed, June 22, 2022 - 9:57:27

Arathi Sethumadhavan

Arathi Sethumadhavan is the head of research for Ethics & Society at Microsoft, where she works at the intersection of research, ethics, and product innovation. She has brought in the perspectives of more than 13,000 people, including traditionally disempowered communities, to help shape ethical development of AI and emerging technologies such as computer vision, NLP, intelligent agents, and mixed reality. She was a recent fellow at the World Economic Forum, where she worked on unlocking opportunities for positive impact with AI, to address the needs of a globally aging population. Prior to joining Microsoft, she worked on creating human-machine systems that enable individuals to be effective in complex environments like aviation and healthcare. She has been cited by the Economist and the American Psychological Association and was included in LightHouse3’s 2022 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics list. She has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology with a specialization in human factors from Texas Tech University and an undergraduate degree in computer science.arathisethumadhavan@gmail.com
View All Arathi Sethumadhavan 's Posts

Joe Garvin

Joe Garvin is a writer for Ethics & Society at Microsoft via Allovus, where he helps share research insights with a broader audience. He has previously written for the University of Washington and City Arts magazine. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in communication with a specialization in digital media. v-joegarvin@microsoft.com
View All Joe Garvin's Posts

Benjamin Noah

Ben Noah is a senior design researcher for the Ethics & Society group at Microsoft (Cloud & AI), where he supports strategy on responsible development of AI technologies, focusing on the collection of diverse datasets. His previous research experience included modeling cognitive workload using eye-tracking metrics and the design of modern operator control systems for the refinery industry. He has a Ph.D. in industrial engineering with a specialization in human factors from Penn State University, and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois. benoah@microsoft.com
View All Benjamin Noah's Posts



Post Comment


@Stumble Guys (2022 06 30)

Linguistic nuances are always characteristic of each country and it is always interesting


Toward Understanding the Efficacy of Virtual Classrooms Among Bangladeshi Students During Covid-19


Authors: S.M. Rakibul Islam, Nabarun Halder, Ashraful Islam, Eshtiak Ahmed, Sheak Rashed Haider Noori
Posted: Fri, June 03, 2022 - 11:41:22

The sudden appearance of Covid-19 forced people to stay at home due its highly infectious nature. Governments shut down countries; economies and businesses collapsed. The education system was no exception; rising Covid-19 cases forced schools to shut down. According to UNESCO, Covid-19 afflicted 37,694,522 students as of January 2022 [1]. Since educational facilities halted in March 2020, Bangladeshi students have been deprived of adequate time for instruction and for connecting with classmates, both of which significantly harm their educational experience. Like many countries, Bangladesh had to move to an online education system [2]. While the online program was able to overcome some of the inevitable difficulties, many people questioned its efficacy and acceptability. Taking this into account, our research looks at the views and opinions of students regarding the efficacy of virtual classrooms and how these classrooms could be an alternative to a traditional, in-person classroom setting.

We used Google Forms to create an online survey about students' perspectives on online education [3]. To develop the survey, we carried out a literature review of related works and conducted informal interviews with students who attended online classes [4]. The survey consisted of both quantitative and qualitative inquiries centered around a set of four types of questions: participants' characteristics, how they attended online classes, their online learning platform experience, and their overall experience. The survey involved 210 students, with educational backgrounds ranging from high school to postgraduate. Of the participants, 88.6 percent were undergraduates and 92.9 percent were between 18 and 25 years old (Table 1). Most participants were from urban areas (63.3 percent). We performed a percentage analysis on the data from the survey using Google Forms' built-in features and Microsoft Excel.

Demographic Information

Characteristics

Number of

Participants


Education level

High school/secondary

(Grade 6 to 10)

2

Higher Secondary (Grade

11 to 12)

7

Undergraduate

186

Postgraduate

15

Gender

Female

68

Male

142


Age (years)

10 to 17

3

18 to 25

195

26 to 32

11

33 to 40

1


Residence area

Suburban

34

Rural

43

Urban

133

Table 1. Demographic information of survey participants.

Poor Internet connectivity was one of the most significant challenges for online classes [5]. Our study reports that nearly half (45.2 percent) of the participants had poor Internet access. Most students used Android smartphones and mobile data for online classes (Table 2). However, a majority of students (84 percent) had no previous experience with online classes. Most of them preferred in-person classes to recorded ones. According to our findings, most participants who did not understand a topic in an online class asked the instructor questions. In contrast, many students who watched recorded videos didn't ask questions. Regarding relationships between classmates, about 80 percent of the respondents felt that online classes created distance between them and their classmates. There was a mixed response to teacher-student interaction.

Technical Information

Characteristics

Number of

Responses


Devices used

Tablet computer

2

iPhone/iOS smartphone

14

Desktop computer

27

Laptop computer

108

Android smartphone

161


Internet accessibility

Public Wi-Fi

36

Broadband connection

103

Mobile Internet packages

127


Platforms used

University’s Blackboard

1

Skype

2

Microsoft Teams

6

Facebook Live

11

Zoom

71

Google Meet

163


Communication with new classmates

Never communicate with them

60

Personal message

91

Instant messengers and social

media groups

150

Table 2. How participants join online classes and interact with classmates.

Most participants stated that being unable to physically meet with teachers negatively affected their education. Many felt less motivated to discuss any topic in an online class. As a result, students were less eager to discuss any issues with the teacher after class. In terms of changes in instructions in the online class, 50.95 percent of participants expressed "instructors spend less time on guiding students on changes in directions in the online class" and "instructors spend less time explaining topics"; 36.67 percent stated that "instructors take fewer feedbacks"; and 45.24 percent of participants agreed with the following statement: "To demonstrate a topic, instructors use fewer visuals." Just over 41 percent of students were neutral about changes in lecture materials (Figure 1).


Figure1. Participants’ votes on how lecture materials and directions are changed.

Participants did not have a clear preference about where they took tests, but they had some complaints about the testing process. They stated that open-book exams caused teachers to generate complex tasks that might take longer to solve than the time given for exams, and that teachers could not evaluate their efforts properly. In addition, poor Internet connectivity and the inadequacy of devices were significant barriers to students participating in online tests. The main complaint about online classes and tests was that students could not concentrate for a long period of time. Students also mentioned falling asleep during classes and noisy environments while attending classes at home. In terms of class participation and performance evaluations, most students preferred assessment at the end of the week. Still, many students appreciated checking in for each class; some also mentioned that they enjoyed the assessments at the end of the course or semester. A few of the main complaints from students using online learning systems were that teachers used fewer images to demonstrate concepts, spent less time explaining subjects than before, and took less feedback from students. Approximately 33.3 percent were neutral about learning from online classes, with extremely confident students around 11.9 percent and extremely unconfident students around 17.1 percent (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Participants’ votes on how lecture materials and directions are changed.

On whether online lessons were advantageous, 31.4 percent students were neutral and 17.1 percent considered online classes extremely unuseful. In comparison, online classes were considered useful by 19.52 percent of students (Figure 3).


Figure 3. How useful online classes were to participants.

Students understood that the pandemic prevented in-person learning. They recommended that some changes to online education be implemented, including limiting the length of virtual classes, ensuring an uninterrupted Internet connection, and, at a lower cost, utilizing additional visuals or examples to demonstrate a topic, taking immediate feedback after discussing a topic, and guiding students on the necessary steps for the next session of that course/class. Some complications in students' use of online platforms were observed, among them excessive amounts of data transmission due to video lecture distribution, the inability to transmit bigger files to or from the instructor at a lower Internet speed within a shorter and fixed time frame, and inconsistent attendance. The survey findings indicate that the students would be interested in online education if the aforementioned recommendations are heeded and the issues resolved. Despite the limitations indicated by survey participants, it is obvious that an online education system may serve as a viable alternative to traditional classroom education in an emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, and that virtual classrooms can minimize disruptions in continuous learning.

Endnotes

1. UNESCO. Education: From disruption to recovery; https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

2. Abdullah, M. 2020: The rise of online education. Dhaka Tribune. Dec. 31, 2020; https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2020/12/31/2020-rise-of-online-education

3. Halder, N., Islam, S.R., Hosain, M.S., Ahmed, E., Islam, A., and Noori, S.R.H. Efficacy and acceptance of virtual classrooms during covid-19: Bangladesh perspective. Proc. of 3rd International Congress on Human-Computer Interaction, Optimization and Robotic Applications. IEEE, 2021, 1–6.

4. Muthuprasad, T., Aiswarya, S., Aditya, K., and Jha, G.K. Students' perception and preference for online education in India during Covid-19 pandemic. Social Sciences & Humanities Open 3, 1 (2021), 100101.

5. Adnan, M. and Anwar, K. Online learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic: Students' perspectives. Online Submission 2, 1 (2020), 45–51.


Posted in: on Fri, June 03, 2022 - 11:41:22

S.M. Rakibul Islam

S.M. Rakibul Islam obtained a B.S. in computer science and engineering from Daffodil International University, Bangladesh. His research interests include HCI, user interaction, and applied machine learning. rakibul15-10869@diu.edu.bd
View All S.M. Rakibul Islam's Posts

Nabarun Halder

Nabarun Halder obtained a B.S. in computer science and engineering from Daffodil International University, Bangladesh. His research interests include HCI, user interaction, and applied machine learning. nabarun15-11086@diu.edu.bd
View All Nabarun Halder's Posts

Ashraful Islam

Ashraful Islam is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His research interests include HCI, mHealth, and user experience. He earned an M.S. in computer science from the same institution. ashraful.islam1@louisiana.edu
View All Ashraful Islam's Posts

Eshtiak Ahmed

Eshtiak Ahmed is a Ph.D. student at Tampere University, Finland. His research interests include HCI, social robotics, and user experience. He earned an M.Sc. in human-technology interaction (HTI) from the same institution. eshtiak.ahmed@tuni.fi
View All Eshtiak Ahmed's Posts

Sheak Rashed Haider Noori

Sheak Rashed Haider Noori is an associate professor of computer science who also serves as associate chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Daffodil International University, Bangladesh. His research covers HCI, gamification, and design science. drnoori@daffodilvarsity.edu.bd
View All Sheak Rashed Haider Noori's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


The spirit of scientific communication


Authors: Ahmet Börütecene , Oğuz Buruk
Posted: Mon, February 28, 2022 - 1:46:19

How can I tell what I think till I see what I make and do? — Christopher Frayling [1]

Just a couple of months before the start of the new decade and the pandemic began haunting the world, we had the privilege to attend the Halfway to the Future symposium (https://www.halfwaytothefuture.org/2019/) in person and present a paper. The symposium was organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Mixed Media Lab at the University of Nottingham. There were many exciting keynotes, presentations, and panels. At that time, we did not know that this would be one of the last physical presentations we would give for a while. In this blog post, we would like to talk about the stage performance we did to present our paper and how it motivated us to open a discussion on alternative ways of communicating scientific knowledge, in particular that which is produced through HCI and design research.

For the symposium, we submitted a provocative paper that envisions using a Ouija Board as a resource for design [2], which was then presented in the session built around the influential work of Bill Gaver on ambiguity [3]. Briefly, the Ouija is a parlor game where participants place their fingers on a physical cursor (planchette) and ask questions to an invisible being—supposedly a spirit. The being moves the cursor—although it is moved unconsciously by humans due to the ideomotor effect [4]—around the letters on the Ouija board to answer the questions. We were excited by how the Ouija mechanism combines ambiguity and human touch in an intriguing way, making it a collective, playful, and evocative medium for ideation. Through its embodied and narrative affordances, the Ouija minimizes verbal communication and focuses participants’ attention on the movement of their hands and the planchette around the letters on the board for a tacit conversation. Using the Ouija was quite experimental for us, and the ambiguity that it embodies was also at the heart of our research process, as we kept discovering new experiences and challenges each time we iterated our Ouija design sessions with different people

When we started thinking about how to present our research, sequential static slides did not look like an ideal way of showing our journey, nor our confusion and excitement about the potential of Ouija for design. Show-and-tell was another alternative. However, although many things can be explained through annotations, the design object, or the object of design, still has a lot more to communicate that cannot be translated into a traditional show-and-tell. In the end, we decided to use the artifact itself to talk about our research. One of the advantages is that our object of research/design had an intrinsic performative aspect and thus could afford a theatrical presence on the stage. We started exploring how to exploit this aspect and use the narrative it could offer.

After playing with the Ouija for a while, we noticed that we did not have to show our real-time interaction with it, but instead could show on a large screen a prerecorded video of us doing the intended actions to make the audience believe that it is actually a live video. This introduced another challenge, though: the requirement to perform on the stage in sync with the prerecorded video. Although challenging, it fit very well the spirit of the symposium: mixed reality. It was a little bit risky, and we did not have much time for rehearsal, but we wanted to give it a shot.

We wrote a vague script for our Ouija performance and started playing along in the hotel room. As we were playing, we were both rehearsing our script and discovering the Ouija board and how to use it for the performance as well as for design. This process not only unfolded the dialogue we intended to create between two people as researchers for presentation purposes, but it also facilitated our dialogue as designers exploring the Ouija board by enabling us to reveal aspects of it that we did not have the chance to notice earlier. So the efforts toward developing a way to communicate our research also became a way to explore the design space further and have a better understanding of it. In the end, the video was ready, and the performance was a success. The audience followed along with the script and caught the key moments clearly.

The point, though, is not the success of our presentation. Also, it is not the first performative presentation made for scientific communication, having been preceded by many others. However, we believe that it is worth discussing the generative impact of such presentations not only on the audience, but also on the presenters, design objects, and the research. There may be a certain value in thinking about how an artifact can be the “subject” doing the scientific communication rather than just being the inert “object” frozen during knowledge creation. This approach configures the interaction with the artifact in a way that may help with the challenges in communicating design knowledge and can be complementary to methods such as annotated portfolios. Moreover, we also had the chance to see that such a performance has an intrinsic value for communicating design knowledge that makes an impact on the audience. It not only helped us engage the audience, but it also provoked research ideas and spontaneous action in the hall. For example, one of the presenters in our panel, Miriam Sturdee, did a sketch during the performance (Figure 1), and later Katherine Isbister asked us if we could place our Ouija board at the corner of the stage to receive questions from the audience during the panel she was moderating. It was also nice to see some parallels to our performance at the symposium. For example, Steve Benford used an old slide projection to show the slides he used years ago to present one of his early works presented at CHI, and then went on with a digital presentation.


Figure 1. Sketch made by Miriam Sturdee during the Ouija
performance (used with permission)

Inspired by this experience, we would like to discuss the value of such performances at scientific venues and how they could open up new possibilities to communicate research outcomes as well as to create engagement in different types of audiences. Moreover, we also consider it important to reflect on how such an approach can contribute to authors/designers themselves to have a better understanding of the artifact or topic they are exploring. Instead of thinking of the presentation as a fixed and predictable thing, we might see it as a performance that enables designers, researchers, and audiences to experience the results in the making, as the continuation of a reflective dialogue with the design object. We believe an important aspect of our performance was that it was not a gimmick or special effects. It was a moment where the design object, or the object of design, spoke for itself and this made sense under the symposium theme. Can this kind of approach inspire alternative ways of presenting research processes, disseminating findings, or even reviewing scientific publications? One example toward this direction is the “not paper” [5], which criticizes current publishing formats and practices through its particular embodiment. DIS runs a pictorial track where authors are encouraged to communicate their research through visual-driven papers. Video articles are another example [6]. We would like to hear what design communities have to offer in this direction: Can making multisensory papers be a way of articulating insights addressing different sensory channels, be they haptic, gustatory, auditory, etc.? For example, can we hug or bite the text? Or, why not games as potential presentation formats? Instead of making slides, can we organize a live-action role-playing setting for keynote presentations? How should we go further?

Endnotes

1. Frayling, C. Research in Art and Design. Royal College of Art, London, 1993.

2. Börütecene, A. and Buruk, O. Otherworld: Ouija Board as a resource for design. Proc. of the Halfway to the Future Symposium. ACM, New York, 2019, 1–4; https://doi.org/10.1145/3363384.3363388

3. Gaver, W.W., Beaver, J., and Benford, S. Ambiguity as a resource for design. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2003, 233–240; https://doi.org/10.1145/642611.642653

4. Häberle, A., Schütz-Bosbach, S., Laboissière, R., and Prinz, W. Ideomotor action in cooperative and competitive settings. Social Neuroscience 3, 1 (2008), 26–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470910701482205

5. Lindley, J., Sturdee, M., Green, D.P., and Alter, H. This is not a paper: Applying a design research lens to video conferencing, publication formats, eggs… and other things. Extended Abstracts of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2021, 1–6; https://doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3450372

6. Löwgren, J. The need for video in scientific communication. Interactions 18, 1 (2011), 22–25; https://doi.org/10.1145/1897239.1897246



Posted in: on Mon, February 28, 2022 - 1:46:19

Ahmet Börütecene

Ahmet Börütecene is an assistant professor in the division of Media and Information Technology at Linköping University, Sweden where he is doing design research and teaching, mostly in the field of interaction design and visualization. His current research focus is haptic human-AI interactions, mixed reality experiences, and more-than-human smart cities. ahmet.borutecene@liu.se
View All Ahmet Börütecene 's Posts

Oğuz Buruk

Oğuz ‘Oz’ Buruk is an industrial product designer who completed his Ph.D. in interaction design at Koç University–Arçelik Research Center for Creative Industries (KUAR). He currently is a senior research fellow in the Gamification Group, Tampere University, Finland. His work focuses on playful bodily technologies, critical design, design fiction, extended reality environments, and human-nature-machine interactions. oguz.buruk@tuni.fi
View All Oğuz Buruk's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Modifying category icons in smartphone app stores for better understanding: A user-centric approach


Authors: Eshtiak Ahmed, Ashraful Islam, Farzana Anowar
Posted: Fri, February 25, 2022 - 1:30:00

Recent increases in smartphone users have resulted in a great diversity of backgrounds and cultures among these users. Designers of smartphone elements need to address this diversity by making design elements more uniform and acceptable for all. The user interface should address the needs and level of understanding of all users. In this study, we focus on a new approach to the design of user interface icons and investigate how careful design can help users have more seamless interaction with interfaces.

As of the first quarter of 2021, the Google Play Store has the highest number of apps [1]. In the Google Play Store, different app categories are specified by a category name and a simple graphical representation beside the text. Though the text itself is self-explanatory, the graphical representations do not represent the categories well. This may not be a problem for someone who can read English, but it is very hard to grasp the category purely based on the pictorial depiction [2]. It is quite common for people to have trouble finding the app they are looking for [3]. The goal of this research is to see if app categories can be represented more efficiently with better icons or graphical representations next to them.

Initially, new icons were designed for some selected categories. A public survey was designed and circulated where the participants were asked to tell their preferred icons for a specific category. A total of 664 responses were collected. According to the results of the survey, distinguishing factors were identified in how graphical representations can be represented more conveniently. The detailed information and findings of this study can be found in one of our published works [4].

App store category selection

Apps in the Play store are divided into more than 35 categories. The list of categories consists of the category name and a small category icon beside it. These category icons are often confusing and misleading, making them useless at times. However, not all the icons are poor and some of them are quite helpful. For this study, 10 different app categories were selected based on their abstractness and readability: arts and design, business, communication, entertainment, finance, lifestyle, personalization, social, sports, and travel and local.

Icon design

Our goal was to design icons in such a manner that people with low literacy, senior citizens, and kids with special needs can easily understand what they stand for, potentially allowing them to find what they are searching for. While designing the icons, we wanted to represent each category with relevant objects that belongs to that category, for example, representing the sports category with elements from popular sports. In Figure 1, we show the 10 selected categories along with their current icons in the Play store, as well as the icons we have designed for them. 


Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison of existing and newly designed icons.

Survey design and participants

After completing the icon design, a public survey was designed to get feedback from smartphone users about the newly designed icons. For each app store category, two icons (newly designed and existing icons from Google Play store) were put alongside each other, and the participants were asked to decide which icons they preferred for each category. The survey collected a total of 664 responses; 513 (77.3 percent) were male and the rest 151 (24.7 percent) were female. All participants were between the ages of 21 and 25.

Findings

The public survey provided a very good idea of whether the newly designed icons represent the categories better or not. Figure 2 shows the overall survey result comparing the participants’ preference for icons in each of the 10 categories. 

The newly designed icon for the arts and design category was preferred by 88 percent of the participants. The new business category icon was preferred by 90.8 percent of participants, while the new icons for the communication, entertainment, and finance categories were preferred by 84.3 percent, 95.5 percent, and 95.9 percent of participants, respectively. The new lifestyle category icon was preferred by 93.1 percent of participants.

Some of the newly designed icons received mixed responses, as they were tough to represent by a small piece of art. These included the newly designed icon for personalization category, which was preferred by 64.8 percent of participants and the new icon for the social category, which was preferred by 71.2 percent of participants. Also, the new sports category icon was preferred by 82.7 percent of participants, while the new travel and local category icon was preferred by 72 percent of participants.

Challenges and discussion

The new icons were designed by using real-world objects from each category. As an example, the sports icon was designed by combining the equipment from three popular sports. However, similar types of categories such as finance, business and communication, and social were challenging because there are fewer distinguishing factors between them. The lifestyle and personalization categories were also very challenging because of their abstractness.

Icons were created using the objects that came to mind for each category. Sometimes, however, the new icons might have seemed too crowded, as so many objects were cramped into a tiny circle to make the icon understandable. Another shortcoming is that the survey participants are mostly young smartphone users. A more thorough survey covering different age groups could create a different dimension of results.


Figure 2. Analysis of results obtained from the conducted survey.

Conclusion

This study promotes designing an effective textless user interface so users can integrate with their devices more easily and more effectively. Creating impactful and meaningful icons could be a great step toward text-free interface in smartphones. This work could be extended by representing a user interface that is self-explanatory and interactive, opening new doors for challenged users.

Endnotes

1. Statista. Number of apps available in leading app stores. Retrieved August 21, 2021 from https://www.statista.com/topics/1729/app-stores/#dossierSummary__chapter3

2. Wiebe, M., Geiskkovitch, D., Bunt, A., Young, J., and Glenwright, M. Icons for kids: Can young children understand graphical representations of app store categories? Proc. of the 42Nd Graphics Interface Conference. Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society, 2016, 163–166.

3. Wang, M. and Li, X. 2017. Effects of the aesthetic design of icons on app downloads: Evidence from an Android market. Electronic Commerce Research 17, 1 (2017), 83–102.

4. Ahmed, E., Hasan, M.M., Faruk, M.O., Hossain, M.F., Rahman, M.A., and Islam, A. 2019. Icons For the mass: An approach towards text free smart interface. Proc. of the 2019 International Conference on Advances in Science, Engineering and Robotics Technology. 2019, 1–4.


Posted in: on Fri, February 25, 2022 - 1:30:00

Eshtiak Ahmed

Eshtiak Ahmed is a Ph.D. student at Tampere University, Finland. His research interests include HCI, social robotics, and user experience. He earned an M.Sc. in human-technology interaction (HTI) from the same institution. eshtiak.ahmed@tuni.fi
View All Eshtiak Ahmed's Posts

Ashraful Islam

Ashraful Islam is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His research interests include HCI, mHealth, and user experience. He earned an M.S. in computer science from the same institution. ashraful.islam1@louisiana.edu
View All Ashraful Islam's Posts

Farzana Anowar

Farzana Anowar is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Regina, Canada. Her research interests include machine learning, data science, and user experience. anowar@uregina.ca
View All Farzana Anowar's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Tangible XAI


Authors: Maliheh Ghajargar, Jeffrey Bardzell, Allison Smith Renner, Peter Gall Krogh, Kristina Höök, Mikael Wiberg
Posted: Tue, February 15, 2022 - 5:11:15

Computational systems are becoming increasingly smart and automated. Artificial intelligence (AI) systems perceive things in the world, produce content, make decisions for and about us, and serve as emotional companions. From music recommendations to higher-stakes scenarios such as policy decisions, drone-based warfare, and automated driving directions, automated systems affect us all.

But researchers and other experts are asking, How well do we understand this alien intelligence? If even AI developers don’t fully understand how their own neural networks make decisions, what chance does the public have to understand AI outcomes? For example, AI systems decide whether a person should get a loan; so what should—what can—that person understand about how the decision was made? And if we can’t understand it, how can any of us trust AI?

The emerging area of explainable AI (XAI) addresses these issues by helping to disclose how an AI system arrives at its outcomes. But the nature of the disclosure depends in part on the audience, or who needs to understand the AI. A car, for example, can send warnings to consumers (“Tire Pressure Low”) and also send highly technical diagnostic codes that only trained mechanics can understand. Explanation modality is also important to consider. Some people might prefer spoken explanations compared to visual ones. Physical forms afford natural interaction with some smart systems, like vehicles and vacuums, but whether tangible interaction can support AI explanation has not yet been explored.

In the summer of 2020, a group of multidisciplinary researchers collaborated on a studio proposal for the 2021 ACM Tangible Embodied and Embedded (TEI) conference. The basic idea was to link conversations about tangible and embodied interaction and product semantics to XAI. Here, we first describe the background and motivation for the workshop and then report on its outcomes and offer some discussion points.

Self-explanatory or explainable AI?

Explainable AI (XAI) explores mechanisms for demonstrating how and why intelligent systems make predictions or perform actions to help people to understand, trust, and use these systems appropriately [1]. Importantly, people need to know more about systems than just their accuracy or other performance measures; they need to understand more fully how systems make predictions, where they work well, and also their limitations. This understanding helps to increase our trust in AI, ensuring us they are operating without bias. XAI methods have another benefit: supporting people in improving systems by making them more aware of how and when they err. Yet XAI is not always a perfect solution. Trust is particularly hard to calibrate; AI sometimes cannot be trusted; and AI explanations may result in either over- or under-reliance on systems, which might promote manipulations and managerial control.

The notion of explanations or self-explanatory forms has also had a long tradition in product and industrial design disciplines. Product semantics is the study of how people make sense of and understand products through their forms; hence, the way products can be self-explanatory [2]. From that perspective, a product explains its functionality and meaning by its physical forms and context of use alone. For example, the large dial on a car stereo not only communicates that the volume can be controlled, but also how to do so. In this view, products do not need to explain themselves, though their forms need to be understandable in principle.

Using a product-semantic perspective for XAI builds upon the general concerns of XAI, but focuses on the user experience and understandability of a given AI system based on user interpretations of its material and formal properties [3]. The dominant interaction modalities, however, do not fully allow that experience; hence, we have decided to explore tangible embodied interaction (TEI) as a promising interaction modality for that purpose.

From explainable AI to graspable AI: A studio at ACM TEI 2021

At ACM TEI 2021, we organized a studio (similar to a workshop) to map the opportunities that TEI in its broadest sense, including Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer’s tangible user interfaces, Paul Dourish’s embodied interaction, Kristina Höök’s somaesthetics, and Mikael Wiberg’s materiality of interaction, can offer to XAI systems.

We used the phrase graspable AI, which deliberately plays with two senses of the word grasp, one referring to taking something into one’s hand and the other to when the mind “grasps” an idea. The term graspable inherently conveys the meaning of being understandable intellectually, meaningfully, and physically.

In doing so, we referenced two earlier HCI concepts. In 1983, Ben Shneiderman coined the term direct manipulation as a way to “offer the satisfying experience of operating on visible objects. The computer becomes transparent, and users can concentrate on their tasks” [4]. In 1997, Ishii and Ullmer envisioned tangible bits, a vision of human-computer interaction that allows users to grasp and manipulate bits by coupling the bits with everyday physical objects and architectural surfaces, which was preceded by George Fitzmaurice’s Ph.D. thesis Graspable User Interfaces in 1996. Their goal was to create a link between digital and physical spaces [5,6,7].

Building on these ideas, we viewed graspable AI as a way to approach XAI from the perspective of tangible and embodied interaction, pointing to a product that is not only explainable but also coherent and accessible in a unified tactile and haptic form [8]. 

Beyond presentations of position papers, studio participants engaged in group activities, which consisted of three phases (Figure 1). First, each group chose an everyday use AI object or system, analyzed and explored its interactions regarding explainability (what needs to be explained and what the system can explain), then ideated possible tangible interactions with the system and redesigned the human-AI interaction using TEI.

Figure 1 is showing a diagram describing three phases of the workshop activity, discussions, summary and ideations.
Figure 1. TEI studio structure and process.

Graspable designs for everyday use

Studio participants split into groups to explore graspable designs for three distinct AI systems for everyday use: movie recommendations, self-tracking, and robotic cleaning devices.

One group explored graspable design for movie recommendations, asking questions about their explainability and how users can interact with the system through a tangible interface. Some ideas that emerged during the discussion and ideation phases were speculations around using a stress-ball form as a tangible interface to the recommendation system to influence recommendations based on the user’s mood (Figure 2).

Figure 2 shows an orange stress ball in the hands of a person used as a controller for movie streaming application.
Figure 2. Stress ball as a TUI for movie recommendation system.

Another group worked on AI self-tracking devices, discussing questions of how an AI self-tracking device can learn from the user interactions and make us “feel” that our blood sugar is high or low. Provocative ideas, such as an eye that loses its sight gradually and a system that learns and informs the user through haptic feedback, were also explored (Figure 3).

Figure 3 includes a person who is wearing a self tracking device on their arm and feels the haptic feedback.
Figure 3. Tangible AI self-tracking device.

The third group focused on robotic cleaners, where they discussed the opportunities of tangible interactions to inform users about and anticipate robots’ movements. Making the robot’s intended movement visible was another idea that led the group to ideate a tangible map and a map that uses spatial image projections (Figure 4).

Figure 4 shows a robotic vacuum cleaner and how it interacts with the space for orientations and movements.
Figure 4. Robotic vacuum cleaner spatial interactions.

Discussion

Aesthetic accounts often unfold as a back and forth between material particulars and interpreted wholes [3]. Further such accounts consider the difference between what are called explanations in science and interpretations in humanities and design. While explanation is used to find an answer to the why of a phenomena and to reduce its complexity to manageable and understandable units, interpretation is a way to make sense of an experience and the how of the formal and material properties of an artifact within its sociocultural context [3].

AI systems vary in their complexity; some are easier to explain (e.g., movie recommendation systems) while others are more difficult to understand because of their complex inner reasoning (e.g., natural language understanding by deep learning). Accordingly, the notion of graspable AI can not only be concerned with explanations, but also with how AIs are experienced and interpreted through their material particularities within their sociocultural context. However, we do not mean to suggest that graspable AI is a perfect solution to all fundamental humanities concerns! In this workshop, we explored TEI as an explanation modality. We found out that while it has some potential for improving the understandability of the system, it comes with its own challenges. For example, there are features and functionalities of AI systems that do not need to be tangible, or that are understandable as they are. It has been also challenging to design tangible AI systems without falling into usual categories of smart objects.

Hence, we conclude this post discussing a set of related themes and challenges inherent to AI systems that fruitfully may be approached through the notion of graspable: growth, unpredictability, and intentionality.

Graspable growth

AI systems are intended to learn over time as a continuous and internal process based on the data inputs. Hence, an algorithm metaphorically grows over time. As much as an AI system grows, its functionalities and predictions are expected to improve as well, though devolution is as possible as evolution. But humans are not always aware of that process of learning and growing. Probably the most intuitive form of growth for humans are biological growths. We naturally and intuitively can understand when a plant grows new leaves.

We suggest that metaphors of biological growth (and decay) can inspire the design of XAI product semantics to make the AI learning process self-explanatory.

Graspable unpredictability

AI systems are sometimes unpredictable for humans. The decisions they make based on their inner workings and logic may not appear entirely reasonable, fair, or understandable for humans. Further, such systems are ever changing based on input data, especially if they learn over time. How might an AI decrease its apparent unpredictability by revealing its decisions and purposes through tangible and embodied interactions? 

For instance, a robotic cleaner maps the area it is cleaning, and its movement decisions are made based on spatial interaction with the environment and continuous learning of the space. Can its mappings and anticipated movements be rendered in a way that humans can grasp? While the stakes could be low for automated consumer vacuum cleaners, implications for powerful robots used in manufacturing and surgery are more serious.

Graspable intentionality

AI systems have their own internal reasoning and logic and they make decisions based on them. Their internal logic and mechanisms make some AI systems appear to be independent in their decision-making process and therefore to have their own mind, intentions, and purposes. Whether or not this is true from a technical perspective, end users often experience it as such, for instance when an algorithmic hiring tool “discriminates.”

At stake is not only the technical question of how to design a more socially responsible AI, but also how AI developers might expose systems’ workings and intentions to humans by means of tangible and embodied interaction.

Conclusions

AI systems are becoming increasingly complex and intelligent. Their complexity and unpredictability pose important questions that are concerned with, on one hand, the degree to which end users actually can control them, and on the other hand, whether and how we can design them in a more transparent and responsible way. In the above we have brought forward some possible challenges and opportunities of using tangible and embodied interaction in designing AI systems that are understandable for human users.

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank workshop participants and our colleagues David Cuartielles and Laurens Boer for their valuable input and participation.

Endnotes

1. Preece, A. Asking ‘why’ in AI: Explainability of intelligent systems – perspectives and challenges. Intelligent Systems in Accounting, Finance and Management 25, 2 (2018), 63–72; https://doi.org/10.1002/isaf.1422

2. Krippendorff, K. and Butter, R. Product semantics: Exploring the symbolic qualities of form. Innovation 3, 2 (1984), 4–9.

3. Bardzell, J. 2011. Interaction criticism: An introduction to the practice. Interacting with Computers 23, 6 (Nov. 2011), 604–621; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.001

4. Shneiderman 1983. Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages. Computer 16, 8 (Aug. 1983), 57–69; https://doi.org/10.1109/MC.1983.1654471

5. Fitzmaurice, G., Ishii, H., and Buxton, W. Bricks: Laying the foundations for graspable user interfaces. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM Press/Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., USA, 1995, 442–449; https://doi.org/10.1145/223904.223964

6. Fitzmaurice, G. Graspable User Interfaces. Ph.D. thesis. University of Toronto, 1996; https://www.dgp.toronto.edu/~gf/papers/PhD%20-%20Graspable%20UIs/Thesis.gf.html

7. Ishii, H. and Ullmer, B. Tangible bits: Towards seamless interfaces between people, bits and atoms. Proc. of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 1997, 234–241.

8. Ghajargar, M., Bardzell, J., Renner, A.S., Krogh, P.G., Höök, K., Cuartielles, D., Boer, L., and Wiberg, M. From explainable AI to graspable AI. Proc. of the Fifteenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. ACM, New York, 2021, 1–4.



Posted in: on Tue, February 15, 2022 - 5:11:15

Maliheh Ghajargar

Maliheh Ghajargar is a design researcher and associate senior lecturer in interaction technologies with a background in industrial design. Her research interests are within the areas of design research and human-AI interaction. Her latest research project, “Graspable AI,” concerns designing human-AI tangible and explainable interactions. maliheh.ghajargar@mau.se
View All Maliheh Ghajargar's Posts

Jeffrey Bardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell is professor of informatics and director of HCI/design in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington. As a leading voice in critical computing and HCI/design research, he has helped to shape research agendas surrounding critical design, design theory and criticism, creativity and innovation, aesthetics, and user experience. He is co-author of Humanistic HCI (Morgan Claypool, 2015) and co-editor of Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018). jbardzel@indiana.edu
View All Jeffrey Bardzell's Posts

Allison Smith Renner

Alison Smith Renner is a research scientist and engineer with 12-plus years experience designing, building, and evaluating intelligent systems and interactive visualizations for data exploration, analysis, and augmented decision making. Her research lies at the intersection of AI/ML and human-computer interaction, building explainable and interactive AI/ML systems to engender trust, improve performance, and support human-machine collaboration. alisonmarierenner@gmail.com
View All Allison Smith Renner's Posts

Peter Gall Krogh

Peter Gall Krogh is trained as architect and product designer. He is professor in design and heads the Socio-Technical Design group at the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University. He contributes to service and interaction design both in doing and theorizing based on co-design techniques with a particular interest in aesthetics, collective action, and proxemics. pkrogh@cae.au.dk
View All Peter Gall Krogh's Posts

Kristina Höök

Kristina Höök is a professor in interaction design at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). She is a SIGCHI ACM CHI Academy member since 2020, an ACM Distinguished Scientist since 2014, and editor in chief of ToCHI, but most of all fascinated and devoted to developing ideas around interaction design, aesthetics and movement—or, as she frames it: soma design. khook@kth.se
View All Kristina Höök's Posts

Mikael Wiberg

Mikael Wiberg is a full professor in informatics at Umeå University, Sweden. Wiberg's main work is within the areas of interactivity, mobility, materiality, and architecture. He is a co-editor in chief of ACM Interactions, and his most recently published book is The Materiality of Interaction: Notes on the Materials of Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018). mikael.wiberg@umu.se
View All Mikael Wiberg's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


We need to get rid of significance in A/B testing, seriously!


Authors: Maximilian Speicher
Posted: Tue, February 08, 2022 - 12:20:00

In my previous job, I was responsible for all A/B testing in an e-commerce department. We worked with an external partner and took care of the whole package—from generating hypotheses to developing the tests to providing a report of the results. Those reports were presented to a variety of stakeholders, including product management, merchandise, and the director of e-commerce. To conduct and analyze the tests, we worked with a dedicated experimentation platform that calculated all the numbers per treatment in the traditional, frequentist way. We had the number and share of visitors, values for the different metrics that were measured, a single number for the uplift (or effect size) of the primary metric, and a percentage denoting “confidence.” Our reports displayed more or less the same numbers, but wrapped in a bit of story, with a recap of the test hypothesis and design and recommendations for action. This practice, however, unveiled a number of issues and misunderstandings.

First, it was problematic that we communicated a single number for effect size. This was misunderstood by many stakeholders (and I can’t blame them for that) as the uplift we would definitely make, given that the test was “significant” (see below). But that number denoted only the maximum likelihood estimate. The uplift expected by stakeholders deviated from the true expected value. Sometimes, after implementing a successful test, this manifested in questions such as, “Why don’t we see the 5 percent uplift that we measured during the test in our analytics numbers?”

Second, in tandem with the above estimate, confidence was also often misinterpreted. In our case, it was 1-p, with p being the probability of results at least as extreme as the observed one, if there were no difference between control and treatment. And while this cannot even be interpreted as the chance that there’s any uplift at all [1], many stakeholders mistook it for the actual chance to achieve the reported maximum likelihood estimate (“The test has shown a 96 percent chance of 5 percent uplift”). Truth be told, we didn’t do a very good job of explaining all the numbers—p-values in particular are just so far from being intuitively understandable [1]—so part of the blame was on us. Yet, reporting something along the lines of “We’re confident there’s a chance of uplift, but we can’t exactly tell how much” is also not an option in fast-paced business environments with short attention spans. It’s a catch-22.

Third, and most problematically, there was always the magical and impeccable threshold of “95 percent confidence” or “95 percent significance” (i.e., a significance level of α=.05) in stakeholders’ minds. If a treatment had a confidence of ≥95 percent, it was considered good; otherwise it was considered bad, no further questions asked.

All of the above led to the following decision model when a test was completed:

if (confidence ≥ .95 && uplift) {
    implement treatment;
} else {
    keep control;
}

And this is just plain wrong.

First of all, one can argue that a significance level of α=.05 is rather arbitrary. After all, economists usually work with α=.1 in their experiments, so why not use that? Still, “95 percent significance” was etched into many of our stakeholders’ minds simply because it’s the most widely used threshold. Now, working with such a relatively tight threshold might rob us of a lot of information, since for a result that falls short of the magical 95 percent confidence, the only thing we can really deduce is that we can’t reject the null hypothesis at the given significance level—and especially not that the control should be kept!—and if we’re above 95 percent, we can’t even reliably communicate what uplift one’s probably going to make. In the else part of the above decision model, we’ve probably discarded many a treatment that would’ve proven good if we hadn’t relied on p-values so much.

To make things worse, at a more fundamental level, a p-value from a single experiment is very much meaningless. Steven Goodman writes, “[T]he operational meaning of a P value less than .05 was merely that one should repeat the experiment. If subsequent studies also yielded significant P values, one could conclude that the observed effects were unlikely to be the result of chance alone. So ‘significance’ is merely that: worthy of attention in the form of meriting more experimentation, but not proof in itself” [2]. Additionally, p-values can vary greatly between repetitions of the same experiment [3,4].

In other words, to a certain degree it’s simply random if a single result lies on this or that side of the magical threshold.

That being said, as Jakob Nielsen explains, there are sometimes very good reasons to implement a treatment, even if it did not achieve a “significant result” [5]. After all, significant or not, there’s always a certain probability for a certain uplift, which has to be weighed against implementation and opportunity costs [5]. But if maximum likelihood estimates and p-values are not suited to communicate that and facilitate informed decisions, what could be a better way? One potential remedy that’s noted by both Steven Goodman [2] and Nassim Taleb [3] is to rely on a Bayesian approach, which has a number of advantages, including interpretability [2,4] and the possibility to report probabilities for minimum uplifts (based on a complementary cumulative distribution function).

So, what did we do? We did some good ole user research and talked to stakeholders about our reports and what they needed to make informed decisions. For all of the reasons stated above, we got rid of the notion of significance altogether. Instead, together with our partner, we started using Bayesian inference to calculate minimum uplifts for certain probabilities. Additionally, using a formula from our controlling department, we translated all the rather abstract conversion rates and average order values into expected added revenue per month. That is, at its core, our reports read, for example, “With a probability of 95 percent, we’ll make ≥10,000 euros a month; with a probability of 90 percent, we’ll make ≥15,000 euros a month,” and so on. Now, without some magical threshold to rely on, our stakeholders had to actively decide whether they deemed the probability of a certain minimum additional revenue high enough to justify implementation of the corresponding treatment. They could calculate an expected ROI and make an informed decision based on that.

I don’t mean to say that we invented something new. There are already plenty of A/B testing tools going the Bayesian way, including Google Optimize, VWO [6], iridion, and Dynamic Yield, to name just a few. And yet, there are some—and many experimenters—who still blindly rely on notions of significance, which just doesn’t make sense. There is no sudden change in the quality of a result solely because it passes an arbitrary threshold [3]; and it is perfectly fine to conclude that in a given situation, 80 percent is a high enough chance to make an additional 500,000 euros a month.

The more I think and read about this topic, the more I’m convinced that p-values and significance are utterly ill-suited tools for A/B testing. They’re difficult to understand, interpret, and communicate; unreliable; prevent perfectly good treatments from being implemented; and there’s a better alternative. Therefore, we should get rid of them.

Endnotes

1. Google. Optimize Resource Hub—for those used to frequentist approaches. 2021; https://support.google.com/optimize/answer/7404625#dont-significance-and-p-values-tell-me&zippy=%2Cin-this-article

2. Goodman, S. A dirty dozen: twelve p-value misconceptions. Seminars in Hematology 45, 3 (2008), 135‒140; http://www.ohri.ca/newsroom/seminars/SeminarUploads/1829%5CSuggested%20Reading%20-%20Nov%203,%202014.pdf

3. Taleb, N.N. A short note on p-value hacking. arXiv preprint arXiv:1603.07532, 2016; https://arxiv.org/pdf/1603.07532.pdf

4. Amrhein, V., Korner-Nievergelt, F., and Roth, T. The earth is flat (p > 0.05): Significance thresholds and the crisis of unreplicable research. PeerJ 5 (2017), e3544; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5502092/

5. Nielsen, J. Handling insignificance in UX Data [Video]. YouTube, 2021; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkY8bM5bAOA

6. Stucchio, C. Bayesian A/B testing at VWO. Whitepaper. Visual Website Optimizer, 2015; https://www.chrisstucchio.com/pubs/VWO_SmartStats_technical_whitepaper.pdf



Posted in: on Tue, February 08, 2022 - 12:20:00

Maximilian Speicher

Maximilian Speicher is a computer scientist, designer, researcher, cofounder of UX consulting firm Jagow Speicher, and a ring tennis player. Currently, he is director of product design at BestSecret. His research interests lie primarily with novel ways to do digital design, usability evaluation, augmented and virtual reality, and sustainable design. interactions@maxspeicher.com
View All Maximilian Speicher's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Could tech upgrades increase Covid risk? Covid-19 risk in public washrooms


Authors: Ilona Posner
Posted: Wed, February 02, 2022 - 11:40:43

Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry faucet instructions in English and French. Photo by Ilona Posner
Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry faucet instructions in English and French. Photo by Ilona Posner

Many airports closed drinking fountains for fear of spreading Covid-19. Or perhaps they did it to increase the sale of bottled water. In either case, travelers need to search hard to find free drinking water to refill their bottles after passing through security, before boarding flights.

Zurich airport was one place with easy access to clean and trustworthy Swiss drinking water! On my trip through this airport in November 2021, I was surprised and saddened to see a change.

Previously, this airport had traditional washroom faucets that dispensed water at any temperature and were activated by sensors touch-free. The old faucets in the airport were replaced by the high-tech Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry all-in-one faucet and hand-dryer device.

So, now instead of being able to get warm water for washing or cold water for drinking, these faucets deliver either warm water or warm air at high-pressure. The user must place their hands directly under the center of the faucet for water, and to the sides for air. These instructions are written in German on stickers attached to the faucets and on trilingual signs in English, German, and French on the mirror in front of the sink (see below). Travelers speaking other languages, or those who are visually impaired, need not bother with these instructions.

Faucet instructions in English, French, & German on the mirror (left). German only instructions on the faucet handle (right). Photos by Ilona Posner
Faucet instructions in English, French, and German on the mirror (left). German only instructions on the faucet handle (right). Photos by Ilona Posner

Unfortunately, this important information is not at all obvious to the weary travelers passing through the airport! Instead of water, they are often surprised by a blast of air from the faucet. My first attempt at handwashing resulted in me being showered by foamy white soap. The same thing happened to my washroom neighbor. I almost got a picture of the annoyed lady cleaning the wet mess off the shiny black countertop, while swearing in German under her breath!

Wet counters with Dyson AirBlade Wash & Dry faucets in two different places at the Zurich airport (left) and the Louvre Museum, Paris (right). Photos by Ilona Posner
Wet counters with Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry faucets at the Zurich airport (left) and the Louvre Museum, Paris (right). Photos by Ilona Posner

In my day job as a user experience consultant, I conduct usability tests of technology to see how real users react. Given this informal two-user usability test, I am concerned about the decreased hygiene at the Zurich airport. Considering all the different types of dirt people might try to wash off in an airport, anytime, not just during a pandemic!

Imagine the horror of a sudden gust of forced-air sending filth flying around the room, to land on unsuspecting passengers. I have traveled with babies and had to clean them in airport washrooms. This difficult task has been made harder by the Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry.

Ironically, just one week before the Zurich airport, a student shared an image of the Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry during a discussion of good and bad designs in my UX Design class at the University of Toronto. In the next class, I shared my airport story with this same device.

One more detail worth mentioning is that this change of faucets happened during the pandemic. At this same time as Zurich airport upgraded the faucets to AirBlades Wash + Dry, other airports and public places turned off forced-air hand dryers due to concerns about spreading the coronaviruses with forced air propelled by hand dryers.

'Gesspert Für Ihre Sicherheit' ('Closed for your safety') sign on a Dyson AirBlade Hand-dryer in Graz, Austria (left). 'Caution, hand dryer out of service. Please use the provided paper towels,' sign at the Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum, Kilchberg, Switzerland (right). Sept 2021. Photos by Ilona Posner
“Gesspert Für Ihre Sicherheit” (“Closed for your safety”) sign on a Dyson AirBlade hand dryer in Graz, Austria (left). "Caution, hand dryer out of service. Please use the provided paper towels" sign at the Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum, Kilchberg, Switzerland, September, 2021 (right). Photos by Ilona Posner

Before concluding, let’s estimate the cost of the rollout for replacing the traditional faucets at Zurich International Airport. Don’t forget that to quench the travelers’ thirst they will also need to add water fountains to replace the functionality lost with temperature controlling faucets. Plus, I don’t know the value of commission earned from the sale of all the hardware. But let’s just look at a rough estimate:

TABLE:  Comparison cost of traditional faucet set up with Dyson AirBlade Wash + Dry.

The rough estimate shows about a tenfold difference between the original faucets and the Dyson upgrade. Unfortunately, some technology upgrades do not improve users’ experience despite the cost.

Post Script: On my return trip home through ZRH Zurich Airport, I again encountered these Dyson faucets. I noticed that when the airflow activated the faucet moved at its base on the sink. Its forced air was so strong that it almost propelled the faucet by blowing it out of the sink. The movement of plumbing components is never a good thing; I can speak from experience having had many plumbing projects in my home. This suggests that the Dyson faucets will require additional maintenance during their lifetime, suggesting an increase to the above cost estimate.

Finally, after I passed security, I was thrilled to find a washroom with traditional faucets. These older designs enabled me to refill my water bottle with cool, clean Swiss tap water that I could safely bring with me on board the plane for the nine-hour trip home. Thanks, ZRH!

 Traditional sinks in an airport washroom.
Airport washroom with traditional faucets. 



Posted in: on Wed, February 02, 2022 - 11:40:43

Ilona Posner

ILONA POSNER is a user experience consultant and educator. She enjoys encounters with good design and is enraged by bad design which jeopardizes users' experience, health, and safety. ILONA teaches UX design to computer science students at the University of Toronto and tries to help techies develop empathy for their users. ilonap@gmail.com
View All Ilona Posner's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Rethinking the Participatory Design Conference experience


Authors: Rachel Clarke
Posted: Mon, January 31, 2022 - 5:07:02

I read an article recently that suggested with the growth of online and hybrid conferences in response to Covid-19, there were more opportunities for everyone. The focus of the article was on celebrating the enabling potential and design of technology to make this happen. But after spending the past two years attending online conferences and now serving as general co-chair for the 2022 Participatory Design Conference (PDC 2022), I think it’s a mistake to focus on what technology can or cannot bring to the table in trying to make conferences more equitable.

Technology, in all shapes and sizes, offering all sorts of novel interactions for online conferencing and meetings, has been at the front of our brains for many working hours as we hastily integrated and abandoned new apps while juggling alternative ways of working and domestic life. Many conferences took on this challenge recognizing that our reliance on the face-to-face conference model, while benefiting many, also excludes many interesting scholars and practitioners. Extortionate prices for flights, accommodation, and attendance; being away from family; care responsibilities; language; access to existing networks; CO2 emissions—all are key issues that have always existed, but recently became more apparent. In organizing PDC 2022 with co-chairs Yoko Akama and John Vines, we recognized these challenges before the pandemic. We felt there were also other approaches to reconceptualizing what conferences could look like if they were more decentralized, encouraging a greater respect for a diversity of place-based responses to particular themes before working on the technology.


PDC 2022 branding by Ellen McConnell

PDC Places
PDC 2020 was hosted in Colombia, despite the fact this had to quickly become an online-only event. This showed what could be done with a more localized approach to engaging a global network of scholars and practitioners doing and discussing PD while drawing from a strong tradition of political Latin American activists and theorists.

PDC Places is a new initiative for PDC 2022 where distributed face-to-face and hybrid gatherings will take place across 11 different locations around the globe before, during, and after the conference program in August. As general chairs, we were keen to find ways of addressing and reaffirming our commitments to equity and sustainability and a more distributed place-based approach to PD as a diverse set of practices and concerns, beyond Europe and the U.S., despite technically hosting part of the conference in Newcastle, U.K.

We’ve been lucky to have the extraordinary expertise of Reem Talhouk and Andy Dearden leading the way in helping to take this vision forward through a lively network of scholars, practitioners, and industry professionals. We initially received 18 expressions of interest to run PD events around the globe, which created a lot discussion between potential hosts and Places chairs to define how we can practically make this vision happen. We’re now working on consolidating opportunities for meaningful connection across Places hosts including creating a flexible program and branding strategy that can be personalized and work with different languages.

Time zones, language, and facilitation
Some of the ways we are trying to build these connections is carefully planning for time-zone scheduling, multilingual translation, and facilitation. We’ve spent hours mapping time zones, creating “touchpoints” for when different countries can reasonably connect with each other online and without people feeling the need to wake up in the middle of the night. One of the challenges of global online conferences is people not sharing the same time zone. It sounds obvious, but most conferences take place in one time zone that best suits the conference hosts. This makes a lot of sense, but time zone scheduling has enabled us to rethink and plan for running hybrid and online sessions, being mindful of when different countries are likely more able to connect across Europe and Africa, Australasia, and the Americas to avoid the limits of time-zone silos.

We’re planning for a day of hybrid multilingual events to include keynotes and panels. It was our intention to spread these multilingual events throughout the conference, but working with Newcastle University’s School of Modern Languages, our plan is to have several different languages, and focus on one day, due to the complexities of translator scheduling, setup, and costs. We are, however, also hoping that more informal translation can take place. One of our workshop chairs, Angelika Strohmayer, mentioned a conference she had attended recently where people provided more intimate whispered translations encouraging more informal interpretation, which is in the spirit of generosity and the kind of conference atmosphere we hope to create.

It’s also important to recognize the importance of creating connection through careful facilitation between global communities. Nowhere is this more important than in facilitating hybrid online and face-to-face dialogue. Facilitation is definitely a craft not always appreciated, but we’ve learned a lot on how important facilitation and chairing sessions is to making any discussion work well and making the most of our time together, whether this be online, face-to-face, or in a hybrid environment. We’re hoping we can do this in a way that supports panel and paper chairs to embrace this approach providing guidance and sharing practice and experience from the past two years.  

Online platform
And finally, yes, the technology. We have started to design a bespoke online platform that bolts together different videoconferencing, scheduling, and networking tools that run on low bandwidth, mindful of places where intermittent online access still presents lags and outages. We have already used these platforms in our lab during large-scale global gatherings including MozFest, IFRC Climate Red, and ServDes at RMIT. We’ll have all the usual things that the PD community have nurtured over the years—presentations for full papers, exploratory papers, situated actions and exhibition, workshops and doctoral colloquia, beyond academia, panels, and awards—but we are also encouraging people to be creative and experiment with hybrid formats. There will also be representation from our PDC Places communities and activity to further bring to life events happening across the globe. There has been so much discussion about how the online experience has diminished the conference experience as a whole. Many of us have felt this, but there are also people doing some really creative things with the technology too, not necessarily creating better experiences than being face-to-face, but aiming to create alternative experiences with what they have to hand.

The technology is important for helping us achieve these things, but we are also very excited to welcome people to Newcastle city itself as part of the conference experience with our unique urban, rural, coastal landscape. Some of our workshops will be hosted at the Urban Sciences Building at Open Lab, and our situated actions and exhibition program will have a combination of online content, short films, live performances and a visual art exhibition. Rather than have a significant number of presentations, though, we will focus on making the most of our time together for focused discussion too where, if people can make it, we will see you in person very soon.

PDC 2022 will take place online from August 19th, with events in Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K. from August 30 to September 1, 2022 (https://pdc2022.org)


Posted in: on Mon, January 31, 2022 - 5:07:02

Rachel Clarke

Rachel Clarke is a design researcher and senior lecturer in interaction design at Open Lab, Newcastle University. Her work focuses on the politics of participatory design practice, international development, and smart urbanization in more-than-human worlds. rachel.clarke@ncl.ac.uk
View All Rachel Clarke's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Black literary technoculture and Afrofuturist rupture


Authors: Kristen Reynolds
Posted: Wed, October 20, 2021 - 10:31:41

As an epigraph to her incomplete book, Parable of the Trickster, Octavia Butler writes, “[T]here’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” I take this to be her call for opening ourselves up to those other worlds that are already here, yet we have been conditioned to ignore. To seek them out and challenge ourselves to explore and embody the different modes of being that emerge within them. Butler’s vision of the current world and the other worlds we might one day inhabit is far from utopian in nature. Even her Parables series reveals a possible future in which Butler’s version of a more just, sustainable, and philosophically mutable world thrives in a bubble alongside a white, colonialist world that endures just beyond the trees that encapsulate it. People in this space must constantly negotiate the axis of Afrofuturist possibility and colonialist modernity that structures the world as many of us have come to know it. In these negotiations, Butler grapples with what it means to access otherwise ways of being in a world where technologies of whiteness and coloniality maintain and expand European/American imperial projects globally. How, then, can we use Butler’s call to elucidate the theory and the practice of Black techno past/present/future? A partial answer to this question resides in Black speculative visioning in N. K. Jemisin’s creative works and in Simone Browne’s concept of dark sousveillance.

Jemisin’s work, for example, presents methods that challenge anti-Blackness, resisting the colonial disciplining that limits our vision of possible futures. Her Broken Earth Trilogy begins with a literal earth-shattering rupture—an earthquake with global implications that is brought on by the power of a Black man who desires to set the stage for the creation of a new world. Through this rupture, we are exposed not simply to something new but to a different way of being that has been there all along. Jemisin questions the limits of the world we have been conditioned to accept and explores what might be found when we break away from it to explore a landscape beyond those limits. Because Jemisin’s work also contends with Black world/love/meaning-making amid the backdrop of anti-Black violence, the trilogy can also be read as asking and attempting to answer two questions: What do we know about Blackness and what do we want to know about Blackness? Put another way, what do we know about Blackness beyond the violence and dispossession that white supremacist coloniality foregrounds? What of Blackness exists in excess of these limits? The work of Afrofuturism (and the Black speculative more broadly) offers an answer to Black being in excess of the limitations of the white colonial mind, Black being in and as rupture, Black being beyond white imagination. With this work in mind, we learn not only of Black being in resistance to anti-blackness but also of Black being as the foundation for different worlds and the technologies that might emerge within them. Afrofuturist practice as presented in Butler’s and Jemisin’s fictional worlds give us the tools to think technology otherwise and develop road maps for living alternate technological worlds. They are not promises, but possibilities.

This reading of the philosophies at work in Butler’s and Jemisin’s narratives facilitates my analysis of Black critiques of technology as Afrofuturist practice. Consider, for example, Simone Browne’s discussion of dark sousveillance in Dark Matters. In the introduction, she describes it as “an imaginative place from which to mobilize a critique of racializing surveillance…[one which] plots imaginaries that are oppositional and that are hopeful for another way of being.” She is clear in articulating that “acts that might fall under the rubric of dark sousveillance are not strictly enacted by those who fall under the category of blackness” (emphasis mine). Dark sousveillance as a rupturing Afrofuturist practice centers Blackness and in so doing situates Black folks as the architects of possible, otherwise techno-futures. In these futures, all people who are subjected to the dehumanizing gaze of white epistemologies and surveillance technologies find opportunities for realizing alternative ways of being. Put another way, Afrofuturism is a Black epistemic project generating worlds that counter and/or erode surveillance as we know it. In this worldmaking, we are privileged to encounter Blackness as both a foundation to and entry point into other relations of seeing and being seen.

The ideal project and practice of Afrofuturism resides in part in how it transforms innovation and traces its lineages. How does Harriet Jacobs’s decision to steal away to an attic—away from the sight of those who might harm her—anticipate Black practices of hiding away in the present moment? How are Black organizers’ and activists’ practices of thwarting today’s conventions of surveillance (phone, video, social media) both rooted in a long history of Black counter/antisurveillance and generative of otherwise ways of seeing and being seen (or not)? These issues are of course much more complex than presented here, but it remains that these Afrofuturist ruptures, these innovations, are happening around us daily. It is incumbent upon us all to see them. Doing so requires that Blackness be seen as the transformative worldmaking force that it is. Afrofuturism gives us that.


Posted in: on Wed, October 20, 2021 - 10:31:41

Kristen Reynolds

Kristen Reynolds is a Ph.D. student in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research explores the liberatory aspects of Black speculative fiction, particularly engaging with the ways in which it allows us to posit alternative techno-futures that explore realities beyond the limiting and oppressive systems that define our presents and pasts. reyno832@umn.edu
View All Kristen Reynolds's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Where is the transparency of the new ACM Violations Database?


Authors: Angelika Strohmayer
Posted: Thu, September 23, 2021 - 10:28:16

After a summer of discussions and action about racism in our community in 2020 (see, e.g., [1]), the spring of 2021 raised further concerns about harassment and oppression. Long before this eventful year, however, I and many others have had both private and somewhat public conversations about the need to reckon with the trauma in our community, whether it is due to sexual harassment, bullying, racism, ableism, sexism, or any other host of harms that are experienced and perpetrated on a daily basis (see, e.g., [2,3]). 

As shown in some recent Interactions articles and publications, we appear to be starting to take these concerns more seriously as a community. I have seen articles that start to ask questions about what institutional and informal systems and practices we need to be able to handle the trauma, and how we can reduce experiences of harm. The recently announced ACM Violations Database (published in a blog post for our SIGCHI community on May 25, 2021: https://sigchi.org/2021/05/the-new-acm-violations-database/) is one way of grappling with these harms. But for it to function in our SIGCHI community, which is part of the ACM, we need clear, transparent communication channels and community engagement with the database, as well as conversations about how, why, and when it is used. I, and I’m sure many others, have questions about the system, its functions, and its uses. 

With this blog post, I want to start a public conversation about the violations database and how, or even whether, it addresses harms in our community. I feel it is important to establish that I am writing this piece because I have not received adequate, or in some cases any, answers to questions I have raised about the database. I will start by sharing some of my initial thoughts on the transparency, or rather the lack thereof, of the development, use, and communication of and around this new system. I hope that through public discussion, the community that makes SIGCHI, and the ACM, the prestigious body that it is, will be listened to in the continued development of the database.

I welcome the violations database as a real effort to address and change conditions, but do not agree with how it is being shared, communicated, or developed. The SIGCHI blog post introducing it included the following: “If you have further questions regarding ACM policies, please contact the person indicated at the end of this piece. For questions about the ACM’s Violations Database, please contact advocate@acm.org. Questions regarding the SIGCHI process can be sent to sigchi-president@acm.org.” 

As a researcher who has done work with sex-work peer-alerting systems in the U.K. [4] and Canada [5], especially having looked in detail at the architecture, trust, social, and political contexts in which these databases sit; as a SIGCHI member who has experienced abuse and harassment from members of our community; and as a person who works to change our academic cultures around power and abuse, of course I had questions. 

I drafted an email outlining questions I had about the use of the system in relation to SIGCHI and sent it to the address mentioned in the blog post. In the email, I tried to find a balance between 1) being supportive of this initiative and how it puts into practice some of the things that were outlined years earlier in the ACM Harassment Policy and the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct; and 2) asking critical questions about the use of the database, based on my personal and research expertise. My questions included ones about the methodologies of the database’s creation, the role of the advocate mentioned in the post, the decision-making processes behind the database, and how its sustainable use was envisioned at the SIGCHI level. 

Some of my questions were partially answered, but most of them were not. Instead, I was directed to the ACM policies mentioned in the blog post, without an indication of where in the policies I should look, and encouraged to email Vicki Hanson, CEO of the ACM. I mustered up my courage and fed my healthy disregard for authority and sent another email.

Perhaps the most disappointing response in this whole exchange did not relate to a question, but rather to my offer of support as an expert who has done research for multiple years with databases that can be called upon to see whether someone has previously been reported for having perpetrated harms. My expertise was not acknowledged, nor was there any understanding of my knowledge as someone who herself had previously experienced abuse. Instead, I received this response: “I should note that the ACM has significant resources including their own lawyers who inform all they do.” This is just one more example of how SIGCHI and the ACM do not appreciate community-driven initiatives [6].

In my opinion, a violations database is not something that should be developed solely by lawyers. It should predominately be driven by our community and the expertise that is within it; it needs to be embedded in our politics and our social structures, and, most importantly, it should center survivors and their experiences—not those who cause and perpetuate the harm. A violations database should not be developed by the same people in an organization who have repeatedly avoided difficult conversations about harms that are experienced by their members and “seem to repeatedly move in a more inclusive direction only to undermine such efforts” [6]. 

I find it inexplicable that the ACM should leave me and fellow members in the dark about why, how, and when the violations database was produced. But it is even more inexplicable that the (now former) SIGCHI president wasn’t informed either, as was shared with me in an email on May 30, 2021: “Honestly, as of a little over a month ago, I didn’t even know this database was coming.” If neither members nor the executive committees of the SIGs that make up the ACM were informed of this development, whom is the violations database meant to be for? 

So what happens now?

Since my initial questions, I have had conversations with others, realizing there are of course many more questions that remain unanswered. But since I had not received an answer from the ACM CEO to any of my questions at the time of writing this piece—I emailed her on May 31 and followed up on June 11 and the 29th and on July 19—and since the named SIGCHI contact person for questions on the blog post was unable to provide adequate responses to many of my questions, I have also been angry about the lack of transparency—the disregard for open communication channels, or even basic information about the system. 

It should not be up to me or any other SIGCHI member to contact the CEO of the ACM to get basic information about this new system that could greatly affect, both positively and negatively, how we exist in our community and at our events. I should not require the courage to email the most powerful people in “the world's largest educational and scientific computing society” [7] to learn the most basic information about this new system. Conversely, I would also argue that it should not be up to the CEO of the ACM to have to answer basic questions about such a system. This whole experience makes me wonder who is in charge of the ACM Violations Database and its uses if there is no point of contact for questions about the system. 

To understand how the ACM Violations Database could function in our SIGCHI community, we need more information about it. SIGCHI members and others in the community need space to discuss its use and many potential misuses. We need more details, more context, more understanding. We need responsive infrastructures in place through which we can ask questions and have conversations about harms and violations. None of these currently exist. 

This blog post is part of my work on understanding the new system and how we could make something like it work to improve safety at SIGCHI events. After talking to friends and colleagues (some of whom do research on violence and technologies; some of whom are on organizing committees of SIGCHI conferences), I decided it was important to start a public conversation about the violations database. I thank the Interactions blog editors for giving me space to air my concerns. I hope to see others join this public conversation by centering those who have experienced violence, who have gone through ACM, SIGCHI, or other institutional complaints processes, and those who are experts on related topics. 

There is so much trauma in our community, some of which has been caused by others in our community as well as the hierarchies and infrastructures of power that govern SIGCHI and the ACM. Finding ways of addressing this harm through structural change such as the violations database are very welcome, at least by me. But for the database to work, we must have information on its intentions and uses; we must have space to ask questions and receive answers; we must center those who have experienced trauma in how we hold space for and reduce opportunities of harm in the future. 

Out of professional courtesy, Interactions sent my article to Vicki Hanson prior to publication. 

Professor Hanson informed Interactions that she had had technical difficulties with receiving my e-mails. Soon after, on August 24, she was able to answer my questions, and on September 2, we spoke about the violations database, its relation to the complaints process within ACM, the transparency of communication channels between ACM, SIGs, and members in relation to this development, as well as opportunities for change to current processes and systems. I’m thankful to have had this constructive conversation, and look forward to continuing to work with others on issues related to the complaints procedure and violations database.

Endnotes

1. Grady, S.D., Wisniewski, P., Metoyer, R.,Gibbs, P., Badillo-Urquiola, K., Elsayed-Ali, S., Yafi, E. Addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion. Interactions blog. Jun. 11, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/addressing-institutional-racism-within-initiatives-for-sigchis-diversity-an

2. fempower.tech. An open letter to first-time attendees. fempower.tech. May 7, 2018; https://fempower.tech/2018/05/07/chi-2018-an-open-letter-to-first-time-attendants/ 

3. fempower.tech. An open letter to the CHI community. fempower.tech. May 7, 2018; https://fempower.tech/2018/05/07/chi-2018-an-open-letter-to-the-chi-community/ 

4. Strohmayer, A., Laing, M., and Comber, R. Technologies and social justice outcomes in sex work charities: Fighting stigma, saving lives. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2017.

5. Strohmayer, A., Clamen, J., and Laing, M. Technologies for social justice: Lessons from sex workers at the front lines. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019.

6. fempower.tech. A call for respect, inclusion, fairness, and transparency in SIGCHI. Interactions blog. Dec. 3, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-call-for-respect-inclusion-fairness-and-transparency-in-sigchi 

7. https://www.acm.org/about-acm/about-the-acm-organization



Posted in: on Thu, September 23, 2021 - 10:28:16

Angelika Strohmayer

Angelika Strohmayer is an interdisciplinary technology researcher, working closely with third sector organizations and other stakeholders to creatively integrate digital technologies in service delivery and advocacy work. She aims to work collaboratively on in-the-world projects that engage people at all stages of the research process to engender change toward a more just world. angelika.strohmayer@northumbria.ac.uk
View All Angelika Strohmayer's Posts



Post Comment


@whitelist@acm.org (2021 10 29)

Hit the nail on the head. SIGCHI has long suffered from lack of transparency. This database, in its current form, could easily be used to suppress academic dialogue over complex topics (ie, by filing against the perceived offender). Do better, SIGCHI.


Artificial intelligence is changing the surveillance landscape


Authors: Arathi Sethumadhavan , Esra Bakkalbasioglu
Posted: Wed, June 30, 2021 - 12:46:38

The following is a review of recent publications on the issue of AI and surveillance and does not reflect Microsoft's opinion on the topic.

The term surveillance is derived from sur, which means from above, and veillance, which means to watch. Theoretical approaches to surveillance can be traced back to the 18th century with Bentham’s prison-panopticon. The panopticon premise involved a guard in a central tower watching over the inmates. The “omnipresence” of the guard was expected to deter the prisoners from transgression and encourage them to self-discipline. Today, the declining costs of surveillance hardware and software coupled with increased data storage capabilities with cloud computing, have lowered the financial and practical barriers to surveil a large population with ease. As of 2019, there were an estimated 770 million public surveillance cameras around the world, and the number is expected to reach 1 billion this year.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been witnessing a massive global increase in surveillance as well. For example, technologies are used to allow people to check if they have come in contact with other Covid-19 patients, map people's movements, and track whether quarantined individuals have left their homes. While such surveillance technologies can help combat the pandemic, they also introduce the risk of normalizing surveillance.

China is home to the top surveilled cities in the world

Of the top 20 most surveilled cites in the world (based on the number of cameras per 1000 people), 16 of them are in China. Outside of China, London and the Indian cities of Indore, Hyderabad, and Delhi are estimated to be the most surveilled cities in the world.

The 20 most surveilled cities in the world (cameras per person). Source: Comparitech.

AI-based surveillance technologies are being deployed globally at an unfathomable rate

Surveillance technologies are being deployed at an extremely fast rate globally. In fact, as of 2019, at least 75 countries were using various AI technologies such as smart policing systems, facial recognition, and smart city platforms for surveillance purposes. Every nation has a unique approach to surveillance shaped by its technological landscape and economic power as well as its social, legal, and political systems. As of 2019, China has installed more than 200 million facial recognition-powered cameras for various purposes, ranging from identifying thefts and finding fugitives, spotting jaywalkers, designing targeted advertisements, and detecting inappropriate behaviors in classrooms. In India, the Internet Future Foundation has estimated 42 ongoing facial recognition projects, with at least 19 systems expected to be used by state-level police departments and the National Crime Records Bureau for surveilling Indian citizens. Earlier this year, the Delhi police used facial recognition technology to track down suspects allegedly involved in violent clashes during the farmers’ tractor march in the nation’s capital.

AI Surveillance Technology Origin. Source: Carnegie Endowment For International Peace

Growing deployment in various sectors criticized by civil liberties advocacy groups

The growing reach and affordability have led to increased use of AI-based surveillance technologies in law enforcement, retail stores, schools, and corporate workplaces. Several of these applications are fraught with criticism. For example, several police departments in the U.S are believed to have misused facial recognition systems by relying on erroneous inputs such as celebrity photos, computer-generated faces, or artist sketches. The stakes are too high to rely on unreliable or wrong inputs. Similarly, this year, news of Lucknow police in Northern India wanting to use AI-enabled cameras that can read expressions of distress on women's faces when subjected to harassment was met with backlash, with civil rights advocates noting how it could violate women’s privacy and exacerbate the situation. Further, the scientific basis behind the use of AI to read “distress” was deemed unsound. In the education sector, a few schools in the U.S. are relying on facial recognition systems to identify suspended students and staff members as well as other threats. Civil liberties groups argue that in these scenarios there is a lack of evidence that there is a positive correlation between the use of the technology and the desired outcome (e.g., increased safety, increased productivity). Further, critics also contend that the investigation of petty crimes does not justify the use of surveillance technologies, including the creation of a massive facial recognition database.

Surveillance technologies raise public concerns

Widespread use of new surveillance technologies has posed valid privacy concerns among the general public, in several nations. For example, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that more than 80 percent of Americans believe that they have zero-to-very-little control over their personal data collected by companies (81 percent) and government agencies (84 percent). A 2019 survey conducted in Britain showed that the public is willing to accept facial recognition technology when there are clear benefits but want their government to impose restrictions on the use of the technology. Further, the desire to opt-out of the technology was higher for individuals belonging to ethnic minority groups, who were concerned about the unethical use of the technology. These findings demonstrate the need to involve the public early and often in the design of such technologies.

Need for legal frameworks and industry participation to address public concerns

Recently, the European Commission introduced a proposal for a legal framework to regulate the use of AI technologies. As part of this, they have proposed banning the use of real-time remote biometric identification systems by law enforcement, except for a limited number of uses like missing children, terrorist attacks, and serious crimes. While the U.S. does not have federal laws regulating AI surveillance, some cities have taken restrictive measures around the use of such technologies by law enforcement. For example, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by local agencies, followed by Somerville, Oakland, Berkeley, and Brookline. A number of companies, including Microsoft, have called for the creation of new rules, including a federal law in the U.S. grounded in human rights, to ensure the responsible use of technologies like facial recognition.



Posted in: on Wed, June 30, 2021 - 12:46:38

Arathi Sethumadhavan

Arathi Sethumadhavan is the head of research for Ethics & Society at Microsoft, where she works at the intersection of research, ethics, and product innovation. She has brought in the perspectives of more than 13,000 people, including traditionally disempowered communities, to help shape ethical development of AI and emerging technologies such as computer vision, NLP, intelligent agents, and mixed reality. She was a recent fellow at the World Economic Forum, where she worked on unlocking opportunities for positive impact with AI, to address the needs of a globally aging population. Prior to joining Microsoft, she worked on creating human-machine systems that enable individuals to be effective in complex environments like aviation and healthcare. She has been cited by the Economist and the American Psychological Association and was included in LightHouse3’s 2022 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics list. She has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology with a specialization in human factors from Texas Tech University and an undergraduate degree in computer science.arathisethumadhavan@gmail.com
View All Arathi Sethumadhavan 's Posts

Esra Bakkalbasioglu

Esra Bakkalbasioglu is a design researcher at Microsoft, focused on AI ethics. Her recent research includes developing disclosure mechanisms in different domains. She has a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary social sciences from the University of Washington. esrabakkalbasi@gmail.com
View All Esra Bakkalbasioglu's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


The labor behind the tools: Using design thinking methods to examine content moderation software


Authors: Caroline Sinders, Sana Ahmad
Posted: Thu, June 24, 2021 - 10:02:38

Content moderation is widely known to be hidden from the public view, often leaving the discourse bereft of operational knowledge about social media platforms. Media and scholarly articles have shed light on the asymmetrical processes of creating content policies for social media and their resulting impact on the rights of marginalized communities. Some of this work, including documentaries, investigative journalism, academic research, and the accounts of individual whistleblowers, has also uncovered the practices of moderating user-generated content on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok. In doing so, the complex and hidden outsourcing relationships between social media companies and third-party companies—often located in different geographical areas—have been made visible. Most importantly, the identification of these companies and their outsourcing practices has brought to public attention the secretive work processes and working conditions of content moderators.

In this article we illustrate the unique method we undertook to examine the software used in the content moderation process. In December 2020, we held two focus-group research workshops with 10 content moderators. Our participants included former and current employees of a third-party IT services company in Berlin that supplies content moderation services to a social media monopoly based in the U.S. Many participants in our study were immigrants, most of whom had lived in Germany for less than five years. For this group, a lack of German-language skills meant fewer employment opportunities, which led them to apply for content moderation jobs. (As this article focuses on the methodological part of our research workshops, we will not elaborate on the recruitment and work process of the participants.)

The content moderation process is highly confidential; employees are forbidden from describing the work they do and how they do it. When crafting these workshops, we were inspired by collective memory practices. The workshops allowed us to use design thinking exercises to uncover and gauge the infrastructural design, user interface, and user experience design of the systems the participants worked with. While design thinking has a broad meaning and definition, it can be used to problem solve and to create new software or designs; we reverse engineered the process and used exercises designed to help frame questions and translate ideas into tangible interfaces and architectural layouts. From her time as a UX designer in industry, Caroline observed that product designers often lean toward building a specific or concrete “thing,” be it a new product, product augmentation, or process when using design thinking exercises. Our goal was to ground the participants in the space of making. By asking people about their day, the hardships they face, the structure of their workday, and how they iteratively approach their work, a foundation is created to think through building something that would support that work. These exercises helped ground the moderators in the logic of how their software functions and spark memories of the software they use. By working with multiple content moderators in a workshop setting, we created a space of organic reflection and comparison of the tools and protocols they used, leading to discussions on how the Berlin-based employer and the social media client managed the work. In holding our workshops, we followed necessary research protocols, informed by the research ethics standards of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

The workshop was divided into five exercises, with each exercise iterating off the previous one. It began with participants writing out a workflow of their day, such as the first thing they see when they log in, what do they do after logging in, where their tasks are stored, and how they engage in tasks. Activities belonging to the first, second, and third exercises were aimed at deciphering the layouts, workflows, and design. Activities four and five had a group discussion format that invited participants to share their experiences of workplace surveillance and propose work-related changes and potential improvements.

Designing the Workshops
Ensuring the privacy of content moderators was integral to this project. Considering the company’s secretive work practices, we were aware of the potential threats to moderators’ job security; therefore, they were not requested to provide screenshots of their work. As an additional precautionary measure, the wireframes have been redrawn for this article. The workshops were held using the audio communication function of a Web-based, open-source software, with appropriate attention given to anonymizing the participants.

Apart from privacy considerations, there were other challenges. To examine the infrastructural design, UX, and UI of the software, we needed to guide participants through the process to draw the software they used for moderating content. Design is a specific medium with a language and vernacular of its own. Content moderators may not know the names of or how to describe the elements in the software they use. Therefore, we designed the flow of activities to accommodate this constraint and guide the moderators through an ideation process that could ensure their participation. Our approach was to create exercises that slowly, organically, and iteratively helped the participants sketch the software they used.

Workshop Structure

Both workshops began with presentations by the organizers. Sana introduced the existing studies on the labor process of content moderation and the importance of undertaking this research project, followed by Caroline, who explained basic design elements that we assumed the participants would see in their own software. The main question guiding the workshops was: How can we examine the design of the content moderation software through the experiential inputs of the workers while protecting them? With the collective knowledge of our organizing team—including Sana’s academic research on the labor process of content moderation in third-party IT BPO companies in India and Caroline’s design background and expertise in designing digital tools and software—we aimed to answer the research question in a multidisciplinary manner. The practical knowledge of two student assistants at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center further benefited the workshops.

As mentioned earlier, the indispensable aspect of the workshops was their iterative structure; knowledge about the content moderation software was developed gradually, using a step-by-step process wherein participants could build out, think, and iterate on the software design they were recalling. This gave them space to reflect and redraw for accuracy. Each activity started with general questions on the content moderation process, including the generic layout of the software and the moderators’ workflows, which became increasingly specified in the process of adding complexities in each subsequent workshop activity. Much like generating an outline, we could then go more granular, asking about smaller, more specific features and adding more-qualitative questions on the kinds of content they moderated, how their company organized their workday, and how their team used their software. Such a sequential technique allowed the participants to ease into the design thinking process.

The first activity was planned to obtain an undetailed view of the content moderators’ daily workflows and routines. Accordingly, the participants were asked to list the daily sequences of their work. Through this, we could first determine the type of software used, for example, whether or not it was Web-based. Other elements that could be assessed from the participants’ experiences included their observations while logging in to start the moderation work, the first task they undertook after logging in, and the software functions available, including those related to internal communication (e.g., the ability to send emails to management or messages to team members or other coworkers). This overview was important in getting a preliminary grasp on how workers accessed content moderation tasks and whether they were able to exercise flexibility between carrying out work-related tasks and other assignments.

The activity was useful in persuading the participants to revisit their daily work routine and recall the essential elements of their work process. It also gave them a basis for remembering the different kinds of screens and windows in their software.

Building on the first, the second activity allowed the participants to further iterate and lay out the different screens and states of their work software, pulling directly from the initial list they had made. The list helped the participants look back at what each “state” or “screen” held and the kind of actions each screen allowed for.

The third exercise was focused specifically on the software page layout and gaining insights into the granular elements. During this activity, the participants started drawing and building out a rough wireframe, with focus placed on elements such as menus and buttons and locating different information in distinct pages and positions in the software. Along with their illustrations, participants also shared with us the experiential narratives of the content moderation process, including the management control embedded in the software. Our questions related to these themes spurred responses from the participants.


Wireframes from activity 3 in the second workshop, where participants detailed the software page layout.

The workshops then proceeded to the final activities, which invited participants to engage in group discussions. The fourth activity picked up on the themes of workplace surveillance and monitoring strategies by management. This included examining participants’ views on the surveillance technologies possibly embedded in the content moderation software. The fifth and final activity drew on participants’ understanding of the content moderation process and the ways in which they imagined work could be made better for moderators. In doing so, they were also provoked to think about the probability of machine-learning tools being used in their work, and whether these could potentially affect their job security.

Conclusion
We see the merits of this research method, especially in being able to draw out human-machine interaction through the collective memories of our participants. Our workshops yielded software design layouts, which are unique given the limited information available on the labor processes of social media content moderation. At the same time, conducting a workshop or focus group interviews can be more fruitful when combined with one-on-one interviews. Considering the precarious background of our participants and their limited possibilities for exercising collective struggles against management, we managed to create a space where current and former content moderators were able to share their work-related experiences and management interactions with us and with one another by focusing on the content moderation software. Future research on the use of technical control and novel ways of labor resistance using technology can enrich the existing research on content moderation.


Posted in: on Thu, June 24, 2021 - 10:02:38

Caroline Sinders

Caroline Sinders is a machine learning designer/user researcher, artist, and digital anthropologist examining the intersections of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, abuse, online harassment, and politics in digital conversational spaces. She is the founder of Convocation Design + Research and has worked with organizations such as Amnesty International, Intel, IBM Watson, and the Wikimedia Foundation. csinders@gmail.com
View All Caroline Sinders's Posts

Sana Ahmad

Sana Ahmad is a doctoral candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin writing her thesis on the outsourced practices of content moderation in India. Her project is aimed at understanding the outsourcing relationships between global social media companies and the supplier companies based in India. In doing so, she looks at the content moderation process and the working conditions of Indian content moderators. sana.ahmad@wzb.eu
View All Sana Ahmad's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Covid-19, education, and challenges for learning-technology adoption in Pakistan


Authors: Muhammad Zahid Iqbal, Abraham Campbell
Posted: Fri, February 05, 2021 - 3:14:12

Creating educational disruption everywhere, the Covid-19 pandemic has hindered the lives of students and, sadly, will probably have a lasting impact on their future academic lives. What has gone relatively unnoticed is that it has created far more difficulties in developing countries. This is due to the fact that these countries were already lacking in internet accessibility, e-learning solutions providers, and government policies for developing localized education technology, as well as personal resources among students. In managing the Covid-19 crisis better than many countries, Pakistan avoided the need for a full lockdown and set an example for the world. Its savvy policies even kept the economy running. Despite its proximity to neighbors China (where the first Covid-19 infection was found) and India (the second-most-affected country), Pakistan is surprisingly safe when compared with Europe and the U.S., with around a 98 percent recovery rate.

Educational technology has been rapidly advancing—smartphones, tablets, augmented and virtual reality, and high-speed Internet, 4G, and 5G connectivity. All of this makes online learning more productive, adaptive, and accessible. In fact, the e-learning industry is currently valued at more than $200 billion and is expected to top $375 billion by 2026. Even so, Pakistan has some of the world’s worst educational outcomes. For example, it has the world’s second-highest number of children not in school: 22.8 million children ages 5 to16, which is 40 percent of Pakistan’s school-age children.

In an unfortunate twist, the onset of the pandemic coincided with Pakistan’s struggle to implement a uniform curriculum across all provinces. As coronavirus control measures spread throughout South Asia, departments of education and higher-level universities found themselves poorly or, in most cases, completely unprepared for online learning and delivering distance learning. In the past, Pakistan had closed educational institutes due to terrorist attacks and political threats, but there was still no official policy around online education.

Pakistan has an emerging mobile-phone-user market—currently 75 percent of the population uses mobile technology. But out of a population of 220 million—the fifth most-populous country in the world—there are only 76.38 million internet users. That’s only 35 percent of the population, with only 17 percent using social media. Facts on the ground show that accessibility to the Internet is the major hurdle to adopting an e-learning system. Resistance to adopting technology or new learning pedagogy  and being used to the classroom environment also play a negative role in resistance to online learning policy.

E-learning initiatives in Pakistan and future prospects

When schools were forced to shut, Pakistan started seeking alternative solutions to the globally adopted “suspending classes without stopping learning” policy [1]. One idea was the establishment of a national TV channel for education that would provide equal educational opportunities for all students. The channel programmed content for kindergarten through high school and provided one lesson per day to each grade, so students would have to watch in shifts. Also, during the second wave of Covid, Radio Pakistan started transmitting “radio school” to promote virtual learning in the country for primary-level students, as a part of an effort toward overcoming the digital divide.

In the higher-education sector, Virtual University is at the forefront of virtual learning, providing full-time online learning courses, from bachelor's to Ph.D. level, in different subjects. As the pandemic disrupted education, Microsoft Teams were deployed in Pakistani universities to build connection between students and teachers. Previously, Microsoft and the Citizens Foundation (TCF) collaborated to provide technology-based education in underdeveloped areas. The eLearn Punjab program has generated educational content based on videos and illustrations for primary and secondary school classes. And in tackling the digital divide in gender, The Malala Fund has investigated Covid as an amplifying factor for the girls’ education crisis in Pakistan.


Figure 1. Challenges and possible solutions for the educational landscape of Pakistan.

Lessons learned from the pandemic can be used as an opportunity to redesign learning spaces and restructure the curriculum to facilitate student learning, as shown in Figure 1. This abrupt wake-up call should prompt all relevant stakeholders to reflect on the true purpose of schools and the future of learning in this country.

In Pakistani institutes, there is a lack of technically trained teachers to run online classes smoothly. To strengthen blended, distance, and online learning, there is a need to provide more awareness and accessibility to MOOCs, Coursera, and EdX. There is also a need to develop innovative, immersive learning technologies and modern education spaces using virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technology [2]. These technologies, along with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), can change the future of learning by helping us build more interactive, personalized, and productive learning solutions. More specifically, when we talk about practical, hands-on learning in STEM, where there is an urgent need for learning material, augmented reality can provide virtual material to help teach with the kinesthetic learning approach [3]. 

Technologically developed countries have innovative and advanced systems for e-learning, allowing them to stay in the loop and keep the learning flow active during this academic year. But in Pakistan, online learning is at a nascent stage. Having started as emergency remote learning, it needs further investment to create more adoption and overcome limitations. Along with the establishing the Internet in remote areas, developing specialized authoring tools, and creating awareness for getting the most out of online learning, faculty need training to use online modalities and innovative pedagogies to reduce cognitive load and increase interactivity. In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century [4], Yuval Noah Harari highlighted a drawback of the current state of education:The focus is on traditional academic skills rather than critical thinking and adaptability, which are needed to create opportunities and success in the future [2]. This critical period, which is moving us rapidly toward the adoption of e-learning, can spark more focus on providing Internet facilities in remote areas, developing more innovative, low-cost learning solutions, and creating more adaptive and effective methods of learning in the near future. 

Endnotes

1. Zhang, W. et al. Suspending classes without stopping learning: China’s education emergency management policy in the Covid-19 outbreak. J. Risk Financial Manag. 13, 3 (2020), 55; https://doi.org/10.3390/jrfm13030055

2. Campbell, A.G. et al. Future mixed reality educational spaces. Proc. of 2016 Future Technologies Conference. IEEE, 2016.

3. Köse, H. and Güner-Yildiz, N. Augmented reality (AR) as a learning material in special needs education. Education and Information Technologies (2020), 1-16.

4. Harari, Y.N. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Random House, 2018.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, February 05, 2021 - 3:14:12

Muhammad Zahid Iqbal

Muhammad Zahid Iqbal is a Ph.D. researcher in the School of Computer Science, University College Dublin, Ireland. His research interests are human-computer interaction, augmented reality in education, touchless interactions technologies, artificial intelligence, and e-learning. He is alumni of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. Muhammad-Zahid.iqbal@ucdconnect.ie
View All Muhammad Zahid Iqbal's Posts

Abraham Campbell

Abraham G. Campbell is an assistant professor at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, who is currently teaching as part of Beijing-Dublin International College (BJUT), a joint initiative between UCD and BJUTabey.campbell@ucd.ie
View All Abraham Campbell's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Technology use and vulnerability among seniors in Sweden during Covid


Authors: Linnea Öhlund
Posted: Wed, January 20, 2021 - 3:20:00

From its place of origin, Wuhan, China, the coronavirus has spread worldwide and infected millions of people. Countries have adopted various strategies to curb the spread of the virus, social isolation being one. Sweden is one of few countries that has never closed down entirely but instead has relied on individuals' own responsibility in taking adequate precautions and following recommendations. A part of the strategy has been to recommend that individuals over the age of 70 physically isolate and not have any unnecessary social contact with others to protect themselves from the virus. Despite the many criticisms of the Swedish Covid-19 strategy, many seniors living at home have followed the recommendations of isolating themselves from any non-vital social and physical interaction.

A common way of thinking of this group is that they don't use, don’t want to use, or can't use technology, and that if they simply could use it, many aspects of their life would be improved [1]. This is nowadays somewhat of a preconception, but a study from 2020 found that 87 percent of Swedish people age 66 and up use the Internet. The current global situation of Covid-19 presents a golden opportunity to find out if seniors are using digital technology in ways that help them face negative consequences of isolation, and, more generally, if they have started using technology in a more socially connecting way. With these thoughts in mind, I set out to interview 15 people over the age of 70 living in Sweden. In this blog post, I present a summary of the results of those discussions and discuss how participant demographics, vulnerability, and not using or overusing technology can all be factors that play into the results.

Participant demographics
The ages of the participants were between 69 and 81. Half of them were married, living with a partner in a house or big apartment, and about half were single and lived in an apartment. Participants were contacted through email (due to Covid), which told me in advance that they most likely owned some digital artifact and have enough knowledge to navigate it. They were all young enough to have been working with computers and technology for a substantial part of their working life, which has provided them with knowledge and experience. Most of the participants had a university education. This information tells us that they come from a particular socio-economic background, which means that they have previous knowledge to understand digital technology and presumed capital to buy it. I present the results in the following three categories; the demographics of the participants will be a resurfacing pattern.

Feeling vulnerable in society
During the interviews, despite no question being directly asked about vulnerability, many felt that in Swedish society today, seniors are not treated nicely. Especially now during Covid, many thought they have been labeled vulnerable in a negative sense, and that other age groups, but predominately younger individuals (15 to 35), would be disrespectful and view them with contempt. They felt that the heavy restrictions for individuals 70 and over had not only protected them but also stigmatized them further.

Technology use
I was a little surprised to find that all of the seniors in the study used digital technology daily. They all had smartphones, computers, tablets, and multiple apps such as Facebook, digital banks, Wordfeud, and newspapers. Although not all of them felt particularly skilled or even interested in technology, all of them had a certain type of confidence regarding technology that little previous research mentions. After some discussions, the participants admitted that they played Wordfeud longer, scrolled Facebook more, and made more video calls, but many said they didn't do this more than normal.

Experiencing further negative feelings by using technology
All participants used technology, but some still felt socially isolated and lonely. In some cases, participants even felt that using technology made them feel sadder and more isolated because they would remember how life was before. Most of the participants also mentioned family or friends who did not use technology and felt left out of society. Many felt frustrated that digital change is happening at such a fast pace in Sweden. This quick change is casting a shadow over a specific part of society, mostly related to age. Some individuals do not have the experience from their work-life that allows them to use technology, nor do they have the means to buy technology. According to some of the participants, the individuals who cannot or will not use technology are therefore left out from many options that would have given them a better quality of life.

Discussion
Even though technology can serve as a tool to connect with friends and family, using it does not automatically give you a socially isolated, happy life, free of negative feelings. Many seniors already use technology to a large extent. Still, in periods of isolation, negative feelings seem to increase. Using technology to attempt to curb these negative feelings already seems to be done by many seniors. But overusing technology for longer periods also appears to render more negative emotions, because it is forced upon them and not chosen. Furthermore, in Swedish society, despite many seniors being tech-savvy, many are left out because they do not use digital technology, which means not having the same opportunities for a higher quality of life as others.

This study and the results from it can be further summarized in four takeaways related to seniors as a vulnerable group, their demographics, and their use of technology when trying to create a better quality of life for themselves. These four points may provide further insight into seniors as a vulnerable group and specifically this type of demographic:

  • The Covid crisis has meant that seniors have faced further stigmatization in society. They feel like they are being pointed out as a problem and not respected because they may face many negative consequences from Covid-19.
  • Many seniors under the age of 80 have extensive knowledge of digital technologies and systems and use them daily without critical challenges.
  • The usage of technology has gone up slightly during this Covid period to make up for the lost contact with others, but feelings of loss and sadness remain.
  • Overusing technology can create further negative feelings, but not using digital technology at all means being left out of society and missing out on opportunities that could generate a better quality of life. The reasons for not using technology today may be linked to not having enough experience to understand it or enough money to buy it.

Endnotes 

1. Khosravi, P., Rezvani, A., and Wiewiora, A. The impact of technology on older adults’ social isolation. Computers in Human Behavior 63, (2016), 594–603; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.092


Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, January 20, 2021 - 3:20:00

Linnea Öhlund

Linnea Öhlund is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Informatics at Umeå University, with a focus on interaction design, vulnerable groups, and social justice. linnea.ohlund@umu.se
View All Linnea Öhlund's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Utopian futures for sexuality, aging, and design


Authors: Britta Schulte, Marie Søndergaard, Rens Brankaert, Kellie Morrissey
Posted: Tue, January 19, 2021 - 2:35:54


This excerpt is from a letter to a future self, a story written at a workshop held at DIS 2020 [1], where participants reframed and reimagined what intimacy might mean for the aging body and what role technology might play. Aging and the changes to the body it brings with it are often portrayed as something negative, a time of loss and fading away. Images of older bodies are rarely publicized or celebrated; in fact, old age is more often expressed through a (black and white) image of a hand placed on a shoulder. Although initiatives such as #nomorewrinklyhands try to make this lazy messaging visible as well as counter this stereotype, the prevailing societal fear of growing and appearing older means that— deliberate or not—we can tend to erase images of bodies that are engaged in processes of aging. However, when we ignore the aging body, we also erase experiences such as menopause and the changes—positive and negative—that this period brings for people undergoing it. When ignoring the body, we erase close intimate practices that are part of caregiving, including bathing, dressing, and close physical support. When ignoring the body, we erase experiences of intimacy and sexuality and the important part they play in our well-being.

Increasingly, HCI practitioners problematize and critique the way we, as a field, frame and address aging and the aging body [2,3]. This framing impacts the ways we configure and design new technologies that address (or ignore) the well-being of older people [4]. While the community is growing in this respect, many research and design projects in HCI still often steer away from intimacy and sexuality, choosing instead to focus on how older participants can gain satisfaction through family or civic life instead [5,6]. Although there is a healthy body of work in HCI on innovating surveillance technology or memory aids for older people, HCI has similarly balked in engaging with the “bodywork” that is also necessary in aged care (and which is often left to women carers, or to low-paid care workers). Elsewhere, however, intimacy is a reoccurring topic for HCI research (see, e.g., [7] for an overview). And beyond this, as a young, cross-disciplinary field, HCI often expands the border of  “what can be talked about”: Here, sexuality is often a subject of design research, exploring technology through the lenses of sex toys [8,9], and kink [10], while others explore the role sexuality could play in HCI research through workshops at top-level conferences [11,12]. But it can be argued that there is a comparable pattern here: Through these publications and projects, sexuality is framed at least implicitly as a prerogative of the young and able-bodied.

Organized as part of the ACM Designing Interactive Systems conference in 2020, our workshop, titled “Don’t Blush: Ageing, Sexuality & Design,” explored the (dis)comforts surrounding the potential role of technology in sexuality and intimacy in later life [1]. Bringing together researchers and practitioners from many disciplines, we particularly wanted to imagine speculative, positive futures of aging to help us visualize a sex-positive society. The workshop relied heavily on storytelling as a means to approach, communicate, and ground this sensitive topic in a manner that all felt comfortable with. In a first step, we used three stories—two descriptive of current scenarios (drawn from current practice), one speculative— to kickstart the discussion and familiarize ourselves with the different themes this topic might encompass. The stories described 1) the experiences of a couple not able to find space together privately in a care home, 2) experiences of nursing staff with a “Mr. Carter” and his unsatisfied urges, and 3) the story of a couple who asked the salesman of a robobutler company if the robot could provide support in the bedroom. These initial discussions were useful to find common ground and as a tool to develop a shared vocabulary on intimacy and sexuality. Participants were able to raise the topics important to them, outline blindspots, and relate the stories to their own areas of expertise, as well as to the things they found interesting from the other participants’ workshop submissions. After extensive discussions, smaller groups collaborated on writing a new story. The only direction provided was that the stories were to be optimistic, maybe even utopian, so that, instead of lamenting the status quo, we could develop visions of what we want to see. 

The four resulting stories exceeded our expectations of what could be possible in such a short amount of time, as they were subtle, sensitive, and sensual accounts that allowed us to collectively think the “unthinkable.” Drawing on the variety of experiences the participants brought to the table, the stories covered a range of experiences, including: 1) enriching bodily experiences through lingerie that is suitable for people using incontinence pads, 2) sensitive, tailored sexual care package subscriptions openly advertised in care homes, 3) love letters to the body and self-care rituals surrounding menarche and menopause, and 4) a sex-positive older blogger embraced by her family. 


This illustration was developed alongside story 2, illustrating the different sex packages available in the fictional future care home.

Even though these stories were planned out as utopian stories, they are inherently grounded in the everyday, the mundane, and the values of the writers. Drawing on the body as a focal point has enabled the authors of these stories to discuss societal changes not in the abstract, but rather on a personal, embodied level. Even though all stories describe deeply personal encounters, they all link to changes beyond these experiences, which are articulated through the artifacts that the stories’ protagonists use. The erotic lingerie that Jo—a nonbinary character—uses to change their body (image) is not only their own imagination: Jo also reflects how it has been shared widely through Instagram adverts, showing that society has made space for conversations around desire, changing bodies, and incontinence to happen. The care home presented in story 2 advertises the sexuality packages they developed openly, hinting at a whole history of conversations, changes, and decisions that took place beforehand. Through the family members, who are somewhat uncomfortable about the idea, we get a hint as to how far society has adapted to it.

As with every good workshop, “Don’t Blush” left us with more questions than answers. But we are convinced that these questions are useful for us as a field to move toward technologies that are truly supportive of the lived experience of older bodies. We tried to summarize some of them here to stimulate discussion within the field.

If we acknowledge that older adults might have or wish for an active sex life, what does that mean for the technologies we develop in this area? How can we ensure that the technologies we create support the joy, dignity, and privacy that we would allow everyone else? How do we develop research and design strategies that approach the question in suitable, sensitive, and satisfying ways?

If we acknowledge that good care in older age means caring for the body as well as ensuring people’s basic health and safety, how can we extend our understanding of intimacy, privacy, and dignity to improve and enrich often-ignored body work (bathing, dressing, and toileting)?

If we acknowledge the aging body and the changes it goes through, what directions does this open up for us to explore through our research and design work? How can we make space for the body in our research and keep an open dialogue about experiences, staying with the (dis)comfort of such conversations? 

We hope to keep this conversation going and growing. All organizers, as well as most participants, came from a Western European perspective, with a strong focus on the U.K. and the Netherlands. Both the stories that inspired the work and those that came out of the workshop embody a certain understanding of sexuality, intimacy, as well as aging and caregiving. The majorities of the stories focus on a female perspective, which again mirrors the composition of the workshop participants. Even though not always explicitly, most stories further present a heterosexual outlook. While this is a limitation of the current work, it is also an explicit invitation to build on these stories, contradict them, and expand them. In addition, the experiences and wishes of people in their later lives themselves are missing here. We are planning to respond to this by using the stories developed in the workshop as conversation starters and other ways of qualitative and co-design research with aging people. We will further distil the insights and stories from the workshop into a zine to be shared within the academic and non-academic audience. You can get a copy by contacting agesextech@brifrischu.de. If you want to be part of this conversation, please get in touch or join the conversation at #agesextech.

Endnotes

1. Schulte, B.F., Morrissey, K., Juul Søndergaard, M.L., and Brankaert, R. Don’t blush: Sexuality, aging & design. Companion Publication of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, New York, 2020, 405–408; https://doi.org/10.1145/3393914.3395915

2. Kannabiran, G., Hoggan, E., and Hansen, L.K. Somehow they are never horny! Companion Publication of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, New York, 2020, 131–137; https://doi.org/10.1145/3393914.3395877

3. Schulte, B. and Hornecker, E. Full frontal intimacy - on HCI, design, & intimacy. Companion Publication of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, New York, 2020, 123–129; https://doi.org/10.1145/3393914.3395889

4. Vines, J., Pritchard, G., Wright, P., Olivier, P., and Brittain, K. An age-old problem: Examining the discourses of ageing in HCI and strategies for future research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 22, 1 (2015), 2.

5. Reuter, A., Bartindale, T., Morrissey, K., Scharf, T., and Liddle, J. Older voices: Supporting community radio production for civic participation in later life. Proc. of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019, 1–13; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300664

6. Welsh, D., Morrissey, K., Foley, S., McNaney, R., Salis, C., McCarthy, J., and Vines, J. Ticket to talk: Supporting conversation between young people and people with dementia through digital media. Proc. of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2018, 1–14; https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173949

7. Hassenzahl, M., Heidecker, S., Eckoldt, K., Diefenbach, S., and Hillmann, U. All you need is love: Current strategies of mediating intimate relationships through technology. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 19, 4 (Dec. 2012), 1–19; https://doi.org/10.1145/2395131.2395137

8. Bardzell, J. and Bardzell, S. Pleasure is your birthright: Digitally enabled designer sex toys as a case of third-wave HCI. Proc. of the 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM Press, New York, 2011, 257; https://doi.org/10.1145/1978942.1978979

9. Juul Søndergaard, M.L., and Hedegaard Schiølin, K. Bataille’s bicycle: Execution and/as eroticism. Executing Practices (2017), 179.

10. Buttrick, L., Linehan, C., Kirman, B., and O’Hara, D. Fifty shades of CHI: The perverse and humiliating human-computer relationship. Proc. of the Extended Abstracts of the 32nd annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM Press, New York, 2014, 825–834; https://doi.org/10.1145/2559206.2578874

11. Brewer, J., Kaye, J., Williams, A., and Wyche, S. Sexual interactions: Shy we should talk about sex in HCI. CHI ’06 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM Press, New York, 2006, 1695; https://doi.org/10.1145/1125451.1125765

12. Kannabiran, G., Ahmed, A.A., Wood, M., Balaam, M., Tanenbaum, T.J., Bardzell, S., and Bardzell, J. Design for sexual wellbeing in HCI. Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2018, 1–7; https://doi.org/10.1145/3170427.3170639



Posted in: on Tue, January 19, 2021 - 2:35:54

Britta Schulte

Britta F. Schulte is a postdoc at Bauhaus University Weimar. Her work explores our relationships toward technologies for elderly care and the ageing body, with a strong focus on intimacy and sexuality. In her works she often uses speculative and creative approaches such as storytelling and design fictions in many forms. britta.schulte@uni-weimar.de
View All Britta Schulte's Posts

Marie Søndergaard

Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard is an interaction designer and design researcher. Her work explores critical-feminist design of digital technologies for intimate health, such as menarche, menopause, and sexual pleasure. She is currently a postdoc in interaction design and digital women’s health at KTH Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. mljso@kth.se
View All Marie Søndergaard's Posts

Rens Brankaert

Rens Brankaert is professor of health innovations and technology at Fontys University of Applied sciences and assistant professor at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). His work focuses around the design of technology, systems, and services for and with people living with dementia by using design research and living lab approaches. r.g.a.brankaert@tue.nl
View All Rens Brankaert's Posts

Kellie Morrissey

Kellie Morrissey is a lecturer in design for health and wellbeing at the School of Design in the University of Limerick, Ireland. Her work focuses on experience-centered and phenomenological approaches to the co-design of digital technologies for and with marginalized participants. Kellie.Morrissey@ul.ie
View All Kellie Morrissey's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Cultivating activism with speculative design


Authors: Richmond Wong, Nick Merrill
Posted: Fri, December 18, 2020 - 5:29:36

As design researchers, we love our speculative methods—methods for imagining possible futures—and opening them up to discussion and critique. But what good do they do? Designing speculative futures to discuss values, ethics, safety, and security can feel naive, as fellow researchers are being dismissed for doing the work of ethics.

We want to believe that to imagine possible futures is to be able to change them: to surface discussions of social values and ethics so that we may imagine worlds to work toward (or avoid). But, as prior work has observed, who gets to speculate matters a great deal [1]. Of course, scholarly production of speculative artifacts has its place. But can it make change—lasting change—on the ground?

Our past work has used speculative designs—creating fictional products, headlines, and scenarios for others to react to and play within—to surface discussion and consideration of values, ethics, and alternative notions of security or safety [2,3]. We envisioned these as techniques that could be adopted within existing product design practices. 

In a (perhaps subtle) shift, we discuss the role speculative methods may have in fostering activism and dissent, particularly among so-called rank-and-file tech workers such as designers, UX professionals, and engineers.

This concept is not without precedent. Turkopticon, a platform for organizing Mechanical Turk workers, has created lasting infrastructures for workers mobilizing on the platform [4]. Prior work has also involved activists in speculative practices; Asad et al. had activists produce prototypes that expressed their particular needs [5]. In some of our own prior work, we describe infrastructural speculations: a call to use speculative design techniques to center systems of power and imagine alternative ones in our speculative work—questions that are often relegated to the background when speculating about technology and use [6].

We’re motivated by the desire to produce critically oriented practices that can become part of a lasting infrastructure among tech workers—a practice for critiquing technology as common as think-alouds or user personas are for building them. In the midst of widespread public skepticism of technology companies, and a fair share of tech-worker-led dissent and activism (via letter writing, walkouts, and other forms of organizing), there is an opportunity to identify, describe, and discuss points of dissent and refusal of “business as usual.” Speculative methods allow us to imagine, construct, and communicate alternative social relationships and configurations of power. So a critical, speculative method could, with groundwork, become an industry-wide practice for fostering such dissent. 

Yet, as Timnit Gebru’s recent dismissal from Google, and broader dismissals of activist-workers (many of whom are PoC, women, trans, and nonbinary) across technology companies illustrate, fostering dissent among tech workers requires more than new speculative techniques. It requires social and organizational change; it requires solidarity among workers. Even if someone comes armed with worthy critique, without worker organizing, their analyses can be met with outright hostility. 

We are excited to see the development of new tools and methods for surfacing questions related to values, ethics, bias, and more, often combining speculative methods with approaches such as design fiction, value sensitive design, or participatory design. But many of these interventions—including our own, at times—have abstracted away social issues crucial to the potential adoption and use of these tools: questions of workplace power, the precarity and risk involved in organizing or critiquing, and who carries the burden of that precarity. Our work, which centers structures of economic power and capital, has not engaged deeply enough on how these forces shape the adoption of our practices.

What can speculative practices do for activism? We approach this question humbly. Design, even with a critical orientation, cannot “solve” technology’s problems without touching the social and political structures within which these technologies, and their development, are entangled. Speculative design alone will not save us. Simply raising conversations will not necessarily lead to change. Without an underlying political commitment, we risk that speculative work gets re-appropriated by the systems we attempt to critique [7]. Worse, we risk ignoring the hard groundwork already done by activists, union organizers, and people working in local communities to advocate for more fair, just technical practices.

As we look toward our future work with these practices, we ask ourselves: What pragmatic and tactical work can speculative practices do today to help workers, activists, educators, and organizers already working on the ground to achieve their goals? And to help people who are beginning to ask critical questions become more inclined toward activism?

Our new challenge is to use speculative design to create methods difficult for corporations to co-opt, perhaps methods that take place outside of the corporate world. Even the dystopian visions of speculative methods are seen by some as the next disruptive product. 

Toward these ends, and building on the work of colleagues and co-conspirators, we suggest: 

  • Changing when/where speculative design is done. Deploy speculative design outside of work contexts. While user-centered design methods take place in contexts of work, speculative methods for critique should take place in contexts of organizing and activism.

  • Changing with/for whom speculative work is done. Create speculative designs with and for more targeted activist audiences, rather than defaulting to sharing them broadly for general public discussion. Activists are one audience. But speculative work can also make the comfortable, such as the C-suite, uncomfortable. These audiences should not be ignored either.

  • Changing what speculations are about. Shift speculative designs away from easy-to-reappropriate imagined products toward depicting futures through other forms

This process is easier described than enacted. Making the methods, then mobilizing them, takes significant work, and academics will need to work with activists on the ground. Our goal in sharing these reflections is to inspire students, researchers, and practitioners to join in doing that work; to expand and (re)orient speculative methods to further justice and activism, joining existing critical perspectives on design methods [8]. Speculative methods have the capacity to inspire meaningful change, meaningful dissent. We hope our critical self-reflection will spark interest in building reusable, dare we say dangerous methods for fostering activism and dissent. We hope these questions will help our community build them.

* Both authors contributed equally to this piece. 

Endnotes

1. O’Leary, J.T., Zewde, S., Mankoff, J., and Rosner, D.K. Who gets to future? Race, representation, and design methods in Africatown. Proc. of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–13; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300791 

2. Merrill, N. 2020. Security fictions: Bridging speculative design and computer security. Proc. of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 1727–1735; https://doi.org/10.1145/3357236.3395451

3. Wong, R.Y., Mulligan, D.K., Van Wyk, E., Pierce, J., and Chuang, J. Eliciting values reflections by engaging privacy futures using design workbooks. Proc. of the ACM on Human Computer Interaction 1, CSCW. 2017; https://doi.org/10.1145/3134746 

4. Irani, L. and Silberman, M.S. 2014. From critical design to critical infrastructure. Interactions 21, 4 (2014), 32–35; https://doi.org/10.1145/2627392 

5. Asad, M., Fox, S., and Le Dantec, C.A. Speculative activist technologies. Proc. of iConference 2014; https://doi.org/10.9776/14074 

6. Wong, R.Y., Khovanskaya, V., Fox, S.E., Merrill, N., and Sengers, P. Infrastructural speculations: Tactics for designing and interrogating lifeworlds. Proc. of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–15; https://doi.org/10.1145/3313831.3376515 

7. Wong, R.Y. and Khovanskaya, V. Speculative design in HCI: From corporate imaginations to critical orientations. In New Directions in 3rd Wave HCI. M. Filimowicz, ed. Springer, 2018, 175–202; https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73374-6_10 

8. Schultz, T., Abdulla, D., Ansari, A., Canlı, E., Keshavarz, M., Kiem, M., Prado de O. Martins, L., and Vieira de Oliveira, P.J.S. What is at stake with decolonizing design? A roundtable. Design and Culture 10, 1 (2018), 81–101; https://doi.org/10.1080/17547075.2018.1434368 



Posted in: on Fri, December 18, 2020 - 5:29:36

Richmond Wong

Richmond Wong (https://www.richmondywong.com) is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. His research focuses on how technology professionals address social values and ethical issues in their work, and on developing design-centered methods to surface discussion of ethical issues related to technology. ryw9@berkeley.edu
View All Richmond Wong's Posts

Nick Merrill

Nick Merrill is a researcher at the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, where he directs the Daylight Lab. He is interested in the social process of threat identification: how and why people identify particular security threats, and who gets to do so. ffff@berkeley.edu
View All Nick Merrill's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


A call for respect, inclusion, fairness, and transparency in SIGCHI


Authors: Fempower.tech
Posted: Thu, December 03, 2020 - 4:59:36

We are writing this blog post as a response to the discussions about exclusion and oppression within SIGCHI that occurred on the Interactions blog in summer 2020, and a call for respect, inclusion, fairness, and transparency in SIGCHI. Our collective, fempower.tech, started the #CHIversity campaign at the 2017 Human Factors in Computing (CHI) conference because we didn’t feel welcome in previous years [1]. Through this, we created our own space within SIGCHI. We are one of many groups working to make SIGCHI more inclusive and welcoming to everyone who wants to be a part of this community. SIGCHI is a volunteer-led organization that is not only shaped by elected leaders but also by community members who care. Over time, communities create their own ways of working to make changes in their organizations. Sub-communities form when individuals or groups don’t see themselves represented or fitting in to the larger community. 

Grassroots groups like AccessSIGCHI or fempower.tech and formalized groups like the Realizing that All Can be Equal (R.A.C.E.) team do this work because we hope SIGCHI can be better. However, when these groups take actions, in some cases encouraged by SIGCHI leaders, they can encounter opposition, disapproval, and accusations of wrongdoing. For example, the R.A.C.E. inclusion team recently explained how the SIGCHI Executive Committee (EC) halted their diversity and inclusion work [2], and Jen Mankoff discussed how the EC hampered her efforts to address accessibility issues in the community by suggesting she violated ACM policy [3]. Based on these descriptions, as well as the experiences that some fempower.tech members have had while doing inclusion-related work in the SIGCHI community, we as fempower.tech observe a pattern that suggests that those holding power to make decisions in SIGCHI do not value community-driven inclusion efforts. 

When grassroots or formalized groups have worked to build a more supportive community for themselves, the SIGCHI EC has sometimes responded in hostile ways that undermine or proactively stop these volunteer efforts (as described in the preceding paragraph). We believe that a volunteer-led organization should be open to engage with community efforts to improve situations for those who experience marginalization. We are disappointed that SIGCHI has repeatedly failed to choose a more constructive and responsive approach when engaging with community efforts.

Jen Mankoff’s post reminds us that marginalization and oppression are not one-time, isolated experiences. They are systemic concerns that affect people’s everyday existence. Many are working to make changes, formally and informally, to dismantle the barriers of racism, ableism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Groups like the Inclusion Teams, SIGCHI CARES, AccessSIGCHI, or the CHI2019 Allyship initiative offered hope that SIGCHI wanted to tackle problems related to marginalization. Yet, by stating that the R.A.C.E. inclusion team and Jen Mankoff, an AccessSIGCHI leader, had violated ACM policy, the EC appeared to undermine its own efforts. Members of fempower.tech who are part of equity-seeking groups have experienced similar (micro)aggressions and scapegoating. This has led us to feel used, unsupported, or unwelcome at meetings and/or conferences.

Creating or supporting initiatives led by people from marginalized groups—and then challenging their work—exploits the good intentions and beliefs of SIGCHI leaders, members, and volunteers who are trying to make positive change. This erodes trust and damages communities already experiencing marginalization. What is especially unsettling about the R.A.C.E. team’s experience is that the people who were doing the work that the institution requested were undermined when their efforts gained traction in the community [2]. Indeed, SIGCHI has repeatedly started inclusion-related projects without providing them a clear path to success. Through these actions, SIGCHI has let its members down, time and time again.

Scholar Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt notes that “failing to interrogate institutional decision-making processes while claiming to work towards social justice” is one way individuals (un)consciously sustain white supremacy [4]. When organizations apply their rules inconsistently, in ways that silence volunteers and activists without decision-making power, they not only perpetuate the status quo but also actively harm movements toward more just, caring, and inclusive communities. 

How can we make changes in an organization that seems to repeatedly move in a more inclusive direction only to undermine such efforts? For example, the lack of year-to-year continuity between conference organization and new initiatives makes it seem that the work and energy that volunteers expend to make improvements in one year is not valued in the next. Instead of expecting people in leadership roles to make these decisions, community negotiations could decide which initiatives need to be carried forward. 

We advocate for structural change that recognizes the interlocking nature of marginalizations. Such change requires a combination of: sustainable resourcing for initiatives such as the Inclusion Teams, SIGCHI CARES, and the Allyship program; individuals unlearning harmful behaviors; better communication with the community; and grassroots activism having pathways to hold governing bodies to account. We urge that these groups be given the necessary, equitable resources and support to ensure their efforts toward a more inclusive SIGCHI are sustainable and equipped to alter old structures. This means official inclusion-related groups must have the power to hold the EC and other bodies’ decision-making processes accountable. Finally, the EC and other governing groups must have the will to enact the changes these groups recommend.

Change is challenging, and the work of volunteering is not equitable, especially across a group as diverse as SIGCHI consisting of students, precariously employed researchers, professionals, and faculty. Given this, the best way forward for our community is to heed the various calls to action which liberate us all [5]. This requires work from the EC and other formalized SIGCHI bodies. It requires them to take our caring critique of their systems seriously and to behave in ways that support rather than harm those already experiencing marginalization. As we said at the beginning of this article, we critique and actively work to improve structures for those of us who experience marginalization precisely because we care about this community and hope it can help all of us thrive. As fempower.tech, we want to work with the SIGCHI community as a whole: grassroots activists, international members, formal advocacy groups, and the EC. We need collective action and concrete changes: no more relying on individuals and incrementalism. Indeed, “change happens slowly” is a narrative that centers those closest to power rather than those experiencing harm.

Many of the requests that others have made [2,3,6,7] and that we amplify are not impossible demands or blue-sky thinking. They are what should be the baseline in just systems. SIGCHI’s own mission and vision statements say as much: 

SIGCHI MISSION
: ACM SIGCHI facilitates an environment where its members can invent and develop novel technologies and tools, explore how technology impacts people’s lives, inform public policy, and design new interaction techniques and interfaces. We are an interdisciplinary field comprising academics, practitioners, and educators, and we welcome a variety of approaches to solve these complex problems. The mission of ACM SIGCHI is to support the professional growth of its members who are interested in how people interact with technologies and how technology changes society.

SIGCHI VISION: We aim to enhance our members’ ability to innovate and understand technologies for the greater public good.

With this blog post, we join others who want to help SIGCHI achieve its vision of supporting the greater public good. We as fempower.tech ask that SIGCHI meet grassroots and formalized groups with respect and equality rather than opposition and aggression. In short, we ask that SIGCHI work toward realizing the mission and vision that it celebrates itself as already doing.

Endnotes

1. Strohmayer, A., Bellini, R., Meissner, J., Mitchell Finnigan, S., Alabdulqader, E., Toombs, A., and Balaam, M. #CHIversity: Implications for equality, diversity, and inclusion campaigns. Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, NY, USA, Paper alt03, 1–10; https://doi.org/10.1145/3170427.3188396 

2. Grady, S.D., Wisniewski, P., Metoyer, R., Gibbs, P., Badillo-Urquiola, K., Elsayed-Ali, S., and Yafi, E. Addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion. Interactions blog. Jun. 11, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/addressing-institutional-racism-within-initiatives-for-sigchis-diversity-an

3. Mankoff, J. A challenging response. Interactions blog. Jun. 17, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-challenging-response

4. Dutt-Ballerstadt, R. A checklist to determine if you are supporting white supremacy. Inside Higher Ed. Jan. 12, 2018; https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/01/12/checklist-determine-if-you-are-supporting-white-supremacy-opinion

5. Irani, L. “A call to action for the ACM” liberates all of us. Interactions blog. Jun. 29, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-call-to-action-for-the-acm-liberates-all-of-us

6. Harrington, C., Rankin, Y., Jones, J., Brewer, R., Erete, S., Dillahunt, T., and Brown, Q. A call to action for the ACM. Interactions blog. Jun. 22, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-call-to-action-for-the-acm

7. Rankin, Y.A., and Thomas, J. Straighten up and fly right: Rethinking intersectionality in HCI research. Interactions 26, 6 (2019), 64–68; https://doi.org/10.1145/3363033



Posted in: on Thu, December 03, 2020 - 4:59:36

Fempower.tech

Fempower.tech are an international network and collective of feminist researchers, practitioners, and activists working with digital technologies. They aim to raise awareness of feminist issues in technology research by being overtly critical and political within the field, raising voices of underrepresented groups and topics, presenting tangible outcomes, and taking on an activist role for this. They create supportive and collaborative environments in their workplaces, within academia, industry, and at international conferences.
View All Fempower.tech 's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


How fragmentation can undermine the public health response to Covid-19


Authors: Andrew Tzer-Yeu Chen
Posted: Fri, October 30, 2020 - 5:24:04

At this point, we are all familiar with Covid-19 and its impacts on ourselves, our communities, and our world. Responses to the disease have largely been led by local, national, and international public health agencies, who have activated their pandemic plans and opened the epidemiological toolkit of modeling, testing, isolation and movement restrictions, surveillance, and contact tracing. When it comes to contact tracing, it’s natural for people to see the tech-heavy world around them, then hear about the common manual process of human investigators and phone calls, and ask, “Why can’t technology help make this better?” But it’s not as simple as “add more technology”—the complex way in which users and societies interact with the technology has significant impacts on its effectiveness. When efforts are not well coordinated, leading to fragmentation in system design and user experience, the public health response can be negatively impacted. This article briefly covers the journey of how contact tracing registers and digital diaries evolved in New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic, how the lack of central coordination led to poor outcomes, and ultimately how this was improved.

Contact tracing registers and digital diaries?

Dr. Ayesha Verrall notes that “rapid case detection and contact tracing, combined with other basic public health measures, has over 90 percent efficacy against Covid-19 at the population level, making it as effective as many vaccines” [1]. Contact tracing involves identifying people who have been in contact with an infected person, and therefore who may have been unknowingly exposed to the infectious disease. By identifying the contacts and rapidly isolating and testing those individuals, the chains of transmission in the community are cut off, limiting the spread of the disease. Importantly, contact tracers need to find potential contacts who are unknown to the infected person, and can only do this by tracing the movement of the person to find others who may have overlapped in time and place.

With the pervasive nature of digital technologies, there has been a lot of discussion globally around digital contact tracing solutions, particularly around Bluetooth-enabled smartphone apps (including the Apple/Google protocol) and wearable devices [2,3,4]. Proponents of the technology offer the promise that these solutions can achieve better completeness (finding more contacts of cases, especially where the identities are not known to the case) and speed (finding contacts and testing/isolating them faster). However, in the absence of a validated, effective digital contact tracing solution initially, a number of governments opted for simpler, lower-tech methods of collecting data about people’s movements.

The contact tracing register (or visitor/customer check-in log) has been deployed around the world (Figure 1). Individuals are asked to provide their personal details at businesses and other places of interest, so that if a venue is identified as potential exposure site, then the register can be provided to contact tracers to quickly find people who were there at the relevant time. Digital diaries have also been introduced to help people keep track of their own movements to support their recollection if they get interviewed by a contact tracer—the distinction being that instead of the venue or the government holding the records, the individual themselves maintain and control their logs.


Figure 1. A pen-and-paper contact tracing book along with two QR codes for digital diaries in Wellington, New Zealand.

Too many solutions

In New Zealand, a strict Level 4 lockdown was implemented across the country on March 25. Most people (with the exception of essential workers) stayed at home, and the high level of compliance meant that within two weeks the number of active cases began to fall. After four weeks, on April 27, some restrictions (particularly around schools and takeaway food services) were eased at Level 3, and then most restrictions were lifted at Level 2 on May 13 (with the exception of physical distancing and gathering limits). As the country moved into Level 3, the government introduced a requirement under the Public Health Response Order for all businesses to maintain contact tracing registers. These registers required visitors and customers to provide their entry/exit times, name, address, and contact details to the business in case they are needed for contact tracing purposes. The government provided a template for businesses to print and use.

A number of criticisms were leveled at the pen-and-paper contact tracing registers that most businesses used initially. Customers had to provide their personal information on a piece of paper that was visible to all customers, creating a privacy risk. This led to real privacy breaches, such as a female customer being harassed by a male restaurant worker after he took her details from a contact tracing register. There were also some concerns about “dirty pen” risks (if everyone is using the same pen, could that become a vector for virus transmission?), usability (can people be bothered providing their details at every business they go to?), validity (could people provide false details?), and enforcement (can a business deny entry to someone who refuses to provide their details?). 

Private software developers took the initiative to come up with better solutions. They reasoned that most people have smartphones (NZ has 80 to 85 percent smartphone penetration), and that using digital tools would mitigate or resolve some of the risks associated with pen-and-paper approaches. Within a week, there were over 30 tools available, almost all using QR codes, with a variety of system architectures and user flows. Some QR codes directed the user to a URL (thus requiring a mobile Internet connection); others required a specific standalone app to interpret the code. Some stored the data on a central server owned and controlled by the developer; others stored the data on the phone for the user’s reference only in a decentralized way (i.e., the “digital diary” approach). Some collected only a name and contact email address; others also asked for phone numbers and residential addresses —it was unclear what would be genuinely necessary for contact tracers to find people. Some tools were offered for free; others required businesses to pay a monthly fee, and two of the largest City Councils bulk purchased licenses of one product for businesses in their cities. Some providers had developed full privacy policies; others said that speed-to-deployment was more important. Unfortunately, there was duplication of effort, and many developers found themselves reinventing the wheel and then struggling under the burden of providing tech support for their products.


Figure 2. Photos of various QR codes from different providers in New Zealand, crowdsourced by the author from Twitter.

Almost every business soon adopted a QR code from one of these private providers, but with very little coordination or information around which systems were trustworthy or superior, chaos ensued. A lack of familiarity with how QR codes work among the public also led to significant confusion, with people getting frustrated when some QR codes worked and others didn’t. This was not helped by a number of the QR code posters using similar branding, such as the yellow diagonal stripes that were used in government messaging about Covid-19 (Figure 2)—some posters even using government logos to make their posters look more official. Most of the systems had centralized approaches, which also led to concerns about security and potential unauthorized reuse of data held by private corporations. Some businesses simply created Web forms and added clauses in their privacy policies that allowed them to reuse the collected data for marketing purposes, attracting a stern message from the privacy commissioner. However, an interesting counterargument was that since there were so many different tools, the data was fragmented between different providers and therefore no single company held too much data.

The undirected approach also meant that there was insufficient consideration for the needs of marginalized people. Posters were sometimes placed in positions that were inaccessible for disabled populations. Some businesses removed pen-and-paper registers entirely, making it impossible for participation by the digitally excluded—people without smartphones, or without the skills to effectively use the smartphone, or without expensive mobile Internet data. There was also some confusion about whether or not digital diary approaches (with the data staying on the device) complied with the regulatory requirement for businesses to maintain registers.

The government steps in

On May 20, a week into Level 2, the Ministry of Health launched the NZ COVID Tracer app. This was (and is) also a QR-code-based system with a “digital diary” approach. The app was accompanied by its own QR code standard, which contained a unique Global Location Number for each business, and therefore could be scanned without requiring an Internet connection. Data about check-ins (where people had been at what time) stayed on the device, and the user can choose to release that information to a human contact tracer if identified as a close contact of a known case. The app also allowed individuals to provide up-to-date contact details to the Ministry of Health, which would help contact tracers find them more quickly if necessary.

Unfortunately, QR codes were everywhere by this stage. Some businesses tried to provide multiple options (as shown in Figure 3) with clearer instructions. But this didn’t stop people from being confused about the proliferation of QR codes. The two loudest complaints about the government app were that 1) it wasn’t compatible with older devices (requiring at least Android 7.0 or iOS 12 at launch) and 2) the app didn’t recognize most of the QR codes that were available (Figure 4). The government app wasn’t designed to work with the other QR codes (which from a technical perspective might seem obvious, but for non-technical folks was bewildering). Displaying the government QR code was not mandatory, so many businesses didn’t even have it as an option.


Figure 3. Businesses attempting to provide clearer instructions on which QR codes to use, crowdsourced by the author from Twitter.

This fragmentation harmed the uptake of the government app because people felt that existing tools served the same purpose. Within a week of launch, about 380,000 users were registered, equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the adult population of four million people. Registrations plateaued, and a month later sat around 570,000. Meanwhile, the number of QR codes being scanned each day was counted through Web analytics events, slowly ramping up initially as businesses started printing and displaying government QR codes, settling around 50,000 scans per day in early June. Given the size of the population, this was clearly not enough activity to give us confidence that the data from the app would be useful in the event of a further outbreak. However, the government app was the only one that reported statistics about usage, so we don’t have data about how widely other tools might have been used.


Figure 4. Screenshots from users complaining that the NZ COVID Tracer app wasn’t recognizing the QR code, when they were in fact scanning QR codes from other providers, crowdsourced by the author from Twitter.

It turned out that the government app had actually been in development (with a private sector partner) for at least a month. The specific reasons for why the app was released late have not been made clear yet, although it should be noted that the government has a higher onus to “do things correctly” and needed to prepare a full privacy impact assessment, undergo an independent security audit, have the app checked by the government cybersecurity bureau, and complete other steps that weren’t required for private developers.

By July, it appeared that we had the pandemic under control. New Zealand experienced 102 days in a row without any community cases of Covid-19 detected. The Prime Minister moved the country to Level 1, lifting almost all restrictions except for border controls. Most people became complacent around the risks of Covid-19, with daily scan counts dropping to 10,000 in early July. There were even reports that some businesses were taking their posters down because they felt the QR codes were no longer necessary.

An improvement to the app in June introduced exposure notification functionality. Contact tracers could identify and securely broadcast a place and time where an active case had been, and then the app would check that against the check-in logs on the device and notify the user if an overlap was found. In late July, a further improvement was made to allow users to add manual entries, mostly to account for venues that did not have a government QR code. However, while there were minor upticks in registration and usage after these releases, the activity level still remained very low.

Consolidation is the solution

On August 11, the Prime Minister announced that four cases of community transmission had been found in Auckland (the largest city in New Zealand). There were no links to overseas travel, so it was highly likely that there were other undetected cases in the community. Given the recent experiences of places like Victoria, Australia, where second waves have grown quickly, the government implemented a second lockdown, with stricter movement restrictions in Auckland. In the next day, they also announced that displaying a NZ COVID Tracer QR code in a prominent place would become mandatory for all businesses by the following week. It would still be optional for individuals to scan, but at least the codes had to be available for people to scan if they wanted to. This decision wasn’t without precedent—Singapore required their SafeEntry QR codes to be displayed at all businesses in May.

This announcement caused three things to happen over the following week. First, the private developers with the most prevalent QR codes agreed that consolidation was necessary, and advised their customers to switch to the government QR code. Second, businesses largely complied, with the number of government QR codes increasing four times over the subsequent two weeks (from approximately 87,000 to 324,000). Third, the presence of the disease in the community in New Zealand and the accompanying lockdown elevated the seriousness of the situation, and more people began to scan the NZ COVID Tracer QR codes. 


Figure 5. Daily scan counts from the NZ COVID Tracer app, overlaid with significant events. Data sourced from the NZ Ministry of Health.

The number of daily scans shot up, from approximately 30,000 per day before the second wave to over two million per day (Figure 5). The number of registered users also increased, from 640,000 before the second wave to just over two million users (approximately 50 percent of the adult population, although duplicate registrations are not accounted for) as of September 4. While the change in context was a significant driver for shifting user behaviors, moving away from the fragmented system clearly helped increase participation in the system too.

Unfortunately, this increase in participation came too late to be of significant help for the second wave. In the event of an outbreak, contact tracers need at least 14 days of movement logs for infected cases in order to help find close contacts. While the government did use the app to publish six exposure notifications, and some close contacts were found faster because they had updated their contact details, it seems that ultimately the app is yet to find significant numbers of close contacts or new cases. As New Zealand now comes out of its second lockdown, we can only hope that the current level of participation continues to grow for NZ COVID Tracer, and is sustained long enough to help defend against a potential third wave of cases in New Zealand.

Leadership and communication

When a global pandemic catches the world by surprise, a strong response is needed to contain, mitigate, and recover from its impacts. The public expects government to play a leading role in coordinating this response, but many individuals also want to do something to contribute. While people are to be lauded for utilizing their skills to support the broader community, undirected efforts can lead to confusion, duplication of effort, and ultimately harm the overall response. This is not the fault of the individuals—the responsibility lies with the public health agencies to make good use of the available resources and to clearly communicate with people about what is and isn’t needed. Normally, competition between private entities in the open market might be desirable to drive innovation, but in a pandemic, we really need something that just works and supports progress on public health outcomes. 

In a country that has had strong communication with the public overall, the confusion around contact tracing registers has been an unfortunate blemish for New Zealand. This case study shows that fragmentation can lead to disparate and negative user experiences, which can harm trust in the system and lead to low participation. In the context of a global pandemic, trust is one of the things we need the most for an effective response.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks the local Twitter community for contributing their images of QR codes to the dataset, and for engaging on digital contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The author also acknowledges members of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures for discussions around the use of technology for contact tracing.

Endnotes

1. Verrall, A. Rapid audit of contact tracing for Covid-19 in New Zealand. New Zealand Ministry of Health. Apr. 20, 2020; https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/rapid-audit-contact-tracing-covid-19-new-zealand

2. Wilson, A.M. et al. Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 infection risk within the Apple/Google exposure notification framework to inform quarantine recommendations. medRxiv. Jul. 19, 2020; https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.17.20156539v1

3. Asher, S. Coronavirus: Why Singapore turned to wearable contact-tracing tech. .Jul. 4, 2020; https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53146360

4. Alkhatib, A. We need to talk about digital contact tracing. Interactions 27, 4 (Jul.–Aug 2020), 84;  http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/july-august-2020/we-need-to-talk-about-digital-contact-tracing


Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, October 30, 2020 - 5:24:04

Andrew Tzer-Yeu Chen

Andrew Tzer-Yeu Chen is a research fellow with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, a transdisciplinary think tank at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His background is in computer engineering, investigating computer vision surveillance and privacy. His research interests now sit at the intersection of digital technologies and society. andrew.chen@auckland.ac.nz
View All Andrew Tzer-Yeu Chen's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Future directions for situationally induced impairments and disabilities research


Authors: Garreth Tigwell, Zhanna Sarsenbayeva, Benjamin Gorman, David Flatla, Jorge Goncalves, Yeliz Yesilada, Jacob Wobbrock
Posted: Tue, October 06, 2020 - 1:29:59

Mobile devices are our constant companions. We use them in varied contexts and situations, such as outside on a cold street, lying down in a dark bedroom, and commuting to work on a train. These situations challenge our ability to use mobile devices and can negatively influence our interactions with them. For example, we slow down or make more errors when typing, or select a wrong button. These adverse contextual factors have been referred to as situationally induced impairments and disabilities (SIIDs), or sometimes just situational impairments for short.

The experience of SIIDs during mobile interaction applies to users of all abilities, as SIIDs adversely affect both non-disabled and disabled user groups [1]. But SIIDs have been shown to exacerbate negative user experiences in mobile interaction for people with disabilities [2]. Thus, by accommodating SIIDs during mobile interaction, we can provide solutions to improve user experience for people with and without disabilities [1]. 

Research in the field of SIIDs is conducted in four main areas: Understanding (e.g., [3]), sensing (e.g., [4]), modeling (e.g., [5]), and adapting (e.g., [5]). Understanding provides knowledge about the effects of SIIDs on mobile interaction; sensing allows building mechanisms to detect the presence and extent of SIIDs; while modeling and adapting enable the creation of models and interfaces to accommodate SIIDs. The main criticism about research conducted on SIIDs is the lack of systematic knowledge of the effects of underexplored SIIDs and the combination of different SIIDs on mobile interaction. Furthermore, there is an absence of built-in sensing, modeling, and adapting mechanisms on conventional smartphones to detect and accommodate these SIIDs. Therefore, the research community should strive to push the SIIDs research agenda further in order to build a roadmap for future work in the field.


Figure 1. Workshop organizers and attendees enjoying a meal after an engaging full-day workshop.

Workshop purpose, structure, and goals

We organized a one-day workshop for CHI 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland, called Addressing the Challenges of Situationally-Induced Impairments and Disabilities in Mobile Interaction. The purpose of the workshop was to assemble researchers whose work is related to SIIDs so that we could identify current research gaps and define new directions for future research. The workshop included five main events throughout the day: “lightning” presentations, focus groups, a panel discussion, exploring scenarios, and a town hall meeting, followed by an evening meal (Figure 1). A detailed structure is found in our workshop proposal paper [2].

The four goals of our workshop were to: 1) provide a space for organizers and participants to share their expertise and insights on SIIDs, 2) engage attendees to discuss and identify gaps in the SIIDs research space, 3) ideate new solutions that could mitigate the effects of SIIDs, and 4) create and strengthen an international collaborative SIIDs research network.

The workshop included 17 participants (including organizers), collectively representing universities in eight countries across four continents. Our workshop call for submission was purposely made to be broad to allow participants to submit whatever they felt was relevant. For example, submissions could be in the form of position papers, case studies, empirical studies, or new interaction methods. Submissions were limited to eight pages (including references) and we used arXiv to keep a record of the accepted papers (the proceedings can be found at https://arxiv.org/html/1904.05382). Our participants were each given four minutes to discuss their work during the lightning presentations event (Figure 2) so that we could dedicate as much time as possible to identifying necessary future work.


Figure 2. A workshop attendee giving a short presentation about their work.

Activity 1: Focus group activity

Our attendees were divided into groups and given 1.5 hours for the first activity:

  • Task: The groups reflected on the lightning presentations and deliberated on challenges they have faced when conducting SIIDs research.
  • Outcome: The groups highlighted key parts of their discussion to share with the other workshop groups.

A list of example questions were provided to drive the discussion related to research methods and equipment, recruitment, ethical challenges for SIIDs studies, challenges utilizing sensor data and modeling SIIDs, and the limitations of adaptation. Figure 3 provides an example of one group’s record of challenges that they identified.


Figure 3. An example of challenges discussed by one of the groups.

Recruitment can be a challenge for SIIDs research, particularly when seeking to run longitudinal and ecologically valid studies—the costs incurred can be higher. Lab studies are beneficial for isolating factors to study, but more work needs to be conducted outside to increase the ecological validity of results. There should be particular consideration given to active observation approaches rather than only passive observation. Guided tours might be one way to mitigate some of the challenges of in-the-wild research and to address IRB concerns for participant safety. People with permanent disabilities should also be recruited, since they can also experience situational impairments and need very specific solutions to address SIIDs.

Modeling and adaptation are promising solutions to addressing SIIDs. Artificial intelligence and machine learning research could support the efforts of HCI researchers, but there is a lack of ground-truth data. It is important to parameterize the environment to help understand the relevant context; it may be possible to do this in an unobtrusive way such as by using smartwatches for sensing. However, although logging data can help address SIIDs, it may cause people to become uncomfortable, as devices become more aware of context, which highlights various legal, security, and privacy challenges. There was also concern that through addressing SIIDs, people’s own skill development might diminish, as devices work more independently and people may be encouraged to interact at times when they should be focusing on their environment (e.g., while driving).

Activity 2: Exploring scenarios

Our attendees were divided into groups and given 1.25 hours for the second activity:

  • Task: The groups explored random scenarios and focused on the gaps in understanding, sensing, modeling, and adapting, in regards to the context, technology, and task.
  • Outcome: The groups recorded the unique issues identified from the card game and shared the findings during the town hall meeting.


Figure 4. Example scenarios created by taking one card from three piles (a situation, a piece of technology, a task).

We gave each group a set of prompt cards to facilitate this activity. The cards covered three categories (a situation, a piece of technology, a task). We had at least 10 ideas for each category. The cards were laid out in the three categories, stacked in a random order, and the groups drew a card from the top of each pile so that the three cards made up a scenario (see Figure 4). The group could draw three cards that propose something common and relatable, such as “jogging,” “using phone,” and “reply to a message,” or something less familiar, such as “outside in the rain,” “wearing an AR headset,” and “call an Uber.” Sometimes a combination of cards was drawn that suggested an unlikely scenario, but the purpose was to quickly generate unique scenarios that the group could use to identify challenges and possibly where new research efforts need to be focused. We added wildcards to each pile so the group could determine their own entry (e.g., a technology wildcard would allow the group to invent some future mobile device to add to the scenario). The benefit of this approach was that the groups were less constrained to the ideas written on our cards.

Here are three examples generated by the participants and the issues that were considered:

  • On a beach under an umbrella using a tablet and needing to unlock the device. The group considers that a person may have sand on their hands, and depending on how they unlock their device, this might be a challenge. For example, if using a fingerprint to unlock and it does not work due to sand, what other unlock methods are there? This highlights the need for various fallback methods to address SIIDs. But also the user may want control of what those fallback mechanisms look like—maybe the user does not want to compromise on biometric unlocking? Perhaps a user’s voice signature could be used for unlocking?

  • Running in a park and receiving an email response on a smartwatch. Focusing on the email will distract the user from running and their environment. It could be difficult to read a long message and to respond to the email, which means more focus has to be given to the task. A user may have privacy concerns for reading in public depending on the content of the email. There may also be network inconsistencies while outside. The technology should aim to sense the level of danger and possibly delay notification if it is not an urgent task. Perhaps the smartwatch could detect that the user is running and defer its interruption?

  • At the airport sending a message using a laptop. A person traveling can be stressed, tired, and likely distracted as they are listening for important flight information. The user is likely concerned about conserving their battery and dealing with limited network connectivity. Here, it is not only environmental factors that lead to SIIDs, but also internal factors. For example, the concept of emotions is purely situational; it is unclear if emotions directly influence the way we interact with mobile devices. In this scenario, the device could detect that the user is in an airport and make the changes necessary to reflect the current mood of the user. Perhaps future laptops could detect users’ stress levels and avoid contributing to information overload?

It is clear we need to be accurate and flexible with SIIDs solutions. There is little room for error when sensing the environment for potential dangers and determining the best method for interaction. Furthermore, an individual user will have their own needs that must be met and these are not likely to be static over time or for particular tasks. For example, some emails are urgent and others are not. There needs to be an easy way for the user to make these aspects known to the device to enable alternative modes of interaction.

Should we always adapt/accommodate?

Currently, most research in the area of SIIDs has been conducted within the laboratory environment. A laboratory environment limits our understanding of SIIDs, as it strictly controls and excludes the effects of accompanying factors that might be present in a real-world scenario. For this reason, we suggest that more research should be conducted in the wild. It is also necessary to study the effects of combined SIIDs, as it is common for a user to experience the effects of multiple SIIDs at once, for example being outside in a cold and noisy environment late at night. We argue that these future directions would increase our understanding of SIIDs and create new insights, potentially revealing new behaviors of people observed under realistic conditions with multiple SIIDs present.

We also suggest further understanding and investigation of the effects of SIIDs on mobile interaction according to the 2D space presented by Wobbrock et al. [1]: from-within (emotions, mood, mental well-being), from-without (difficult terrain, lack of connectivity/power), and mixed (combination of external and internal) factors. It is pivotal for the research agenda to understand the effects of SIIDs from this perspective in order to progress further by building sensing, modeling, and adapting mechanisms for these SIIDs. Furthermore, if the similarity between the effects of underexplored SIIDs and permanent impairments is established, it can further enable the creation of design solutions to accommodate users of all abilities (i.e., permanently, periodically, or situationally impaired). 

Moreover, research has shown that the personal and individual characteristics of users are very important when building sensing, modeling, and adapting mechanisms to address SIIDs. The challenges of building individual models and adaptive interfaces [1] can be overcome by optimization algorithms and formulating cost functions [2]. These should be sensitive to any of the user’s privacy and security concerns. In addition, it is also important for these mechanisms to provide adequate judgements of SIIDs to decide if the adaptation should take place at all, especially in high-risk, high-cost situations, when visual and attentional needs should be focused on tasks of higher priority (e.g., crossing a busy road).

Finally, we suggest that the research should expand to include a wider range of devices [6], for example smart watches, fitness and activity trackers, and other less common wearable technology such as AR glasses, which we foresee becoming the new norm. Considering potential SIIDs when designing new technology is important in order to build in necessary solutions from the outset, rather than after the technology is adopted by the user. Our CHI 2019 workshop highlighted these (and many other) issues that the attendees and, we hope, many other researchers will undertake, creating more aware, responsive, accessible, and safe mobile technologies that are usable by everyone.

Endnotes

1. Wobbrock, J.O., Gajos, K.Z., Kane, S.K., and Vanderheiden, G.C. Ability-based design. Communications of the ACM 61, 6 (2018), 62–71.

2. Tigwell, G.W., Sarsenbayeva, Z., Gorman, B.M., Flatla, D.R., Goncalves, J., Yesilada, Y., and Wobbrock, J.O. Addressing the challenges of situationally-induced impairments and disabilities in mobile interaction. Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019, 1–8.

3. Sarsenbayeva, Z., van Berkel, N., Hettiachchi, D., Jiang, W., Dingler, T., Velloso, E., Kostakos, V., and Goncalves, J. Measuring the effects of stress on mobile interaction. Proc. of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies 3, 1 (2019), 1–18.

4. Goel, M., Findlater, L., and Wobbrock, J. WalkType: Using accelerometer data to accommodate situational impairments in mobile touch screen text entry. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2012, 2687–2696.

5. Gajos, K.Z., Weld, D.S., and Wobbrock, J.O., Automatically generating personalized user interfaces with Supple. Artificial Intelligence 174, 12-13 (2010), 910–950.

6. Akpinar, E., Yeşİlada, Y., and Temİzer, S. The effect of context on small screen and wearable device users’ performance - A systematic teview. ACM Comput. Surv. 53, 3 (Jun. 2020), Article 52; https://doi.org/10.1145/3386370


Posted in: on Tue, October 06, 2020 - 1:29:59

Garreth Tigwell

Garreth W. Tigwell (http://www.garrethtigwell.com) is an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, USA. His research interests cover design, accessibility, and human-computer interaction. garreth.w.tigwell@rit.edu
View All Garreth Tigwell's Posts

Zhanna Sarsenbayeva

Zhanna Sarsenbayeva is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include accessibility, ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, and affective computing. zhanna.sarsenbayeva@unimelb.edu.au
View All Zhanna Sarsenbayeva's Posts

Benjamin Gorman

Benjamin Gorman (http://www.benjgorman.com) is a lecturer in computer science at Bournemouth University, U.K., where he researches HCI and Accessibility. bgorman@bournemouth.ac.uk
View All Benjamin Gorman's Posts

David Flatla

David R. Flatla (https://www.uoguelph.ca/computing/people/david-flatla) is an associate professor at the University of Guelph and an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Dundee. dflatla@uoguelph.ca
View All David Flatla's Posts

Jorge Goncalves

Jorge Goncalves is a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His research interests include crowdsourcing, social computing and ubiquitous computing. He received a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Oulu. jorge.goncalves@unimelb.edu.au
View All Jorge Goncalves's Posts

Yeliz Yesilada

Yeliz Yesilada (http://www.yelizyesilada.info) is an associate professor at Middle East Technical University Northern Cyprus Campus and a visiting faculty at the University of Manchester. yyeliz@metu.edu.tr
View All Yeliz Yesilada's Posts

Jacob Wobbrock

Jacob O. Wobbrock (http://faculty.uw.edu/wobbrock/) is a professor in the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, USA. wobbrock@uw.edu
View All Jacob Wobbrock's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Fighting Coronavirus with Faith: Religious and Parareligious Responses to Covid-19 in Bangladesh


Authors: Sharifa Sultana, A.K.M. Najmul Islam, Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed
Posted: Wed, September 16, 2020 - 1:39:52

Many communities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—often left out of human-computer interaction (HCI) discussions—defy the boundary of scientific rationality and seek healthcare and well-being from various traditional faith-based practices. For example, South African indigenous traditional healers serve 60 percent of their population. And thousands of Peruvians use the ancient tradition of mystical healing and shamanism for their well-being, as do many people in South Asia [1,2]. Here we broadly term such faith-based practices witchcraft. During crises like pandemics, witches often use local beliefs and alternative rationales to explain diseases, their spread, and their impacts, as well as to innovate protective measures. Recently, modern scientific innovations and computing technologies have started encroaching on these faith-based practices. Covid-19 has demonstrated how modern scientific rationality and local alternative rationality interact—something that has remained understudied in our mainstream HCI literature for a long time.

Today’s HCI is increasingly interested in alternative assumptions and decision making around well-being in the Global South. Our own work in this vein that involves ethnographic field studies in rural Bangladesh, reveals that the rural healers, witches, and their followers explain Covid-19 using religious, parareligious, and supernatural metaphors and narratives. In this ongoing fieldwork, so far we have engaged with more than 30 male and female participants. This post presents part of our findings and focuses on the rural conceptualization of the coronavirus, its relation to morality, and a few possible ways of stopping the virus from rural perspectives. We explain these through the three lenses presented below.

“Microbe is a curse that spreads through unhappiness”

The healers and witches (known as Kabiraz) told us that Covid-19 was a strange and new situation for them that they had never seen before. However, they also told us that they had experienced similar challenging situations before, and that they could use that knowledge to handle Covid-19. These witches defined the coronavirus as an “evil spirit and a curse.” Over the course of our conversations, a witch also mentioned that usually people with weak physical and mental health are more vulnerable to such curses. That is why she criticized the hard rules like quarantining, because that would impact negatively on the mind of the weak people (i.e., make them even more unhappy).

Figure 1. (Left) A set of Tantra that includes a Jantra on a mud pot and green and red chillies. This has to be put beside the main door of the house to keep the curse away. (Right) Tabiz seller claiming that it will prevent infection from Covid-19 (a collected image recently went viral among Bangladeshi Facebook users [3]).


Another witch told us how they were trying to keep their clients’ houses safe from Covid-19 during this crisis. She explained that Covid-19 patients were possessed by a bad spirit that is full of curse. The method of stopping the curse included a set of activities called Tantra. She also showed us an example of Tantra that used some Jantra (scripts for recital, usually placed within geometric shapes) on a mud pot, some scripts from witch books, and some spices (Figure 1, left). The pot with the Jantra on it had to be put in front of the main door of the house, and the spices had to be hanging from somewhere close to the pot. Thus, the pot would radiate a positive energy that makes cursed people feel uncomfortable upon coming near the house and discard the idea of visiting. The villagers were producing such Jantra on a mass scale and putting them into amulets called Tabiz, selling them in their local markets (Figure 1, right).

“Immorality is the main vulnerability”

The villagers mentioned a wide range of people who could be the victims of Covid-19, including people who maintain a life that does not conform to village norms, for example people who were engaged in illegal businesses or who consumed Haram (not permissible in Islam) foods and commodities. Our discussion with the rural women led us to dissect the story of a man in their village who had recently traveled back from Kuwait. The women told us that that person was no longer a “local person” to them since he broke many local moral rules. One of the women said,

He went there [Kuwait] by bribing for a duplicate (fake) passport and visa. He was living in Kuwait for many years. Most likely, he was engaged in an illegal business there as he did not have the real papers. So, he must be more vulnerable to this curse...

The women also told us that the local elders and leaders of the neighborhood urgently discussed this issue and found him to be “dangerous” for the other residents of the village—especially if he mixed with the locals and went to the tea stalls, mosques, and marketplaces. This was less because that person might spread the virus directly, and more because that person could influence others to indulge in immorality (which would eventually cause Covid-19). They decided not to be friendly with that person (because he was already cursed), and to not allow him to move freely in their village.

Design, rules, and faith

The villagers adapted to the quarantine in their own way. We found religious faith and local beliefs playing a major role in rural Bangladesh while the villagers adapted to the quarantine and hygiene measures. For example, a woman who had rented the extended part of her house explained how they updated the house hygiene rules for themselves and the renters by adapting to the Islamic way of washing body parts (Odhu):

We have a new rule in our house that now no one is allowed to enter the house without having “Odhu” and using soap for it.

She also referred to Islamic literature to support some of her rules:

Once Mohammad (PBUH) was cured by reciting Surah Al-Nas and Surah Al-Falaq when someone spelled him with black magic. We ask the residents to recite these two Surah loudly during that cleaning time.

This and many such examples show how the local responses to Covid-19 in rural Bangladesh are rooted in and shaped by the villagers’ spiritual beliefs and traditional practices. The modern scientific advice is neither rejected nor accepted by the villagers: They acted according to their own narrative, and developed a communal effort to combat Covid-19 in their own way.

Our ongoing and long-term engagement with these rural communities in Bangladesh demonstrates how millions of people in the Global South live outside the realm of modern scientific knowledge, and how they interact with modernity, science, and technology using their own faith-based narratives. Taking these local narratives and traditional faiths seriously essentially dismantles HCI’s current orientation toward modern science and the perception of computing as a vehicle for it. Through our work, we join the growing movement within HCI to ask whose health? whose harm? and whose knowledge? and challenge the hegemony of the secular Western science in computing practices that attempts to colonize over millions of lives in the Global South. We believe that we need to decenter Western scientific knowledge as the main source of HCI design to address the contextual needs of millions of people in the world, especially in the time of public health emergencies like Covid-19.

Endnotes

1. Sultana, S. and Ahmed, S.I. Witchcraft and HCI: Morality, modernity, and postcolonial computing in rural Bangladesh. Proc. of the 2019 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019.

2. Sultana, S., Ahmed, S.I. and Fussell S.R. Parar-daktar understands my problems better: Disentangling the challenges to designing better access to healthcare in rural Bangladesh. Proc. of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3, CSCW (2019), 168.

3. https://www.facebook.com/groups/538670766844801/permalink/561537171224827/


Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, September 16, 2020 - 1:39:52

Sharifa Sultana

Sharifa Sultana is an HCI researcher. She is interested in ICTD, critical computing, well-being, and feminist HCI. She uses both quantitative and qualitative (ethnographic) techniques to study marginalized rural populations in Bangladesh and aims to design computational tools and systems to address the challenges for the rural low-education population while accessing information. Currently, she is pursuing a Ph.D. in information science at Cornell University. ss3634@cornell.edu
View All Sharifa Sultana's Posts

A.K.M. Najmul Islam

Department of Future Technologies, University of Turku, Finland LUT School of Engineering Science, LUT University, Finland najmul.islam@utu.fi
View All A.K.M. Najmul Islam's Posts

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Toronto. For the past 12 years, he has been conducting ethnography and design research with various marginalized groups in the Global South. ishtiaque@cs.toronto.edu
View All Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Learning remotely, making locally: Remote digital fabrication instruction during a pandemic


Authors: Jennifer Jacobs, Nadya Peek
Posted: Fri, September 04, 2020 - 11:29:41

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally disrupted learning by requiring a society-wide shift to remote instruction. This shift has raised specific challenges for students and educators in classes that rely on physical making. We teach digital fabrication—a subject that combines computational design tools and computer-controlled fabrication machines. When our campuses in Santa Barbara and Seattle shut down during the start of the pandemic, we had to grapple with a question also facing many other instructors across art, design, science, and engineering: How can students engage in hands-on making without access to workshops, labs, and studios, and the physical equipment, materials, and tools within them? 

The following is an account of how we approached this challenge of remote instruction for digital fabrication and our reflections on the experience. In the two weeks between the end of the winter quarter and the start of the spring quarter, we converted our courses from a centralized model that relied on university makerspaces to a distributed model that relied on mini 3D printer makerspaces in students' homes. Our observations from our classes and our own reflections as instructors reveal several trade-offs of structuring a course around an at-home 3D printer. The projects produced by our students hint at how hobbyist equipment can support powerful forms of learning that are less feasible in shared makerspaces. Simultaneously, we found that housing fabrication equipment at home creates new demands and new forms of labor for both students and instructors. By sharing our experience, we hope to provide some practical options for physical prototyping classes during the Covid-19 era. Furthermore, our students’ experience of living and working with 3D printers on a daily basis sheds additional light on the pitfalls, pleasures, and potential of personal fabrication. 

What Is Digital Fabrication and Why Do We Teach It?

Digital fabrication encompasses a wide range of design and manufacturing practices, including laser cutting, 3D printing, printed circuit board production, automated knitting, and robotic milling. Digital fabrication technologies are used in an equally broad range of manufacturing domains ranging from  architecture, textile production, consumer electronics, woodworking, and ceramics. Despite the diverse applications of digital fabrication technology, all digital fabrication workflows generally center on the same three stages: digitally specifying a design through computer-aided design software (CAD), converting designs to machine instructions via computer-aided manufacturing software (CAM), and producing physical parts through computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) machine operation. This workflow is powerful and distinct from standardized mass-manufacturing techniques such as injection molding because it enables low-volume, custom forms of production without sacrificing accuracy or repeatability [1]. 

As instructors, we apply CAD, CAM, and CNC tools and technologies toward many different learning opportunities. Learning digital fabrication enables students in art, design, and engineering to develop skills for rapid physical prototyping. Digital fabrication also allows educators to situate computer science, mechanical engineering, mathematics, and other STEM fields in the context of physical making [2,3]. Digital fabrication also supports new forms of design-oriented research and critical making. By creating their own digitally fabricated products, students directly experience the complexity of producing robust, beautiful, and functional artifacts and confront the tensions that emerge when moving between digital representations and physical materials. For this reason, we believe applied digital fabrication is necessary for any student engaged in making research or practice. 

“How Are You Going to Teach Digital Fabrication Without a Makerspace?”

The classes we teach—HCDE 598: Digital Fabrication and MAT 549X: Computational Fabrication—make up part of a broader curriculum in interdisciplinary departments that combine engineering, art, design, theory, and practice. HCDE 598 was developed by Nadya Peek within the Human-Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE) department at the University of Washington. HCDE offers a master’s degree that trains students in user experience, human-computer interaction, product design, and interface design. The classes are predominantly scheduled in the evening and many of the students work full-time during the day. HCDE 598 is an elective engineering course designed to introduce students to CAD and prototyping tools for making physical artifacts. Concepts covered include tolerance/fit, flexural design, mold making, and parametric design. Twenty students enrolled in the course in Spring 2020, although typically the class accommodates 40. Two of Nadya’s Ph.D. students TA’ed HCDE 598, although typically the course is allocated one TA.

MAT 594X was developed by Jennifer Jacobs as a course in the the Media Arts and Technology (MAT) graduate department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. MAT 594X targets Ph.D. and master’s students within MAT, as well as graduate students in computer science, and similar to HCDE 598, aims to help students develop prototyping and manufacturing skills for research, art, and design applications. MAT 594X differs from HCDE 598 in its emphasis on computational fabrication; students use programming languages, including Python and Grasshopper, to design for and control digital fabrication machines. Weekly course topics blend computational design methods (e.g., affine transformations, parametric surface representations, topology optimization, and mesh repair) with digital fabrication concepts (e.g., G-Code syntax, CAM simulation, machine calibration, designing for existing objects). Twelve students enrolled in MAT 594X, as is standard in graduate classes in MAT.

Pivoting to remote instruction came at a time of great uncertainty. The start of the pandemic upended higher education and completely changed many aspects of daily life. These changes were all just beginning in late March and early April, near the start of the spring quarter. Restructuring our classes for remote instruction required on-the-fly planning. We managed through trial and error, by implementing the following changes. 

What we bought 

Pre-pandemic, we had the privilege to teach in university makerspaces, which generally have a large spatial footprint, an established community, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and software. HCDE 598 is normally conducted in the MILL, a UW makerspace that gives students access to laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC mills, water-jet cutters, metalworking tools, sewing/embroidery machines, and shared computers with CAD/CAM software. MAT 594X was scheduled to be conducted with equipment in the Elings Hall Innovation Workshop, a space with laser cutters, desktop CNC mills, and a variety of 3D printers.

Because machine workflows and material outcomes are critical to our course learning outcomes, we focused on pivoting to remote approaches that would preserve some form of hands-on physical fabrication. In this respect, we were somewhat fortunate. Many forms of digital fabrication equipment have become increasingly inexpensive and widespread. Hobbyist-grade 3D printers, in particular, are now available for $200–$300. In other words, it is now possible for students to acquire a no-frills CNC machine for around the same price as an engineering textbook. This opportunity enabled us to restructure our courses from a model that relied on large university digital fabrication workshops to individual (much simpler) digital fabrication workshops in each student’s home. We expanded the class bill-of-materials (BOM) to include equipment and tools that provided the basics of a home makerspace. In both classes, our BOM was centered around Creality Ender 3 Pro, a single extruder, fused-deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer, which, at the time, cost about $250. In HCDE 598, Nadya’s BOM also included measurement tools such as calipers, hand tools such as box cutters, and materials including 3D-printing filament, casting silicone, plaster, and cardboard. The total BOM, including the printer, was approximately $350. Most items were purchased by students and either shipped directly to their home or hand delivered by Jennifer and Nadya. In MAT 594X, the BOM focused primarily on the printer and starter rolls of filament. Students were periodically shipped new filament as needed, and provided with a $100 materials budget for the final project, which they used to purchase specialty filament, casting materials, and electronic and lighting components. Jennifer used a combination of her own research funds and departmental resources to purchase printers and supplies. These funds would not have been sufficient if MAT 594X had included a larger number of students. 

What we taught

The shift to remote instruction and the loss of university workshop access also required us to redesign our weekly project-based assignments. We had to alter or remove assignments that required unavailable equipment, such as laser cutters, CNC mills, or electronics fabrication. In the process, we focused on ways to adapt many of the concepts that we originally sought to teach. Because HCDE 598 was intended to teach students about critical stages in the fabrication pipeline, Nadya developed new assignments that focused on tolerance/fit, compliant mechanisms, system integration, and tooling geometries to forms that were possible with additive fabrication and at-home equipment. For example, students had to design and 3D print a series of clips that used flexures to hold together cardboard. To demonstrate their clips, they made animated GIFs of themselves shaking a cardboard/clip construction without it falling apart. In MAT594X, Jennifer similarly created new assignments that focused on integrating computer programming with the FDM 3D printing. For example, instead of using an existing slicer software (a program that converts geometry to G-Code for printing), students had to write programs that produced G-Code directly, in a format compatible with the Ender 3 Pro’s controller software.


Kevin Philbin’s clip testing.

While we tried to keep the focus on hands-on making, the lack of additional equipment led both of us to add additional material on software-based CAD, including more complex parametric and generative design, rendering, and simulation. Students in HCDE 598 used Rhino/Grasshopper, Adobe Creative Suite, and Cura (a popular slicer software) on their personal computers for CAD and CAM. MAT 594X was centered on Rhino/Grasshopper and Cura, and Jennifer added Fusion 360, Meshmixer, Meshlab, and mobile-based photogrammetry software for additional generative design and 3D scanning assignments. 

We also adjusted the ways we evaluated assignments. We created project grading rubrics that explicitly specified alternative pathways for project completion aside from a completed physical product. For example, in MAT 594X, students could focus on documentation of different (potentially failed) steps, provide substantial peer feedback and support, or focus on a written reflection about how the course concepts aligned with their research objectives. These steps were designed to compensate for the limitations of hobbyist equipment, and the stressors of the pandemic.


Interlocking chain created by Samuelle Bourgault using Python scripting to generate G-Code. Link

How we taught

Digital fabrication involves a pipeline with many different steps and stumbling blocks across the CAD, CAM, and CNC stages. Pre-pandemic teaching in a workshop had the important benefit of allowing us to highlight detailed or tacit components of the fabrication pipeline in the process of working with a machine. We could also actively respond to issues like material irregularities, tool failure, and machine calibration in person. Like many instructors, the shutdown led us to transition our classes into synchronous and asynchronous components across different platforms and formats. 

We both held weekly synchronous class sessions over Zoom: a weekly four-hour session for HCDE, and biweekly one-hour sessions for MAT 594X. These sessions were recorded and made available online following each class. In MAT 594X, synchronous class sessions were shortened in comparison to in-person classes. This resulted in less time for sharing student work, discussing readings, and answering technical questions. Jennifer focused her synchronous sessions on providing high-level overviews of technical content, reviewing a small number of student project outcomes, and touching on highlights from the reading discussions. 

The narrow communication bandwidth of online video conferencing technologies limited both the amount and the quality of in-person instruction we could engage in. In particular, we realized early on that we could not respond on the fly to CAD and machine operation issues, or demonstrate complex manufacturing workflows over Zoom. We therefore tried to provide detailed guidance and troubleshooting in advance by preparing higher volumes and more detailed forms of contextual material; This included written technical walkthroughs, prerecorded video tutorials, post-class reminders of important gotchas, and links to additional vetted material students could consult. For example, rather than just providing completed code examples, Jennifer embedded incremental code samples in written step-by-step instructions that added details on software use, and checks to perform prior to fabrication. Nadya regularly checked in on student engagement by conducting weekly anonymous surveys to that included questions on students’ well-being and learning goals. 

The absence of a shared physical workshop also resulted in a loss of an important peer learning environment. To compensate, we set up dedicated Slack workspaces for communication outside of the Zoom sessions and actively cultivated the online community by responding to student questions, celebrating in-progress work, and linking to fabrication news and research. We also required students to document their work online. HCDE 598 students were required to document their progress on public Github webpages that were shared with the class. MAT594X students used Google Slides to post reading reflections, and Google Docs or Instructables to publish in-progress and final project outcomes. Peer feedback was a component of students' grades, and was evaluated through the quality and number of comments students gave on Slack, project pages, and online reading reflections. 


Sölen Kiratli’s iterations on a lamp design that would work with the support structure of the printers. Link

The Effects of Remote Fabrication on Student Experience 

Our observations during the course and feedback from our students suggest that remote instruction with distributed hobbyist 3D printers is a viable method for teaching graduate-level digital fabrication courses. In fact, this model may offer unique learning opportunities over courses in centralized makerspaces. However, there were also several undesirable effects that emerged when shifting the workshop from the university to the home. 

Learning opportunities of hobbyist machines 

The printers we shipped to students had reduced features and capabilities in comparison with industrial equipment in university workshops. They lacked soluble support material, temperature-controlled build chambers, automated calibration settings, and had significantly smaller print volumes, slower print speeds, and reduced accuracy. These factors restricted the size, form, and geometry of the objects the students could produce, which initially caused frustration among some students. Early in MAT59X, several students wondered if different software tools or more advanced machines existed that could ensure successful prints each time. From our prior teaching experience, these reactions are common for newcomers to digital fabrication. All digital fabrication machines, regardless of sophistication, impose constraints and limitations. Producing successful digitally fabricated products requires learning how to design for these constraints. While the hobbyist printers imposed more severe constraints than a $20,000 FDM printer, they still enabled students to learn how to develop design strategies for specific manufacturing processes. 

The use of individual hobbyist printers also had advantages when compared with how students access machines in a workshop. Low-cost platforms have the benefit of appearing more approachable to newcomers, and they can significantly reduce the risks of experimentation. Furthermore, unlike staff-managed workshop equipment, individual printers also enabled students to have constant access to the machine, and required them to learn about machine maintenance. Nadya leveraged this opportunity by making the printer’s assembly and initial calibration one of the first assignments in HCDE 598. The printer assembly steps are comparable to those of flat-pack furniture, but the fine-tuning of the machine is key to its performance. To tune the printers, students relied on our assembly documentation, discussed tips and tricks on Slack, and referred to YouTube videos that demonstrated printer-specific tuning methods. By the end of the spring quarter, students in both courses had tuned and modified their machines to a degree that went significantly beyond the manufacturer documentation. This engagement enabled students to familiarize themselves with the machine's implementation details and performance possibilities in a form that would not have been feasible in a shared-use setting.


Samuelle Bourgault’s press-fit, modular design. Link

We believe that constant access and freedom to maintain and experiment with a personal machine were factors that directly contributed to the high volume of successful products students created in both classes. We observed that students achieved higher quality 3D-printed parts and greater numbers of design iterations than students in previous classes and workshops who printed on shared machines of comparable quality in shared makerspaces. We also saw students experiment with printing their designs in different orientations and exploring different kinds of trade-offs. For example, Samuelle Bourgault, a student in MAT 594X, printed multiple variations of a design first as a solid part that required an elaborate support structure, and later as a series of modular pieces that required manual assembly, but reduced print time by removing the need for support material. Her strategy was shared with other students who later used it in their own designs. Repeated design iterations were common in both courses and went beyond simple optimizations. Victor Allen, a student in HCDE 598, made piles of different design iterations for a camera mount, experimenting with the material strength and incorporating off-the-shelf parts. 

Victor Allen “Graveyard of Parts” is shown left, which he rejected while iterating on components (right).

We found that students were able to create different kinds of artifacts by developing custom fabrication processes for their machines. In some cases this involved close integration of manual manipulation and machine fabrication. Yanrong Chen in HCDE 598 created a complex sculpture of interlocking chains and birdhouses, which were printed as interlocking structures by pausing the printer at key moments and inserting previously completed parts. Completing the sculpture involved many tens of hours of print time that were interspersed with regular adjustments or actions made by Yanrong. This process meant that rather than creating a final CAD model of the entire sculpture, she was able to work iteratively, creating a CAD model and printing it only after completing portions of the sculpture and reflecting on their form. In other cases, students extended the functionality of their printers through modifications. Several students in HCDE 598 exchanged components (such as the fans or power supplies) or 3D-printed components to improve performance (such as clips for wire management, holders for work surface illumination, or filament guides). One student in MAT 594X, Mert Toka, modified the interaction of the printer by creating programs that could stream snippets of print commands in real time in response to user input. For his final project he developed a new interface for the printer that used sketching with a tablet to perform semi-real-time operation of the machine. His interface enabled designers to draw freeform curves on different layers, and then produce a series of interpolated curves on the interstitial layers to complete the geometry.


Mert Toka’s interactive drawing CAD-CAM system. Link

In considering these outcomes, it’s worth emphasizing that student learning opportunities were not limited by working with less sophisticated equipment and reduced access to professional facilities. To the contrary, students enacted powerful design workflows and successful project outcomes because they were working with cheap printers in their own homes.



Yanrong Chen’s sculpture of interlocking chains and birdcages. Her approach to using the machine by pausing it during execution and inserting previously-printed parts enabled a novel workflow.

Personal fabrication during a pandemic 

Personal fabrication—wherein individuals to fabricate their own devices through digital tools—is an idea that has been present in maker and technology discourse for at least the past 15 years [4]. Attitudes on the potential of personal fabrication are varied. There’s evidence that suggests many present forms of personal fabrication are primarily restricted to wealthy technology enthusiasts [5], which contrasts with projections that personal fabrication could fundamentally alter manufacturing and consumption trends on a societal level [6]. Personal fabrication also garnered new focus during the pandemic, when people with printers (in many cases the same printer we used in our classes) began to manufacture personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, with a mix of results. 

Modules of Della Sigrest’s extensible lamp, designed in Grasshopper and printed with wood-fill filament.

The experiences from our classes offer an alternate case by which to examine personal fabrication. In addition to facilitating hands-on making in a remote instruction context, shipping printers to students’ homes created a situation where students lived with their printers, used them on a daily basis, and created objects for personal use with them. For example, Mengjia Zhu, a MAT 549X student, created a program that generated designs for a self-watering planter that could be adjusted based on the size of the plant and the desired water-immersion level, while incorporating an arbitrary existing outer geometry for the planter basket. Della Sigrest, in HCDE 598, created a modular lamp that integrated with internal lighting components to create different patterns of light diffusion. 


Mengjia Zhu’s parametric self-watering planter. Link

Della’s lamp and Mengjia’s planter are examples of using at-home, affordable digital fabrication machines to support the creation of custom, beautiful, functional artifacts. However, the machines themselves did not simplify or speed up the process of developing these artifacts. Nor did they support fundamentally new design and manufacturing workflows. To the contrary, such products required students to engage in workflows that reflect elements of real-world design, manufacturing, and craft. Mengjia used four different CAD software tools, along with custom code tools to produce her finished planter model, and she performed rigorous material testing and machine tuning to ensure that her final design would be watertight. Della’s final lamp was the result of 12 successive prototypes. At each stage she systematically explored variations of wall thicknesses and geometric patterning. These rich processes contradict product-focused visions of personal fabrication where consumers create custom objects with minimal effort and knowledge. Instead, they show how personal digital fabrication—similar to other forms of personal craft—is often dependent on deep engagement in learning, design, testing, iteration, and peer support. There’s also evidence that suggests this degree of engagement was not simply the result of students needing to complete assignments. Following the completion of the quarter, students in both courses continued using their printers to make personal objects for their homes, employing prototyping, revision, and experimentation in the process. 

The presence of the printers in students’ homes also resulted in changes to the students’ routines and daily activities. Initially, cohabitating with a printer led to some playful responses. Many students in HCDE 598 named their printers, and a student in MAT 594X began referring to her printer as her new pet. Other shifts in routines were more serious. Because students often lived with roommates or occupied small studio apartments, they often kept their printers in their bedrooms. This, coupled with long print times and the fact that the printers generated heat, smells, and machine noises while active, resulted in students coordinating their schedules around their printers. Weidi Zhang, a student MAT 594X, kept her printer in her bedroom, and was (reasonably) concerned about letting the printer run while she was sleeping. This created a situation where she only had about 10 hours to print each day, which led to additional stress when prints failed or produced undesirable results. Such experiences were not uncommon. One student had to re-solder the wires on the stepper motors after her cat chewed through them. Another reported that his roommates also had to adjust to the printer, and commented on its constant noise. 

It’s not difficult to envision future scenarios where the constraints of continuous operation of an at-home 3D printer would be infeasible for students. Adjusting assignments so they require less print time, or even choosing a different machine with faster fabrication speeds (e.g., a craft vinyl cutter) might be appropriate choices in the future. More broadly, our courses gave us additional insight into the practical reality of at-home “replicator” technology. While digital fabrication technologies will continue to improve, maintenance, safety, and space concerns will persist, and will manifest in specific ways for people living in small, shared spaces. 

Pleasure in making at home 

There were elements of at-home 3D printing that provided important forms of stress relief and pleasure. Students in both courses repeatedly expressed their delight at being able to make physical objects and seeing the products made by their classmates. They also talked about the enjoyment and satisfaction they experienced with 3D printing in contrast to the challenges of the quarantine and shutdown, or their experience in other classes. Students remained enthusiastic about the act of physical production in their final project reflections, and many continued to use their printers over the summer. These observations align with the well-established sense of pleasure many people experience from physical handicraft [7]. We suspect that the novelty of the at-home 3D-printer setup played some role in the students’ excitement. Yet it’s also possible that at-home fabrication offered rare opportunities for physical interaction when students were otherwise restricted to videoconferences, chat, and screen-based work in their classes and research. 

Pleasure and delight are also fundamentally important to students’ overall well-being. The spring of 2020 contained many sources of stress and anxiety for students. Health concerns, social unrest in response to police brutality, isolation, concerns about graduation and career prospects—all of these issues required us to adjust our teaching approach to support students. This involved new forms of emotional and physical labor on our part, including driving supplies to students’ houses, holding more office hours at arbitrary times, and devoting course time for well-being check-ins and discussions of racial justice. The most extreme labor we undertook involved the restructuring of the courses themselves. Although we felt it was unreasonable to rework a lab-based course in less than two weeks, we made the attempt, at the cost of other projects and personal well-being, because we were concerned about our students. We were not alone in this regard: Many of our colleagues made similar sacrifices for student learning and well-being. If remote physical making courses are to be sustainable in the future, we must find ways to provide educators with the adequate resources and support to develop and execute such classes.


Procedurally created lamps by Weidi Zhang created using photogrammetry data. The sculptures were accepted to the 2020 IEEE VIS Art Program. Link

Planning for Future Remote Fabrication Instruction 

Covid-19 will impact future education. At the time of this writing, we are both planning for the possibility of teaching digital fabrication remotely in the 2020–2021 academic year. It is also possible that universities and other educational institutions may preserve some elements of remote instruction after the pandemic subsides. Furthermore, the experience of teaching remotely has enabled us to reflect on our past approach to teaching digital fabrication in person. The following are practical lessons we took away from our experience, which will inform our approach to teaching digital fabrication in the future. 

Equipment selection and costs

We had positive experiences with the Ender 3 Pro and would use the printer in future classes. Overall, the printer served as a robust platform for newcomers with a higher-than-expected ceiling for more advanced use cases. The Ender 3 Pro uses the widespread, open-source Marlin control software and its hardware design is partially based on the highly popular, iterated, and open source Prusa i3 printer. As a result, tuning tips, replacement parts, and firmware error messages are widely documented and available. We also had better experiences with these machines than other more expensive machines we currently have access to in shared makerspaces, including machines by Dremel, Monoprice, and Makerbot. 



A messaging user interface with movable parts cast in plaster by Khang Lee. Link

It’s essential to be transparent about the financial factors of our courses. Remote instruction has already exacerbated inequalities for low-income students and institutions [8]. While the printers we used were significantly cheaper than most printers, we recognize that a several hundred dollar equipment cost per student would present a serious burden for many educators and students. Both of our classes had fewer than 20 students, but cost several thousand dollars total. These costs were borne by a combination of students, faculty, and the university. If we were to teach remote digital fabrication classes in the future, we would consider a $350 per student material and machine budget a baseline requirement. Requiring students to cover that cost themselves would be detrimental for student equity and inclusion. We strongly believe the learning opportunities of remote fabrication courses merit institutional funding, but we also recognize that resource constraints will not make this feasible in many cases.

Building a curriculum with multiple pathways

We found that it was crucial to make the coursework accessible and adaptable to the changing situation. We offered flexible fabrication assignments that allowed for multiple levels of engagement. We designed assignments to prompt students to demonstrate course concepts, but left it open for students to choose the application and degree of complexity. For example, an early assignment in Nadya’s course was for students to design cookie cutters. A simple circle would have met the assignment criteria, but many students took the assignment as an opportunity to design and print a highly personalized and complex series of cookie cutters. This enabled them to be creative and invested while also tailoring their projects to the bandwidth they had available that week.

Helping students complete the coursework remotely also required a different approach. Working from home creates competing demands on time and attention (in different degrees for different students), and the challenge of learning physical and tacit forms of production in isolation with limited resources heightens these demands. We compensated for these constraints by providing flexible, asynchronous, and high-bandwidth forms of course engagement, including expanded office hours, peer technical support, expansive written documentation, and multi-tiered assignments. Based on student feedback and course outcomes, we believe these instructional factors were equally critical in achieving student learning outcomes as the printers themselves. 

HCDE 598 students Ben Chickadel and Camila Proffitt used the class projects as an opportunity to make things for their family members. Ben created a mold and cast a series of example dental retainer parts (left) his wife could use in her dental practice. Camila Proffitt made a series of complex hats with 3D printed structures and embellishments printed directly on fabric (right) for her mother.

We recognize that written instruction materials, online documentation of student projects, asynchronous communication platforms, and peer support and feedback are often components of in-person courses (our past courses included). However, the pandemic required us to rely on these elements in a new way. Rather than serve as a means to reinforce content and interactions from in-person class sessions, we depended on asynchronous platforms to provide essential forms of support and instruction that would not have been possible in remote synchronous lectures or demonstrations. Furthermore, the quantity of support we provided was substantially greater than that of previous in-person classes. We strongly suspect that both the variety and quantity of learning support provided in our remote classes would also improve learning outcomes in in-person digital fabrication courses. However, these efforts required substantially more instructor labor, not all of which can be rolled over into future courses. 

Integrating well-being and learning concerns

We are still in a crisis. Initial attempts to re-open universities to students have shown the significant health and safety risks of resuming regular campus operations. Like the courses of our colleagues, our classes were first and foremost a method for safely teaching physical making without any in-person elements. Setting up mini-makerspaces in student homes enabled that. But in addition to the critical safety benefit of avoiding in-person contact, we believe the success of our courses hinged on being attentive to other forms of student well-being. Regular check-ins and peer learning components were designed to cultivate a sense of community and engagement. Flexible expectations on assignments and course attendance were designed to accommodate students’ need for privacy and rest and to account for the competing demands on their time at home. These considerations for student well-being cannot be disentangled from the learning objectives and outcomes of our courses. 

In our remote digital fabrication classes we were still able to teach the core elements of CAD, CAM, and CNC production. We are proud of our students’ work and the efforts they took to support one another. Although our approach is new, we suspect that the potential of remote digital fabrication instruction is broad. At-home mini-makerspaces could offer remote learning opportunities for students across art, engineering, science, and design departments. Furthermore, this model may offer new learning opportunities in machine operation and maintenance, experimentation, and design iteration that are less feasible in shared makerspaces. Yet if we wish to create future learning opportunities that are sustainable for instructors and effective for students, it is also necessary to be realistic about the substantial costs and labor that remote fabrication entails. As our collective experiment with remote learning continues, it is our sincere hope that physical making classes will not disappear, and the safety and well-being of students, staff, and faculty will be maintained.

Endnotes

1. Thompson, R. Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals. Thames & Hudson, London, 2007.

2. Jacobs, J. and Buechley, L. Codeable objects: Computational design and digital fabrication for novice programmers. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2013, 1589–1598; >https://doi.org/10.1145/2470654.2466211

3. Peek, N., Coleman, J., Moyer, I., and Gershenfeld, N. Cardboard machine kit: Modules for the rapid prototyping of rapid prototyping machines. Proc. of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2017, 3657–3668.

4. Gershenfeld, N. How to make almost anything: The digital fabrication revolution. Foreign Aff. 91, 43 (2012).

5. Buechley, L. Thinking about making. Presented at EYEO 2014; http://leahbuechley.com/?p=16

6. Anderson, C. In the next industrial revolution, atoms are the new bits. Wired, Jan. 25, 2010; >https://www.wired.com/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/

7. McCullough, M. Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand. MIT Press, U.K., 1998.

8. Goldstein, D., Popescu, A., and Hannah-Jones, N. As school moves online, many students stay logged out. The New York Times. Apr. 6, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/us/coronavirus-schools-attendance-absent.html


Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, September 04, 2020 - 11:29:41

Jennifer Jacobs

Jennifer Jacobs is an assistant professor in Media Arts and Technology at UC Santa Barbara. She studies ways to support expressive computer-aided design and manufacturing by developing new computational tools that integrate computer programming with traditional materials and manual control. She received her Ph.D. from the MIT Media Lab and her research has been presented at international venues including SIGGRAPH, CACM, Ars Electronica and and CHI. jmjacobs@ucsb.edu
View All Jennifer Jacobs's Posts

Nadya Peek

Nadya Peek is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), where she directs the Machine Agency. Her work focuses on unconventional digital fabrication tools, small scale automation, networked control systems, and advanced manufacturing. Spanning electronics, firmware, software, and mechanics, her research focuses on harnessing the precision of machines for the creativity of individuals. nadya@uw.edu
View All Nadya Peek's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Planning and designing for the inevitable


Authors: Pallabi Roy Singh
Posted: Wed, August 26, 2020 - 12:08:58

If there is one big lesson from Covid-19, it is that we live in a world of risk. Disasters and epidemics and pandemics are part and parcel of the fabric of our existence—although that recognition makes them no less tragic when they occur. The Covid-19 catastrophe can be traced back to the actions of only a handful of people, yet it is something that attests to humankind’s vulnerability before powerful individuals. In fact, the chaos that Covid-19 has brought to the world has been more devastating than that of any other previously occurring catastrophe. However, it cannot be the end; there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Humanity is still there and thriving. Viewed as such, Covid-19 will prove to be as much a testimony to human durability as it will be to human vulnerability.

Having said that, I strongly believe that disaster preparedness and emergency management are the need of the hour. And, as user experience professionals, it is probably the right and the best time for us to start designing and building products that can help the world avoid the pitfalls of a catastrophe—or at least manage our way out of one. So, let's gear up and get ourselves out.

The widespread ownership of smart mobile devices means that disaster communication has reached a new level in terms of ease, speed, and quantity of information sharing. Mobile applications have become ubiquitous, and people are well versed in using them. If we look at the various mobile applications for disaster management today, there are already quite a few. These applications broadly fall into different categories, such as alert generation, emergency preparedness, guide mapping to nearby help centers, simulation-based impact modeling and risk assessment, crisis mapping, geo-tagged situational information and crowdsourcing, volunteer tracking and management, and family tracing and reunification. And these are really good applications! So, before we begin to design and develop an application to combat disasters, we must see how we can adopt a best-of-breed approach and come up with a solution for general users who can easily find support in an emergency.

Best practices for designing a disaster-management application

Designing a disaster-management application can seem like a very promising proposal, but there are some challenges. For example, the user base of a disaster-management application is strong and diverse, so the design must suit the needs of different groups. However, if we adhere to the following best practices we can ensure that the design of the application is relevant and useful for all groups of users:

  • The research strategy, as an overarching view of research needs and priorities, forms the basis of a research plan. Therefore, devising a research strategy should be the first step in the design process. Studies have shown that the development of a disaster-management application is often geared toward showcasing technological innovation rather than meeting user requirements. Therefore, before proceeding further, we should review our research objectives and questions with a few hazard and disaster researchers and emergency-management practitioners because they are better equipped to shed light on the diverse needs of users dealing with a disaster or emergency. In other words, understanding user psychology in response to disasters is a fundamental prerequisite for designing an application. It will help us in coming up with a better approach to our research and in prioritizing the features to be included in the application.

  • While designing a disaster-management application, we must ensure that it successfully complies with the heuristics. If we remember to follow Jakob Nielsen's 10 general principles for interaction design, we are sure to come up with an aesthetically pleasing, minimalist design—one that provides a lot of flexibility to users and has the benefit of recognition over recall. We must keep in mind that the user base of a disaster-management application will be large and varied; it will be used by all groups of people in case of an emergency, from educated to uneducated, from young to old. So the simpler the design the better. Simple designs also reduce the workload on the server, which can improve load times even more.

  • Ensure that the application is easy to use and easy to understand for everyone—it can save lives when it matters the most. It is an established fact that in order to provide a truly comfortable user experience, applications should offer some language support, which may involve some form of content localization. However, the prospect of having to manage and support a number of languages is too daunting, especially without the budgets or expertise to embrace localization. The key here is to invite altruism. Volunteers sometimes decide to contribute some of their time to localize content. So, volunteer-based collaborative translation or crowdsourcing can play a big role in simplifying the content for the native users of a disaster-management application.

  • Color coding of UI elements plays a critical role in a disaster-management application because it helps the users see and easily interpret the alert levels. For example, if we are designing a pre-disaster warning application, we can use color-coded images on the interactive map of the locations affected by or under the threat of any kind of disaster. Similarly, we can use color codes in the application to generate alerts, alarms, or notifications according to different alert levels.

    Color

    Alert Level

    Description

    White

    Information only

    Disaster identified

    Monitoring and watching

    For information only; no impact expected

    Yellow

    Moderate

    Disaster impending

    Warning, monitoring, and watching

    Preparedness phase

    Orange

    Severe

    Disaster threat imminent

    Preparedness phase

    Red

    Extreme

    Response and action phase

    Green

    Normal

    All clear

    Cancellation of warning


  • The use of intuitive icons can play a big role in improving the usability of a disaster-management application. While it might not be possible to design an icon entirely from scratch, it should still be possible to choose an icon that encompasses both sign-like and symbol-like properties. The wide spectrum of users of a disaster-management application require universally recognizable (symbol-like) icons that also represent what they purport to represent (sign-like). Therefore, we should use icons in our designs that are obvious and intuitive across a range of cultures and experiences, but at the same time so basic as to be innately recognized.

  • Including FAQs and interactive learning materials in a disaster-management application could prove useful in preparing users for unforeseen eventualities. It will establish the resourcefulness of the application. For example, we can post a list of frequently asked questions selected based on our research data, a list of guidelines and an information glossary, visualizations and maps of real-time data, and video tutorials and illustrations to guide users in crisis situations.

  • Use of advanced communication technology is important to ensure proactive and strategic communication in real time. For example, advanced SOS, emergency signaling capability, and live video capture will help to ensure a two-way communication mechanism to address the needs of users in a crisis. From the design perspective, the placement of the UI controls related to these features is critical; they should be placed in the application window such that they are easily findable.

Studies have proven that there is huge potential for online and mobile emergency solutions to be used by a broad range of users. However, they also highlight the need for advertising these apps and educating people about them, as well as the need for ensuring users of the privacy and security of these solutions. If we can ensure that all these principles are in place in our designs, I believe we will be well prepared to fight any crisis like Covid-19 in the future.


Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, August 26, 2020 - 12:08:58

Pallabi Roy Singh

Pallabi Roy Singh is a UX researcher, usability analyst, and content strategist at Cadence Design Systems, where she leads numerous design projects for desktop applications. Before joining Cadence, she had worked in TCS and Ericsson. Her articles and research papers have been published in many national and international journals. pallabiroysingh@gmail.com
View All Pallabi Roy Singh's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Auto-UI: Global perspectives


Authors: Christian Janssen, Ronald Schroeter, Nic Bidwell, Yong Gu Ji, Ignacio Alvarez, Shan Bao, Myounghoon Jeon, Linda Boyle, Stella Donker, Lewis Chuang, Wendy Ju, Andrew Kun
Posted: Wed, August 12, 2020 - 10:40:49

ACM SIGCHI Auto-UI is a growing community, but one in which some continents were less involved than expected and hoped for. For the 2019 conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands, we made various targeted attempts to grow and diversify our international community, with support from the ACM SIGCHI Development Fund. Our efforts resulted in a growth in the number of Asian participants, which made up almost 20 percent of the attendees. In this blog, we briefly reflect on our initiatives and on a panel discussion focusing on research topics that matter more globally to the Auto-UI field.

How we reached out

Based on discussions with members from underrepresented groups, we:

  • formed a diversity, inclusion, and international outreach team to contact key partners;
  • provided welcome pages in various languages to give a quick overview of the conference (www.auto-ui.org/19). These helped with local promotion;
  • posted on local social media such as Kakao (Korea) and WeChat (China);
  • broadened our pool of associate chairs through an open call and by promoting reviewers from target countries that had done good reviewing work in the past; and
  • awarded travel fellowships to graduate students from target countries.

Global perspectives panel: Discussion points

At the conference, a panel of established members from academia and industry discussed “global perspectives.” The panel had combined professional experience on five continents:

  • Ronald Schroeter (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
  • Nicola Bidwell (International University of Management, Namibia)
  • Yong Gu Ji (Yonsei University, Korea)
  • Ignacio Alvarez (Intel Corporation, U.S.)

Next we briefly summarize the discussion topics.

What is a car?

There are differences in what is considered as a car and what a car means for people between countries and cultures. For example, in Namibia, people need to drive long distances between towns. As many people do not own cars and bus travel is not always affordable or convenient, a tradition of shared mini-bus taxis and car sharing has emerged, with technology used to arrange it. People have re-appropriated Facebook and WhatsApp to coordinate seats in cars (and also delivering things for people); this sharing ties into local customs and African philosophies of sharing.

By contrast, in Korea, the culture is strongly focused on people owning their own car. Ignacio Alvarez shared his industry experience from China and the U.S. Although in both cultures the car is often a means to an end, it also represents a form of freedom and individuality. More and more, it is also becoming a status symbol. In China, for example, a car might also just be parked on the sidewalk to demonstrate the wealth of its owner.

How is culture guiding automotive interactions?

Culture is not static, but alive. Cultural norms and expectations can also change within a person’s lifetime. This in turn can impact automotive interactions. For example, when one becomes a parent, one might have other views on what features of a car are important (e.g., safety instead of speed).

Sometimes, expectations are wrong. For example, in Korea, many interfaces are in English, not Korean. Although this is perceived to look cool among locals, it can hinder understandability and thereby hinder user experience and safety.

By contrast, African cultures, such as in Namibia, often promote collectivism, which contrasts with Korea’s stronger focus on the individual. In Korea, services for sharing cars are not that popular, whereas in Namibia they are essential. At the same time, despite the focus on the individual, within Korea there are also popular services in which one can order a driver to drive one’s car when one cannot drive it themselves. Yet cars are not always designed for use by someone else than the owner.

What can be learned from the Global South?

We gained several insights from the Global South. In particular, we learned about African cultures of repair (to make things last) and practically hacking solutions. We also saw a focus on designing for human values, with a strong social ethic to not exclude others. Many cars in Namibia and Africa are bought secondhand from Asia. All cars are a little different, and people who specialize in repairs of specific types or brands of cars often live far apart. However, they benefit from strong online communities that share information on fixing electronics. This sharing focus relates to the CSCW community’s focus on shared work, while the hacking movement aligns with the maker movement within CHI.

The resilient repair communities in the Global South might also inspire opportunities in an age where automated systems are being developed. Specifically, the resilience of the phone-repair culture in India, China, and Namibia shows that people with initially little domain knowledge can quickly learn from each other. Rather than specializing in one skill, through a network of collaborators, people can learn from each other and exchange knowledge and experiences.

Another consideration is that the design of a car is typically catered to its “first life” in the original country of purchase. However, car reuse in Africa is not considered sufficiently, even though such extended use of technology might be beneficial in times of climate change. The pictures below of a Japanese car in Namibia illustrate two examples: 1) Controls are partially in English and partially in Japanese, and 2) the satellite navigation system only has maps from Japan, and thinks the car is driving near the ocean in Japan instead of on a Namibian road. Both aspects harm the driver’s safety and comfort.


Example of a car that seems to have been designed for its first life only. This car was originally released on the Japanese market but now drives in Namibia. The controls of the car are partially in symbols, partially in English, and partially in Japanese, thereby creating confusion for the driver in Namibia who cannot read Japanese. 


Another example of a car that seems to have been designed for the first life only. This car was originally released on the Japanese market but now drives in Namibia. The satellite navigation system only has maps of Japan, and not of Namibia. Therefore, the in-car satellite navigation system thinks that the car is driving near the ocean in an area in Japan, instead of on a road in Namibia.

Reuse also comes with downsides, as current design does not consider this context sufficiently. In particular, some of the material used in cars and other electronic devices is toxic. In many African countries, there is not sufficient protection for the makers to handle these substances—and some of these makers are underage children.

What are the hot topics?

Within Korea, there is a culture of early adoption of new technology. Combined with the many smart infrastructures and high population density, it is an interesting country in which to test new interaction styles and advanced automated vehicle forms. This is in line with trends within the Auto-UI community, in which there is a focus on automated driving from many angles, including the human user, other traffic participants, and the larger ecology and infrastructure.

At the same time, within Korea there is also an interest in understanding the basic science and engineering of interaction techniques. For example, how can touch- and audio-based in-car interaction be improved? Progress in this area requires more fundamental science and engineering research.

More globally, a hot topic is automated driving safety. Yet, despite this growing interest, there remains a fundamental challenge: Safety is understood in different manners in different regions of the world and in different cultures. Some countries are more risk tolerant than others and for industry to satisfy both the utilitarian aspect of vehicles as well as a global notion of safety is sometimes challenging.

We welcome suggestions

Our outreach efforts are only a first step. We welcome suggestions on how to further improve the experience for conference attendees at Auto-UI 2020 (U.S.) and Auto-UI 2021 (South Korea). Suggestions can be emailed to the authors and to the Auto-UI steering committee: sc@auto-ui.org.


Posted in: on Wed, August 12, 2020 - 10:40:49

Christian Janssen

Christian P. Janssen is an assistant professor of experimental psychology at Utrecht University. He received his Ph.D. in human-computer interaction from UCL (2012). His research is dedicated to understanding human attention, human-automation interaction, and adaptive behavior. He was one of the general chairs of the ACM SIGCHI’s Auto-UI 2019 conference. c.p.janssen@uu.nl
View All Christian Janssen's Posts

Ronald Schroeter

Ronald Schroeter is a Senior Research Fellow at CARRS-Q, Queensland University of Technology, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2012. He embraces multidisciplinary research across HCI/HMI, design, psychology, and road safety. He has served in various chairing roles of the Auto-UI conference since 2013, including Diversity and Inclusion Chair in 2019. r.schroeter@qut.edu.au
View All Ronald Schroeter's Posts

Nic Bidwell

Nic Bidwell is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of ICT at International University of Management, Namibia. Her research focuses on interaction design for rural communities, mostly in Africa and/or with indigenous people. She was an invited panelist at the Auto-UI 2019 conference. nic.bidwell@gmail.com
View All Nic Bidwell's Posts

Yong Gu Ji

Yong Gu Ji is a professor and head in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Yonsei University. He is the director of the Human Factors and Interaction Design Lab. He received his Ph.D. in human-computer interaction from Purdue University (2001). His research is directed at understanding user experience and complexity in human-vehicle interaction. He is one of the general chairs of the Auto-UI 2021 conference. yongguji@yonsei.ac.kr
View All Yong Gu Ji's Posts

Ignacio Alvarez

Ignacio Alvarez is a senior research scientist at the Autonomous Driving Research Lab in Intel Labs, where he develops software, system, and simulation Tools to accelerate the adoption of safe automated driving technologies. Previous to Intel, he worked for eight years at BMW, leading R&D and product development for advanced driver assistance systems, vehicle telematics services, and user interface solutions in Europe, America, and Asia. He received his international Ph.D. in computer science from the University of the Basque Country (Spain) and Clemson University (U.S.) in 2011. His research is focused on the development of intelligent connected automated vehicles that augment human mobility with safer and more enjoyable experiences. ignacio.j.alvarez@intel.com
View All Ignacio Alvarez's Posts

Shan Bao

Shan Bao is an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, University of Michigan-Dearborn, and an associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. She received her Ph.D. in mechanical and industrial engineering from the University of Iowa in 2009. Her research interests focus on human factors issues related to connected and automated vehicle technologies, and big data analysis. shanbao@umich.edu
View All Shan Bao's Posts

Myounghoon Jeon

Myounghoon Jeon is an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and computer science at Virginia Tech. He received his Ph.D. in engineering psychology and human-computer interaction from Georgia Tech. His research is dedicated to designing better interactions with robots and vehicles with focus on sound and emotion. He was the diversity and inclusion co-chair of the Auto-UI 2019 and 2020 conferences, and is the general co-chair of the Auto-UI 2021 conference. myounghoonjeon@vt.edu
View All Myounghoon Jeon's Posts

Linda Boyle

Linda Ng Boyle is a professor at the University of Washington. She is a co-organizer of the International Symposium on Human Factors in Driving Assessment and on the steering committee for Automotive User Interface. She is a co-author of the book Designing for People: An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering. linda@uw.edu
View All Linda Boyle's Posts

Stella Donker

Stella F. Donker is an associate professor of experimental psychology at Utrecht University. She received her Ph.D. in medical sciences from the University of Groningen (2002). She is interested in human movement, attention, and human-machine interaction. She was one of the general chairs of the Auto-UI 2019 conference. s.f.donker@uu.nl
View All Stella Donker's Posts

Lewis Chuang

Lewis L. Chuang is an Akademischer Rat at the Institute of Media Informatics at LMU Munich. He received his Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience from Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. He investigates mechanisms of focused attention and reorienting, especially in the context of human-machine interactions. He relies extensively on gaze tracking, EEG, and psychophysics in his research. He is co-organizing the 2020 Neuroergonomics Conference. lewis.chuang@lmu.de
View All Lewis Chuang's Posts

Wendy Ju

Wendy Ju is an assistant professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and in the Information Science field at Cornell University. She has innovated numerous methods for early-stage prototyping of automated systems to understand how people will respond to systems before the systems are built. She has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford, and a master’s in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT. Her monograph The Design of Implicit Interactions was published in 2015. wendyju@cornell.edu
View All Wendy Ju's Posts

Andrew Kun

Andrew L. Kun is professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of New Hampshire. His primary research interest is in-vehicle human-computer interaction. He serves as the ACM SIGCHI interim vice president for conferences, and as steering committee co-chair of the ACM AutomotiveUI conference series. andrew.kun@unh.edu
View All Andrew Kun's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Learning and education in HCI: A reflection on the SIG at CHI 2019


Authors: Viktoria Pammer-Schindler, Erik Harpstead, Benjamin Xie, Betsy DiSalvo, Ahmed Kharrufa, Petr Slovak, Amy Ogan, Joseph Jay Williams, Michael Lee
Posted: Tue, August 04, 2020 - 11:09:15

The field of human-computer interaction (HCI) has always been interested in aspects of learning. HCI researchers have spent decades investigating how people learn to use interfaces, with designing for learnability being a key HCI design principle. And with technology constantly changing, everyone from developers to end users must constantly (re)learn how to use, adapt, and improve the tools around them.

More recently, there has been an even greater interest in learning within HCI communities, perhaps best evidenced by the increase in learning-relevant papers submitted to CHI. This, in turn, led to the creation of the newly established Learning, Education, and Families subcommittee, with 191 papers submitted in its first year at CHI 2019, and 179 papers submitted for CHI 2020. Many factors contributed to this boom: more learning scientists engaging with the HCI community, a renewed university-level emphasis on online learning technologies (e.g., MOOCs, learning-management systems), and an increased interest and awareness of the necessity of lifelong learning and the possibilities of using computer technologies to support this need. This interest, in turn, has surfaced the realization that a) user-centered design is critical for educational technologies, which may be particularly research-intensive when involving more novel technologies such as mixed reality or AI-based systems, and b) designing for learning has specific design and interaction issues that go beyond more generally applicable design knowledge.

The SIG at CHI 2019

At CHI 2019 we organized a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Learning, Education, and HCI to bring together researchers across the CHI community and discuss the position of learning within the field [1]. Our goal was to gather a broad set of perspectives from across the field and better understand what community members mean when they talk about learning. Here are some of the key insights from that SIG:

  • HCI researchers interested in learning and education design for a vastly heterogeneous set of learning and educational settings. Subsequently, in order to enable communication and cross-fertilization in this HCI subcommunity, a clear foundation in learning sciences should be presented with each research contribution. This addresses the interdisciplinary challenge of designing for learning, which means integrating knowledge from different disciplines, while at the same time allowing the HCI community as a whole to increase shared knowledge about learning.

  • HCI researchers are aware of the tensions between joy and usefulness in learning, and of the complex issue of motivating and nudging learners in order to foster learning that is as engaging and effective as possible.

  • HCI contributions on learning and education may need to be exploratory, qualitative, and longitudinal rather than quantitative and experimentally comparative, especially if the contributions involve novel interventions to promote learning. This exploratory nature is common in HCI research; in this inherently multidisciplinary domain, such an approach needs to be further integrated and aligned with additional appropriate methodologies.

  • HCI can bring to learning and instructional sciences significant knowledge about the design of interventions, such as methodological knowledge about participatory design and similar design and research methods. HCI can also bring design knowledge, such as affordances of different types of technologies, as well as usability and user experience best practices.

The SIG was organized as three roundtable discussions, such that at every point in time each of the following three questions was being discussed at two or three tables:

  • What does learning mean to us?
  • What are valid ways of evaluating a learning contribution?
  • How can we foster the relationship between learning and HCI?

Results of Discussions

Below we summarize the discussions had on these questions by over 50 discussion participants at CHI 2019 in Glasgow and highlight overarching issues for research in human-computer interaction on learning and education.

What does learning mean to us? This question turned out to be successful at highlighting the wide variety of different types of learning that HCI researchers are interested in, such as: learning for different age groups; formal and informal learning; understanding learning from the perspective of different learning theories, such as constructionism, behaviorism, or sociocultural learning theories; and designing for learning based on different paradigms for structuring learning, such as experiential or collaborative learning.

The major insight, at a meta level, that we draw from this face-to-face discussion is that interdisciplinary discussion in HCI on learning needs to be open to a wide variety of learning and instructional theoretical backgrounds; at the same time, we need to ensure that discussions of learning remain accessible to the wide variety of HCI researchers. The discussion indicated that to meet both goals—inclusivity and accessibility—every learning contribution in HCI would need to present a solid explanation of its learning and instructional sciences background. While this may feel redundant to us, some scaffolding of learning theory is needed to communicate the assumptions underlying the work for other HCI researchers interested in learning and education.

In parallel, in an even more heterogeneous fashion, this question led SIG participants to reflect on issues that are not only fact-based but that also relate to values with respect to learning, such as whether HCI designers and researchers should prioritize engagement over effectiveness, or how much guidance versus how much freedom and associated challenge is suitable for learners, acknowledging that every dichotomy can be resolved by answering “both.” Even acknowledging foundational insights from learning and instructional sciences, for example on the effectiveness of guidance, these questions and others remain issues of concrete complexity in every single instance of technology design. HCI researchers therefore emphasize that one way to move forward is to look at persuasive and motivational design, which aims to incite motivation in learners to achieve as much joy and usefulness as possible at the same time.

Finally, we identified a fundamental tension: learning versus education. Participants tended to share the view that the two are not the same; that while the former emphasizes the change within the learning entities (and despite acknowledgement that learning can happen at an informal team or formal organizational level, the focus of most participants was on human individuals as learning entities), the latter emphasizes the design of formal environments and structures that lead to learning. It would seem then, in principle, that HCI researchers who explore how to set up computational environments that are conducive to learning should feel closer to education; however, this was not the prevalent feeling. This is an interesting development that we can only ask the community of researchers interested in the interdisciplinary field to take up in argument and discussion.

What are valid ways of evaluating a learning contribution? This question was discussed in order to understand the extent to which there was a shared agreement on what kinds of contributions the subcommunity of HCI research on learning and education is uniquely positioned to make. We highlight here that this question was not intended to provoke general discussion on what a CHI contribution is, or to question other research communities’ understanding of the matter.

From a learning viewpoint, what constitutes a suitable evaluation hinges on the goal of the intervention, the perspective on learning, and the learning context. For instance, from a cognitive perspective, a learning intervention can be evaluated in terms of performance of the learner on pre- and posttests of knowledge. On the other hand, from a sociocultural perspective, an appropriate study would consider a learner’s broader context, including social norms, learning culture, and available artifacts in the learner’s environment. Inherent to theoretical framings are assumptions as to what factors are important to learning and how to evaluate them. However, beyond underlying theories, a point of discussion was that while HCI researchers focus on designing technologies for or with learners, learners seem to be excluded from the earlier, yet crucial, stage of defining the goals of an intervention. This has important consequences for evaluation, in that researchers should evaluate not only what they think is important, but also whether the learners themselves have met their own goals. What researchers consider measures of success or failure of an intervention may be very different from how learners value an intervention. Consequently, the validity of learners’ assessment of an intervention as part of a scientific evaluation of the intervention remained a contentious issue among the workshop participants. This is an example of how exploratory and participatory design methods need to be integrated and aligned with other research methodologies, such that interventions can be suitably evaluated from multiple perspectives.

Beyond this, the question remains of what particular research approaches are specific and inherent to research at the intersection of learning sciences, instructional sciences, and HCI. A major realization was that HCI research is ultimately interventionist, as it is design oriented. So, while deep understanding of given contexts is relevant to design, the ultimate goal of HCI is to construct design-relevant knowledge. Thus, it is critical to focus on the learning process in addition to outcomes. This was highlighted as especially important when the goal is developing skills rather than knowledge. Examining the process helps identify what was termed “struggle points” throughout the learning process and how these relate to, or can be mitigated by, the introduction of technology.

When talking about formal education in schools, the schools’ culture and disposition to learning, plus the level of emphasis on summative tests and ways of evidencing learning (e.g., high school versus primary) are found to have significant consequences on the design and evaluation of educational technology interventions.

How can we foster the relationship between learning and HCI? While learning has always been a subcurrent within HCI, the modern incarnation of the field of educational technology has largely grown around several subcommunities adjacent to but separate from HCI. In thinking about how we might build more connections between these communities and HCI more broadly, we asked what learning work might be able to contribute to HCI and what HCI work can contribute to learning sciences.

In some discussions, participants expressed how learning theories and practices might inform HCI and vice versa. For example, in the HCI traditions of participatory design, learning for the participants is one of the key elements, but few designers look to literature on learning to help structure their participatory design activities. Learning scientists see potential for their theories and knowledge to help shape this work [2]. In addition, participatory design practices have much to teach the learning sciences in terms of ways to invite teachers, administrators, parents, students, and stakeholders to be more involved in design or educational technology and information [3].

Another example is in learning analytics research, which has only recently started to substantially take up HCI methods to design and evaluate analytics and visualizations, such that in learning analytics literature, using HCI methods for design and analysis is considered a novel contribution (e.g., [4,5]). This illustrates that even between two deeply specialized fields such as analytics and HCI, which both could be considered to be highly related to computer science, a constant interdisciplinary communication and transfer of knowledge is necessary and challenging.

Another perspective gained from this question was the possibility of leveraging new insights from learning and education research to address a need for updated curricula around how to teach HCI concepts themselves. The landscape of HCI pedagogy has become broad, multi-institutional, and international. We see some initial work that highlights the potential for work on learning to inform how to judge which forms of HCI education are more or less effective for which uses, as well as inform best practices in the sharing of instructional materials [6]. As HCI education develops, the community needs to ask: What are core learning goals [7]? What is the balance between practice and research [8]? How do we identify the most successful pedagogy when teaching traditions in computer science, psychology, and design can be so divergent [9]?

An overarching issue in discussions was the relationship between research and (educational) practice that seems to be particularly relevant for this subcommunity. To understand learning and education, and to observe the expected impact, significant interaction with stakeholders outside of labs is required. While we recognize that laboratory studies have their place in HCI and other communities, we also recognize that the context of educational technology is in a broader practice of education and adoption and use. Though we can build technologies, test them in the lab, and prove that learning happens if they are used, we also need HCI research to design for teacher, administrator, and parent use so they are able and motivated to provide access to students from all walks of life.

We conclude with reiterating the goals of this SIG and the larger initiative to recognize learning and education within HCI research. We want to 1) discuss inclusive cross-disciplinary perspectives on learning, 2) define future directions and qualities for learning and education contributions in CHI, and 3) build a community across research/practice boundaries. By doing so, our hope is to not be stringent or imposing on what learning is or is not, while still basing HCI research on what is established knowledge in the learning sciences.

Moving Forward

The roundtable discussions were a highly interactive and rewarding format for discussions, such that at any time there were at least eight different discussions ongoing in the room. This was despite the fact that there were only three core questions asked, such that multiple tables, and multiple rounds of discussions, engaged with the same question. This highlights the high interest in learning within the HCI community, and the timeliness of the special interest group and the new subcommittee for learning, education, and families established at CHI 2019, and continued at CHI 2020.

Discussions at any time were also of a very heterogeneous level, showing that there is, as yet, no shared systematic way of answering the foundational questions of what learning means in an HCI community, how to foster learning through technology design, and specific characteristics of a high-quality contribution to the intersection between learning and HCI. We see this as a push, for ourselves as well as others researching and practicing at the intersection of learning and instructional sciences and HCI, to continue interdisciplinary discussion, and at the same time try to identify particular knowledge and perspectives that come out of the intersection of HCI and learning research.

Endnotes

1. Xie, B., Harpstead, E., DiSalvo, B., Slovak, P., Kharrufa, A., Lee, M.J., Pammer-Schindler, V., Ogan, A., and Williams, J.J. Learning, education, and HCI. Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Paper SIG09. ACM, New York, 2019.

2. DiSalvo, B. Participatory design through a learning science lens. Proc. of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2016.

3. DiSalvo, B., Yip, J., Bonsignore, E., and DiSalvo, C. Participatory design for learning. In Participatory Design for Learning. Routledge, 2017, 3–6.

4. Ahn, J., Campos, F., Hays, M., and DiGiacomo, D. Designing in context: Reaching beyond usability in learning analytics dashboard design. Journal of Learning Analytics6, 2 (2019), 70–85.

5. Buckingham Shum, S., Ferguson, R., and Martinez-Maldonado, R. Human-centred learning analytics. Journal of Learning Analytics6, 2 (2019), 1–9.

6. Vorvoreanu, M., Gray, C.M., Parsons, P., and Rasche, N. Advancing UX education: A model for integrated studio pedagogy. Proc. of the 2017 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2017.

7. Churchill, E., Preece, J., and Bowser, A. Developing a living HCI curriculum to support a global community. Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2014.

8. Gray, C.M., Stolterman, E., and Siegel, M.A. Reprioritizing the relationship between HCI research and practice: Bubble-up and trickle-down effects. Proc. of the 2014 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems. ACM, 2014.

9. Wilcox, L., DiSalvo, B., Hennemann, D., and Wang, Q. Design in the HCI classroom: Setting a research agenda. Proc. of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, 2019.


Posted in: on Tue, August 04, 2020 - 11:09:15

Viktoria Pammer-Schindler

Viktoria Pammer-Schindler is an associate professor at Graz University of Technology. She researches, and develops sociotechnical interventions for, digital transformation, with a focus on workplace learning and knowledge construction in different workplace contexts, such as modern manufacturing, or in strategic development of data-centric business models. viktoria.pammer@tugraz.at
View All Viktoria Pammer-Schindler's Posts

Erik Harpstead

Erik Harpstead is a systems scientist in the HCI Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His work focuses on leveraging computational theories of human learning to develop smarter tools and processes for designers of educational technologies and games to interrogate their products and consider how well they manifest designers’ intentions. harpstead@cmu.edu
View All Erik Harpstead's Posts

Benjamin Xie

Benjamin Xie is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington Information School. His focus is designing interactive intelligent tools for equitable computing education. bxie@uw.edu
View All Benjamin Xie's Posts

Betsy DiSalvo

Betsy DiSalvo is an associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. At Georgia Tech she leads the Culture and Technology (CAT) Lab, where researchers study cultural values and how those values impact technology use, learning, and production. bdisalvo@cc.gatech.edu
View All Betsy DiSalvo's Posts

Ahmed Kharrufa

Ahmed Kharrufa is a lecturer in interaction design at Newcastle University, where he leads educational technology research at Open Lab. His research focuses on the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of processes and technologies than can bridge the gap between schools and their communities as well as enhance learning and the learning experience. ahmed.kharrufa@newcastle.ac.uk
View All Ahmed Kharrufa's Posts

Petr Slovak

Petr Slovak is an assistant professor in human-computer interaction at King’s College London. He also holds an Honorary Research Fellow position at Evidence-Based Practice Unit at UCL and a Visiting position at the Human-Centred Computing group at Oxford University. His research is focused on envisioning, designing, and evaluating new technology-enabled mental health interventions. petr.slovak@kcl.ac.uk
View All Petr Slovak's Posts

Amy Ogan

Amy Ogan is the Thomas and Lydia Moran Assistant Professor of Learning Science in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. She is an educational technologist focusing on ways to make learning experiences more engaging, effective, and enjoyable. aeo@cs.cmu.edu
View All Amy Ogan's Posts

Joseph Jay Williams

Joseph Jay Williams is an assistant professor in HCI and computer science, designing intelligent adaptive educational and health technology by using randomized A/B comparisons to bridge statistical machine learning with crowdsourcing and psychology. williams@cs.toronto.edu
View All Joseph Jay Williams's Posts

Michael Lee

Michael J. Lee is the Dorman-Bloom Assistant Professor of Informatics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). There, he directs the Gidget Lab, which focuses on designing, creating, and testing technology-focused educational tools for all. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation and Oculus Research, and has received several best paper awards. mjlee@njit.edu
View All Michael Lee's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Online embodied interaction: Learning physical interaction design online


Authors: Annika Waern, Andreas Bergqvist, Shuang Feng, Nikolay Georgiev, Karan Manjunath, Alessandra Semeraro, Ruochen Wang, Laia Turmo Vidal
Posted: Mon, August 03, 2020 - 10:22:03

On March 17, 2020, the rector at Uppsala University, Sweden, declared that all teaching would move online, effective immediately. The authors of this blog post were teachers and students in a full-time course on Embodied Interaction, scheduled to start on March 26. This is a design course in which students apply social, spatial, bodily, and material theories to a design project. Here we report on the experience of working with such a project, which requires a lot of engagement with physical perspectives, entirely online.

Experience

When the pandemic situation started to unfold, the teachers decided that the theme of the year would be “social closeness in times of physical distancing.” The theme was chosen both for its timely relevance and because it would make working online throughout the project easier. The design teams ended up working mostly online, developing a variety of ways to deal with their own physical distancing.

To investigate their domains, most teams ended up organizing semi-staged studies. For example, one team asked couples living apart to watch films together. The team members would visit an acquaintance who was in a distance relationship to observe them watching a video together with their distant partner. Another team carried out autoethnographic investigations of their own practices of connecting remotely to their parents in their home countries, a study that grew into also asking the parents to keep diaries.

In previous years, each team had worked together on one single design. This year, to make it possible for teams to meet online, the course asked for individual designs. Teams would still work together on selecting and investigating a domain for their designs, and near the end of the course on analyzing their designs toward a more generic design concept [1], of which their designs would be examples, together forming a portfolio [2]. Doing individual designs while working in a team worked exceedingly well. The combination allowed for the diversity and creativity within the team to come through, while still allowing them to work together with domain and design concepts. Team members were also motivated and able to give insightful and constructive critique to each other. It did, however, create a lot of work for the students, and also meant that the final designs could not be as polished as in previous years.

The course includes a bodystorming session as a very important part of the design ideation phase. The session introduces the students to embodied design ideation using resources such as their own bodies, the space, and various design materials [3]. In this remote version of the course, participants were connected only through their individual video streams. Since nobody, including the teachers, could say if this would work, the whole class did a small experiment a week in advance. Each team planned and executed a brief bodystorming exercise, with the sole requirement that participants would not be constrained by having to look at their screens, to increase the ideation possibilities for bodily and spatial interaction. It was noted that having a facilitator give verbal instructions during bodystorming was a good way of achieving this. The facilitator gave instructions to, for example, explore materials and move around, reminding participants of design possibilities beyond the screen. That bodystorming was performed in each person’s home environment was also an important, and for one team, crucial, resource. The home provided personally meaningful materials and familiar spaces. Challenges in online bodystorming related to difficulties in observing participants, as they could easily move away from the camera. Several teams therefore decided to collect written and hand-drawn input from the participants throughout the session. This also allowed participants to convey a private and first-person perspective on their ideas.

The most challenging aspect of the design project was testing with users. While students could use Arduinos, sensors, and actuators to develop prototypes, it became difficult or impossible to ship these to test participants. Testing designs within the team became a go-to method. But most teams also employed a kind of user-assisted testing: They recruited external participants, and these were instructed in both how to re-create aspects of the prototype and how to simulate its use. Some participants were recruited in pairs and took turns simulating the prototype for the other. Since most teams worked with the same external participants throughout, this allowed testers to become co-creators, as design intentions needed to be both communicated and shared. Testing was accompanied by “think-aloud” responses and semi-structured interviews carried out over videoconferencing, as ways of gathering feedback.

In previous years, the final demonstrations of the designs were done onsite, at relevant locations for the chosen domains, giving teachers and other students a chance to get a feel for the designs in action. This year, these demonstrations were done over videoconferencing. One method that worked well for demonstration was a kind of distributed use case scenarios setup. These were small, distributed theater performances wherein the team members enacted a usage situation by taking different roles in a distributed setting. The use of videoconferencing allowed students to choose their locations carefully, and even get help from friends and family in enacting their designs. In these demos, one person would typically act as narrator/facilitator to make the situation clear for the audience. On one occasion, a family member had been recruited for this role, holding the camera and instructing the other members of the family. Since prototypes were typically only in one place, demonstrators would sometimes ask the audience members to recruit objects in their close vicinity and use them as placeholders for the prototypes.

Discussion

Going online in the context of a pandemic is not an ideal situation. Many of the problems encountered had to be solved by the students, and the teachers were constantly amazed by their creativity and initiative. Giving students great flexibility was crucial in making this work. Teachers also continuously reminded students to look for opportunities in the situation, rather than get stuck in problems such as lack of access to users or technology. But the setup also increased the workload in an already very stressful time. Providing greater flexibility means that some of the responsibilities for planning that normally fall on teachers are pushed to students, such as in the teams needed to practice both their bodystorming and final demonstration in advance. 

While it is important to not let the exceptional become the norm, our experiences show that it is not impossible to move even a physical design project online. We have highlighted some strategies and techniques that worked well for us. While physical prototyping is not easily moved online and much of the point of Arduino programming was lost, low prototype fidelity instead allowed for an increased focus on usage situations and material qualities. Finally, while the intimate nature of everyone participating from their home environments is not without its challenges, it turned into one of the most important design resources for the students of this course.

Endnotes

1. Löwgren, J. Annotated portfolios and other forms of intermediate-level knowledge. Interactions 20, 1 (2013), 30–34.

2. Gaver, B. and Bowers, J. Annotated portfolios. Interactions 19, 4 (2012), 40–49.

3. Segura, E.M., Vidal, L.T., and Rostami, A. Bodystorming for movement-based interaction design. Human Technology 12, 2 (2016).



Posted in: Covid-19 on Mon, August 03, 2020 - 10:22:03

Annika Waern

Annika Waern is professor and chair of human-computer interaction at Uppsala University. Her research focuses on technology-supported play and playful interactions in physical space. annika.waern@im.uu.se
View All Annika Waern's Posts

Andreas Bergqvist

Andreas Bergqvist is a lecturer in HCI at Uppsala University, Sweden, with a background in software development and game design. His research interests relate to programming as an expressive medium, empowerment in technology enhanced play, and agency in games. andreas.bergqvist@im.uu.se
View All Andreas Bergqvist's Posts

Shuang Feng

Shuang Feng is a master’s student human-computer interaction at Uppsala University. Shuang.Feng.4464@student.uu.se
View All Shuang Feng's Posts

Nikolay Georgiev

Nikolay Georgiev is a master’s student human-computer interaction at Uppsala University. He has a bachelor's degree in engineering physics. georgiev.nick.i@gmail.com
View All Nikolay Georgiev's Posts

Karan Manjunath

Karan Manjunath is a master’s student human-computer interaction at Uppsala University. His main interest is user experience and user interface design. Karan.Manjunath.4399@student.uu.se
View All Karan Manjunath's Posts

Alessandra Semeraro

Alessandra Semeraro is a master’s student in human-computer interaction at Uppsala University, Sweden. She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and aspires to a future university career. semeraro.alessandra@gmail.com
View All Alessandra Semeraro's Posts

Ruochen Wang

Ruochen Wang is a master’s student in human-computer interaction at Uppsala University. His research interest focuses on game interaction and humanity. Ruochen.Wang.3317@student.uu.se
View All Ruochen Wang's Posts

Laia Turmo Vidal

Laia Turmo Vidal is a Ph.D. candidate in interaction design and HCI at Uppsala University, Sweden. In her research, she investigates how to support movement teaching and learning through interactive technology. Her research interests include embodied design, cooperative social computing, and play. laia.turmo@im.uu.se
View All Laia Turmo Vidal's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


How we need to change for more inclusive and open publication practices


Authors: Julie Williamson
Posted: Fri, July 10, 2020 - 11:18:44

Tldr;

While progress toward more inclusive and open publications can be made through top-down policy, power within SIGCHI is distributed across a wide range of volunteers beyond the Executive Committee, for example conference Steering Committees, conference leadership, and the author and reviewer communities. The real work of enacting change comes from advocacy at all these levels:

  • We could reduce bias in peer review by implementing two-way anonymization, but members of the community must advocate to conference leadership and steering committees to enact change.

  • While advances in accessibility have been put into policy by the Executive Committee, authors must also put in work and learn how to provide accessible content.

  • Moving toward universal open access will require authors to take on work to support automated processes and be prepared to contribute to the fixed costs of publishing.

I have no doubts that there are structural inequalities that prevent all members of our community from participating in publication equally. I firmly believe that breaking through these barriers will require everyone to do additional work and learn new skills. Many of the challenges we face require widespread behavioral change and cannot be enacted through top-down policy alone. What power volunteer leaders have is quickly extinguished in the face of widespread resistance to change.

I speak from a position of relative privilege and power: I am a member of the ACM Publications Board with significant experience drafting and applying publication policies, including the Conflict of Interest Policy for ACM Publications and Policy on Author Name Changes. I am the SIGCHI Vice President for Publications with significant experience deploying publication production pipelines for the new TAPS process, advising conference leadership, and advocating for author rights on a variety of issues. I enjoy spending time building my knowledge on publication policies and writing on open access issues. I consider myself an expert on nonprofit publishing and have positions that give me an opportunity to express and further develop this expertise. 

So here is my call to the community: If you value inclusion, accessibility, and openness then you must be willing to change, take on new work, and learn new skills to make this happen.

Two-way anonymized reviewing

In "A Call to Action for the ACM," Black scholars made the direct recommendation to implement either fully open or two-way anonymization for peer review. There are interesting experiments in open reviewing, like the many conferences using https://openreview.net/. I am more excited about two-way anonymization, given the significant evidence that one-way anonymization is biased in many ways.

Adopting two-way anonymization requires additional work for reviewers at all levels. It requires everyone to learn the details of the relevant conflict of interest policy, reflect on their conflicts, and declare these in advance. This can be a tedious task, requiring everyone to read long lists of potential conflicts and mark their selections thoughtfully. But putting in this work is crucial to reducing bias at all levels of reviewing. Especially in the case of conferences like ACM CHI, where program committees bid on papers, complete reviews, and hold positions of power over acceptance in the context of one-way anonymization, this upfront work to declare conflicts is vital.

Accessible format and content

I recognize the longstanding de-prioritization of accessibility in publications. Although there has been significant progress on accessibility at SIGCHI—for example, accessibility audits of peer review software, producing accessible HTML proceedings, and providing author instructions for accessible content—progress is often impeded by communities that are slow to change.

I have been actively involved in advocating for accessibility in SIGCHI publications, most notably through the transition to the new authoring templates, which enables the creation of accessible HTML documents. The greatest frustrations I experience are community responses that although accessibility is important, it was not “worth the extra work” to make it possible.

The reality is that everyone will be required to do additional work to create accessible publications, and it will require us to learn new skills like writing figure descriptions and providing numerical summaries of visualizations. Providing these details is also good research practice, advancing the transparency and reproducibility of our research and making visual elements of publications indexable. As SIGCHI VP for Publications, I can ensure this work doesn’t create an undue burden, but it is not possible to make this work nonexistent.

Open access

Authors, reviewers, and volunteers do a significant amount of work to prepare, review, and present publications. For ACM publications, this volunteer labor is also supported by professional staff, who turn a collection of documents into a structured proceedings that is of publishable quality, is searchable, and is available for download. This includes work such as defining and enforcing standardized metadata, supporting and training volunteers who oversee publications, preparing proceedings for upload into the content management system of the DL, and releasing proceedings. Much of this happens in the background, and relies on manual effort from a small number of people. As an indication of scale, in 2019 ACM added 34,000 full-text articles to the DL. ACM employs 20 staff in the Publications department, three of whom focus on production.

If we want to move toward universal open access, we need to optimize and automate our processes and develop new financial models. For example, the new ACM templates make it possible to automate metadata collection and validation, but authors must learn how to use these new processes. Authors may need to pay additional fees, such as submission fees, increased conference fees, or presentation fees to provide continued support to the fixed costs of publication.

What do we do now?

Top-down policy alone will be ineffective to make these changes. In practice, the SIGCHI Executive Committee has little or no “power” over the distributed network of volunteers that make up SIGCHI. Advocates for change will need to engage with a wide range of volunteer leaders at all levels—conference chairs, steering committees, individual authors and reviewers—to be effective 

Implementing two-way anonymization through policy is only part of the process: Conference leadership must be willing to participate. In my experience, taking agency away from conference leadership through top-down policies like this creates toxic friction. When I was involved in drafting the Conflict of Interest Policy for ACM Publications, a general resistance to two-way anonymization came up throughout the process. As an Associate Chair and Subcommittee Chair for the User Experience and Usability CHI Subcommittee, I’ve also seen how these positions of power can depend on one-way anonymization; I expect there would be resistance to two-way anonymization. To enact changes like this, we need pressure from the top down supported by pressure from the bottom up.

Policies on accessibility, like work I have completed enforcing the use of templates that generate accessible documents, are only partially effective in creating accessible conference proceedings. For example, requiring authors to provide figure descriptions would be a simple policy, but ensuring that content is appropriate and useful is a significant challenge. When forced to provide figure descriptions, a large proportion of authors simply copy the captions, which adds nothing of value for accessibility. Making progress requires everyone to hold conference leaders and authors accountable.

ACM recently announced a commitment to go fully open access within five years “if this can be achieved in a sustainable way.” Authors must be prepared to take on additional work when manual, costly labor is replaced by systems that automate these tasks. For example, copyright processes that were supported by vendors may need to be run by volunteers and automated systems. This approach means authors must complete these forms correctly and within deadlines without the support of a vendor to ensure publication of their work. Additionally, authors, conference attendees, and libraries may be required to pay more to maintain financial stability currently supported through subscription fees.

In the positions I hold, I actively work for change through policy. However, I recognize that most of the hard work is in “socializing” important ideas so that policies are accepted and effective. If there is an appetite for change in the community, it will take action from the community at all levels. Where there are gaps in policy, we work to express our values in new policies, and where policies are unfair, we work to change them.


Posted in: on Fri, July 10, 2020 - 11:18:44

Julie Williamson

Julie Williamson is a faculty member in the Glasgow Interactive Systems Section at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on non-planar displays and immersive experiences for public and social settings. Her service focuses on publication matters at SIGCHI and ACM, including open access, accessibility, and proceedings production processes. julie.williamson@glasgow.ac.uk
View All Julie Williamson's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Announcing a new CHI subcommittee: Critical and Sustainable Computing


Authors: Rob Comber, Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell, Mike Hazas, Michael Muller
Posted: Wed, July 08, 2020 - 10:30:03

Reflecting rising interest in sustainability, social justice, aesthetic experiences, and critical computing throughout the HCI community in the past decade, ACM CHI now features a subcommittee devoted to such concerns: the Subcommittee on Critical and Sustainable Computing. Pursuing meaningful alternatives to the status quo, the subcommittee will encourage papers that explore how computing and computing research may contribute to fair and just relations between individuals, social and cultural groups, and whole societies, locally and globally—all in the pursuit of fulfillment and flourishing. This new focus should not only contribute to the CHI research community but also offer new resources for practitioners.

The goal of this subcommittee, which is a unification of two separate subcommittee proposals, is to create a home for the research at CHI that deals with the place of technology and technology-oriented practices in creating a fairer, more sustainable, and flourishing society. We aim to do so in light of the long history of work, in HCI and beyond, that has put computing and technology design in a critical spotlight—whether in the emanicipatory forms of, for instance, postcolonial, intersectional, queer, cultural, participatory, and feminist computing, or through the application and interrogation of critical theory, philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics.

Writing this in April 2020, it seems like an odd time to celebrate. In the face of the current pandemic—when many people are suffering physically and mentally, losing their jobs (and in some countries, their healthcare), and the stability of life-as-normal is unwound for vast stretches of society—it is our hope that this subcommittee can be one place to see a way forward for HCI research. Although the subcommittee has been more than two years in the making, its timeliness is evident. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need high-quality research that questions our assumptions, challenges positions of power (including our own), and attends to the social, environmental, and economic inequities and injustices of society, and the roles that technology and technology-oriented practices have in perpetuating and ameliorating them.

This is a continuation of decades of work in HCI, CSCW, and critique. The roots of the values that underpin this subcommittee extend back to the mid-1970s, with the 1975 Aarhus Decennial Conference focusing on critical computing; the lively discussion of HCI’s impact on society has grown ever since. The critical stance of HCI research has been continually sharpened to consider people—our own individual and collective expressions of our humanity and solidarity—as more than just interchangeable cogs in the machine. Critical, cooperative, participatory, and justice-oriented design have taught us to question who gets to or is allowed to make the machine. And now we must also ask, who benefits from it? In the past 10 years alone, papers submitted to CHI dealing with topics of sustainability, social justice, development, cultural computing, Indigeneity, feminist HCI, emancipation, race, intersectionality, and the relationship of HCI to politics, activism, ethics, and the legal and societal impacts of computing, have more than doubled.

And our community is also changing, both in formal ways—ACM has updated its ethics policy, the SIGCHI Executive Committee has established SIGCHI CARES, conferences now include sustainability and diversity and inclusion chairs—and in informal ways, such as CHIversity and the Sustainable HCI SIG, which have organized and created a more inclusive space for researchers at conferences and other SIGCHI professional events. This subcommittee will hopefully be the best of both—a rigorous and rich space to collaboratively increase the quality and standing of the work that this subcommittee stands for, and a strong and supportive community of researchers working together. We expect our community and subcommittee to be one that grows, but also one that helps researchers within our community to grow. We also hope to attract new interest from researchers in science and technology studies, the humanities, the arts, and policy studies, among others, to enrich HCI scholarship. We are strong advocates, in our work and service, for diverse voices, perspectives, and approaches. We recognize the significant practical, institutional, disciplinary, ethical, and personal challenges of the work this subcommittee is designed for. We want to be sure that authors know that their work will be respected for what it is.

As research questions change, and new epistemologies and methods are integrated within HCI, the community also needs to accept—indeed, to foster—new formats of intellectual expression. For example, increasingly the community is using essays and pictorials as new forms with which to carry forward the fundamental goal of any research community: the collective construction of knowledge. The space that we can create can also be open to new ways of thinking. Authors in fields of sustainability are pushing against individualistic and consumerist notions in our designing and behavior; authors in critical computing have long moved with interpretivist epistemologies; and those working in social justice and on structural inclusion are questioning and mitigating imbalances of power.

In short, the Critical and Sustainable Computing subcommittee aspires to support expressions of research that foster deliberative self-awareness and care in the research, design, and development of interactive systems. It engages the broader HCI community’s own contributions—both positive and negative—to concerns such as criticality and ethics in computing, social justice, and the climate crisis. Yet it does so inspired by individual and social flourishing, by artful ways of being, and by the brave actions of those within computing and beyond who have challenged societies to be more just.

Acknowledgments

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received. We want to thank Pernille Bjørn, Eli Blevis, Mark Blythe, Susanne Bødker, Nicola Dell, Tawanna Dillahunt, Paul Dourish, Lone Koefoed Hansen, Ann Light, Silvia Lindtner, and Phoebe Sengers for their solidarity, mentorship, and intellectual inspiration. These people and many more remind us of the point of it all: to create a conducive and nurturing scholarly environment, if we can, for those who are in it with us, and for those who come after.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, July 08, 2020 - 10:30:03

Rob Comber

Rob Comber is an HCI researcher and associate professor in communication at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. His research focuses on issues related to the democracy of technology, including social and environmental sustainability, social justice, and feminism, and to specific applications of computing technology, including civic society, food, and social media. rcomber@kth.se
View All Rob Comber's Posts

Shaowen Bardzell

Shaowen Bardzell is professor of informatics at Indiana University Bloomington’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. Her research explores the contributions of design, feminism, and social science to support technology’s role in social change. She is the co-author of Humanistic HCI (Morgan Claypool, 2015) and co-editor of Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018). selu@indiana.edu
View All Shaowen Bardzell's Posts

Jeffrey Bardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell is professor of informatics and director of HCI/design in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington. As a leading voice in critical computing and HCI/design research, he has helped to shape research agendas surrounding critical design, design theory and criticism, creativity and innovation, aesthetics, and user experience. He is co-author of Humanistic HCI (Morgan Claypool, 2015) and co-editor of Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018). jbardzel@indiana.edu
View All Jeffrey Bardzell's Posts

Mike Hazas

Mike Hazas is a professor of HCI at Uppsala University. His research interrogates how digital systems contribute to increasing standards for comfort, fidelity and service provision, and thus tend to ratchet energy demand. He was co-chair of the Specific Application Areas subcommittee for CHI 2015—2017. mike.hazas@it.uu.se
View All Mike Hazas's Posts

Michael Muller

Michael Muller is a Ph.D. research staff member at IBM Research, working at the intersection of social science and AI, with a background in participatory design and diversity studies. He is an ACM Distinguished Scientist, a member of the SIGCHI Academy, and an IBM Master Inventor. michael_muller@us.ibm.com
View All Michael Muller's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


For CS


Authors: Loren Britton, Helen Pritchard
Posted: Tue, July 07, 2020 - 11:27:18

In the text that follows, we share our conversations during the early days of the pandemic. In this moment when many things get reduced to usefulness, we propose stories that are positioned to teach us more connection, how to be in contact, and with less certainty.

In this conversation, we draw on Fred Moten’s concept of chance and scandal, and develop it within computer science as a path to justice and freedom. We share our discussion of how scandal might break through established practices. Working through what it might mean, we dream of a computer science otherwise, where diverse practices might flourish. Through a back and forth filled with vulnerabilities and uncertainties, we rethink how we might make affirmative interventions. 

We touch on projects we love, how we met, what we are reading, the work of maintenance, rising oppressions, and the desire for less determinacy. In this spirit, we propose that we need more stories of: scandal and enjoyment, friendships, refusals, inaction, hums, modes of survival, modes of non/commitment, damage, namings, cruising, feelings, pockets, tooling up, reading, dreaming, writing, making, smelling, rhythms and flows, tunings, cusps, insensibilities, and wayward practice.

For us, this conversation asks questions of multiple CS practices: computer science, chance and scandal, committed survival, care and shelter, chocolate and strawberries, cushions and support, collective strategies, chancer scientist, cohabitation and sharing, conditions and structures, choice and scandal, careful slug, collective scandal, crip studies, composed silliness, compulsory sleep, canceled stories, crying sabotage, carceral states, cut and scale, considerable scaffolding, collapsing species, collective suffering, companion story. 

In reaching toward scandals that are chance, and less closely tied to actions, we loop to calling for CS as a figuration on its own terms, now. CS is a figuration, a playful theoretical assemblage that helps us practice:

  • CS (chance and scandal) is a demand.
  • CS (chance and scandal) has everything to do with CS (computer science) and CS (committed survival).
  • CS (chance and scandal) is not an event or critical break after which new normativities are established.
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be trained for, with the commitment toward undoing another source of oppression like: extractivism, optimization, white supremacy, carceration, tokenization, othering, reproductive capitalism, the family, binaries, linearity, attention. 
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be found when inaction is present.
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be a form of failure less closely tied to action.
  • CS (chance and scandal) helps to set up an expanded gestural repertoire of “how” and “what” “to do” 
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be resourced.

Our aim is a commitment to survival with CS. 

March 18–May 11, 2020

I put a crisis-call meeting event with you in my calendar. I remember I wanted us to speak about the translation of crisis, and everything that was quickly unfolding within it. I was being contacted and asked to respond to technology designs in response to Covid-19 and the new normal. I thought we needed to have a crisis call about the demarcation of this so-called new normal and how CS (computer science) was responding to it. 

Yes! We were speaking about the proposals for monitoring movements during the lockdowns, quarantine, and shelter in place, such as contact tracing and using data from social media with image recognition and machine learning. We had been writing about contact tracing apps and the lack of public discussion happening around their development. Your partner reminded us that these technologies for/in crisis drew on designs that had been supposedly discarded due to ethical concerns. For example, many of the proposals for monitoring movement of Covid-19 in Europe were first developed (and discarded) for tracking refugees and migrants. She said, maybe that’s a good place to start in a way that connects to an HCI audience? 

IKR [I know, right], so much of the framing (based on violent practices) that attempts to establish normality in a situation that just isn’t, reminds me how much rides on business as usual. It’s exciting (and also terrible) to think about this crisis as a way to resist all these little normalizing practices that come with new normals—practices that get pushed out when the process of normalization appears. I don’t think the normal that we’ve had is so great to start with—not for me, not for a lot of others.

I think it’s really important for us to resist renormalization during times of crisis as much as we do in other times (which were already in crisis tbh). In spaces of trans*feministtechnoscience (T*FTS) [1], we have worked hard to refuse to reinstate normative structures through our work. I really think we have done this collectively through resisting and responding to the scientific agendas in HCI and CS (computer science) more broadly that often reflect gender-normative, racist, heterosexist, classist, and ableist assumptions that are used to justify, create, and enforce social inequalities [2]. This resistance is scandalous. We have as a community dreamt and worked on design practices or engagements with technoscience that highlight how specific practices reinforce or hold in place normative ideas of what the body is or can be, what nature is, what computers are. As Alex Taylor asks in his blog post: “What worlds are we making possible?” These practices and engagements often do slow things down… or put a spanner in the works on solution-driven practices.

Yes! Or are less committed to stability and progression, but we shouldn’t give up on these approaches during crisis moments just because they might be less tied to action or to fast solutions. 

This history reminds me of the precarity within which so many marginal practices inside and outside of CS (computer science) broadly and CS (chance and scandal) specifically operate. I wonder how we could show CS (care and shelter) toward the maintenance of non-normative practices of engagement like the ones we are talking about here. Thinking with Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s speculative ethics of care [3], there’s a lot of care needed that is both very direct—I need someone to pay my rent or how do I develop technologies for resistance? and less so—how do I comfort loved ones? or how do I allow for practices of tunings in my work? These precarities are in need of some CS (chocolate and strawberries) as well as some CS (cushions and support). Sitting with not knowing and not jumping to solutions might be part of this care. For designers, engineers, lovers, companions, this “care for not knowing” could replace normalization as the way to deal with the new-normal answer. 

How might we mobilize this care for not knowing? 

I think this care for not knowing has been held by a community of practitioners who have worked on the reframing of questions, epistemologies, methods, results, and interpretations embedded within CS practices. What we are making space for with our CS figure is the destabilization of what CS is defined and known to be. CS has been debated historically and can be debated still, but who gets to determine what comes to matter is still very much dependent on moments of translation, moments in which that which might not be recognized as CS becomes so. Instead of asking who gets to have a voice, we ask: Which practices get to produce knowledge? There has been an important history of this at the intersections of HCI and T*FTS, but in the context of computer science, it often exists only on the margins or peripheries of recognized practice within the discipline [4]. Due to what the existing and stabilized version of what CS (computer science) is, it is difficult for these practices to be translated as recognizable to the discipline. Part of the work of science is in the effort it takes to arrive at a stable agreement on a problem, situation, or thing. When developing the CS (citizen sense) infrastructures, we worked together with citizens on a design process that could both make legible air pollution but also a set of practices that could upset the usual politics of expertise and evidence [5]. We interrogated technologies as both interdependent but also as sites of normative conditions in a way that continuously resisted reinstating new normals, while holding on to the particular politics that were at stake. And Jennifer (Gabrys) proposed that instead of care as a set of normative relations we might rethink care “as a speculative mode of encounter” formed through practices that engage with harm [6]. 

When you talk about this I am also reminded of the work that Aimi Hamraie and Kelly Fritsch are doing with the “Crip Technoscience Manifesto” [7] on interdependence. Hamraie and Fritsch focus on centering disabled people as doers and makers. They point to the etymology of the word access, which bifurcates into the meanings of a “kind of attack” as well as an “opportunity enabling contact.” They mention many projects that offer alternatives, such as Mapping Access a collective mapping project that brings people together to collect access information about the everyday built environment. 

Resisting normalization as a form of care might also be way of “flipping the system,” as described by the research collective Our Data Bodies Project (ODB). During their research, they found that one of the reoccurring themes was that many people experience a feeling of paranoia, raw emotions, and memories when talking about data collection and data-driven systems. They have been working with communities to flip the scripts and strategies used in data collection, to move from paranoia to power, to “think about CS (collective strategies) for now and in the future.”

I think all these research projects focus on the importance of working with interdependence and rejecting the new normal—scandalous practices.


Maintaining Indeterminacy by Loren Britton.

March 18–May 11, 2020

Of course, there are always historical underlying causes. I’m fearful that in multiple contexts we see the underlying realities of oppression in a newly brutal way because of this lockdown. We see this both in the ways in which big tech takes up contact tracing apps, which clearly show the issues with contact with health authorities and commercial partners, and further in the police state regulating in a heightened way by arresting the homeless, people of color, and sex workers for practicing survival. Both of these brutalities are posed as modes of care. And this is a care that is based on predetermining the subjects of care (or not).

In relation to our proposition of care for not knowing, I’ve been thinking about our maintaining CS project. It feels like I’m engaged with caring for indeterminacy and indeterminate care all the time right now. Has it crossed your mind too?

I feel the same way. When we wrote the proposal for the workshop series, it was more about proposing other ways of relating to each other, slowing down, making different or new formats. We are both having to do a lot of work to maintain spaces for indeterminate practices and thinking but also on a daily basis inhabit a deep embrace of indeterminacy toward modes of survival. All of which is not recognized by institutions.

So it’s interesting that we are thinking about our work on maintaining indeterminacy during this time, because it also calls us to consider what this indeterminacy is that we are committed to and how it becomes a way in which our practice is figured within T*FTS. Since our Oracle practice [8] workshop, I’ve been caught with Alexis Pauline Gumb’s proposal of unknowing.

I’ve been thinking about Gumb’s work too, and specifically working with the practice part, by practicing the indeterminate, i.e., not aiming to overly control the path in which the practice will develop but rather allowing the materiality of the environment and the conditions to emerge and to allow for the emergence of knowledge that exists outside of the previously nameable. 

And this is a much bigger move than how less determinate paths are often imagined. For example, when indeterminacy is designed in HCI, there might be a discussion to loosen the outcome by changing the mode of touch interaction from an on-off switch to a galvanized moisture sensor. 

Ha! Indeed I think we are demanding something else here...

Yes, I don’t think that all that might come up needs to be named either. I think that unknowing and indeterminacy are far apart. Indeterminacy to me seems to be about practicing the space of the possible, whereas unknowing seems to be about knowing from where you begin and then unlearning that thing. 

Practicing indeterminacy is a kind of space for chance that is necessary in order to practice and to think the world differently. Chance, as a verb, is to do something despite its being dangerous or of an uncertain outcome. We see something very different in the ways in which Covid-19 is addressed by technoscience; secure answers are demanded and possibilities are collapsed. To be a practicing CS (chancer scientist) means that it becomes almost immoral to demand spaces of dreaming or indeterminacy as a response, a mode of responding in which facts might not be so secure.

We read a text a while ago by Kathryn Yusoff [9]. I like how she troubles response. Before action, representation, affirmation she wonders, What is response? What you’re saying about Covid-19, care, and response brings up a lot. I am thinking about how Jeff Bezos has gained millions of dollars through the continued extraction of his workers. I have read that many workers at Whole Foods got a raise during this time; however, they still do not have paid sick leave or hazard insurance. It’s this very fine line between being an essential worker while also being treated as dispensable. 

What is considered essential in cohabitation is deeply entangled with questions of comfort. Yusoff proposes that another mode of cohabitation would be to be in a mode of sharing, CS (cohabitation and sharing), even when this sharing is uncomfortable and causes discomfort. To cohabit would be to share conditions and place, CS (conditions and sharing). Instead, today we exist in extreme separations of condition and place. This is aided by big tech, for example, those who are tied to forms of labor that mean that they are not able to shelter in place.

All sorts of people continue to survive and thrive through so much CS (committed survival). I’m reading Saidya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments [10] right now. That book is full of so many vignettes of thriving and joy. Hartman talks about kinship as a resource and a practice of survival. It makes me realize again how many histories are ignored and the need for narratives outside of a dominant archive [11]. I don’t think the point is to romanticize, but rather to value lived experience that is not couched within oppressive norms. 

May 11–May 18, 2020

How do we make space to maintain CS (choice and scandal)? and chance, oops? All of it is a figuration like Haraway’s SF signifier [12]: CS—(computer science), (chance and scandal), (chocolate and strawberries), (couches and snuggles), (committed survival), (co-habitation and sharing), (chancer scientist), (careful slug). 

I guess when we first started discussing this, we were talking about indeterminacy and then we found chance and scandal.

Yes! I have been reading Black and Blur by Fred Moten [13]. In there he has this beautiful quote:

Indeterminacy doesn’t ground freedom or equality (by way of some magic operation whereby the absence of basis becomes a basis). Rather, they are part of a complex field of scandal and chance, wherein the very idea of ground remains to be retheorized [...]. 

I shared this with you and we started talking through the differences between indeterminacy and chance and scandal and what they might mean. 

In the context of thinking about technoscience, we came to understand this proposal from Moten that practices of survival and freedom within computing will not be achieved through a design for the play of indeterminacy, which might fracture the existing moral grounds on which it is built. Instead, freedom and equality are made possible only through the disruptive moments of scandal (which may be tied to enjoyment) that reroute, destroy, turn over, or refuse attachments in a complex and uneven field. 

This complex and uneven field might actually be understood as CS. 

Yes! And we might recognize this field as attachments of the infra-ordinary, a term that Tina Campt uses to describe the “everyday practices we don’t always notice and whose seeming insignificance requires excessive attention. Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed and the possibility of black futurity” [14]. 

Instead of talking about the new normal that emerges from the crisis, or that is the crisis, we are thinking about really the shuffling of everyday attachments that Covid-19 brings about on CS, and the new openings for scandal and chance that it presents or limits. 

Yes! And I think here is where making our desires for CS figurations of chance and scandal, or cushions and support, are important, because desire allows us an openness.

This also gets me thinking about Andrea Long Chu’s [15] work around whose responsibility it is to desire trans* people. I like how she talks about trans* and desire as being shaped co-constitutively and how it is our responsibility to develop desire for all sorts of variation, which is like a desire in a complex field. It’s a practice of attuning to how to collectively resist, with joy. It reminds me actually of when we met! Thinking with all sorts of conditions for collectivities, what grounds we can meet on, and what scandals can be—CS (collective scandal). 

When we met at Collective Conditions, those experiments with the types of resistances and the laying of new possibilities for CS were very much dunked in questions of responsibility. The “we” at Collective Conditions did a lot of working toward how to desire differently, and to desire different infrastructures, including technical ones—and making desire into an analytic is scandal in itself. 

Yes!

Endnotes

1. Trans*FeministTechnoscience (T*FTS) is defined as a branch of science studies and practices, that recognizes the inseperability of the merging of boundaries and the inseparability between science/technology/society (technoscience) and remakes the material semiotic boundaries of the body, nature, and technology. We use the formula of the star (*) which sharpens the points of the intersections of antiracist, queer, trans-disciplinary and intersectional sensibilities alongside broader STS.

2. Cipolla, C., Gupta, K., Rubin, D.A., and Willey, A., eds. Queer Feminist Science Studies: A Reader. Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle; London, 2017.

3. Bellacasa, M.P. De La. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2017. 

4. Some examples of these practices are: Oracle Practice (c.f Pritchard, Snodgrass, Britton, Morrison, Moll 2020) (https://facctconference.org/2020/acceptedcraftsessions.html#burn), Micha Cardenas - Unstoppable Project (https://michacardenas.sites.ucsc.edu/unstoppable/), Meltionary (http://meltionary.com/), Underground Division (https://hackersanddesigners.nl/p/The_Underground_Division)

5. Pritchard, H. and Gabrys, J. From citizen sensing to collective monitoring: Working through the perceptive and affective problematics of environmental pollution. GeoHumanities 2, 2 (2016), 354–371, 2016.

6. Gabrys, J. Citizen sensing, air pollution and fracking: From ‘caring about your air’ to speculative practices of evidencing harm. The Sociological Review 65, 2_suppl (2017), 172–192.

7. Hamraie, A. and Fritsch, K. Crip technoscience manifesto. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5, 1 (2019). 

8. Gumbs, A.P. 17th Floor: A pedagogical oracle from/with Audre Lorde. Journal of Lesbian Studies 21, 4 (2017), 375–390; DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2016.1164519

9. Yusoff, K. Insensible worlds: Postrelational ethics, indeterminacy and the (k)nots of relating. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31, 2, (2013), 208–226, 2013.

10. Hartman, S.V. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Norton & Company, 2019.

11. For a discussion on Sadiya Hartman’s work taken up within HCI see: Daniela Rosner’s book: Critical Fabulations: Reworking the Methods and Margins of Design. MIT Press, 2018.

12. Harraway, D. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke Univ. Press, 2016.

13. Moten, Fred. Black and Blur. Duke Univ. Press, 2017.

14. Campt, T.M. Listening to Images. Duke Univ. Press, 2017.

15. Chu, A.L. Females. Verso Books, 2019.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Tue, July 07, 2020 - 11:27:18

Loren Britton

Loren Britton is an interdisciplinary artist based in Berlin. Focusing on radical pedagogy, play, and unthinking oppression, they make objects that reposition and collaborations that unlearn. Britton is responsible to questions of techno-science, anti-racism, trans*feminism, and making accessibilities (considering class and dis/ability). Britton researches within Gender/Diversity in Informatics Systems (GeDIS) at the University of Kassel, Germany. hello@lorenbritton.com
View All Loren Britton's Posts

Helen Pritchard

Helen Pritchard is the head of Digital Arts Computing and a lecturer in computational art at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work brings together the fields of computational aesthetics, more-than-human geographies, and Trans*FeministTechnoScience to consider the impact of computational practices on environmental justice. She is the co-editor of Data Browser 06: Executing Practices published by Open Humanities Press (2018). h.pritchard@gold.ac.uk
View All Helen Pritchard's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Heeding the call for action


Authors: Sarah Fox
Posted: Thu, July 02, 2020 - 10:40:23

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground.
— Frederick Douglass [1]

It's time to implement the immensely clear action items Christina N. Harrington, Yolanda Rankin, Jasmine Jones, Robin Brewer, Sheena Erete, Tawanna Dillahunt, Quincy Brown, and others list in their “Call to Action for the ACM” and “Open Letter” [2,3]. Embedded in the authors’ urgent appeal is the “opportunity for our entire association to reflect on our practices and ways we can advance computing as a science, profession, and a catalyst for change in an ever-changing society” [4]. Heed this call, take these action items to your department heads and campus administrators. Gather your voice with others in the SIGCHI community pushing the Executive Committee to respond to repeated reports of institutional racism and ableism from colleagues and peers [4,5]. Contest the endemic problem of computing research rooted in racial hierarchies of difference, and actively oppose the tech to prison pipeline [6]. This is the dismantling work necessary to build the anti-racist institutional cultures we need. 

It is not about being quick to write statements of allyship devoid of specific commitments, but rather doing the ongoing work to make substantive and long-lasting change. For predominantly white institutions, this involves ceding space and committing material resources. Placing value on the service labor disproportionately performed by Black and brown scholars, through adequate funding, tenure considerations, and by sharing its burdens. For white, cisgender faculty members like myself, this means calling-in and calling-out those within our immediate environments who reproduce racism through their policies and actions, and remedying harms caused by our own misaligned efforts. It involves examining how we attribute the knowledge work that forms the basis of much of our critical consciousness as a field, and correcting the citational practices that have erased Black women's intellectual leadership and ongoing contributions [7]. 

If there’s one thing that we learn in volunteering for the ACM (myself, as an associate chair, workshop organizer, etc.), it’s the skill of agitation. Agitating peers to accept review requests, finish them by the deadline, respond to rebuttals, submit position papers, and register for conferences in time for the early bird rate. It’s the work of bothering colleagues in order to grow and enrich the community. Agitation is neither gentle nor harsh, but necessarily unrelenting. Materially, it is a mixing up; it refuses for things to sediment back into the status quo. 

It seems about time we collectively use this skill the ACM has taught us and put it to good use. Let’s agitate where we stand for the vital changes Harrington, Rankin, Jones, Brewer, Erete, Dillahunt, and Brown call for in their letter. As focus shifts under the compounding crises of this time, persistent work is crucial in order to ensure that such actions are realized. Let’s insist on the transformation required for these changes to last—in our labs, at our home institutions, within the ACM. 

The thing about action items is they have to be done. Now’s the time. Agitate! 

Endnotes

1. Douglass, F. Two Speeches, by Frederick Douglass: One on West India Emancipation, Delivered at Canandaigua, Aug. 4th, and the Other on the Dred Scott Decision, Delivered in New York, on the Occasion of the Anniversary of the American Abolition Society, May, 1857. C.P. Dewey, printer, American Office, 1857.

2. Harrington, C., Rankin, Y., Jones, J., Brewer, R., Erete, S., Dillahunt, T., and Brown, Q. A call to action for the ACM. ACM Interactions blog. Jun. 22, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-call-to-action-for-the-acm

3. Black in Computing Collective. An open letter & call to action to the computing community from Black computer scientists and our allies. Black in Computing. Jun. 8, 2020; https://blackincomputing.org/

4. Grady, S.D., Wisniewski, P., Metoyer, R., Gibbs, P., Badillo-Urquiola, K., Elsayed-Ali, S., and Yafi, E. Addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion. ACM Interactions blog. Jun. 11, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/addressing-institutional-racism-within-initiatives-for-sigchis-diversity-an

5. Mankoff, J. 2020. A challenging response. ACM Interactions blog. Jun. 17, 2020; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-challenging-response

6. Coalition for Critical Technology. Abolish the #TechToPrisonPipeline. Medium. Jun. 22, 2020; https://medium.com/@CoalitionForCriticalTechnology/abolish-the-techtoprisonpipeline-9b5b14366b16

7. Rankin, Y. and Thomas, J. Straighten up and fly right: Rethinking intersectionality in HCI research. ACM Interactions 26, 6 (2019), 64.



Posted in: on Thu, July 02, 2020 - 10:40:23

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the Human Computer Interaction Institute, where she directs the Tech Solidarity Lab. Her research focuses on how technological artifacts challenge or propagate social exclusions by examining existing systems and building alternatives. sarahfox@cmu.edu
View All Sarah Fox's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Reflections on planning and running a virtual Doctoral Consortium at CHI 2020


Authors: Duncan Brumby, Koji Yatani, Leah Findlater
Posted: Tue, June 30, 2020 - 10:28:52

This article describes what was done to run a virtual Doctoral Consortium at CHI 2020. The event was originally planned as an in-person, two-day event to take place in Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 25–26, 2020. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the decision was taken in March that the CHI conference would not go ahead as a physical event. Most events were canceled; however, the Doctoral Consortium continued as a self-contained track and was swiftly reorganized to successfully run as a virtual event on April 28.

Here, we describe the key steps involved in organizing the Doctoral Consortium as a virtual event, from the technology involved to how to schedule activities. Given the expected long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on conferences for the coming year, we hope that this article provides useful information for the organizers of similar events.

Why Doctoral Consortiums are Important and Must Continue

Doctoral consortiums are valuable and important community-forming events for Ph.D. students. CHI’s Doctoral Consortium format and goals are typical: Students apply by submitting application materials to help the chairs select a diverse group of students to be invited to attend. Care is taken to select students from different institutions, and during the conference, a two-day workshop takes place in which students present their work and give feedback to each other.

One of the most important features of a Doctoral Consortium is that students develop and establish their network of peers from the broader international research community beyond their immediate university lab. The connections made during a Doctoral Consortium often last, as students go on to become established members of their research community and continue to cross paths and collaborate over the years. This kind of community-building activity is very important and must continue, despite the challenges of running virtual events during the current pandemic.

Initial Planning for CHI 2020 Doctoral Consortium

The Doctoral Consortium track at CHI is extremely competitive. This year, 85 students applied and 20 were accepted. Students were required to submit a proposal describing their research along with contextual information about their Ph.D. program (full details on the call are available here: https://chi2020.acm.org/authors/doctoral-consortium/). The selection process considered both the quality of the research as well as additional factors to identify a set of students that were diverse in terms of backgrounds and topics.

By February, 20 students had been selected to participate in the Doctoral Consortium and external funds had been secured to help support travel expenses to attend the conference in person. In addition to the three co-chairs, three mentors had also been invited to join the consortium to give advice and feedback to students. These mentors were invited fairly late in the process, throughout January and February, and were selected from respected members of the CHI research community. As outlined below, mentors play a key role in supporting and facilitating a smoothly running Doctoral Consortium, even more so when it comes to running this as a virtual event.

Transitioning to a Virtual Doctoral Consortium

The decision to run the Doctoral Consortium as a virtual event was made only six weeks before the event. While we did have a list of students who had been accepted, there was still much to do.

The first priority was to identify whether the students who applied still had the capacity and interest to take part in a virtual event. At this time, many countries were beginning to issue mandatory lockdown and stay-at-home orders. The sudden and unexpected transition was challenging for many, and it was unclear whether the students would be able to participate. There were also secondary concerns, such as identifying the time zone that participants would be able to join and what kind of activities they were most interested in. To answer these initial questions, a brief survey was constructed and sent to participants at the end of March.

Working Across Time Zones

Participants were spread across a wide range of time zones (e.g., Oceania, Asia, Europe, and North America). One of the first major decisions was to decide how long the event should be and at what time it should run. The two main options considered were: 1) having one longer event with core overlapping hours, and 2) having two separate shorter events. Our thinking on this decision was informed by reflections from Simon Buckingham Shum on organizing the Doctoral Consortium at LAK ’20 [1]. We decided to split our Doctoral Consortium into two separate four-hour events:

  • DC-A: Tuesday, April 28, 2020, 9:00–13:00 UTC
  • DC-B: Tuesday, April 28, 2020, 16:00–20:00 UTC

Participants naturally clustered into two groups of 10 based on their preferred meeting time. It’s worth highlighting here that people’s preferences were not based simply on their local time zone. Instead, participants joined the group that suited them best: Some preferred to get up early, while others preferred to stay up late.

A further benefit of running the event as two separate short events meant that each meeting had fewer participants, potentially making communication in the virtual meeting more manageable. Of course, a downside of this decision is that the entire group of participants never came together as one as they would have during an in-person conference.

Scheduling Activities

The next priority was to establish a basic schedule for activities during the two four-hour sessions. Each session had an identical template structure:

  • Welcome and introductions (10 min)
  • Talk 1 (7 min)
  • Talk 2 (7 min)
  • Breakout group discussion: two rooms, one for each speaker (15 mins)
  • Talk 3 (7 min)
  • Talk 4 (7 min)
  • Breakout group discussion: two rooms, one for each speaker (15 mins)
  • Break (10 min)
  • Talk 5 (7 min)
  • Talk 6 (7 min)
  • Breakout group discussion: two rooms, one for each speaker (15 mins)
  • Talk 7 (7 min)
  • Talk 8 (7 min)
  • Breakout group discussion: two rooms, one for each speaker (15 mins)
  • Break (10 min)
  • Talk 9 (7 min)
  • Talk 10 (7 min)
  • Social time (1 hr)

A shared and editable document was sent to participants as soon as possible to help them plan for the meeting. Students were allocated a talk slot in the schedule; this was done in a random order without any special effort given to group students into thematic clusters based on topic. Inevitably there were some requests to switch sessions soon after the initial draft schedule was shared; these requests were all accommodated.

Along with the schedule, all of the students’ extended abstracts were also shared using Google Drive (which had to be done because the papers had not yet appeared in the ACM Digital Library). It was important to share these papers as early as possible, as it gave all of the participants an opportunity to dive deeper and learn about each other’s work prior to the meeting. Finally, speakers were asked to provide a link to slides ahead of the meeting; this worked as a backup should a presenter run into difficulties with screen sharing during their talk (more on that soon).

Welcome and Introductions

The meeting started with a welcome. Every person in the meeting gave a short introduction: name, affiliation, current location and time of day, and a brief overview of their research topic. Introductions were made in a random order based on the layout of participants on the chair’s screen. This meant that mentors and students were interleaved. This welcome event was scheduled to take 10 minutes; however, in both meetings it ran over considerably, taking 20 minutes. It was the only part of the meeting to run over, suggesting that more time should have been allocated. Taking the time for introductions is very important for a successful virtual meeting, as it allows each participant time to speak to the group.

Short Talks

Participants were asked to prepare a five-minute presentation covering three points:

  • What’s your research question?
  • What work have you done so far?
  • What work still needs to be done to complete your Ph.D.?

We opted for short talks, so as to keep down the overall duration of each meeting and to enable longer breakout group discussions. From our personal experience, shorter talks seem to work better in this context, as it’s hard to hold people’s attention online. We considered asking participants to prepare a prerecorded talk, but in the end decided against it due to concerns that it would place too many extra demands on participants ahead of the meeting. In the end, all of the Doctoral Consortium participants were able to give strong and compelling talks about their work within the given time limit.

On the Importance of Mentors

Mentors play a critical role in the smooth running of a Doctoral Consortium; their role is even more vital in a virtual event. Initially three mentors were recruited. But with the event now split in two, more help was clearly needed. Within a couple of days we had successfully recruited a diverse group of 10 mentors who were experts in different areas of HCI research.

Several of the newly appointed mentors were outstanding early-career researchers, who themselves had been members of the CHI Doctoral Consortium over the past few years. There was enthusiasm from this group to give back and also to share advice on how to navigate the steps immediately after completing a Ph.D. Partnering early career researchers with more established senior researchers made for an exciting mix of perspectives on advising the Doctoral Consortium participants.

Technology for Running a Virtual Doctoral Consortium

We relied on four tools to run the event:

  • Zoom for hosting the video call, sharing slides, and setting up breakout rooms (see Figure 1 for participants in the two sessions). A paid account was used to enable longer meetings. We used Zoom’s Meeting mode rather than the Webinar mode, as this allowed for more interaction between participants. Participants were encouraged to have their video on with their microphone muted unless they were speaking. Security for virtual meetings is an important concern, and this was reinforced to us by reports of Zoombombing taking place during another CHI-related event the day before our meeting (see Barry Brown’s reflections on how this was handled). We therefore took care to set a password for the meeting and share the link only with meeting participants directly (i.e., we did not put the link on a public website). Finally, it’s worth noting that the role of chairing a virtual meeting is extra demanding, as attention is needed for managing all the tools and ensuring everyone has access. For example, setting up and assigning people to breakout rooms takes time and requires attention; it is difficult to carefully listen to a talk while doing this simultaneously.

  • Slack for text communication and sharing notes and other resources. All participants were invited to join a few weeks before the event. Slack was very useful for enabling conversations to occur both before and after the meeting. Several mentors reported that they shared written feedback with students and used this tool to backchannel with students on extended questions. While Zoom enables in-meeting chat, this feature operates only during the meeting and cannot easily be accessed by all participants once the meeting has ended.

  • Google Docs for sharing the schedule and links to slides and papers.

  • Email for essential communication and reminders. Despite having alternative forms of communication such as Slack, email is still a universal tool for reaching people. Emails were sent by the chair to both students and mentors to share important information (e.g., schedule and meeting link). Reminders were sent one week and 24 hours before the meeting.


Figure 1. Participants in the two sessions of the virtual Doctoral Consortium at CHI 2020.

We’re All Working from Home Now

One of the requirements for taking part in a virtual meeting is that participants have access to a good, stable Internet connection and their own computers with a camera and a microphone. However, there are well-documented issues with speed inequities between different societal groups and locations. During the meeting, some participants did experience issues with poor Internet speeds and had to work around this by turning off their camera or by stopping screen sharing. We planned for such events by asking all speakers to share a copy of their slides ahead of time in case screen sharing became impossible.

While participants should ideally find a quiet space, free from interruption, many live in homes with others and have to work in shared living spaces, where background interruptions and distractions are likely to occur. Everyone appreciates a level of understanding on these issues.

Accessibility

There are well-established arrangements in place to provide accessibility services at physical conferences; these must be retained during the transition to virtual events. Our event included sign language interpretation; one participant coordinated with the interpreters and shared meeting details ahead of the event. Interpreters require frequent breaks, so they often work in small teams and switch throughout the meeting. Special attention is needed when assigning breakout rooms to make sure that the interpreters are assigned to the same virtual room as the people they are supporting during the meeting.

One thing that we regret not doing is enabling closed captioning throughout the meeting for all participants. Several participants reported that this would have been useful, since it would have created a script that could be consulted when something was missed. In Zoom, an assigned meeting participant can manually add closed captions, or a third-party service can be connected to stream captions. Other meeting platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, have integrated automatic closed-captioning services that may be sufficient for some participants but are not equivalent to having a human transcriptionist.

Don’t Record

Just because you can record a digital event does not mean that you should. Doctoral Consortiums are intended to be safe spaces in which students can give and receive feedback from their peers—private, invitation-only events. In keeping with the spirit of a traditional in-person Doctoral Consortium, the event was not recorded.

Breakout Rooms

The schedule was structured so that there was a pattern of two seven-minute talks followed by a 15-minute breakout room discussion. One breakout room was set (and named for) each of the speakers. Prior to the meeting, two mentors were assigned to each speaker; all other participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. Mentor-mentee assignments were shared with all participants several days before the event so that mentors could prepare by reading the extended abstracts of their mentees ahead of time. Mentors gave their preferences for who they would like to work with (usually based on a topicality fit), and these preferences were almost always met.

Mentors played a key role in chairing the breakout-room discussions. Pre-assigning them to students was beneficial for the smooth running of the virtual meeting. The chair of the meeting can set up the breakout rooms—however, once they’re launched, participants leave the main meeting space and go to the virtual breakout rooms. Mentors chaired these breakout meetings and often started the conversation by asking their mentee about the areas where they would most value feedback.

In Zoom, there are options to automatically set the duration of breakout rooms and to set how much warning participants get to wrap up their conversation before being returned to the main meeting space. Using these features kept everything running on time.

Ending on a Social Hour

The meetings ended with an open-ended discussion with all participants. One limitation of the virtual format is that these informal discussions are more difficult to manage than when run at an in-person event. There are challenges in turn-taking associated with virtual meeting tools. The option of breakout rooms was given but not taken up. Instead, an informal Q&A between students and mentors developed.

At conferences, social events usually follow the main meeting (e.g., an evening meal together at a restaurant). In planning the virtual event, several participants said that they would be interested in retaining this social element, for instance, by staying on the call to have a virtual beer together. However, on the day this did not happen. Maybe a four-hour virtual meeting is simply too exhausting?

Conclusion

Doctoral consortiums are important training and networking events for Ph.D. students. They must continue despite the challenges of conducting conferences as virtual events during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this article, we have reflected on our experience of rapidly reorganizing the CHI 2020 Doctoral Consortium to a virtual event over a six-week period. In the end, it was an enjoyable and successful event that retained many of the core features of an in-person Doctoral Consortium. Time will tell whether the longer-term objective of helping this cohort of students develop those deep and long-lasting connections was achieved.

List of Participants

Co-Chairs:

  • Duncan Brumby, University College London
  • Koji Yatani, University of Tokyo
  • Leah Findlater, University of Washington

Mentors:

  • Ed Cutrell, Microsoft Research
  • Anna Feit, ETH Zurich
  • Simone Kriglstein, University of Vienna
  • Neha Kumar, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Kai Kunze, Keio University
  • Shaun Lawson, Northumbria University
  • Pedro Lopes, University of Chicago
  • Bektur Ryskeldiev, University of Tsukuba
  • Katta Spiel, Vienna University of Technology
  • Maria Wolters, University of Edinburgh

Students:


Posted in: Covid-19 on Tue, June 30, 2020 - 10:28:52

Duncan Brumby

Duncan Brumby is professor of human-computer interaction (HCI) at University College London (UCL), where he directs the HCI MSc program. His research focuses on understanding how people manage digital distractions. He is editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies and has been on the CHI organizing committee for the past few years. d.brumby@ucl.ac.uk
View All Duncan Brumby's Posts

Koji Yatani

Koji Yatani is an associate professor and 2017 UTokyo Excellent Young Researcher in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Systems, School of Engineering, University of Tokyo, where he leads the Interactive Intelligent Systems Laboratory (http://iis-lab.org). His current research focuses on novel sensing technology for interaction, productivity/creativity support, and usable security. He is the steering committee chair for ACM UbiComp. koji@iis-lab.org
View All Koji Yatani's Posts

Leah Findlater

Leah Findlater is an associate professor in human centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, where she directs the Inclusive Design Lab. Her research focuses accessible computing and human-centered machine learning. leahkf@uw.edu
View All Leah Findlater's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


‘A call to action for the ACM’ liberates all of us


Authors: Lilly Irani
Posted: Mon, June 29, 2020 - 10:53:23

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. 
— Audre Lorde [1]

A Call to Action for the ACM” is a gift. The piece was authored collaboratively by computing scholars Christina N. Harrington, Yolanda Rankin, Jasmine Jones, Robin Brewer, Sheena Erete, Tawanna Dillahunt, and Quincy Brown. It is tremendous and exhausting work to stretch across the gap of ignorance to argue for the validity of black scholars’ needs. It is already unfair that those in power set the terms of legible arguments and legitimate discourse, whether implicitly or explicitly. That the ACM and cultures of computing more widely reproduce racism is plainly in evidence: “Black faculty in CS and Information Sciences make up only 1.8% [of the professoriate], while only 1.7% of new PhD earners are black,” Harrington and her collaborators remind us. This, in a country where, according to the census, 13% of people are black. The authors’ gift to us is that they and so many others have outlined specific processes that reproduce this racism. For those of us who do not fully understand their recommendations, the burden is on us to do our homework to do so. The burden is on us to do the difficult work of reorganizing our organizations, routines, and sensibilities to take the recommended actions. The problems ACM practices create for black scholars are specific, but black scholars’ struggle to name their “real conditions” amidst racism, as Lorde argues, have much in common with the struggles of those who battle homophobia, gender norms, and other forms of racism. By doing the work the authors call on us—and specifically ACM leadership—to do, we will be better scholars of computing and society. We will be better people, liberated as Frantz Fanon argues [2], from the ways that racist practices hold all of us back from fuller humanity.

It is not enough to add more black computing scholars to the pipeline without looking at the harms and exclusion perpetuated inside the pipeline’s practices of evaluation, support, and leadership. ACM—though not only ACM—has a problem of whose perspectives, values, and practices are valued in leadership, in ethical judgement, in evaluation processes, and even in the politics of friendship that glues so much of this intellectual community together. Each one of helps reproduce a racist system when we fail to challenge and transform how we do research, resources, and friendship. 

I know it can feel deeply uncomfortable for some to hear the word racist attached to a set of practices undertaken with good intentions. If you feel this discomfort, name it, observe it, and learn to move past it. Use it as an entry point for gaining deeper self-knowledge that expands your capacity to do anti-racist work [3]. It feels far worse to be a marginalized scholar treated as if their life and intellect matters less than a community’s fear of confronting change. “A Call to Action” reaches out in good faith. The ACM must return the favor.

Endnotes

1. Lorde, A. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, Berkeley, 1984.

2. Fanon, F. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove Press, New York, 1967. 

3. Malnarich, G. Learning community classrooms and educating for critical hope. In Teaching the Whole Student: Engaged Learning with Heart, Mind, and Spirit. Stylus, Sterling, VA, 2017, 57–78.



Posted in: on Mon, June 29, 2020 - 10:53:23

Lilly Irani

Lilly Irani is an associate professor of communication & science studies at University of California, San Diego. She also serves as faculty in the Design Lab, Institute for Practical Ethics, the program in critical gender studies, and sits on the academic advisory board of AI Now (NYU). She is author of Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India (Princeton Univ. Press, 2019). She has a Ph.D. in Informatics from University of California, Irvine. lirani@ucsd.edu
View All Lilly Irani's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


The best tech for contact tracing? Systems designed for healthcare workers


Authors: Margaret Bourdeaux, Mary Gray, Barbara Grosz
Posted: Fri, June 26, 2020 - 2:37:22

Given the ongoing sense of urgency, some, particularly in technology circles, wonder if waiting for a healthcare worker to track down the virus makes sense. In a fight that depends on quickly finding and containing the coronavirus, couldn’t we do more with our mobile phones to put our country in a better position? Could the digital technologies that already connect us—sensing and tracing our every move—stop infected people in their tracks and help skip the step of large armies of human contact tracers having to call people? Unfortunately, this line of thinking has dominated much of the debate around how best to apply technology to contact tracing in the U.S. 

In many ways, the phrase contact tracing elides the harder and most important part of a contact tracer’s work. Identifying and tracing potentially infected people are only the first steps in the process. Frontline human contact tracers need to persuade people, particularly those at our community’s margins—whether undocumented workers or the elderly living alone—to disclose a Covid-19 status that could stigmatize or further isolate them. Much of the work in stopping a wildly infectious disease involves communities and healthcare workers quickly mustering the resources to monitor and manage patients’ health. Yet these healthcare heroes have never had technologies built to specifically make the challenges of their jobs less daunting. That is why we need the HCI research community, well versed in human-centered design, to take the lead on building the technological innovations to trace and treat Covid-19.

Contact tracing is a core element of all plans for safely easing the social distancing and shutdowns resulting from the pandemic. For more than a century, this epidemiologists’ tool has proved the key to saving lives threatened by infectious diseases. By systematically mapping those exposed to contagious infections, it enables the containment of disease transmission. The success of contact tracing depends not only on meticulous data collection but also on the effective counseling of the people exposed and at risk. These two critical components must roll out as a coordinated effort. The people cornered by the pandemic are vulnerable and fearful for themselves and their loved ones. That is why successful contact tracing requires the counseling skills of trained healthcare workers connected to the communities that they serve. Perhaps more surprisingly, the data collection does too. 

The magnitude of the labor force needed for contact tracing is daunting, leading some to propose that technology should take over. On Friday, April 10, Apple and Google announced joining forces to reduce the need for human contact tracers and allow people to take contact tracing into their own hands. These two tech companies, and many others, aim to empower anyone with a cellphone to anonymously text their Covid-19 infection status and to receive text alerts if they have come close to someone infected with the virus. Other computer scientists [1] and technologists [2] are developing methods for ensuring privacy and anonymity. But there are growing concerns that states and consumers might end up with poorly built apps that either leak information [3] or are simply ineffective [4]. We—a computer scientist, social scientist, and a physician who is involved in standing up the contact tracing program in Massachusetts—have deep reservations about the effectiveness and equity of this particular approach. We do, however, believe that human contact tracer teams would benefit enormously from a different approach to deploying technology to meet the challenges of contact tracing. Medical communities and public health depend on bringing a human-centered design approach to the challenge of large-scale contact tracing. The HCI research community could develop the technological support systems that healthcare workers and their patients will need to weather the threats of Covid-19. 

Let’s review why digital contact tracing apps are, at best, a partial solution. 

Cellphone data will miss, for example, data from an infected person who leaves their cellphone behind when they go grocery shopping. It will also miss the millions of Americans who don’t have their own cellphones or live in rural parts of the country with limited cellular or Internet access. More crucially, cellphone tracking alone cannot accurately report the nature of contacts. High-risk contacts range from being within six feet of an infected person who is not wearing a mask for longer than 10 minutes to touching a contaminated surface. Irrelevant contact data collected by technology on autopilot will needlessly consume precious human contact tracers’ time. The data collection needed for successful contact tracing relies on trained healthcare workers who are able to assess the potential risk associated with each interaction. This in turn requires the ability to patiently encourage someone who is sick and anxious to remember who they interacted with under relevant conditions.

Most problematic, however, is assuming that the nuances of contract tracing can be reduced to simply tracing networks of contacts from location data. To succeed, contact tracing programs require that people trust the entity to whom they are reporting. Trust is built on empathy [5], patience, and the ability to help someone who has just been exposed to a life-threatening disease. The delivery of troubling or frightening health news takes more than the ping of a text message. Human contact tracers are able to guide a rattled parent to think through who their child might have played with at a neighborhood potluck two weeks ago or help an undocumented immigrant find support and care should they fall ill. They also convey understanding and help people marshal the resources they will need to sustain a 14-day quarantine after they have been exposed. Thus, contact tracing hinges on deeply human exchanges. There is no app for that. 

Too narrow a focus on cellphone location technologies could distract policymakers from building out the ranks of workers critical to implementing a comprehensive contact-tracing strategy. And a focus on this use of technology alone could distract computer scientists and systems engineers from developing the technologies that could make contact tracing more efficient and effective. These monumental contact tracing efforts require technologies built to assist rather than replace the legions of healthcare workers necessary for the months that there is neither a treatment nor a vaccine for Covid-19. Technologies, properly designed to support healthcare personnel in the tasks their work comprises, will be essential. 

Supporting the Pillars of Contact Tracing

The Massachusetts Covid-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) has deployed the first comprehensive contact tracing program in the U.S. The CTC combines the leadership and state resources of the Baker administration’s Covid-19 Response Command Center, the state Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Health Connector with the deep domain expertise of Partners in Health, a Boston-based healthcare nonprofit known for tackling outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, and other deadly infections around the world. Partners in Health is training thousands of healthcare workers to fan out, virtually, across the state to begin the hard work of contact tracing. To determine the ways in which technology can help requires first understanding the four pillars that make contact tracing effective. These four key elements are:

  • Identifying who has tested positive for Covid-19

  • Helping those who have tested positive identify people they may have exposed to Covid-19

  • Contacting those exposed and at risk of contracting Covid-19, connecting them with testing facilities, and counseling them through effective self-quarantining measures 

  • Finding a safe place to shelter those who cannot quarantine or isolate at home, equipping them with the resources they need, and monitoring their health and well-being.

The fourth pillar is especially challenging, because of the diversity of people needing such help—including frontline medical personnel, people fleeing domestic violence, and the homeless. We will need technologies that connect people to ongoing community-based support and guidance that’s relevant to their needs and worthy of their trust. 

Computing technologies have great potential to assist with the work entailed by each pillar. For them to be useful and effective, though, requires that technologists work with epidemiologists and expert contract tracers to understand their work and their workflows, and from this, to identify their information needs and determine the best ways to meet them. The development of these technologies must follow established methods for human-computer interaction design, including the critical steps of iterative design. Otherwise they may make contact tracers’ work more difficult and time consuming in ways that electronic health records have done for doctors and gig-work platforms have done for gig workers [6].

To be helpful, contact-tracing technologies must be designed to work well for the people using them—namely, both human healthcare tracers and ordinary citizens whose contacts must be traced. It involves more than dropping a virtual pin on the map that logs the location of an infected person. Technical specs, like Bluetooth ecosystems or applications of what’s called differential privacy prioritize anonymity. But those technologies cannot get at the nature and quality of contact with any accuracy. 

Contact tracing involves talking with people, bringing empathy and care to a call and evaluating and assessing the type of contact someone might have had with another potentially infected person. Until the world’s population has herd immunity (hopefully through effective and equitable vaccination programs), we will need contact tracing. This contact tracing will involve building rapport and keeping in touch with people so that when an inevitable outbreak throws us into a panic, there’s a calm, well-trained professional to guide us through the best next steps to protect ourselves and each other. In these cases, there’s no technological substitute for the distinctly human capacity of a healthcare worker. 

Recommendations for Future Covid-19 Tech Directions 

So, what kinds of technologies could make a difference? They must be intentionally built to assist rather than attempt to replace the most vital piece of contact tracing: the caregiver in the healthcare loop. Tech designed to help healthcare workers coordinate care for families and friends in the midst and aftermath of the virus will win the day. We list a few suggestions below, drawn from computer science and engineering research, that point toward the kinds of computer-human collaborative work technologies from which a newly recruited army of human contact tracers (HCTs) would benefit as they attack Covid-19 head on: 

  • Dynamic electronic reference tools that provide well-indexed access to answers to likely challenging questions, thus helping contact tracers offer consistent responses when asked something they aren’t sure how to answer 

  • For long-term monitoring, shared HCT records could assist teams in collaborating as they muster resources for someone who cannot quarantine at home and in routing care where needed 

  • Secure, shared databases and local area networks to support networked HCT teams doing intakes. HCT teams will need to coordinate initial calls, particularly to vulnerable, hard-to-reach groups, so that more than one person with the necessary language or cultural background can reach out, multiple times, for data collection 

  • Last, health workers and their agencies, across private-public partnerships, will need secure, centralized data storage that they can, collectively, trust to share information at the local, state, and federal levels.

Glamorizing the promise of tech and assuming it can substitute for the healthcare worker at the core of contact tracing’s effectiveness could waste more than time—it could cost lives. Who among the millions of Americans with either poor Internet access or no smartphone at all will we miss along the way? And, more important, what is in place to help people comply with quarantine and isolation directives? 

As is well documented in epidemiology, those who have the most to risk when asked to share information about themselves can be the hardest to reach in a pandemic. Think of the risks an undocumented delivery person carries right now. They are in the thick of the threat that this virus poses because they are bringing food and comfort to anyone who can afford to order home deliveries. These workers need more than an app to navigate the risks that they face if they fall ill with Covid-19 and must come forward. Data collection, even the most privacy attuned, is only the first step. Tech innovation could be a game changer in the hands of health-work professionals. Teams of healthcare workers, assisted by technologies built to support their workflows and teamwork, will be critical in the coming months. Ultimately, the best technological interventions will be the ones that ask epidemiologists how they do their best work. It is worth investing in the contact-tracing technologies we need not just for Covid-19 this year but also for the inevitable next pandemic.

It is not too late to make a coordinated offensive strike. We could combine the power of human- centered tech design with the irreplaceable kindness of frontline health workers to help us keep Covid-19 at bay until we have a vaccine. In fact, doing anything less misses the opportunity of our lifetimes to unleash the deeply social potential of technologies. 

Endnotes

1. https://pact.mit.edu/

2. https://covidsafe.cs.washington.edu/

3. Coronavirus: Security flaws found in NHS contact-tracing app. BBC News Technology. May 19, 2020; https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52725810

4. Landau, S. Looking beyond contact tracing to stop the spread. Lawfare. Apr. 10, 2020; https://www.lawfareblog.com/looking-beyond-contact-tracing-stop-spread

5. Barber, B. The Logic and Limits of Trust. Rutgers Univ. Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1983.

6. Gray, M.L. and Suri, S. Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, June 26, 2020 - 2:37:22

Margaret Bourdeaux

Margaret Bourdeaux is the policy liaison for Partners in Health’s Covid-19 contact tracing program. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Bourdeaux conducts research and fieldwork focused on health systems and institutions in conflict-affected states. mbourdeaux@hks.harvard.edu
View All Margaret Bourdeaux's Posts

Mary Gray

Mary L. Gray is a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research, a Berkman Klein Faculty Affiliate at Harvard University, and a faculty member in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, with affiliations in anthropology and gender studies, at Indiana University. Her research focuses on how everyday uses of technologies transform people’s lives. mlg@microsoft.com
View All Mary Gray's Posts

Barbara Grosz

Barbara Grosz is Higgins Research Professor of Natural Sciences in the Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. Her pioneering research in artificial intelligence (AI) has developed foundational theories of multi-agent collaboration and applied them to the design of healthcare coordination systems. grosz@g.harvard.edu Photo by Rose Lincoln.
View All Barbara Grosz's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Listen, learn, respond, act


Authors: Lucy Suchman
Posted: Thu, June 25, 2020 - 11:32:41

For those of us who occupy the closed worlds of privilege, it is time to listen. I write as a cisgender woman who has lived my life as White, academically educated, and economically secure, thanks to the initiative of my atheist Jewish grandparents who escaped the pogroms of the late 19th century and settled in New York City’s Lower East Side. I myself am now a settler on unceded Indigenous land belonging to Coast Salish peoples, in that nexus of empire and colonialism, British Columbia. Living in North America today as unmarked/unracialized offers extraordinary advantage, at the same time that it encourages the profound and abiding ignorance on which privilege depends. 

The appearance in Interactions of the “Call to Action for the ACM” from Christina Harrington and co-authors [1], accompanied by the call to action to the computing community by Black colleagues and supporters [2], can be read as an appeal—better a demand—that we begin to address the ignorance of privilege and redress the injustices that it enables. Within the context of the ACM, that must include a critical understanding of the role that professional associations play, not only in facilitating interactions/connections, but also in policing the credentials of membership and the boundaries of what counts as authoritative knowledge, not least through the politics of citation. The fact that there are members with the requisite knowledge and sensibilities to see and articulate how legacies of systemic racism and injustice manifest in the contemporary ACM and the fields that it represents should be embraced, as an invaluable resource for reparation and collective transformation.

As the authors of an earlier Interactions post titled “Addressing Institutional Racism Within Initiatives for SIGCHI’s Diversity and Inclusion” observe: “Institutional racism does not have to be intentional or malicious to disadvantage minority groups. It merely has to occur in a way that harms those who are in the minority who have less power” [3]. The definition of harm, crucially, must come from those who are affected and be responded to in ways that those who experience the harm identify. In this case, the call is to strengthen the role of the authors in SIGCHI initiatives aimed at researching questions of diversity and inclusion, to support their ongoing learning, and to expand their responsibilities. As with all good design initiatives, they emphasize, this would necessarily be an iterative process of mutual learning.

The history of computing, as we know, is inextricably entangled with histories of (particularly U.S.) militarism. U.S. militarism, in turn, is sustained by and perpetuates geopolitical legacies based on territorial and strategic control through violence and intimidation. The foundation of colonial power is and always has been imaginaries of racialized (primarily White) supremacy, the justification for the subordinations necessary for exploitative labor. As Black Lives Matter is teaching us today, that history runs through the veins of the U.S. from its founding in slavery, through to its contemporary investments in the business of Black and Brown incarceration, whether in (increasingly privatized) prisons or in immigrant detention centers. Until that history, including the multiple forms of dehumanization and exploitation on which it rests, is acknowledged, the computing professions comprising the ACM will remain closed to the pluriverse of knowledges that might otherwise inform the design and development of computer-based systems, and our possibilities for collective informing and communicating. An opening up to other knowledges requires, first and foremost, overcoming deep-seated institutional prejudices that mistake meritocracy for “those who look like me,” difference for deficiency, and provincialism (for example, of Silicon Valley tech) for worldliness. 

As I approach emerita status and the enormous privilege of a research-activist retirement, I have never been more conscious of the limits of my knowledge. My growing awareness of the vast range of Black (particularly feminist) scholarship that has been largely erased from the canons of mainstream pedagogy is a humbling, at times overwhelming, experience [4]. The ACM has the tremendous benefit of members who are at once committed to the potential of computing and to the rebuilding of the Association beyond symbolic gestures toward “diversity and inclusion”; these are the authors of this Call. The next steps are for us to listen, to learn, to respond, and to act. 

Lucy Suchman
Recipient, 2010 ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Research Award
June 24, 2020

Endnotes

1. Harrington, C.N., Rankin, Y., Jones, J., Brewer, R., Erete, S., Dillahunt, T., and Brown, Q. A call to action for the ACM Interactions blog; http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/a-call-to-action-for-the-acm

2. Black in Computing and Our Allies for Equity and Fairness. An open letter & call to action to the computing community from Black in Computing and Our Allies. Jun. 8, 2020; https://blackincomputing.org/

3. Grady, S.D., Wisniewski, P., Metoyer, R., Gibbs, P., Badillo-Urquiola, K., Elsayed-Ali, S., and Yafi, E. Addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion. Interactions blog; https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/addressing-institutional-racism-within-initiatives-for-sigchis-diversity-an 

4. As an example of powerful pedagogy in Black feminist theorizing see: Rankin, Y. and Thomas, J. Straighten up and fly right: Rethinking intersectionality in HCI research. Interactions 26, 6 (Nov.–Dec. 2019), 64; https://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/november-december-2019/straighten-up-and-fly-right#R13



Posted in: on Thu, June 25, 2020 - 11:32:41

Lucy Suchman

Lucy Suchman is professor of the anthropology of science and technology at Lancaster University in the U.K. Before taking up her present post she was a principal scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where she spent twenty years as a researcher. She is the author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations (2007); in 2010 she received the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Research Award. l.suchman@lancaster.ac.uk
View All Lucy Suchman's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


A call to action for the ACM


Authors: Christina Harrington, Yolanda Rankin, Jasmine Jones, Robin Brewer, Sheena Erete, Tawanna Dillahunt, Quincy Brown
Posted: Mon, June 22, 2020 - 5:49:56

On June 8, 2020, several Black scholars, academic researchers, graduate students, practitioners, and other members and affiliates of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) gathered to write a letter to express concern for the ACM’s response to this current political moment. The letter, shown below, detailed the importance of solidarity needed from such a major association that is an academic home for many of us. We have chosen to amplify this letter on public platforms in hopes to engage the association in a conversation about issues of systemic racism and injustices that have arisen associated with special interest groups and an overall need to examine the ways in which solidarity is communicated across the organization. We hope to make more common the practice of having conversations that while uncomfortable, will push the computing world to being more equitable and just. Our call is not alone in this. We are joined by a larger community of Black individuals in computing who wish to create more welcoming experiences for all who engage across the world of computing.

While we acknowledge and appreciate the effort from ACM’s Diversity and Inclusion Council to engage our letter and revamp the public response on ACM’s behalf, we feel it is important to hear from the ACM Governance and Officers who are in leadership. Many of our original recommendations have been integrated into the newly posted response on acm.org, yet we have not heard directly from anyone in leadership. Our direct request is to engage in a conversation with the ACM Council Leadership. Although an improvement, a revised statement alone is not the solution. Nor should this be relegated as simply a minority issue, but an opportunity for our entire association to reflect on our practices and ways we can advance computing as a science, profession, and a catalyst for change in an ever-changing society.

As of the date of this publication, we have been contacted by ACM’s CEO and are scheduling to meet. We look forward to continuing to strive for progress. 

June 8, 2020 (we acknowledge the receipt of our original letter by the Diversity and Inclusion Council and a revised statement on the ACM website since that time)

Dear ACM Officers and Governing Body,

We are writing as a cohort of Black academic researchers, scholars, practitioners, designers, and students that are affiliated with ACM. Many of us are involved across several special interest groups and have served and engaged with the association from being contributing authors of technical papers, chairs of committees, SIG officers, conference paper reviewers, and conference organizers. While we acknowledge the recent statement that was shared on the ACM website, we are concerned with the vagueness and brevity of the ACM’s stance on the systemic racism and other social injustices that are currently causing civil unrest and being brought to the forefront across the world. These injustices gravely impact Black ACM members and students across the various disciplines. These injustices not only impact our ability to focus and produce at this time but our everyday survival. As researchers, scientists, and ethnographers, we understand the importance of specificity and transparency in how we discuss and address injustices that disproportionately impact marginalized communities. The current statement presented on the ACM website, while generally reaffirming the ACM’s commitment to inclusiveness, is woefully inadequate and warrants a more insightful actionable position from the ACM leadership.

There is a collective feeling among many Black researchers within the larger ACM community that the current statement fails to acknowledge our trauma and distress, and ultimately does not promote feelings of inclusivity and solidarity for many of us. Instead, the statement suggests a vague intention to foster equality and respect for all individuals across the ACM, without any mention of the direct impact on Black lives, which matter, that are in fact threatened by recent events, and historically. According to the ACM’s Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion website, ‘The ACM community encompasses everyone who works in computing or applies computing in another domain…Because its community is so broad, diversity and inclusion are central to ACM’s mission.’ Despite this statement, many of us within the ACM community feel compelled to draw attention to the systemic racism and exclusionary practices evident within the ACM leadership and the larger community. Descendants of the African diaspora have little representation within the larger ACM community, which claims to support diversity and inclusion of all its constituents while also highlighting and awarding the action of social impact among its members (According to a recent Taulbee Survey, Black faculty in CS and Information Sciences make up only 1.8%, while only 1.7% of new Ph.D. earners are Black). Because we are invested in the health and social impact of this community on its fellow researchers as well as the world at large, we feel compelled to express our concerns and to suggest both immediate and long-term actions as well as resources that the association might benefit from. There is a graveness and urgency to the current situation our country is experiencing — the acknowledgment of racism that runs rampant throughout the United States; the civil unrest and cries for social justice; the protests in the streets, on social media, in the news; and, in this instance, written communications to organizations, institutions, etc. This presents an important and opportune time for the ACM to recommit to a truly inclusive environment, particularly at a time when researchers are working tirelessly to meet publication deadlines and cultivate research projects that strengthen and enhance the computing discipline. We have aggregated a set of recommendations that can help not only to communicate ACM’s support of computing scholars who are currently struggling to focus amidst global civil protests against injustices but to also address some of the racial disparities among the association.

ACM-Related Recommendations for Immediate and Long-term Action:

  • Revise the ACM’s official statement to specifically condemn acts of violence against Black people, systemic racism perpetuated in our professional community, and indifference. **
    Position (Representation and Leadership)

  • Nominate and recruit Black scholars from within the ACM community for leadership among ACM Boards and Committees. **

  • Include Black scholars and their scholarly contributions in computing or computing-related curriculum as an example of epistemic resistance — rejecting academic strategies that silence the scholarship and testimonial authority of Black scholars in computing.

  • Engage scholars, students, and departments from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in the larger ecosystem of the ACM to acknowledge the contribution of research coming from these institutions. This support may look like long-term scholarships for students or programs that support conference attendance. **

People (Publication Review Boards, Conferences)

  • Create a board of ethics to implement values and aims of ACM’s Code of Ethics, including a specific mandate to govern the way technological research is promoted among marginalized and vulnerable populations, especially those that have been proven to disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities.

  • Ensure that all panels feature representation of Black and Brown scholars who are knowledgeable in the topic discussed. This should be especially ensured for panels and workshops which focus on topics of race and technology, such as intersectionality or critical race theory. Black and Brown scholars should not be drowned out from these conversations, particularly Black women scholars who have contributed to the canon of intersectionality.

  • Further diversify conference organizing committees, persons serving in conference leadership roles, and scholars invited to serve as plenary/keynote speakers. **

  • Include sessions and activities at conferences and workshops focused on combating implicit bias and other forms of bias, particularly as applicable to technological development and impacts on creating a more inclusive society.

Practices

  • Publish annual reports from each Special Interest Group (SIG) about demographics of participation in their sponsored events and initiatives, to whom and where funds are being allocated.

  • Ensure that there is a diverse body of participants to inform and evaluate technology research and development that stands to exacerbate inequalities and inequities.

  • Set aside money directly to fund events that focus on amplifying the scholarship of Black+Brown scholars in computing, and funds to broaden the participation of Black+Brown aspiring scholars in computing — undergraduate and graduate students, and junior researchers and faculty. **

  • Create an equal opportunity accreditation committee for U.S. institutions to evaluate colleges and universities with respect to their inclusion of historically disadvantaged groups. This committee will ensure that federal funding of computing is in alignment with existing statues for equal opportunity, namely Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Remove structural power structures in the ACM review process which disadvantage Black scholars and other marginalized populations (e.g., either full transparency of reviewers and authors or double-blind process in which reviewers and authors are unknown). Reviewers should be encouraged to reflect on how identities inherently denote biases through an optional statement of positionality.

In addition to these ACM-related recommendations, we have aggregated a list of resources with which the ACM could benefit from engaging. This support could look like financial support, engaging with organizational principles and foundations in our own ethics, creating collaborations and partnerships, and including their leadership in events such as conferences, workshops, or panels.

** each of these statements now appear in the new ACM statement on acm.org

Academic-Related Resources:

Cite Black Women is a campaign that advocates for “people to engage in a radical praxis of citation that acknowledges and honors Black women’s transnational intellectual production.”

Scholars for Social Justice define themselves as “a new formation of progressive scholars committed to promoting and fighting for a political agenda that insists on justice for all, especially those most vulnerable.”

Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies is “a network of prominent, public scholars of color who produce research, distribute knowledge, and convene stakeholders at the intersections of race and technology.”

blackcomputeHer is dedicated to supporting computing+tech education and workforce development for black women and girls. Our aim is to create rich technical programming, lead empirical research, and disseminate information that addresses the lack of inclusive innovation in tech across education and industry.

Social Justice Organizations that Advocate for Racial Justice:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.

American Civil Liberties Union: The ACLU fights government abuse vigorously defends individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy, and much more.

Color of Change: “We design campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward. Until justice is real.”

The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund: The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund is a collaborative philanthropic initiative focused on catalyzing change.

We also would like to highlight a larger effort put forth by the Black computing community here and an associated database of public response statements on racial justice and diversity.

Signed by members and affiliates of ACM,

  • Rediet Abebe, Ph.D.
  • Monica Anderson-Herzog, Ph.D.
  • Elodie Billionniere, Ph.D.
  • Robin N. Brewer, Ph.D.
  • Douglas A. Brooks, Ph.D.
  • Quincy Brown, Ph.D.
  • Vetria Byrd, Ph.D.
  • Curtis C. Cain, Ph.D.
  • Marietta Cameron, Ph.D.
  • Loretta Cheeks, Ph.D.
  • Shaundra B. Daily, Ph.D.
  • Tawanna R. Dillahunt, Ph.D.
  • Edward C. Dillon, Jr., Ph.D.
  • Brandon Dominique, Ph.D. Student
  • Alyssa Donawa, Ph.D. Student
  • Samuel J. Eaves, II, Ph.D.
  • Sheena Erete, Ph.D.
  • Denae Ford, Ph.D.
  • Christina Gardner-McCune, Ph.D.
  • Pamela Gibbs, Ph.D. Student
  • Shamika Goddard, Ph.D. Student
  • Siobahn Day Grady, Ph.D.
  • Xava Grooms, Ph.D. Student
  • Karen Hare, Ph.D.
  • Christina N. Harrington, Ph.D.
  • Leshell Hatley, Ph.D.
  • Raquell Holmes, Ph.D.
  • Earl W. Huff, Jr., Ph.D. Student
  • Corey Jackson, Ph.D.
  • Andrea E Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Brittany Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Jasmine Jones, Ph.D.
  • Russ Joseph, Ph.D.
  • Michel A. Kinsy, Ph.D., ACM Member
  • Krystal A. Maughan, Ph.D. Student
  • Aqueasha Martin-Hammond, Ph.D.
  • Marlon Mejias, Ph.D.
  • Ihudiya Finda Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, Ph.D. Student
  • Chinasa T. Okolo, Ph.D. Student
  • Imani Palmer, Ph.D.
  • Andrea G. Parker, Ph.D.
  • Timothy M. Pinkston, Ph.D., ACM Fellow
  • Yolanda A. Rankin, Ph.D.
  • Sekou L. Remy, Ph.D.
  • Gloire B. Rubambiza, Ph.D. Student
  • Angela D. R. Smith, Ph.D. Candidate
  • Amber Solomon, Ph.D. Student
  • Perry Sweeper, Sc.D.
  • Jakita O. Thomas, Ph.D.
  • Nicki Washington, Ph.D.
  • Bryant W. York, Ph.D., ACM Fellow

* While these concerns are expressed by many in the community, some did not feel comfortable signing their names transparently for fear of potential repercussions.


Posted in: on Mon, June 22, 2020 - 5:49:56

Christina Harrington

Christina N. Harrington is an assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. Her research focuses on how collectivism in design can support social change in areas such as health equity and digital access. She is the director of the Equity and Health Innovations Research Lab at DePaul and an Encore Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project. charri89@depaul.edu
View All Christina Harrington's Posts

Yolanda Rankin

Yolanda A. Rankin is an assistant professor in the School of Information at Florida State University and the director of the DEsigning TechnOlogies for the UndeRserved (DETOUR) Research Lab which explores designing technologies with and for underserved populations. She is the recipient of the 2016 Woodrow Wilson Early Career Enhancement Fellowship.
View All Yolanda Rankin's Posts

Jasmine Jones

Jasmine Jones is an assistant professor in computer and information science at Berea College.
View All Jasmine Jones's Posts

Robin Brewer

Robin Brewer is an assistant professor at University of Michigan in the School of Information. Her research is at the intersection of accessibility, HCI, and well-being. rnbrew@umich.edu
View All Robin Brewer's Posts

Sheena Erete

Sheena Erete is an associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, where she co-directs the Technology for Social Good | Research and Design Lab.
View All Sheena Erete's Posts

Tawanna Dillahunt

Tawanna Dillahunt is an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Working at the intersection of human-computer interaction; environmental, economic, and social sustainability; and equity, her research investigates and implements technologies to support the needs of marginalized people. tdillahu@umich.edu
View All Tawanna Dillahunt's Posts

Quincy Brown

Quincy Brown is the co-founder of blackcomputeHER.org and Director of Engagement and Research at AnitaB.org. She was previously a Program Director at AAAS and Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She has supported women and girls in computing for more than a decade. quincykbrown@gmail.com
View All Quincy Brown's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


A challenging response


Authors: Jennifer Mankoff
Posted: Wed, June 17, 2020 - 2:32:05

Being an ally means being uncomfortable.
—R.A.C.E. team, addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion

I write this to support the courageous R.A.C.E. Diversity and Inclusion team members who documented their experiences in their recent blog post addressing material impacts of institutional racism. Their crucial yet risky labor to hold leaders accountable cast my recent accessibility experiences within SIGCHI differently and helped me realize how my silence made me complicit in perpetuating behavior that is wrong and must change. Although I am a senior member of the SIGCHI community and long-term tenured faculty, as a disabled female scholar I still feel vulnerable in sharing my story in this post. Nonetheless, I choose to speak out to amplify the voices of those who are experiencing institutional prejudice. 

As feminist writer Sara Ahmed points out in her book On Being Included, data is “an important resource for diversity workers” because it can be used to expose “the gap between official descriptions of diversity and what the organization is doing.” Knowing this, I have led AccessSIGCHI efforts to produce a biennial report that documents accessibility issues within SIGCHI and sets goals for organizational change. We released three such reports. However, problems surfaced with the SIGCHI Executive Committee (EC) when, upon reading the third report, published in fall 2019, the EC inquired about the origins of the data used for the 2019 report’s summary, which were taken from CHI conference post-survey accessibility questions [1]. At the time, I had direct access to this data as a CHI Steering Committee member. I explained to the EC that I had requested and received permission to use this data for AccessSIGCHI. To my shock and surprise, the EC then sent me a “formal warning” and informed me that I had violated an EC policy, potentially broken data privacy laws, and that ACM would be “advised this had occurred.” 

I lost countless hours in discussions, investigating what had happened, marshalling support, crafting a response, and managing my feelings of anxiety and alarm. I had never been notified about the policy I was accused of violating despite having requested and received similar data for the two prior reports. Ultimately, the EC issued a retraction. What did I learn from this experience, and how does it apply to EC’s reaction to the R.A.C.E. team’s vital efforts to collect the very data that can close gaps between official and unofficial realities of inclusion and diversity?

  • It is vital that we understand the cost, both in time and wellbeing, of such aggressive actions against those who are doing transformational advocacy work. Being extremely senior helped me to mobilize support, professional and emotional, and I remain grateful these accusations did not involve my more vulnerable and junior collaborators in AccessSIGCHI. Until one is on the receiving end of such demands, one cannot understand their toll and inhibitory effects. These effects are magnified exponentially when applied to those less powerful. 

  • We must recognize that systems of oppression go beyond individuals. Institutional and structural factors are usually at issue when there is a sustained pattern of misbehavior, even if each individual member of an institution (such as the EC) were acting in good faith and are actively working to increase inclusion. Institutions must guard against becoming defensive or non-compliant when members wish to collect and share data, even if doing so may lead to changes in their very structures and policies. “You must get used to being uncomfortable and get used to this not being about your feelings if you plan to help and not hinder people of color in their efforts for racial justice.” says Ijeoma Oluo in So You Want to Talk about Race. This is done by responding with openness, transparency, and engagement. Citing policy when volunteers collect and seek to publish such data comes across as threatening, silencing, racist and ableist to those on the receiving end. While the EC issued an apology to the R.A.C.E. team for their volunteering experience, they do not admit to wrongdoing, commit to self-education, or actively address structural or institutional problems and plans for eliminating them. It is time for the EC to make use of the expertise of SIGCHI members to engage in an unbiased study of institutional racism’s presence and impact.  Without a commitment to public self-examination, it is difficult to believe much will change. 

  • A commitment to inclusion that does not comprise direct action will succeed only in helping the majority to feel better. Those being excluded still have to deal with the problems that remain. When diversity work is just “about generating the ‘right image’ and correcting the wrong one” [Ahmed, On Being Included], it should not be surprising if that work appears ineffective to those most directly affected. For example, incremental improvements in accessibility, combined with occasional backward sliding, gave rise to a protest at CHI 2019. Listening in these situations is not enough, particularly when the EC actively resists change, despite clear instructions about needed reforms [2]. For example, although the EC voted on and approved an accessibility chair after the 2019 protest [3], after over a year, the EC has not filled this role. In their blog post, the R.A.C.E. team asks them to “Make us leaders.” Will the EC comply?

I want to thank the R.A.C.E. team for helping me to find power to tell my story and affirm they are not alone and that our work must involve structural transformation.  When work is done by marginalized groups, such as the R.A.C.E. team and AccessSIGCHI, it is especially important to nurture and cultivate their perspectives. The cost of the commitment of individual time to these efforts should not be underestimated, especially given the likelihood that many such individuals are continually being asked to put extra time into representing their community as well as advocating for themselves. Even small blows to these efforts have the potential to eliminate a gift that could otherwise help our community to better itself.

I benefit tremendously from the work that SIGCHI does to coalesce and advance our profession, including its positive actions to advance inclusion and accessibility, and I want this worthwhile organization to succeed. However, I am opposed to seeing our professional organization move forward at the expense of its most vulnerable members. It is our collective duty to use the information shared by the R.A.C.E. team and in this blog post to ensure the EC does not ignore, subvert, and marginalize the requests for action of community members who are racial minorities, disabled, or less enfranchised.

—Jen Mankoff

Endorsed by the members of AccessSIGCHI [4]:

  • Cynthia Bennett, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Megan Hofmann, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Anne Spencer Ross, University of Washington
  • Tiago Guerreiro, Universidade de Lisboa
  • Rua Williams, University of Florida
  • Richard Ladner, University of Washington
  • Erin Brady, Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis
  • Raja S. Kushalnagar, Gallaudet University
  • Elaine Schaertl Short, Tufts University
  • Karyn Moffatt, McGill University
  • Jennifer Rode, University College London
  • Anne Marie Piper, University of California Irvine 
  • Stacy Branham, University of California Irvine
  • Kristen Shinohara, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Kyle Rector, University of Iowa
  • Dhruv Jain, University of Washington

Endnotes

1. An anonymous copy of all of emails and the retraction are in the linked document.

2. See the July 2015 EC Meeting Minutes and the talk given to the EC the day after the protest in 2019.

3. See the May 2019 EC Meeting Minutes

4. I (Jen Mankoff) take full responsibility for this post and the ways in which I have handled these challenges. AccessSIGCHI group members very much share any credit for the positive actions that I have been part of and wanted to show their support of this blog message.



Posted in: on Wed, June 17, 2020 - 2:32:05

Jennifer Mankoff

Jennifer Mankoff is a CHI Academy member and the Richard E. Ladner Professor at the University of Washington. Her research is focused on giving people the voice, tools, and agency to advocate for themselves. She strives to bring both structural and personal perspectives to her work. Mankoff has been recognized with an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, IBM Faculty Fellowship, and Best Paper awards from ASSETS, CHI, and Mobile HCI. She has chronic Lyme disease and identifies as disabled. jmankoff@uw.edu
View All Jennifer Mankoff's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


We need to talk about digital contact tracing


Authors: Ali Alkhatib
Posted: Mon, June 15, 2020 - 4:34:49

Recently, Apple and Google discussed developing and distributing a digital contact-tracing system that will inform people when they’ve been exposed to someone who’s contracted Covid-19, and communicate to people that they’ve been exposed to you if you later test positive yourself. Apple has since deployed a beta of iOS 13 with the first parts of this system exposed to developers and users. At the time of this writing in late April and early May, we’re desperate for information and weary from not knowing who’s caught Covid-19, who’s still vulnerable, who gets it worse and why, or even how to treat it. We’re desperate for any information we can get our hands on. This proposal by Apple and Google promises some information that we can finally dig into. Unfortunately, this system of digital tracing isn’t going to work, and we need to stop the plan before it gets off the ground. 

I have written about “digital forests” and the harmful downstream effects of simplifying and reducing how we track and measure our messy world (and earlier this year gave a working talk about it). I wrote about how we develop models to describe the world—and our lives within it—that are necessarily but also dangerously reductive. In his book Seeing Like a State, James Scott writes about foresting in Europe, the Great Leap Forward, and other case studies of centralizing ideologies that ignore or trample on the delicate balances of our social and natural ecologies [1]. During the Industrial Revolution, it was difficult to reason about air pollution so we wrote it off entirely; decades later, that came to haunt us in the form of acid rain and widespread deteriorating public health.

Digital contact tracing has all the hallmark characteristics of these case studies. If we’re not careful, we’re going to adopt these systems, and the facile, naive models of the world that these systems create will give us a dangerously incomplete picture of the world. Worse, if these systems become the principal drivers of our policies, we’ll go from looking at an incomplete map of the world to navigating with one.

The schemes we’re reading about—some from joint partnerships such as Apple and Google; others unilaterally presented by surveillance startups such as Palantir and Clearview AI—all offer their own flavors of omnipresent surveillance and differ in bits and pieces. I’m going to focus on the only credible proposal—the one Apple and Google have floated—because I hardly even know where to start with the other proposals. Suffice it to say that we shouldn’t take Palantir’s offer to surveil us even more than they already do. As for Clearview, they scraped all of our images without our consent and subsequently endured numerous embarrassing data breaches.

Let’s talk about what digital contact tracing generally entails by using Apple and Google’s system as a model case. If you know what their proposal entails, feel free to skip ahead to the next section. But chances are that something has changed in the time since I started writing this article, so if for no other reason than a clear timeline, you should probably at least skim for a sense of where things stood when I was writing.

What This Scheme Will Do (More or Less, as of May 2020)

The simplest, most direct way to implement digital contact tracing would be to track where you are at any given moment. If you spend 20 minutes at a coffee shop, somewhere there’ll be a record that you were at Starbucks from 12:00 p.m to 12:20 p.m. Somewhere, theoretically, there would be records for everyone participating in this scheme, such that if someone wanted to ask the system “Who was at Starbucks at 12:10 p.m.?” a list would come back with your name on it. To be honest, Google probably already has the means to produce a list like this from Google Maps. You can even request a record of all the places Google Maps knows you’ve been over a certain timeline.

Instead of recording where you are the way Google Maps does or other location-tracking apps you’re familiar with, under this scheme your phone records whom you’re near. To illustrate what this means, let’s make up and walk through an example.

Under this program, your phone would send out a signal every 5 minutes with a unique word. So from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., your phone would send out messages like this:

12:00: Apple

12:05: Banana

12:10: Orange

12:15: Kiwi

12:20: Potato

12:25: Cherry

12:30: Tomato

12:35: Pear

12:40: Coconut 

12:45: Orange

12:50: Peach

12:55: Eggplant

13:00: Kumquat 

In this system, no other phone is sending out these exact words; if anyone ever hears Kumquat, it’s because their phone was near your phone at 1 p.m. If my phone has Kumquat in its archive, it means that I was near you at 1 p.m.

Let’s say I was in line behind you at a coffee shop for 10 minutes from 12:12 to 12:22. Since I’d be close to you, I’d get the messages Kiwi (at 12:15) and Potato (at 12:20), and my phone would hold on to that. I don’t get your name, number, or any other information about you—just the two words. We’re each just sending out unique words every five minutes and keeping track of what we happen to hear from all the things around us. This app isn’t keeping track of who we are, or where we are, just what words it’s hearing.

Now let’s say that you feel sick at 1 p.m., so you go to the doctor and a PCR test comes back positive for Covid-19. You’ll go into your phone and say “I just tested positive for Covid-19” and your phone will send the last several days’ worth of words to some database. Something like {Apple, Banana, Orange, Kiwi, Potato, Cherry, Tomato, Pear, Coconut, Orange, Peach, Eggplant, Kumquat}, but spanning several days or weeks, so we’re talking about thousands of these words.

When my phone checks in with the database and downloads all the new words it has, it’ll check and find that I had heard “Apple, Banana,” which means I must have been near enough for our phones to chat for something like 10 minutes. Is 10 minutes a big deal? No, not really. But what if I had heard all of the words above except for Apple and Banana? That would mean that from 12:10 p.m. to 1 p.m. I was close enough to you that our phones were talking. The 10-minute example is something like standing behind someone in line at a coffee shop. The 50-minute example is more like having lunch at the table next to you at a restaurant.

Let’s change the scenario from coffee shops and restaurants to something more sensitive: Let’s say both of us were at an STD clinic at the same time for 45 minutes. What’s relevant is that we were someplace together at the same time, not where that place was. This approach promises to give us the someplace together answer without revealing the STD clinic detail. All anyone knows is that you sent out a bunch of words, and I heard the words that put us in the same place for about 45 minutes. Where exactly were you when you sent Tomato? Doesn’t matter. What was I doing when I received Eggplant? Don’t worry about it.

Designing a system that goes out of its way like this to avoid knowing the literal location you’re at wasn’t the simplest approach, and it’s at least a little praiseworthy that this system is being developed in a slightly complicated and confusing way with the right goal in mind. If you look at Strava or Snapchat or some other location-tracking app, you can always see yourself as a dot on a map, moving around perhaps with other dots on the same map; this throws out that entire approach. In the context of Covid-19, all anyone really needs to know is that we were near each other. This approach strives to give us that and nothing else.

I think it’s important that we understand what this system does so we can talk meaningfully about what it doesn’t achieve, and what it doesn’t even bother trying to do. Which is a lot.

Welcome Back

We’re gearing up to sacrifice substantial amounts of our privacy and anonymity in the world in exchange for a woefully dubious solution to our uncertainty. To quote Arundhati Roy, “If we were sleepwalking into a surveillance state, now we are running toward it because of the fear that is being cultivated” [2]. Let’s talk about why: First, this system isn’t going to give us a better sense of the world in the most crucial places; second, this system is going to undermine our privacy and dignity in ways that we can only begin to imagine right now.

Let’s start with why this system won’t work.

Digital contact tracing will exclude the poor, children, and myriad other uncounted groups 

In the description I made earlier, I pointed out that Apple and Google’s plan calls for some sort of proximity detection, probably involving Bluetooth and some of the fancier, newer technology that your smartphone may have if it was introduced in the past few years. Some of the technical requirements of this system preclude older devices from working, meaning the people with older smartphones won’t be able to benefit from alerts to this system unless they upgrade to newer phones—something they almost certainly can’t afford to do, nor should they be obligated to in order to receive necessary information about risk exposure. Ars Technica recently published a report that several billion smartphones don’t have the technology necessary to participate in the proximal location-sensing scheme Apple and Google are talking about [3]:

The particular kind of Bluetooth “low energy” chips that are used to detect proximity between devices without running down the phone’s battery are absent from a quarter of smartphones in active use globally today, according to analysts at Counterpoint Research. A further 1.5 billion people still use basic or “feature” phones that do not run iOS or Android at all. “[M]ost of these users with the incompatible devices hail from the lower-income segment or from the senior segment which actually are more vulnerable to the virus” [3].

Every day we get more data showing that communities that have historically been excluded or deliberately untreated by our healthcare infrastructure are particularly vulnerable both in contracting Covid-19 and in mortality. As Gina Neff has written, the locations linked to new Covid-19 cases are prisons, food processing facilities (specifically meatpacking), and nursing homes [4]. These are settings in which people are under immense pressure to take whatever work they can find, including high-risk essential work like logistics for Amazon in their obscenely dangerous warehouses [5], or delivering food and groceries to us despite receiving basically or literally no functional personal protective equipment, putting them in direct contact with potentially hundreds of people every day.

The lines don’t divide just along class; digital contact tracing omits children, substantially problematizing the picture we get as soon as families are involved. These aren’t minor issues; they’re major gaps that will lead to systematically and unaccountably poor data. The spaces and the people we should be most concerned for, and paying the most attention to, won’t show up in a digital contact-tracing system like any of the ones proposed so far.

Digital contact tracing staggeringly misses the point of care that we should be most concerned with.

This system’s exclusions will decisively undermine its accuracy and endanger everyone

 The risks of acting on bad data—the result of excluding the poor, children, and other high-risk groups—are unspeakably high. This is different from working with a small sample size or even from working with no data. Building a dataset that excludes entire categories of people—as we’re beginning to do with Native American Covid-19 patients [6]—skews our vision of the world in ways we won’t be able to account for, and with confidence that’s unearned, ultimately steamrolling the groups that we leave out. This is why the CDC employs “sentinel surveillance” to track the flu—because acting only on the data we get from people who are wealthy enough to go to a doctor for the flu would give them a dangerously misleading picture of its spread every year [7]. Everyone needs access to the same level of care, with no omissions, or we risk lulling ourselves into oblivious complacence while this virus and others like it sweep through our communities.

We should care that the gaps in our knowledge will be consequential and non-random, sabotaging our efforts to understand what’s actually going on in the world and undermining our response.

Proximity is a dangerously simplistic way to model Covid transmission 

There are issues inherent to proximity-based contact tracing that have nothing to do with access to the technology, as well. Recent studies have shown that people don’t need to be in proximity to someone with Covid-19 to catch it—they can just be downwind of that person [8]. It’s not just that people’s access to technology is messy and more complicated than people living in Silicon Valley tend to think (as evidenced by the push for bandwidth and device-intensive education tech)—it's that the world doesn’t model particularly easily, and certainly doesn’t fit the bubble of what’s within range of a Bluetooth module on your smartphone.

I wrote about this in my paper on “street-level algorithms” at CHI in 2019. People are constantly finding new ways to exist and make their ways through the world, so algorithmic systems that try to model our behavior and interactions will always be a step behind [9]. We’ll have to constantly follow up on the errors these systems make, struggling to fix the damage they do in their false positives and false negatives, all in this hopeless chase to automate what essentially needs humans.

Digital contact tracing systems that render the world as normally distributed space with spheres of influence and contact characterized by radio waves will consistently leave us with dangerously wrong pictures of our exposure.

Proximal tracing doesn’t maintain privacy the way advocates seem to think it does 

We also need to talk about what proximal contact tracing offers and what it doesn’t, especially since we’re adopting this contrived system to avoid “absolute” locations. I said earlier how absolute location tracking might say that we were both at some GPS coordinates. Or it might offer a street address. In either case, it would reveal that we were both at some semantically meaningful place from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., which could potentially be embarrassing or even damaging. Proximal tracking promises instead to reveal only that we were together between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The problem is that neither of these approaches is particularly helpful to me when I’m trying to maintain privacy about where I meaningfully am. While there are unique risks associated with my absolute location being revealed (for instance, revealing where I live by showing where I tend to be every night), a revelation that I was among many people who are under investigation or otherwise suspected of some socially improper behavior is potentially just as damning as if there’s a record that puts us all at the same mailing address for that time—like if all of us have Kumquat on our phones.

The details of whether this data is held in centralized or decentralized locations doesn’t matter much if the notification that I’ve been exposed to Covid-19 forces me to surface to seek care, revealing my association with that group.

Proximal location tracking has already recently been used to out dozens, perhaps hundreds, of gay men in Morocco [10]. It didn’t help that their exact locations were obscured; they were “nearby.” They were outed by their associations, not by their coordinates. And credible fears about whether law enforcement organizations will exploit these systems to harm vulnerable groups have proven difficult to squash, particularly with misleading and confusing statements by government officials [11].

This isn’t to say that absolute location tracking is the right approach, or that proximal tracking is a misstep, but that this distinction misses the point and fails to address the concern: We need laws that guarantee against the use of any data we collect for anything other than the confidential care of Covid-19. And we need to earn the trust of people giving us that data—something Clearview, Palantir, and arguably tech companies in general are inherently incapable of doing, given their business models of advertising and data mining that motivate their very existence.

We need real guarantees of protection against the use of this data for any purpose beyond the containment of Covid-19, and we need to commit to those principles.

These Are Just the Beginning of the Issues

The decisions we make now are going to dog us for generations. It’s important that we move quickly, but it’s as important that we don’t run headfirst into a surveillance state that offers nothing but oppression and more uncertainty.

I spent five years at Stanford studying computer science and noticed an insight among tech folks that I hadn’t observed as much elsewhere. It was that if you have a complex mathematical problem that you can restate as another problem, or as a collection of other problems, then you might find down the road you can solve one of those problems and dramatically simplify the original task. Suddenly something that takes hundreds or thousands of hours to compute can be done virtually instantly.

I saw this kind of thinking applied to social problems all the time. Social problems are sticky and entangled and don’t seem to reduce very well. But if you can perform a kind of problem-space arbitrage and convert the social problem into a technical one, you might find an insight in mathematics or computation later on that collapses the problem into something more manageable, or even trivial. It’s enticing.

It’s also wrongheaded. It’s unproductive because it doesn’t solve either the old social problems or the new technical ones, and it’s dangerous because it obscures the real problems that we need to address—the ones we all recognize and otherwise feel entitled to engage with as fellow humans.

There are technical problems that need to be solved in this pandemic, but this isn’t one of them. There are so many issues of uncertainty that digital contact tracing introduces, and so many gaps in whom it protects, that we need to reject it now before it gets off the ground, before we get lured into a false sense of certainty that everyone is covered and protected when in reality all we’re accomplishing is deepening an existing divide between the empowered, the wealthy, the influential… and the people holding all of them up.

We need certainties in our life. Systematizing contact tracing into a digital system won’t give us what it claims to offer, and nor will it give us certainty. If we need some certainties, here are a few:

  • We need more personal protective equipment for everyone. If we want people working in warehouses, nursing homes, and meat-processing facilities, we need to give them the means to avoid infection.

  • We need more tests. We need so many tests for so many people that the cost becomes zero and the hurdle disappears. Los Angeles recently announced that every resident will get free tests whether they get referred for a test or not. We need more of this.

  • We need to train human contact tracers. Algorithms will never be able to adequately model the world we live in and construct, and will never be able to keep up with all the weird, quirky qualities of the spaces we build and occupy. This job calls for human intelligence.

  • This is such a given that it’s almost not worth saying, but we need to change our relationship with labor. A year ago, if someone at a coffee shop felt sick, they might not have bothered to see a doctor. They almost certainly would have tried to work through it (at least at first). I think we all appreciate now how dangerous that is, but the threat of crushing medical debt and homelessness coerces people into work. That culture of coercive labor needs to end, or the rest of our lives will be punctuated by pandemics fueled and ultimately spread by workers who were compelled to continue working

There’s already so much we need to do, and so much that needs to change, for us to have anything resembling the lives we appreciated before this pandemic. We don’t also need to build and subject ourselves to omnipresent digital surveillance via personal devices. We must reject digital contact tracing. We need to care for one another.

Some Addenda

Here are some questions I’ve gotten while writing this article and some brief thoughts in response:

  • What about DP3T? DP3T (Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing) suffers a lot of the issues raised above. It still essentially requires tech and will leave out the sites of super-spreading (prisons, nursing homes, meat processing facilities); it still mostly avoids the public health policy changes that need to happen; it still goes for proximity versus absolute location tracking, which I outlined earlier isn’t addressing the problem. In the introductory paragraph of their README file, they describe the project as seeking to “provide a technological foundation to help slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus” [12]. Like I said before, we don’t need to center technology in coming up with solutions, and in fact this will only deepen divides in care that are already staggering.

    There’s also a point to be made that technological foundation usually means something more like “the political decisions were baked into the code and you can’t do anything about them unless you have a Github account and file an issue or make a pull request.” But I’ll leave that to people who aren’t yet completely exhausted making this point.

  • What about Taiwan and South Korea? They adopted digital contact tracing and it seems to have worked. There are a few issues to this: First, there were substantial issues with Taiwan’s and South Korea’s deployments of digital contact tracing, stemming from uncomfortable revelations about peoples’ private lives [13,14]. The second is that the way the US has cleaved a boundary between wealthy and poor—informed by slavery and white supremacy and urbanization and housing policies—really complicates any effort to translate tech-centric policies and programs from other cultures.

    It’s also worth saying that in Taiwan and South Korea, people can go see a doctor without worrying about crushing medical debt. Paid sick leave is a guarantee. People use masks and when the government tells them what to do, they generally trust their political leadership not to be corrupt or incompetent. America enjoys almost none of these advantages. Digital contact tracing wasn’t a silver bullet (even in the context that more people in Taiwan and South Korea have smartphones); it was one of many more decisive characteristics of their economies, politics, and cultures that made it possible for people to get tested when they needed to get tested, to stay home when they needed to stay home, and to listen to the local and national leaders who were themselves advised by credible medical and epidemiological experts.

Endnotes

1. Scott, J.C. Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale Univ. Press, 1998.

2. Roy, A. Author and activist Arundhati Roy on Covid-19 and the Indian response. France24. May 23, 2020; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSZ-PtlY4HE

3. Bradshaw, T. 2 billion phones cannot use Google and Apple contact-tracing tech. Ars Technica. Apr. 20, 2020; https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/04/2-billion-phones-cannot-use-google-and-apple-contract-tracing-tech/

4. Neff, G. To fight this pandemic we must use stories. Twitter. Apr. 30, 2020; https://twitter.com/ginasue/status/1255847973797462016

5. Press, A. Amazon workers say warehouse health precautions are insufficient. JewishCurrents. Apr. 28, 2020; https://jewishcurrents.org/amazon-workers-say-warehouse-health-precautions-are-insufficient/

6. Nagle, R. Native Americans being left out of US coronavirus data and labelled as ‘other.’ The Guardian. Apr. 24, 2020; https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/24/us-native-americans-left-out-coronavirus-data

7. Roush, S. Chapter 19: Enhancing Surveillance. In CDC Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 2017; https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt19-enhancing-surv.html

8. Lu, J., Gu, J., Li, K., Xu, C., Su, W., Lai, Z., Zhou, D., Yu, C., Xu, B., and Yang, Z. COVID-19 outbreak associated with air conditioning in restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases 26, 7 (2020).

9. Alkhatib, A. and Bernstein, M. Street-level algorithms: A theory at the gaps between policy and decisions. Proc. of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019, Article 530; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300760

10. Alami, A. Dozens of gay men are outed in Morocco as photos are spread online. New York Times. Apr. 26, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/26/world/middleeast/gay-morocco-outing.html

11. Morrison, S. Minnesota law enforcement isn’t ‘contact tracing’ protesters, despite an official’s comment. Vox Recode. Jun. 1, 2020; https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/6/1/21277393/minnesota-protesters-contact-tracing-covid-19.

12. @veale et al. Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing-readme. 2020; https://github.com/DP-3T/documents/blob/1b49aef42ec6fb59f17929fec3b54ec88b636405/README.md

13. Kim, N. ‘More scary than coronavirus’: South Korea’s health alerts expose private lives. The Guardian. Mar. 5, 2020; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/06/more-scary-than-coronavirus-south-koreas-health-alerts-expose-private-lives

14. Singer, N. and Sang-Hun, C. 2020. As coronavirus surveillance escalates, personal privacy plummets. New York Times. Mar. 23, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/technology/coronavirus-surveillance-tracking-privacy.html



Posted in: Covid-19 on Mon, June 15, 2020 - 4:34:49

Ali Alkhatib

Ali Alkhatib is a research fellow at the Center for Applied Data Ethics, an initiative of the Data Institute at the University of San Francisco. Originally trained in anthropology, he now mostly investigates how people relate to individual algorithmic systems and with algorithmically mediated social ecologies by adapting theoretical lenses and frameworks originating in the social sciences to understand these phenomena. hi@al2.in
View All Ali Alkhatib's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Comics as Covid-19 response: Visualizing the experience of videoconferencing with aging relatives


Authors: Ernesto Priego, Peter Wilkins
Posted: Fri, June 12, 2020 - 10:40:33

In the period between March and May 2020, we have been working on simultaneous projects employing qualitative methods to create comics in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have been motivated and inspired by disability and feminist scholarship, taking on board evidence-based warnings about the dangers of well-meaning but counterproductive “empathy building” exercises in design and health interventions [1].

Interested in further developing the participatory narrative research affordances of comics, we have rehearsed with autoethnographic methods, reflecting on our own experience during the pandemic. We have operated from the positioning that “the primary ethical standard against which any autoethnography should be evaluated is ‘an ethic of accountability'” [2]. This piece hopes to contribute to meeting that principle.

In its “Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the Covid-19 outbreak,” the World Health Organization (WHO) advised to “keep in regular contact with loved ones (e.g., via telephone, email, social media or video conference)” [3]. Similar advice regarding contact via videoconference has been issued by several international charities, including HelpAge International.

The emotional aspect of comics and comics reading goes beyond the remit of this contribution, but it has been an empirical consideration for us. The WHO has also advised paying “attention to your own needs and feelings” and to “engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing” [3]. The autoethnographic work of making a comic served this purpose too, allowing for the integration of an enjoyable activity (drawing, making comics, sharing them with family and friends) during times that have been indeed stressful for all of us. 

It is in this critical context that we brainstormed ways of responding creatively to the Covid-19 pandemic. The common experience of caring for and staying in touch with our own relatives remotely prompted the co-design of the one-page comic shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Art by Peter Wilkins; Editing by Ernesto Priego (2020) CC-BY. [4]

Visualizing the family videoconference

The comic depicts two middle-aged brothers having a FaceTime call with their parents during the lockdown in Vancouver, Canada. One of those brothers is also one of the authors: Peter. His family members gave their express consent to be drawn (and, in one instance, named by first name) in a comic representing a family videoconference call  that would feature Peter himself too. As autoethnographic work, the comic is the result of principles of artistic and narrative practice; for example, the representation and naming of living persons follow accepted practice in autobiographical comics [5].

The comic highlights an initial discomfort with the technology that gives way to accommodation and enjoyment. The parents are shown having some trouble engaging with the technology, but eventually they get to grips with it and enjoy the meeting with their sons, though the tech keeps reasserting itself. We think the comic can help, through humor, to visualize the idea that videoconferencing platforms can serve effectively as substitutes for physical presence—if not perfectly, at least closely enough to afford satisfaction to all participants. 

The characters’ foibles assert themselves as they would in physically present encounters, while the technology affords new venues for these foibles: the mother’s anxiety over the buttons, the father’s attempts to get in the picture. Certain repetitions in the conversation (“stop touching your face”) and actions on screen (dad trying to get in the camera view) led to the choice of images and text. 

The comic was created through a combination of manual and digital methods, employing traditional analog drawing tools and ProCreate. It was initially reviewed in rough sketch form, then in color, then in a semifinal version. Three iterations followed after formative and summative feedback from the participants represented, and a final version was agreed on by all parties. 

It is tempting to flout stay-at-home guidelines to visit parents, but we know that the risks to people over 70 is significant. The comic aims to encourage the use of videoconferencing software to connect with aging parents and relatives, rather than take the risk of physically visiting them during the Covid-19 crisis.

As of April 14, 2020, fatality rates for those over 80 years of age was five times the global average. On May 1, 2020, the United Nations released the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief: “The Impact of Covid-19 on Older Persons.” It stated that “each of us—states, businesses, international organizations, companies, communities, friends and family—need to step up our effort to support older persons. We must do everything possible to preserve their rights and dignity at all times” [6]. At the time of writing this, the Covid-19 outbreak keeps having a devastating impact on the lives of older persons. It is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to their well-being with the means we have at our disposal, however humble they may be.

Limitations

The comic is idiosyncratic and subjective; it represents the interactions of one specific family. No formal data gathering or analysis went into creating the image beyond first-person observations of a single family by one of its members during a series of family calls. As a visual medium, comics present significant accessibility challenges for those with reading and/or visual disabilities or neurodiversity. Accessibility is an essential requirement for us in design work and it would be possible, if circumstances allow, to produce a detailed descriptive alt-text and/or a version of the comic in a PDF with machine-readable text so it could be read aloud. 

Acknowledgments 

Both authors contributed equally to this article. With many thanks to colleagues at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London, and at Douglas College, Canada; to Simon Grennan, Francisco de la Mora, and to all the Wilkins and Priego-Morris extended families. For more on the authors’ previous work using comics, please visit https://blogs.city.ac.uk/parablesofcare/

Endnotes

1.  Bennett, C.L. and Rosner, D.K. The promise of empathy: Design, disability, and knowing the “other.” Proc. of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2019, Paper 298, 1–13; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300528 

2. Medford, K. Caught with a fake ID: Ethical questions about slippage in autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry 12 (2006), 853–864; https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800406288618 

3. World Health Organization. Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mar. 18, 2020; https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_2

4. Wilkins, P. and Priego, E. A Comic Visualising the Experience of Video-conferencing with Aging Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020; https://doi.org/10.25383/city.12348959.v1

5. El Refaie, E. Visual modality versus authenticity: The example of autobiographical comics. Visual Studies 25, 2 (2010), 162–174, DOI: 10.1080/1472586X.2010.502674

6. United Nations. Secretary-General’s Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on older persons. May 1, 2020; https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/news/2020/05/covid-19-older-persons/


Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, June 12, 2020 - 10:40:33

Ernesto Priego

Ernesto Priego (https://epriego.blog) is a researcher and lecturer affiliated with the Centre for Human Computer-Interaction Design, City, University of London. He leads the Parables of Care: Creative Responses to Dementia Care project. He is also the editor in chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, which he co-edits. Priego has a Ph.D. in information science from University College London. Ernesto.Priego.1@city.ac.uk
View All Ernesto Priego's Posts

Peter Wilkins

Peter Wilkins leads the programs for at-risk and refugee youth at the Training Group at Douglas College, Canada. He is an editor of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. His comics work includes 1982: The Year I Saw the Jam (writer/artist); Parables of Care (adapter, editor); and I Know How This Ends (artist). He also co-edits and writes for Graphixia, A Conversation about Comics. Wilkins has a Ph.D. in English and critical theory from the University of California, Irvine. wilkinsp@douglascollege.ca
View All Peter Wilkins's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Addressing institutional racism within initiatives for SIGCHI’s diversity and inclusion


Authors: Siobahn Day Grady, Pamela Wisniewski, Ron Metoyer, Pamela Gibbs, Karla Badillo-Urquiola, Salma Elsayed-Ali , Eiad Yafi
Posted: Thu, June 11, 2020 - 11:00:32

Realizing that All Can be Equal (or R.A.C.E) was the name that we gave ourselves when we volunteered in November 2018 to be ACM SIGCHI Innovators for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Our D&I team was composed of seven individuals, primarily junior scholars, who all identify as racial minorities and who had all personally experienced the ways in which academia could be exclusionary. We were eager to contribute to the efforts to make SIGCHI more inclusive of diverse perspectives, including our own. This blog post recounts the shared pain and experience of our team, which ultimately culminated in our resignation (see resignation letter). 

Race and ethnicity are difficult topics to discuss. They evoke feelings of guilt and defensive reactions from those in the majority, as well as anger and frustration from those in the minority. We acknowledge that this blog post may evoke similar emotions, which made us hesitant to post it. Yet, the protests to bring justice for George Floyd and the #BlackLivesMatter movement made us realize that now is not the time for silence. It is more important than ever to shed light on the institutional racism that exists in our world. 

The term institutional racism was first coined in 1967 by Black political activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton. They described institutional racism as: 

... less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. …[it] originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism] [1].

 Sir William Macpherson later defined institutional racism in 1999 as:

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people [2].

Institutional racism does not have to be intentional or malicious to disadvantage minority groups. It merely has to occur in a way that harms those who are in the minority who have less power. This was what happened when we were told by ACM SIGCHI leadership to immediately take down our IRB-approved survey on diversity, inclusion, and marginalization within SIGCHI. We spent nearly a year working on this survey as part of our D&I service, but once it began to get traction (over 100 responses), it was blocked. To add insult to injury, we were accused of conflicting with ACM's interests because we wanted to disseminate our findings back to the SIGCHI community via a peer-reviewed publication. Our survey was then superseded with an “official” SIGCHI diversity and inclusion survey, which erased and appropriated our efforts.

As a group of racial minorities (three of whom are Black), we were not surprised by these actions but were deeply disappointed that this happened under the guise of promoting diversity and inclusion within SIGCHI. There were many alternative solutions that could have bolstered the efforts of our D&I team instead of stymieing them. For example, the SIGCHI D&I leaders could have asked us to lead the efforts for the official SIGCHI D&I survey, giving us credit for our work and the opportunity to take a larger, more visible service leadership role within SIGCHI. Yet these types of opportunities are rarely given to racial minorities, even though they are pivotal in helping us succeed in the academy. 

Instead, ACM policies were (mis)interpreted and applied inconsistently and in a way that hurt a racial minority group. Other ACM volunteer groups have launched surveys with the intent to publish and did so with the support of ACM SIGCHI leadership. This makes us question whether the examination of marginalization and exclusionary practices within the SIGCHI community— led by a minority group—was just too uncomfortable for SIGCHI D&I leaders, who are predominantly part of the majority. 

We requested reparations to address what had transpired (see response letter), but those requests were ignored. As a group of racial minorities, we constantly ask ourselves if the situation would have been different had we not been people of color? As minorities in academia, these forms of oppression are some of the most dangerous due to their subtlety and heedlessness of those in the majority, who often refuse to acknowledge that such forms of institutional racism still occur. Yet we in the minority know the truth. Therefore, we must ask ourselves not whether institutionalized racism exists, but rather how we might work to fix it? 

Our intention in publishing this blog post is to initiate uncomfortable conversations about race and minority status that must occur within the SIGCHI community if we want to eradicate institutional racism and promote equity and inclusion. We recognize that this will be a continuous, iterative process for all of us. Therefore, we end this blog post by providing some actionable ways to change the status quo based on our own experiences and insights from the 112 SIGCHI members who responded to our survey: 

  • Admit that institutional racism exists: SIGCHI might be relatively better than other communities, but institutional racism is still present in our community. The only way to truly address it is to first acknowledge it exists.

  • Promote the work of minorities: Even if you do not completely agree with it. Sometimes the ways in which minority groups address a topic will be different than those in the majority, and that is good. We know that our survey had an edgy undertone of addressing marginalization within SIGCHI, rather than merely improving existing diversity and inclusion initiatives. This was by design as we wanted to amplify the voices of those who felt angry and unheard.

  • Refrain from performative allyship: Performative allyship is the act of supporting those in oppression either privately or publicly so that it makes the person feel or look good but does not facilitate real change. True allies should be willing to take risks on behalf of those who are being marginalized and share in some of the burden required for change. In other words, being an ally means being uncomfortable.

  • Volunteerism is not an excuse: Often within SIGCHI, we are reminded that our organization is a volunteer-run community; thus, while there are mistakes made, everyone is doing their best. This is not an excuse to allow implicit biases, institutional racism, and other exclusionary practices to persist within our community. Many of our survey respondents described SIGCHI as a clique, where outsiders are unfairly treated and the “rich get richer.” In short, being a SIGCHI volunteer/leader is a position of power and should be treated as such.

  • Make us leaders: The only way to truly change institutional racism within an organization is to have equal leadership, where there is no majority or minority. It is not enough to have majority leaders who are supportive of minorities within the lower ranks. The goal of diversity and inclusion is not simply to make sure that minorities are within the community, it is to ensure their success. 

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog post. We hope that our blog post moves you to positive action. On a final note, we want to protect the vulnerable junior members of our group who have the most to lose from speaking publicly about this experience. We hope that you respect this goal and help us achieve it. 

Endnotes

1. Carmichael, S., Hamilton, C.V., and Ture, K. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. Vintage, 1992.

2. Macpherson, W.,  Cook, T., Sentamu, J., and Stone, R. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. 1999.



Posted in: on Thu, June 11, 2020 - 11:00:32

Siobahn Day Grady

Siobahn Day Grady is an assistant professor of information systems at North Carolina Central University. She is a black woman, second-generation college graduate, and AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador. She seeks to broaden participation in computing, especially for women and girls of color in STEM. Her research includes human-computer interaction and machine learning. sday@nccu.edu
View All Siobahn Day Grady's Posts

Pamela Wisniewski

Pamela Wisniewski is a newly tenured associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Central Florida. She is a mixed-race, first-generation college student, a mom, and a scholar activist who conducts human-computer interaction research to promote adolescent online safety and benefit other vulnerable populations. pamwis@ucf.edu
View All Pamela Wisniewski's Posts

Ron Metoyer

Ron Metoyer is an associate professor of computer science ande and associate dean in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. He is an African American first-generation college graduate who works at the intersection of human-computer interaction, information visualization, and broadening participation in computing. rmetoyer@nd.edu
View All Ron Metoyer's Posts

Pamela Gibbs

Pamela Gibbs is an information and interaction design Ph.D. candidate at the University of Baltimore. She is a black woman and second-generation college graduate. Her research focuses on the impact of utilizing gaming to encourage learning in math. She is passionate about creating equity for underestimated groups. pamela.gibbs@ubalt.edu
View All Pamela Gibbs's Posts

Karla Badillo-Urquiola

Karla Badillo-Urquiola is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Central Florida. She is a Latina woman in STEM, member of the ACM SIGCHI Latin American HCI Community, and a mother of two. Her research in the field of HCI lies at the intersection of online safety and foster youth. kbadillo@ist.ucf.edu
View All Karla Badillo-Urquiola's Posts

Salma Elsayed-Ali

Salma Elsayed-Ali is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research sits at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), design, and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW). sea@umd.edu
View All Salma Elsayed-Ali 's Posts

Eiad Yafi

Eiad Yafi is an assistant professor at the Malaysian Institute of Information Technology, Universiti Kuala Lumpur. He is a Syrian researcher and activist promoting diversity, inclusion, and justice in the Arab world, which has been facing unrest and a long history of injustice. eiad@unikl.edu.my
View All Eiad Yafi's Posts



Post Comment


@Odest Chadwicke Jenkins (2020 06 12)

Agreed.  We should work to move beyond diversity theater in HCI and all areas of computing

@Jakita O. Thomas (2020 06 12)

Thank you for your transparency and courage.  To be clear, what you experienced was absolutely epistemic violence, particularly testimonial smothering (see Dotson, 2011 and Collins, 2019), not to mention appropriation and other aggressions.  We MUST continue to point out these sites of epistemic violence and DEMAND that they be addressed and redressed.  I stand with you and other Scholars of color who experience these types of professional and academic trauma on a day-to-day basis.  If we know better, we should do better.

@Richard E. Ladner (2020 06 15)

Thank you for this important story and your courage to stand up to power.


How can designers fight the coronavirus?


Authors: Nikhil Welankar
Posted: Wed, June 10, 2020 - 9:41:53

Most of us had never imagined that countries would have to declare lockdowns to protect their citizens from the coronavirus outbreak. In its wake, government authorities, health departments, doctors, nurses, security services, police, scientists, food suppliers, medical suppliers, nonprofit organizations, and industry leaders across the world are uniting and working tirelessly. And the rest of humanity is wholeheartedly thankful. At the same time, some innovative minds are exploring cost-effective masks, robot helpers for isolation wards, and space-effective ventilators to solve contextual problems. This made me wonder: How can designers fight the coronavirus? 

We designers are problem solvers. We apply design thinking to solve problems, to improve the daily lives of consumers, and to help businesses achieve their goals. How can we now apply our skills to deal with this pandemic? 

As a part of the design thinking process, we use various user research methods to understand pain points, needs, and wish lists. Can we apply user research methods to understand misconceptions and perceptions about coronavirus? To understand symptoms? Or how about to understand patients’ experiences with medical services or the struggles of corona warriors? Such research can provide inputs to help improve the overall support ecosystem. Remote user research methods such as digital surveys, remote usability testing, virtual focus group sessions, digital diary studies, and telephone interviews can all be applied. Methods such as competitive analysis in the corporate world help us understand the weaknesses and strengths of the competitors; similar methods can be applied to study how other countries and organizations have dealt with the situation, which can help improve our own processes and frameworks moving forward. Considering the world’s socio-cultural-economic diversity, contextual understanding of the problem is also critical. Human-centered design is the key to providing relevant solutions. 

Once our research is completed, we identify the exact problem and understand the gaps with regard to an existing ecosystem. We can clearly define problems, mental models, misconceptions, and needs through various analysis methods. This definition is important in order to ideate the solution. 

Once the problem is identified, we create high-level concepts to explore possible solutions. The solution can be a product, a service, a process, or a framework. Designers can envision a lot of physical or digital solutions to help Covid-19 patients and the support staff. They can also play a great role in spreading health awareness, especially in the world of social media, where rumors can be more viral than authentic scientific information.

Once the ideation is completed, we create a quick and tangible model of the envisioned solution. This early-stage prototype helps in validating our direction before spending a lot of effort in building the solution. We test our prototype with the end users to get their feedback. Designers can also create prototypes to explore various cost-effective, space-effective, and contextual product/service ideas in order to deal with the Covid-19 situation. These products can be in the form of mobile apps, physical kiosks, health check-up kits, or even a service framework to improve patients’ overall medical experience.

Looking at the rapid spread of Covid-19, we certainly don’t have time in hand to apply the classical design-thinking process. We need to identify key challenges quickly and address them through creative solutions as soon as possible. In the remaining part of this article, I would like to highlight some of the challenges and possible solutions, as per my limited understanding.

Key challenges and possible solutions

Lack of awareness about Covid-19 is one of the most pressing challenges observed across the world. When the outbreak in China was first reported, people from other countries thought it might just be a local issue in China. That left room for Covid-19 to spread—until it was too late. By the time citizens and local authorities realized its severity, it was already taking a toll. Still, a large part of some populations are not fully aware of the coronavirus. How can designers solve this challenge?

There are many ways this can be addressed. Designers can use all possible mediums—print, audio, video, animation, mobile apps, games, and social media—to spread awareness in an engaging way. Designers can redesign authentic information channels such as those provided by the WHO and the UN, as well as government websites and mobile apps, in order to make them stand out. Social media strategists can run WhatsApp groups, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and text- and voice-message-based services to spread information. Recently a telecom service provider started providing coronavirus information instead of a ringtone when a caller makes a call. We can also design offline channels, such as a coronavirus awareness poster hung at a local grocery store or a coronavirus-awareness brochure printed on a grocery bag.

In the semi-urban and rural areas of India lacking a strong Internet presence, TV and regional language radio are the effective mediums. Designers, artists, writers, poets, singers, musicians, dancers, and storytellers can play an important role. Storytelling is the most effective approach, and the coronavirus story should be told in the form of a traditional folk art specific to the region. For example, for centuries in Maharashtra, traditional musical forms such as kirtan and powada have been effectively applied to spread social awareness. In Gujarat, katha and pravachan are the popular forms to raise such awareness.

MIT researchers have shown that fake news spreads faster than the truth. This becomes a major roadblock when it comes to false information about Covid-19. Rumors and false information can create panic, especially when there is an unprecedented situation like Covid-19. Social media companies have been working hard to remove fake information but it is not an easy task. Fortunately, anyone can help: Citizens can report fake information themselves. On the other hand, media houses have become more cautious to avoid spreading fake information due to this transparent ecosystem. But more focused and organized efforts are required. Government and private stakeholders need to collaboratively work on a twofold framework, first to remove the fake information and second to propagate authentic information. It would be worth exploring if an automated framework based on the artificial intelligence and data science could remove fake information at a massive scale. Researchers, design thinkers, product designers, AI experts, and data scientists can collaborate to build such product-service-based frameworks. Such frameworks will be effective, especially in large, socioculturally diverse countries such as India, China, and the U.S.

Personal and social hygiene are the important factors in keeping the coronavirus at bay. But this is challenging in densely populated countries. Hygiene protocols need to be propagated through advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsement, and demonstrations. Recently, celebrities from the Indian film and sports worlds published videos of them washing their hands. It created a deep impact, as people adore these figures. And there are many ways in which hygiene protocols can be propagated and rewarded. Incentives and discounts, for instance, can encourage people: The cleanest suburb or apartment/society can get a prize or discount on its water or electricity bill, creating healthy competition. A gamified mobile app can be designed for conducting a hygiene-based competition, with a score card for, say, apartment complexes or neighborhoods to keep the momentum. Educational documentaries, short films, advertisements, animated stories, newspaper cartoons, and games can help in spreading hygiene awareness. Recently, a few private companies in India have designed a Sanitizing Tunnel, through which people can pass to while they are out to buy groceries. Such contextual solutions need to be explored further.

In many cases, senior citizens live alone in apartments, as their children are far away in another city or country. With housekeeping staff unavailable due to the lockdown, senior citizens are not able to cook their meals and also at times unable to step out for groceries due to health issues. This challenge urgently needs to be tackled. Contextual solutions include senior citizen help groups formed by local societies and township bodies that deliver necessary food, medicine, and groceries. WhatsApp groups have formed to help senior citizens with medical emergencies. These seniors may not be that tech savvy or may not have smartphones to be able to respond digitally. A simple call- or text-based helpline service could be a user-friendly option. Text or voice instructions in a regional language can help users who don’t have English proficiency. A local registry of lonely senior citizens, along with frequent connections with them, can be a very helpful means of support. Such responsibility can be shouldered by the local residents, where one family can make calls to 10 senior citizens one in a week to check on their well-being. More such contextual solutions need to be explored.

When an entire city, state, or country is under lockdown due to the pandemic, mental health problems are bound to rise. Recently, a few people committed suicide out of fear of getting infected by the coronavirus. When you lock down or put restrictions on a large population, managing mental health becomes an imperative. Such mandatory loneliness or togetherness may result in an outbreak of frustration, depression, and anger. Designers can conceptualize digital channels to facilitate remote counseling sessions, helpline support, remote yoga and meditation sessions, remote group activities, and motivational games.

In short, as all professionals—especially medical and security staff—are working tirelessly, designers can play a vital role by exploring contextual, relevant, and effective design solutions. Designers can apply various research methods to understand needs, pain points, and gaps in the current system in order to improve it. Technologies such as mobile apps, social media, artificial intelligence, IoT, 3D printing, AR, and VR can empower designers in exploring the next generation of solutions to solve grassroots problems. Designers can explore contextual and localized solutions that consider the socio-cultural-lingual diversity of the world.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the philosophy of universal brotherhood and humanity. All the countries are one family. Let’s fight against Covid-19 together to restore peace, health, and happiness in the world.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, June 10, 2020 - 9:41:53

Nikhil Welankar

Nikhil Welankar is an Experience Director with over 18 years of global industry experience. He has conducted more than 250 user interviews and more than 150 usability tests for 70-plus UX design projects. He has also authored five research papers and conducted upwards of 50 UX awareness sessions. nikwel@gmail.com
View All Nikhil Welankar's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


What Is the future of data sharing for research?


Authors: Giovanna Vilaza
Posted: Mon, June 08, 2020 - 9:30:55

Digital data collection for health research usually follows well-established methods. In many of the labs that work with mobile sensing, research subjects are provided with consent forms, task instructions, and sensor devices or apps. Once the research subjects agree to participate, the expectation is that they will comply with the procedures and allow their lives to be digitally tracked. After that, they are usually dismissed. 

Even though participants are such a vital part of scientific discoveries, they are often considered objects to be observed—one more entry in a database. Such well-established ways of placing those being monitored into passive roles have gained even more prominence. With the surge of Covid-19, there has been a noticeable increase in initiatives for health surveillance. From contact tracing to apps that monitor daily symptoms, the pervasiveness of smartphones is being exploited to collect data from large segments of the population. It is a blossoming field for those who work in this area, as the urgency to understand this illness is pushing mobile sensing in ways never before seen.

Given this sudden demand for broader behavioral monitoring, the debates over population-level surveillance have gone mainstream. In the particular case of contact tracing, academics are now discussing issues of individual privacy, the consequences of false positives (and negatives), and the actual efficacy of such an approach [1]. On the other hand, the media, governments, and tech companies are claiming that transmission speed may be reduced only if a significant part of the population is monitored continuously. Contact tracing has been enforced in countries in Asia and framed as a way to “help authorities identify virus hotspots and better target health efforts” [2]. 

By providing arguments that surveillance is the right path for recovery, governments and the media are forging a positive-only view of the subject. A consequence of the support for contact tracing and other symptom-tracking approaches could be a radical change in how people perceive privacy threats and accept being monitored for the “public good.” It could be speculated that efforts from the public sector and big corporations to convey the benefits of surveillance could lead the masses to believe this one-sided version of the story, without weighing its risks. Decisions about disclosure are known to involve a trade-off. If the perception of social or individual benefits is stronger than the identified possible risks, people are willing to share sensitive information [3].

If a shift toward more public acceptance of health surveillance indeed prevails, national-level repositories of the mobile-sensing data could also become very attractive to governments and scientists [4]. Large-scale platforms containing information such as clinical diagnoses, mobile-sensing data, and behavioral tracking data could allow incredible epidemiological discoveries. Before Covid-19, the landscape of such platforms was dominated by genetic bio-banks and clinical-trials repositories. Mobile-generated data was still a novelty. Nowadays, massive centralized data centers containing information about thousands (or millions) of individuals are growing around the world, such as All of Us in the U.S. and iCarbonX in China; they include digital sensors as a data source.

However, if a shift toward more acceptance does not prevail, large-scale surveillance will be at risk of low cohort diversity. First, to derive significant and fair conclusions from a dataset, a diverse range of people with different characteristics is required. Unless most of the population is tracked, the knowledge acquired will not be representative and may benefit only those who were available and agreed to be monitored. As Daniela and Nicole Rosner discuss on this blog, “prioritizing the most likely to be reachable tends to benefit well-educated white people who have already long benefited from the healthcare system.” What can HCI, UX, and technology design practitioners and academics offer to facilitate more inclusive recruitment for data platforms? What knowledge, tools, and evidence have we produced (or can we provide) that can be useful in this context? 

Besides inclusive recruitment, the search for public acceptance should not overwrite the need to consider possible impacts on all the segments of the population. Individuals from different backgrounds might have a different understanding of potential privacy risks, and people with stigmatized clinical diagnoses might suffer from the consequences of a data leak asymmetrically [5]. Broader acceptance should not result in less public diligence about privacy and how data can be abused. Such individual differences need to be taken into account because ill-intentioned initiatives may lure people with the promise of future advances in research, but come with a hidden agenda [6]. As Christopher Frauenberger states, “We might see the coronavirus serving as the scapegoat to implement modes of mass behavior manipulation by private companies.” How could HCI knowledge and approaches be used to support and protect citizens from these scenarios? Could HCI help overcome the uneven understanding of risks and help tackle vulnerabilities in case of privacy breaches?

As mentioned earlier, digital data collection for health research often follows well-established approaches. The pandemic has brought more attention to the subject of population surveillance, as seen in the reflections from Rosner and Frauenberger. However, the Covid-19 emergency has not changed the passive role attributed to those having their symptoms and contacts monitored. Most of the decisions about what data will be tracked, how it will be used, and who will have access to it are made from the top: by governments, health authorities, research institutions, and big corporations. When data repositories are built this way, power and knowledge are given to those who store the data, not to those who provide it [4]. This serves to strengthen the already existing inequalities between contributors and receivers. 

The most significant change that the pandemic should bring is not that surveillance becomes more broadly accepted. A real change would be to see those proposing surveillance platforms finally placing citizens at the core of their decisions, by listening to their concerns and providing them with direct protection and benefits. If people are to be asked to open up their lives for health surveillance or research, they should be respected, and their preferences prioritized. It is about time we put more efforts into understanding the needs from the different segments of the population and design for more inclusive participation and agency in research. The well-established approaches for data collection do not suffice anymore, as behavioral monitoring is being considered at a national level. Aggregated data might mean better healthcare now and in the future, but it is also a tool for power and mass control [6]. The path to reach acceptance should involve respect, transparency, and an ethic of involvement by communities from all backgrounds [7]. 

More than ever, those who are in public, academic, and industry positions hold the responsibility of taking into account any potential for harm that novel ideas can bring to each individual. This pandemic, or any other alarming situation in the future, should not mean that moral principles and personal autonomy are put aside. Large-scale digital surveillance for public health may gain momentum with contact tracing now. Still, we need to keep reflecting, discussing, and pushing for an ethical development in the field, through the papers we write, the products we build, and the ideas we share with others.

The pandemic has been a challenging time in many aspects, but it can also mark a moment when meaningful changes began. It forced many to stop, and some to reconsider how things have been done until now—and how different they could be. From this process, hopefully, a brighter future can emerge for data sharing, health surveillance, and research platforms alike—a future in which acceptance does not mean renouncement of rights and values, but rather a conscious choice based on terms and conditions that are negotiated and never imposed. This should become the new normal. The next advances in data-collection practices depend on us, researchers and designers in the HCI and health tech field, as we choose how we conduct our own projects and support those of our community.

Endnotes

1. Gillmor, D.K. Principles for technology-assisted contact-tracing. ACLU white paper. April 16, 2020. 

2. Phartiyal. S. India orders coronavirus tracing app for all workers. Reuters Technology News. May 2, 2020.

3. King, J. "Becoming part of something bigger" Direct to consumer genetic testing, privacy, and personal disclosure. Proc. of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3, CSCW (2019), 1-33.

4. Kostkova, P., Brewer, H., de Lusignan, S., Fottrell, E., Goldacre, B., Hart, G., Koczan, P., Knight, P., Marsolier, C., McKendry, R.A., Ross, E., Sasse. A., Sullivan, R., Chaytor, S., Stevenson, O., Velho, R., and Tooke, J. Who owns the data? Open data for healthcare. Frontiers in public health 4 (2016), 7.

5. Petelka, R., Van Kleunen, L., Albright, L., Murnane, E., Voida, S., and Snyder, J. Being (in) visible: Privacy, rransparency, and disclosure in the self-management of bipolar disorder. Proc. of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2020, 1–14.

6. Zuboff, S. Big other: Surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization. Journal of Information Technology 30 (2015), 1.

7. Costanza-Chock, S. Design Justice: Community-led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. MIT Press, 2020.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Mon, June 08, 2020 - 9:30:55

Giovanna Vilaza

Giovanna Vilaza is a TEAM early-stage researcher, halfway to her Ph.D. in the Department of Health Tech, Technical University of Denmark. Her current project is about a participant-centered future for behavioral monitoring in open-access data platforms. She is a University College London and KTH Royal Institute of Technology alumni. gnvi@dtu.dk
View All Giovanna Vilaza's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


A solution without a problem? Seeking questions to ask and problems to solve within open, civic data


Authors: Caroline Sinders
Posted: Mon, June 01, 2020 - 10:16:42

The city of Amsterdam is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help sort through and triage their version of 311 calls. Chicago is using AI to help analyze and decrease rat infestations and to prevent them in the future. There is value in applying AI to urban challenges, but that value must come with explicit protections to privacy and citizen safety. AI has known issues with bias, from a widely documented inability to recognize different genders and races to its use in predictive policing. Thus, when using AI as infrastructure or in technology that interacts with society, safeguards must be put into place to mitigate harm. When, how, and why we use AI must be analyzed and unpacked. This article will examine a potential use case for using AI in understanding city and civic data, and the potential benefits as well as harms that could arise. 

What data is right for civic challenges?

The power of AI is that it can recognize patterns at scale and offer insights and predictions. For civic technology, this may be a great way to see patterns across a city to potentially prompt deep investigations into recurring mold, faulty pipes, and potholes across neighborhoods and larger districts. These problems should be viewed as data; for example, the reports that citizens make are data. Data is important—it's the backbone of artificial intelligence. Smart cities, IoT devices, and open government initiatives are all creating astounding amounts of data. Data presents stories about the people who live in the communities and cities where the data was gathered, and this data must be safeguarded against all different kinds of bad actors. Every data point from a software application, from the amount of usage to data from a social network, is made by humans. Meaning, data isn’t just something cold or quantitative; it’s inherently human. Thus, the privacy and transparency of datasets—who collects it and how it’s stored—is incredibly important. 

The problem, and the lynchpin, with using AI will always be data. Data can be messy and unstructured, so even before thinking about using AI, one has to ask: Does the data we need even exist? If so, is our dataset big enough? Is it structured? And there is always the moral quandary: Do we really need AI here or does a city or community just need more human power behind this problem? 

AI in cities...right now

The city of Amsterdam is using AI to help sort through their version of 311 calls (free service-request calls in cities ) in a product called Signal (Figure 1). Residents can file requests about issues in public spaces through calls, social media, or a Web forum. Tamas Erkelens, program manager of the Chief Technology Office innovation team that built Signal, told me in an interview about the process that routs service requests, saying that users had to pick their own categories. But, as he said, “Users think in problems and not in governmental categories. Instead, we started asking users to describe the problem or take a photo, and we use machine learning or computer vision to [help sort the problems].” Signal uses AI to help sort residents’ requests into different categories, following the logic of the user to put residents—and residents’ frustrations—first as a priority for complaint triage. Erkelens also told me that his team has successfully created a model capable of detecting more than 60 categories in the Dutch language but that the system is also audited by a person. This human auditing is important to ensure safety and understanding. Even when we leverage AI to handle an influx of complaints, humans are still needed to assure quality. 


Figure 1. Screenshot from Amsterdam’s Signal app.

Data: It’s more than just numbers

When working with civic technology and data initiatives from local, state, and federal governments, a variety of problems can pop up. Generally, there may not be similar data standards across cities, or even across the same city’s various departments, and datasets can be of differing sizes and structures. Comparing or combining data from different municipalities can be difficult. As Georgia Bullen, executive director of Simply Secure, a nonprofit focusing on privacy and design, explained, "A lot of the big problems internally for cities are actually that different departments have different datasets, and it’s really hard to combine them...Cities are storing data in different ways, and they have different policies in place that affect what those values even mean.”

When integrating any form of technology into civic and civil services, the technology itself coupled with the service it’s intended to augment must be viewed holistically within the context of a service design problem. That is, if an app is trying to help solve the problem of how to reduce the number of residents contacting the city over potholes, the app combined with the city service must be viewed as an integrated and holistic problem under the service design for the user experience of contacting the city. What kind of biases or issues can the app add? What kind of unintentional hierarchies can it create? How much data is it creating, and how is that data stored? These are some questions that designers and engineers can ask in this situation.

We can look at the New York City’s 311 as an example of unintended design consequences. A 311-type of system can lead to the police being called, even unnecessarily, when the system is very easy to use, or because of patterns learned by machine learning. As Noel Hidalgo of Beta NYC, a civic technology organization, says, “It’s really easy to file a noise complaint on the 311 app.” The 311 app promotes noise complaints as something you can report using the service. In the app, when a user selects “apartment” to denote more information about the noise complaint, the police immediately become notified. So even if a user is just trying to report a noise complaint without contacting the police, they actually can’t do that because of how the app is designed.

The problem with this design for 311 is that it relies on a belief in government to respond to your needs. For a lot of citizens, government can be a thing to fear, such as neighborhoods of color who face over-policing or gentrification, which can lead to clashes among new and old residents. For some citizens, their local and federal governments, including 311, are not systems that they can necessarily trust. There are so many facets to the way in which a governmental system can be used, but do citizens understand that, and does the AI model reflect all of these facets? The model and AI system must be designed for how citizens actually interact with governmental systems, meaning that they may not completely understand or fully use 311 (e.g., calling reactively instead of preemptively). Yet the system must also be designed for how the city or government needs it to be used. This means 311 should be designed for both reactive and preemptive reports. 

A real-world example

As an example, let’s unpack Million Trees NYC, a citywide, publicly and privately funded program to plant one million trees in New York City from 2007 to 2015. If a researcher wanted to use machine learning to understand why certain trees are planted in certain parts of New York City, that researcher would need to consider a number of factors, from different boroughs’ tree-planting budgets, to soil conditions, to tree prices and availability, to the resources available in different neighborhoods to water and care for the trees, to the specific cost-benefit analyses of planting in certain postal codes. And then other questions come up: How many trees existed before? 

Million Trees NYC could hypothetically use AI to discover which tree types were successful, meaning which trees grew and flourished, and where they grew and flourished, to help determine optimal conditions for tree planting. Even posing this question raises more questions. Can we assume that wealthier neighborhoods get more trees? If not, do trees survive at the same rate across New York City? Across New York State? Exploring this data just to find a problem to solve requires asking many initial questions. A researcher would need the additional expertise of understanding all of the factors listed above and more to find the right dataset and build the right model. The deeper data story isn’t just that rent is high in the New York City borough of Manhattan versus Queens. It’s that even planting trees is complicated by policy, history, and other systems. Using any robust system like AI to unpack large datasets can help call out systemic inequity in cities, but the datasets themselves must also be analyzed. Intention is important.

Data is complex. What is needed to make the data more whole? 

A dataset is so much more than the initial spreadsheet you have. What are the factors that contributed to that dataset? Those factors not captured in your initial dataset are the factors that make it more whole. A first step when working with data is to outline all of the related data pieces, similar to a recipe. Bread isn’t just flour and water; it’s flour that is sifted, to which a certain amount of water is then added. With my trees example, I picked the data apart: Where are trees in New York City currently? Historically? What kinds? More important, how do we know what makes a tree healthy? 

Bullen stresses that we ask specific questions, such as what makes a tree survive? Can we extrapolate that from data? And what makes the money spent on that tree useful? That is, if planting a tree costs X amount of money, what about really growing and caring for that tree? Were the tree box filters big enough for the root systems? What were the weather conditions, and who is responsible for caring for the tree? 

All of those factors—weather, tree box filter size, kind of tree, history of the neighborhood, environmental history—are related to the Million Trees dataset, even if those data points aren’t captured in that one dataset. All of these types of factors are not just questions, but also data points that need to be interrogated while collecting and analyzing data. 

Don’t just identify, but question and audit patterns in the data

When a pattern emerges from a dataset, don’t take it at face value. Ask: Why is this occurring? Is it correct? Does it feel right? What would happen if this was wrong? What would the real-world outcomes be? Would it cause any person real-world harm? Whatever question you’re analyzing, try asking it from the opposite point of view. For example, when analyzing what makes a tree healthy and looking at neighborhoods that have healthy trees, look into what kinds of trees you’re looking at, and ask: What is the history of those neighborhoods? Now try analyzing unhealthy trees and look for whether this refers to the same tree types. What season were they planted in? Historically, what trees were in that neighborhood? You might find how a city has changed over many decades. For example, a highway that cuts across a neighborhood or borough can have downstream affects of radically changing that neighborhood. A highway adds noise and air pollution, which in turn can cause lower property values. This kind of historical analysis needs to be taken into account with city data, and in this case, tree data. Data has so many other kinds of factors that can affect outcomes. 

What are the parallel and contextual data related to this dataset? 

From the dataset, can you tell if trees that are dying are dying in neighborhoods that have been systematically underserved? And how do you put that into context? Think about parallel context data: What else has happened in these spaces in the past 20 years? 30 years? Bullen points out that a lot of the datasets for civic technology may be only 10 years old, and that there may not be a lot of available historical data. The patterns coming out of your dataset are made up of so many nuances, with historical roots in policies such as gentrification, segregation, and redlining, which may be reflected in technology. A city is complex, so a dataset, even about trees, will have all of the complexities and biases of a city (such as redlining or segregation) built into it. 

Expanding the idea of bad data

Bad data isn’t necessarily harmful data, or data that seems adversarial at first glance. It’s data that is incomplete. Examples of this can appear when analyzing the dataset about trees and how well trees grew in different parts of New York. There are a lot of factors that affect tree growth that aren’t in that dataset. This kind of fuller reasoning makes the Million Trees dataset incomplete and it needs to be viewed as such. 

Bringing intersectionality to data

Designing for cities, without AI, is already a nuanced, thorny, large, and, at times, difficult problem. It is a wicked design problem, bound by legislation, bureaucracy, architecture, and then technology, as cities themselves and those who work in civic technology update to keep up with changing technology. Technology affects cities across the board, from the architecture, hardware, and design of cities that are becoming “smarter” cities, to the software and processes of civil servants updating cities with new kinds of technology. Adding AI into the mix is not easy and shouldn’t be engaged with as a kind of pan-techno-solutionism, even when looking at something as seemingly benign as tree-planting data. As it’s been outlined in this article and in other published examples, AI and technology writ large amplifies bias and injustice, regardless of how complete or incomplete a dataset is. But AI could be used effectively if we unpack how deep technology solutions inside of cities work, and where AI would fit into the mix on top of preexisting technology. Technology alone doesn’t solve problems and can create unforeseen problems, as we see specifically with 311; those issues must also be scrutinized. What is the line between calling 311 to fix a problem and the solution to that problem being to deploy a police car? Are users aware of what the response will be when placing a 311 call? This kind of response needs to be unpacked, examined, and then fixed. This similar kind of interrogation must be applied to AI as well. Cities have a diversity of inhabitants, and that means a diversity of responses to problems. So how technology responds to, sorts, and understands those issues and then provides solutions must always be analyzed as potential design flaws, as well as policy flaws when the solutions result in unintended harm. Moving forward, all technology, including AI, must take an intersectional perspective, especially in cities, where historical racism and injustice were a part of the status quo, and the legacy of that injustice is still affecting data and design in cities around us today. 



Posted in: on Mon, June 01, 2020 - 10:16:42

Caroline Sinders

Caroline Sinders is a machine learning designer/user researcher, artist, and digital anthropologist examining the intersections of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, abuse, online harassment, and politics in digital conversational spaces. She is the founder of Convocation Design + Research and has worked with organizations such as Amnesty International, Intel, IBM Watson, and the Wikimedia Foundation. csinders@gmail.com
View All Caroline Sinders's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Is remote the new normal? Reflections on Covid-19, technology, and humankind


Authors: Yvonne Rogers
Posted: Thu, May 28, 2020 - 1:46:39

Covid-19 forced governments to urge full or partial lockdown measures to slow the progression of the pandemic. By the end of March, more than 100 countries had “locked down” billions of people. During that time, Yvonne Rogers wrote a series of blog posts on the topic of “remote,” structured around the themes of living, working, numbers, and tracking (the full articles and more posts are available on her website: https://www.interactiveingredients.com). She asks: Is remote the new normal? As we contemplate when we will all meet again face-to-face, Rogers helps us reflect on what remote means now for living and working, while also considering fresh ideas on how we plan to slow the pandemic with technology and save lives. 

Remote working: March 19, 2020

Since March 12, 2020, we have been working remotely, as the university instructed us to do because of the escalation of coronavirus. It feels like I have had more videoconferencing meetings than hot dinners! One moment it is Skype, the next Teams, then Zoom—many have been back-to-back. Even though it is great that we can keep in touch in this virtual way, it is frankly exhausting—but in a different way from a usual tiring day at work. While my twice-daily train commute takes a toll, being glued to a screen for hours on end, talking to virtual colleagues and students elevates fatigue to a new dimension. The exhaustion is less physical than it is enervating, like after a long Sunday of too much binge watching.

This phenomenon has since been dubbed Zoom fatigue. Part of the new tiredness stems from meetings that differ greatly from the usual—dealing with so many updates each day on what has been planned, decided, revealed, or mandated by government, university, or university department. Right now, an awful lot of “cascading” is interspersed with checking up on and reassuring each other. There seems to be much less actual work, but one hopes this will shift once routines begin to settle into place.

Then, out of the blue, you might get an email from one of your colleagues letting you know they are not feeling well and have begun self-isolating. It is quite anxiety-inducing, worrying if they have contracted Covid-19. I have heard now from quite a few people that they have developed flu-like symptoms and are self-isolating; some situations seem more serious than others. It is all a bit discombobulating, like Russian roulette. You can but hope they will be better the next day.

Today it was raining, so we put our umbrellas up, making it easier for us to social distance. At one point I entered a shop, and while waiting in line, other customers came in and stood two meters apart from us and each other, abiding by government guidance. It felt a little strange and silly as we carefully navigated the small place. But even though it seemed unnatural, it felt prudent.

Later in the morning, when I peered out of my study window that looks onto a primary school playground, I saw many 5- and 6-year-old children playing together during their break time without a care in the world (as it happens, it was probably the last time for a while; U.K. schools closed soon after). For them, the concept of social distancing must seem alien. As for taking part in social isolation, it must seem even stranger: Why can’t we go out to play? Why must we stay indoors without physical contact with our grandparents or playmates?

This new world order brings out the best and worst in people. There are so many acts of kindness being reported that it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, realizing that, as human beings, we like to look out for each other. However, the flipside is just how many people are looking out for themselves. Many can’t resist the temptation to stock up on tins, bread, toilet paper, and other staples. Panic buying maybe, but it gives them something to do and makes them feel safe. I found myself today, after failing to find any cereal left on the shelves, wondering if I should buy the last remaining cereal bar that I spotted. I would never normally buy such a thing, let alone eat it. But self-restraint is tough when irrational fears enter our psyche. As it turned out, one of my neighbors came to the rescue and brought around a tasty loaf of bread. 

We have all started to sign off on emails with “Stay safe.”

Remote living:  March 25, 2020

So the official lockdown kicked in on Monday, March 23, 2020, for those of us living in the U.K. The rules are a bit more lenient than in some countries, where they have draconian curfew measures in place. Here, we are allowed to leave home for one exercise session a day, and to go shopping to buy necessary food and medicine. We are also allowed to go to work if we absolutely can’t work from home. So for the time being, if you are a construction worker, you can carry on as normal—as long as you social distance. It seems like a good time to be a crane operator, high in the sky looking down on empty streets. I suspect not for long. It must be very difficult for a government to balance its country’s economic needs against how best to flatten the pandemic curve—all while determining how to change human behavior into something so very different from how people normally live their lives.

Yesterday I did my beach walk alone at 8 a.m. to start the day. There were many joggers and dog walkers. There was also plenty of space, so we managed to keep our distance. The sea looked calm and serene, and for that hour I could think of something other than coronavirus. Today I am saving up my permitted outside exercise for later in the day. By midafternoon yesterday, I was getting quite restless. At one point I looked at my watch thinking it was 4:15 p.m.—nearly time for a planned chat with a friend—only to discover it was actually 3:15. Normally, being surprised by finding I have an extra hour would be a joy. I can easily fill it in by catching up on work. This time, I can honestly say my heart sank a little, reminding me of when I was a teenager on a long Sunday when the clock stood still… 

Meanwhile, all around us is a flurry of activity online. I see that lovely Amanda is streaming her yoga class to us at UCL on Friday at work. A couple just got married in Birmingham, before the country banned weddings; over 100 guests watched it being livestreamed on Facebook. There are also sweet videos of grandchildren now doing the rounds, waving at their grandparents through the windows or patio doors in their garden, some even squashing their little noses up to the glass. Lots of people have celebrated their birthdays with their friends and family by holding their birthday cakes up to the camera for others to see.

Eating alone together online has also started to become popular again among families and friends. I remember a few years ago, when Skype was becoming mainstream, some of us tried it as an experiment. For example, when I was in South Africa on sabbatical, I had a Skype dinner with a friend back in the U.K. It was nice to catch up with her while doing something, but the eating part actually felt quite odd. We had both served ourselves something simple—a pasta dish—and started eating at about the same time. But somehow picking up our knives and forks together did not synchronize, and the eating of the meal did not feel natural. The smells, tastes, and noises of eating together were lost in translation.

At the end of a tiring day of back-to-back remote work meetings, I now look forward to a FaceTime chat with a friend or two, glass of wine in hand. Of course, it is no substitute for the real thing, but it can be surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable. We make sure we have a good laugh, crack some jokes, and try to see the funny side of life. And then it’s dinner, Netflix, and the 10 o’clock news before going to bed.

Another Groundhog Day in these strange times.

Remote numbers: April 9, 2020

The day before the coronavirus lockdown started in the U.K., I had a smart meter fitted in my house. After the engineer finished, he walked me through all the various functions shown on the digital display. A dashboard of numbers provides all sorts of stats and data about how much electricity and gas you are using and how much they cost per hour, alongside an easy-to-read traffic-light barometer that moves into red bars if you are using a lot of energy (e.g., when boiling a kettle) while rewarding you with green bars when you are being energy efficient. The idea is that you use the various numbers and bars to change your behavior, and in doing so, reduce your energy usage and save money.

I looked at the display a few times but did nothing to change my own behavior. Quite the opposite, in fact. I started using more electricity and gas, making more cups of tea, cooking more meals, spending more hours in front of my laptop and TV, and doing more washing—all a result of being stuck at home 24/7. The best place for the display? Hidden in a drawer.

Meanwhile, like everyone else, I have been gripped by the numbers that come out each day about coronavirus—uncomfortably so. The tally of new cases and new deaths rises daily. At first, two or three people dying was considered shocking. Now we are up to nearly 1,000 a day in the U.K. It is no longer shocking but expected. We have all become engrossed by the graphs that the scientists generate to help the layperson understand what the numbers mean with respect to where we are in the quest to flatten the curve. They project how steep the curve is each day relative to day zero. The color-coded ones show where the U.K. is relative to other countries we might care about. I catch myself comparing how we are doing against the U.S. or Italy—thinking we are better off or not doing as bad. Why are we being shown this, as if it was a competition? To make us feel better? Comparative graphs are a mechanism commonly used in behavioral change, known as social norms. By seeing how well you are doing relative to others (e.g., peers, other families, neighboring cities or countries), you can relax if you are below the others or worry if you are above—there is a loud and clear indication of whether you are using more or spending more (if it is exercise, the reverse is true).

More and more of these visualizations are appearing, including Sky’s “Coronavirus: How many people have died in your area? Covid-19 deaths in England mapped.” Residents of remote areas like Suffolk can let out a big sigh of relief that there are no big blobs nearby. Those who live in London or other densely populated areas, on the other hand, will notice big blobs splatted over their home turf. No wonder so many Londoners flocked to the countryside when they could—that is, before those who live there full time told them where to go.

For the most part, there is little we can do other than worry when looking at these comparative coronavirus graphs. They are fodder, too, for the media and politicians. For example, this headline: “Singapore Wins Praise For Its COVID-19 Strategy. The U.S. Does Not.” A CNN headline was more in tune with the way science happens, through competing predictions and hypotheses: “New U.S. Model Predicts Much Higher Covid-19 Death Toll in UK. But British Scientists Are Skeptical.” The U.S. team predicts that nearly 70,000 will die in the U.K. The British scientists, on the other hand, predicted only 20,000 to 30,000 would die in the U.K., based on their brand of mathematical modeling. Who do we believe?

It goes without saying that mathematical models need lots of data in order to make accurate predictions. When predicting the weather, a tsunami, or an earthquake, millions of data points are used. The current pandemic, however, in comparison has relatively few data points that can be used. It would be hubris not to remember the failure of Google’s Flu Trends program a few years back, when its developers claimed, based on analyzing people’s search terms for flu, that they could produce accurate estimates of flu prevalence two weeks earlier than official data. Sadly, it failed to do this for the peak of the 2013 flu season. Then, they had access to big data—masses of it. The current modelers only have access to small data—very little of it. Let’s hope all the lockdown restrictions that have been put in place in nearly every country, based on current predictions and remote numbers, fares better. 

We can but hope.

Remote tracking: April 13, 2020

It is great to see tech companies coming together to help curb the coronavirus. Apple and Google have been collaborating on a platform that could help governments worldwide monitor, track, and manage the pandemic more effectively. Their proposed system works by using Bluetooth and encryption keys, enabling data collection from phones that have been in close proximity with each other. From this data, it can be inferred who else phone owners have been close to for a set period of time (e.g., the quarantine period of 14 days). Users can also alert health authorities if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19; conversely, the system can text users if they detect that their phone, and indirectly themselves, have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. The term coined for this new form of remote tracking is contact tracing, as illustrated by Apple and Google’s graphic (Figure 1). 

Contact tracing.jpg
Figure 1. Apple and Google’s contact tracing system.

If everyone opted in to the system and carried their phone at all times, it could prove an efficient way of letting people know to self-isolate before they unwittingly spread the virus to others. Epidemiologists would also be able to analyze massively more data and be able to develop more accurate predictions. Governments could be better informed about the efficacy of introducing different policies and restrictions about human movement. It seems to be a win-win. However, it requires fairly universal buy-in to the philosophy and the practice as the best way to stop the global spread of the virus. There may be some resistance when it comes to privacy concerns. But such worries need to be weighed against the potential gains of having a pervasive tracking system in place whose sole objective is for the greater public good. 

One way to address these concerns is to reassure the public. Much thought has gone into how to avoid unnecessary data collection; Google and Apple’s proposed method of contact tracing is limited in what it tracks and how the data it collects is stored. Compared with GPS that tracks people’s physical location, their proposed use of Bluetooth technology is to pick up signals of only those mobile phones that are nearby, sampled every five minutes. Hence, the data collected won’t know that you were on a bus or in the supermarket at a certain time. It will know only that you were close to a person who has just been diagnosed with Covid-19. This is an important point to be really clear about—as to how much of what someone is doing is actually being tracked. It also helps to address privacy concerns if the data being collected is encrypted.

To enable such a tracking system to have widespread uptake, governments can either be authoritarian and imposing (as is the case in several countries in Asia) or democratic and encouraging—through educating, persuading, incentivizing, and nudging people to opt in. However, this takes time, during which dissenting voices in the press and on social media, together with conspiracy theorists, may create a groundswell of worry. To overcome scaremongering and anxiety requires open debate about what is acceptable and what is not, and how this can change over time and in different cultures and circumstances. Consider CCTV: It is now widely accepted in many countries as a technological deterrent against crime, yet when it first became mainstream in some countries like the U.K. and Germany, many people were up in arms, not least the Snoopers Charter. Since then, however, public opinion has changed. Police authorities found the cameras very useful in helping in their investigations and through acting as a deterrent. Nowadays, cameras of every shape and size have become the order of the day, from webcams worn by frontline workers to massive multiplex CCTV security setups in shopping malls.

Part of my research agenda is to investigate public opinion and sentiment about “creepy data.” We carry out studies to see which technologies people find acceptable and which make them fell uncomfortable, compromised, or threatened. In the early days of mobile phones, I worked on a project called Primma (https://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/primma/) that investigated how to enable people to manage the privacy of their own mobile devices within a framework of acceptable policies. One of our user studies, called Contravision, explored public reactions to a fictitious future technology called DietMon. The proposed tech enabled people who seriously needed to lose weight to track their calorie consumption by providing them with information on their phones about the amount of calories in the food they were contemplating eating. A chip was also embedded in their arm that sent data about their physiological states to their GP. Participants were shown either negative or positive videos of how people managed their everyday lives when using such monitoring tech. Their reactions were mixed. Some people were grossed out; others saw the potential benefits of the system. Importantly, it resulted in an open debate where a diversity of different perspectives was explored—in sharp contrast with the scaremongering that the media often presents to the public. In the end, many different opinions and concerns were voiced. 

In another study we conducted (see https://quantifiedtoilets.com/), which investigated concerns over the use of tracking in public, one person said, “Privacy is important. But I would like to know if I was sick and this is a good way to do it.” This sentiment is at the heart of the current contact-tracing dilemma.

Closing words 

My next blog is called “Remote nurturing.” I extol the virtues of all the latest crazes that promote being social and feeling human—pub quizzes, making bread, street concerts, growing vegetables. Now that some of the lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease throughout the world, we can begin to establish a new normal, helping each other out while we gradually discover what it means to be together again—albeit at an indefinite social distance. 

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Johannes Schöning for editing the blog entries for this article.


Posted in: Covid-19 on Thu, May 28, 2020 - 1:46:39

Yvonne Rogers

Yvonne Rogers is the director of the Interaction Centre at UCL (UCLIC) and a deputy head of the computer science department. She is interested in how technology transforms what it means to be human. y.rogers@ucl.ac.uk
View All Yvonne Rogers's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


After the iron horse: Covid-19 responses in education


Authors: Jonathan Grudin
Posted: Wed, May 27, 2020 - 10:25:09

Research from the distant past regains relevance! From 1998 to 2000 and 2017 to 2020, I focused on higher education. Suddenly, some of the early work is again relevant. I’ll describe it here, along with some thoughts arising from conversations with educators, administrators, and my daughters.

Forced by Covid-19 into functioning remotely, the education field quite sensibly seized upon familiar and reliable “digital iron horse” substitutions. Zoom was widely adopted for class meetings in primary and secondary schools that had access to technology, and more broadly for university lectures and final exams in TA-monitored breakout rooms. The limitations of the webcam wave, however, soon steered attention to asynchronous approaches. Mark Guzdial reviewed their uses for remote learning but said that he hopes not to need them again [1].

Twenty years ago, a group I was part of at Microsoft Research deployed streaming-media prototypes to explore real-time and asynchronous remote education. Students and faculty had little time to prepare. Our systems were used in lecture courses at the University of Washington and MIT, and in multisession internal Microsoft training courses, with the results published in CHI, CSCW, and beyond. This was pre-wireless, running on PCs less powerful than your phone. The human side, though, has not changed as much.

Remote live lectures and audience feedback

Studio audiences were devised for early radio comedies and dramas because performers feed off audience energy (studio audiences were also used to record laugh tracks). In March, late-night television hosts had to adjust to the disappearance of live studio audiences. Classroom instructors faced the same challenge.

In “Evolving Use of a System for Education at a Distance” [2], my colleagues and I describe Flatland, a system to explore numerous tools for student feedback. It included video of the presenter, slides including interactive forms, student questions that they could vote to prioritize, a chat panel, Too Fast/Too Slow and Clear/Confusing buttons, hand-raising functionality, and a list of attendees (Figure 1). We reported on feature use and non-use, but high-level observations are more significant today.


Figure 1. Flatland, presenter view. A reminder of what interfaces looked like in 1999!

Here are some key findings:

  • Teaching style matters. The most effective classroom lecturers can have difficulty online. One great instructor’s classroom approach was to race through material and monitor students closely to see where to slow down. Unfortunately, students did not use the Too Fast button. With no feedback telling him when to brake, he finished lectures in half the allotted time. He knew that few students had kept up but could not adjust. Less extroverted lecturers who prepare methodically can fare better.

  • Video is great for connecting but not for feedback. Flatland did not have student webcams. Today, seeing everyone at the beginning of a class can be wonderful, although once class starts, video must be managed carefully to avoid distraction. Surprisingly, video is not good for passive feedback. In a separate controlled study, four-person groups carried out engaging tasks either face to face or connected by high-resolution video. Task performance was similar, but when connected by video, people’s faces were far less expressive. Deadpan images won’t help instructors gauge student reactions.

  • Establish social conventions for student feedback and interaction. Feedback tools have a learning curve to reach consistent use. For example, an instructor who uses the chat channel to greet early class arrivals creates an often unmet expectation that chat will be watched during the lecture. Will a hand icon be used in voting initiated by the instructor, or initiated by students to signal a desire to comment or speak? Can students verbally jump in? Appropriate social conventions must be designed and communicated.

Recorded lectures and flipped classes

We also built asynchronous video systems to support a “flipped classroom” approach, in which students watch a lecture before the class meets and spend class time discussing or working with the material presented. We went further, enabling students to interact before the class (Figure 2). A student watching a prerecorded lecture and slide presentation could contribute to a time-indexed discussion: Questions and comments by previous viewers scroll by in sync with the lecture. Versions of the Microsoft Research Annotation System were used at MIT and the University of Washington, and in internal training courses [3].


Figure 2. Viewers could access the table of contents, discussion, or private notes (lower left). The topic of the comment by a previous viewer that is closest to the current point in the video replay is highlighted, with the full comment text below the slide.

Some key findings from this project:

  • On-demand viewing with pre-class discussion created work for faculty. Instructors had to record lectures without an audience (though today some instructors reuse last year’s lectures without raising eyebrows). When the annotation system succeeded in fostering extensive discussion, faculty had to read it and could struggle to use the subsequent class period effectively: The discussion was over. One professor complained that to use it again, he would have to design different uses for class time.
  • Students generally liked having discussion and personal notes indexed to the video. We also devised advanced approaches for varying playback speed (faster or slower) while maintaining comprehensibility. Faster playback could increase learning by focusing attention. Other advantages: Students can choose when to watch a lecture, and with remote classes they save commuting and walking time.

  • Procrastination. Prerecorded lectures benefit students who watch the video but adversely impact those who do not and thus can’t follow the class discussion. This effect was amplified by our Discussion feature, which also penalized the many who watched the lecture at the last hour, leaving no time to participate in the online discussion. To address this, we modified the system to support the insertion of group tasks [4] and exercises/quizzes [5] during playback, which could be assigned for completion days before the class. Most students preferred questions that popped up unannounced during the lecture.

  • One size does not fit all. A crucial discovery was that each instructor wanted custom features based on their course content and use. Our out-of-the-box system was not flexible enough. An MIT film professor needed two video windows. We were asked to create an annotation playlist capability to group comments together. Terminology was tripped over: After a programming language course had minimal Discussion activity, a student explained, “I had questions, but I didn’t want to discuss C.”

  • Shorter lectures? Long lectures are motivated by the cost of converging an instructor and students in a room, but long lectures are usually less appealing and effective than short lectures. Remote education makes the breaking of long lectures into segments more practical.

Next steps

Here I described video-based systems that most students (but few faculty) said they would sign up for again. Having to respond to Covid-19 is terrible, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on pedagogy and technology. From chalkboard to overhead projector to projected slides—what’s next? A visionary lecture system [6] built by David Kellermann at the University of New South Wales creates a learning community in large courses that include remote students. This crisis is also forcing a close look at assessment. Can we assure integrity in high-stakes remote exams without intrusive video systems? Should we move more rapidly to other means of achieving and measuring learning outcomes?

Education is more than learning. Engagement and motivation, key concerns today, are socially constructed. Whether motivated by competition or collaboration with peers, by discussions between classes, or by a smile from a teacher, students lose such incentives and drivers when the school bubble is replaced by the bubble of home. Seeing my daughters’ athletic awards and graduation ceremonies via video rather than a banquet or assembly is a reminder of the creative challenge in designing effective technology to supplement the natural real-time and face-to-face interactions that people have relied on for millions of years. 

Endnotes

1. Guzdial, M. How I’m lecturing during emergency remote teaching. Blog post, Apr. 6, 2020. 

2. White, S.A., Gupta. A., Grudin, J., Chesley, H., Kimberly, G., and Sanocki, E. Evolving use of a system for education at a distance. Proc. of HICSS 2000. https://doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2000.926729 

3. Bargeron, D. and Grudin, J. As users grow more savvy: Experiences with a multimedia annotation tool. Proc. of HICSS 2004. https://doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2004.1265260 

4. LeeTiernan, S. and Grudin, J. Fostering engagement in asynchronous learning through collaborative multimedia annotation. Proc. INTERACT 2001, 472–479. http://www.jonathangrudin.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/MRASengagement.pdf

5. LeeTiernan, S. and Grudin, J. Supporting engagement in asynchronous education. CHI '03 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2003, 888–889. https://doi.org/10.1145/765891.766051 

6. Kellermann, D. Transforming the learning experience (video). Campus Connection Summit 2020.


Posted in: Covid-19 on Wed, May 27, 2020 - 10:25:09

Jonathan Grudin

Jonathan Grudin has been active in CHI and CSCW since each was founded. He has written about the history of HCI and challenges inherent in the field’s trajectory, the focus of a course given at CHI 2022. He is a member of the CHI Academy and an ACM Fellow. jgrudin@hotmail.com
View All Jonathan Grudin's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


A crash course in online learning


Authors: David Youngmeyer
Posted: Fri, May 22, 2020 - 5:58:53

As in many countries, when New Zealand went into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in late March, tertiary education providers had to suddenly move from face-to-face teaching to online learning. Although providers already offered some online courses and had considered the need to expand online learning, the requirement for an immediate about face while a trimester was in progress was a jolt for both teachers and students alike. 

In New Zealand, universities and other tertiary providers responded by halting face-to-face classes for a short period before resuming teaching activities completely online. 

The limited response time frame, along with differing levels of expertise in online teaching, varying expectations among learners, and the shared context of a pandemic lockdown created a unique learning environment. This has required adaptation and flexibility from both teachers and students. Participating in online learning during the pandemic has provided a window into our interaction with technology and each other in a unique social setting. 

While not without issues [1], the online video platform Zoom has shown itself to be a helpful tool that can effectively re-create multiple educational activities, including lectures, tutorials, and lecturer office hours. While Zoom has been used particularly in the business world pre-pandemic, many of today’s users have been either introduced to it recently or required to use the tool in new ways and in a different context [2]. As such, new social behaviors are being produced.

A tutorial via Zoom, for example, mimics an in-person tutorial by allowing for real-time interaction, along with visual, auditory, and written communication. Physical proximity is missing, but users gain the ability to see all other participants on their screen (or at least their names when their video is turned off or unavailable). 

Talking to a classmate while the tutor is addressing the class is mimicked via the private chat function. This is less disruptive when done online but it is a distraction. When added to other distractions, such as managing a mobile phone and dealing with people in the same physical space, it has the potential to be a kind of “phubbing” [3] on steroids. It may be that multitasking while participating in an online tutorial is as disruptive and unwelcome as researchers have found the use or mere presence of mobile phones to be during face-to-face interactions [4,5]. 

The ability of users to control their video input—when that functionality is available—adds a new dimension to the traditional tutorial, where a student is either definitively present or absent. Online, a student may be able to see and hear other users yet keep their own appearance private. Why would they do this? Possibly for security reasons, but also because of appearance-related issues (no haircuts under lockdown) or because they want to maintain the privacy of the home environment. Some users add a still photo instead of video, while others seek to control their physical background with a virtual background. Turning off the video creates a new social situation with communication issues related to a lack of visual cues. It is akin to a student joining an in-person tutorial by telephone, while being able to see the other participants.

The online tutorial can also support the sharing of work—such as visual arts projects— where feedback can be given by the tutor and other students. This is achieved by a student sharing their screen and the tutor pointing digitally to elements of the work on-screen. This scenario effectively replicates its counterpart in a physical classroom, with a good amount of real-time interactivity.   

It is important to acknowledge that online learning may not be best suited for certain types of courses, such as those requiring hands-on activities and access to specialized equipment. Additionally, it may be problematic for those on the other side of the digital divide [6]. The sudden move online in response to the pandemic, however, has allowed a good deal of learning to continue, as opposed to the alternative of closing shop completely. At the same time, new user behaviors and online social situations have been created that are deserving of further study. 

Endnotes

1. Doyle, P., Mortensen, J., and Clifford, D. The trouble with Zoom. Australian Financial Review. Mar. 24, 2020. 

2. Neate, R. Zoom booms as demand for video-conferencing tech grows. The Guardian. Mar. 31, 2020.

3. Chotpitayasunondh, V. and Douglas, K.M. How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone. Computers in Human Behaviour 63 (2016), 9–18. 

4. Kadylak, T., Makki, T.W., Francis, J., Cotton, S.R., Rikard, R.V., and Sah, Y.J. Disrupted copresence: Older adults’ views on mobile phone use during face-to-face interactions. Mobile Media & Communication 6, 3 (2018), 331–349.

5. Przybylski, A.K. and Weinstein, N. Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 30, 3 (2012), 237–246.

6. Vishkaie, R. Hit by the pandemic, war, and sanctions: Building resilience to face the digital divide in education. ACM Interactions ‘Covid-19 blog’, Apr. 10, 2020.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Fri, May 22, 2020 - 5:58:53

David Youngmeyer

David Youngmeyer studies design at the University of Waikato. He plans to start Ph.D. research in 2021 in the field of human-computer interaction. He holds an M.A. in communication from the University of Maryland. davidyoungmeyer@gmail.com
View All David Youngmeyer's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


Design-led innovation: Lessons from the Scientific Revolution


Authors: Ron Gabay
Posted: Thu, May 21, 2020 - 2:58:42

In recent years, design has established itself as a strategic business asset that helps organizations innovate and grow. From first being associated with aesthetics, design has become a measure for user centricity and an engine for creating meaningful experiences and improved business performance. An increasing number of organizations recognize the value of design and seek to interweave design capabilities into their operations. With the ongoing market pressures to stay relevant and competitive through innovation, organizations face the multifaceted challenge of integrating business and design, while also experiencing an unprecedented rate of change. 

By examining other periods of disruption and innovation in human history, we learn that this kind of challenge is not completely new. The Scientific Revolution, much like today’s market, was a period of disruption that brought with it an unprecedented rate of change. Different disciplines and groups, similar to business and design professionals today, started collaborating on topics that at that time were considered distinct and isolated. Throughout the years, research about the Scientific Revolution has produced insights about interdisciplinary work and its role in generating breakthroughs. This article examines these insights in order to provide perspectives on how to interweave business and design in the current disruptive era. In addition, to put these perspectives in context, a critical review of design sprints is offered.

The business value of design

As organizations become data driven and seek to quantify their decision-making processes, collecting data about the business value of design is key. Today, we not only feel that good design is good business, but we also have the data to prove it. This makes design compatible with the modern, data-driven business world. Consultancy firm McKinsey conducted one of the most extensive studies on the financial value of design in 2018, collecting more than 2 million pieces of financial data and recording more than 100,000 design actions [1]. By correlating design actions (e.g., appointing a chief design officer or establishing a user satisfaction matrix) and financial performance (e.g., revenue or shareholder returns), McKinsey found correlations between investments in design and improved financial performance (Figure 1). 


Figure 1. Source: McKinsey Design Index, The Business Value of Design Report, 2018 [1].

Another study conducted by the Design Management Institute (DMI) tracked the share value of design-centric companies. The DMI monitored investments in design and their impact on companies’ performance relative to the S&P 500 Index. Over a 10-year period, the Design Value Index (DVI) showed that design-centric companies have outperformed the S&P 500 Index by more than 200 percent [2] (Figure 2). 


Figure 2. Source: DMI Design Value Index, Design Management Institute [2].

The data-driven understanding of the business value of design amplifies the question of how best to integrate business and design. To answer this question, one must first gain a deeper understanding of business and design, in particular their differences. 

How business and design are different

The first dimension in the multifaceted challenge of integrating business and design in today’s world is their unique and distinct nature. Table 1 highlights some of the key differences between business and design. By examining various criteria, it is clear that business and design differ in many aspects. 


Table1. Business and design comparison [3].

While the comparison may simplify the complexity and interconnectedness of business and design, its aim is to provide a viewpoint, a viewpoint that emphasizes that business and design are opposing yet complementary in nature. Moreover, the table reveals that business and design are also incommensurable (do not share a common measure). This incommensurability presents itself through different terms, methods, and processes. Thus, any attempt to lead business and design integration must address their unique characteristics and incommensurability. The failure to recognize and properly address the lack of common measures may lead to tension, misunderstanding, and even hostility between business and design professionals. To learn how to deal with incommensurability and prevent it from hindering innovation, it is worthwhile to investigate the Scientific Revolution.

The Scientific Revolution and incommensurability 

The Scientific Revolution, which took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, was a disruptive period that generated many breakthroughs. During this period, new knowledge about physics, biology, mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry emerged, transforming how people view the world. In his influential book The Structure of the Scientific Revolutions [4], Thomas Kuhn reviews the history of science. Kuhn, an American philosopher of science, shares his observations about different scientific theories and their relationship to one another. He identifies the presence of incommensurability when he fails to compare and see developments from one scientific theory to another. 

The inability to compare or see how one theory relates to the next is rooted in the fact that different scientific groups worked independently and used different terms and methods. The lack of common measures created a situation where groups were neither able to communicate nor exchange valuable information. Moreover, because of this incommensurability, relevant information, and even solutions that could have helped other groups create breakthroughs, were simply overlooked.

Kuhn’s Loss—a significant barrier for design-led innovation 

According to Kuhn, incommensurability became a significant barrier for breakthroughs and led to scientific stagnation. The main reason for this stagnation was that different scientific groups were simply not able to communicate. Groups could not understand and benefit from previous knowledge or perspectives due to inconsistency and unfamiliarity with one another’s terms, methods, or contexts. This notion of not being able to funnel and leverage existing knowledge toward a new paradigm is referred to as Kuhn’s Loss

Business and design professionals, much like different scientific groups during the Scientific Revolution, have their unique terminologies and methods. For example, as the table above shows, business perceives an individual as a customer who is defined by terms such as age, gender, or income. Design, on the other hand, views customers as humans and studies their personality, needs, and desires. Overall, as design-led innovation becomes a new paradigm founded on business and design integration, facing incommensurability is inevitable. Therefore, organizations that wish to maximize the powers of design-led innovation must address the concept of Kuhn’s Loss.

No-Overlap Principle 

To avoid or minimize the negative effect of incommensurability, Kuhn developed the No-Overlap Principle. The principle suggests that terms must not have an overlapping meaning or reference, and that when one term is used, it must be explained with its relevant context. For instance, “to learn the term liquid, one must also master the terms solid and gas” [5]. In the world of innovation, a No-Overlap Principle could be valuable for various reasons.

First, today’s world presents complex challenges that require companies to adopt interdisciplinary approaches. For business and design teams to work effectively, they need to be able to communicate and understand each other. For example, exchange value (revenue, costs, and profits) needs to be explained alongside use value (experience, emotions, and desires). Alternatively, customer or market analysis ought to be accompanied by a qualitative evaluation that includes personality types, cultural backgrounds, and traditions. Second, in a world that constantly changes and in which technology is easily accessible, human capital becomes the most significant source of innovation. The No-Overlap Principle supports some of the basic human needs from Maslow’s hierarchy: recognition and respect [6]. In essence, the principle expresses to business and design professionals that they are both essential contributors to innovation and success. 

A critical review: Design sprints

With the increasing attention that the business value of design receives, companies seek to interweave design into their operations. One way that design is being introduced to companies is through the design sprint, a five-day framework for solving challenges by applying design tools and methodologies [7]. A design sprint uses design activities such as research, user journey creation, sketching, and prototyping to efficiently generate meaningful concepts. Design sprints are becoming a popular multidisciplinary method for design-driven innovation. Since the goal of a design sprint is to leverage design methods and processes in the business environment, we must ask ourselves whether design sprints satisfy the No-Overlap Principle. 

The good. Design sprints introduce design to organizations and non-designers in a bite-size, five-day process. A sprint is usually a controlled environment where design activities and methodologies can be introduced to various stakeholders. The fact that sprints take place in a neutral environment (usually not where daily business meetings take place) creates the opportunity to generate the right physical and psychological setting for learning, experimenting, and engaging with design for the first time. The physical and psychological distance from daily routines can help loosen some of the participants’ deeply ingrained business mindsets and defuse tensions or preexisting hostility.

Design sprints also provide organizations and non-designers a degree of certainty about the design processes, steps, and expected outcomes. The following is an example from the website of Google Ventures (creators of the design sprint):

On Monday, you’ll map out the problem and pick an important place to focus. On Tuesday, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you’ll make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you’ll hammer out a high-fidelity prototype. And on Friday, you’ll test it with real live humans [8].

The five-day, step-by-step framework corresponds with how businesses operate and assess processes. Overall, design sprints can be an effective way to introduce design to non-designers because they simplify design in a manner to which non-trained participants can relate. In other words, a design sprint does satisfy, to some extent, the No-Overlap Principle through familiarity with terms and methods. 

The bad. Design sprints have a very clear set of rules and milestones that make design relatable and comprehensible to non-designers. However, design sprints also erode some core qualities of professional design, which, in turn, minimize its potential impact. First, design sprints portray design as a linear process. Much like a recipe, a sprint provides the notion that if only the predefined steps are followed, an innovative Michelin-star dish awaits at the end of day five. Design sprints provide participants the false impression that design is a clean, short process when in reality it is often iterative, messy, and long. 

Moreover, the design sprint’s gate-like process pushes participants to explore and arrive at meaningful directions within a short, predefined period. This future-oriented exploration is complex and involves many unknown territories where “mistakes” are inevitable. Yet in the search for innovation, mistakes are actually experiments. This notion, coupled with the usual business pressure to deliver, could harm and limit the potential impact and quality of design. Essentially, during the sprint, non-designers are asked to produce quality design work by engaging in activities that are often new and counterintuitive to them. We must question whether participants will truly immerse in exploration and will be able to refrain from the old business habit of associating potential mistakes (experiments) with failure.

Overall, a design sprint may satisfy the No-Overlap Principle by introducing design terms and methodologies to non-designers. Yet it fails to provide the broader context and deep understanding for design. If an organization is not design-centric, it will not be able to develop or scale the outcomes of a design sprint, as exceptional as they might be, in a meaningful manner. Essentially, running design sprints without a border integration of design into business will limit an organization’s ability to innovate because it alters and reduces design to its lowest common denominator.

Conclusion: The future of business and design integration

Design-led innovation has established itself as a catalyst for growth and differentiation. Across the globe, organizations seek to build and scale design capabilities to tackle current problems and to shape the future. To unleash and interweave the powers of business and design as a source for innovation, it is important to recognize the extent to which they differ and that they do not share a common measure. Interdisciplinary frameworks such as design sprints do help in democratizing design by reducing design to a level that non-designers can relate to. Nevertheless, reducing design may actually limit its puzzle-solving powers and long-term integration within the business context. I believe that organizations that wish to become design-centric and reap the fruits of interdisciplinary work must understand that the lack of common measure between business and design does not imply shifting toward finding the lowest common denominator. Instead, organizations should hire and invest in specialized professionals who can continue to perfect their skills while addressing the concept of Kuhn’s Loss. 

The key is finding T-shaped individuals—experts in their own domain who are able to collaborate across disciplines or functions. These individuals will help organizations avoid the trap of overspecialization, which leads to the loss of flexibility, openness, and curiosity—all cornerstones of innovation. Ultimately, within the organizational structure, organizations must find the right people and incentivize them to work together because, as C.P. Snow noted in his famous 1959 book The Two Cultures, “The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies, so far as that goes—ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity, that has been where some of the breakthroughs came” [9].

Endnotes

1. The Business Value of Design - McKinsey Report. 2018. 

2. Rae, J. Design value index exemplars outperform the S&P 500 index (again) and a new crop of design leaders emerge. dmi: Review - Design Management and Innovation 27, 4 (2017), 4–11.

3. Gabay, R. Breaking the wall between business and design—Becoming a hedgefox. Design Management Journal 13, 1 (2018), 30–39.

4. Kuhn, T.S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Second Edition, Enlarged ed.). The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962.

5. Oberheim, E. and Hoyningen-Huene, P. The incommensurability of scientific theories. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), E.N. Zalta, ed.

6. Maslow, A.H. A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review 50, 4 (1943), 370–396.

7. Knapp, J., Zeratsky, J., and Kowitz, B. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. Bantam Press, London, 2016.

8. The Design Sprint - Google Ventures (GV) Official Website.

9. Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1959.



Posted in: on Thu, May 21, 2020 - 2:58:42

Ron Gabay

Ron Gabay is the head of innovation and venture design at JoyVentures. He builds and manages the foundation for venture creation by interweaving technology, science, and design. His passion is to enable cross-disciplinary collaborations that foster curiosity, human-centricity, and creativity while applying a commercial lens. He holds a BA in industrial design and an MBA. rongabay.design@gmail.com
View All Ron Gabay's Posts



Post Comment


@Yoav Pridor (2020 06 02)

Great stuff Ron. Very interesting.


Evaluating immersive experiences during Covid-19 and beyond


Authors: Anthony Steed, Francisco Ortega, Adam Williams, Ernst Kruijff, Wolfgang Stuerzlinger, Anil Ufuk Batmaz, Andrea Won, Evan Suma Rosenberg , Adalberto Simeone, Aleshia Hayes
Posted: Tue, May 19, 2020 - 4:52:13

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we once knew it. The safety and well-being of people are paramount, and there is no exception for the human-computer interaction (HCI) field. Most universities and research labs have closed non-critical research labs. With that closure and the student populations having left campus, in-person user studies have been suspended for the foreseeable future. Experiments that involve the usage of specialized technology, such as virtual and augmented reality headsets, create additional challenges. While some head-mounted displays (HMDs) have become more affordable for consumers (e.g., Oculus Quest), there are still multiple constraints for researchers, including the expense of high-end HMDs (e.g., Microsoft Hololens), high-end graphics hardware, and specialized sensors, as well as ethical concerns around reusing equipment that comes in close contact with each participant and may be difficult to sterilize. These difficulties have led the extended reality (XR) community (which includes the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) research communities) to ask how we can continue to practically and ethically run experiments under these circumstances. Here, we summarize the status of a community discussion of short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures to deal with the current Covid-19 situation and its potential longer-term impacts. In particular, we outline steps we are taking toward community support of distributed experiments. There are a number of reasons to look at a more distributed model of participant recruitment, including the generalizability of the work and potential access to target-specific, hard-to-reach user groups. We hope that this article will inform the first steps toward addressing the practical and ethical concerns for such studies [1].

There are currently no strong ethical guidelines for designing and running experiments in VR and AR for HCI. Most of the VR and AR studies in HCI are conducted in research institutions, where researchers must follow local laws and the directions of the local institution’s ethics board. VR and AR systems allow researchers to control the virtual environment and collect detailed user data in ways that might not be familiar to participants, so careful consideration of participant privacy is especially important. Further, some experiments might require direct supervision through an experimenter while the user interacts with the virtual environment, for example, to watch for behaviors that circumvent the objectives of the experiment. The rules and laws for remote data collection and direct supervision of experiments, which  can vary between different countries and regions, becomes an issue.

Short-term solution: Use lab personnel and infrastructure

The most immediate solution to performing remote experiments is to collaborate between labs to provide participants for each other’s experiments. The subjects are likely to be lab members, or people associated with the labs in some manner, who have the correct equipment at hand.

A well-known concern for most work with human subjects is the issue of working with populations of convenience. This problem can be particularly acute in this case. Groups of lab members may have too much knowledge about the field to react “naturally.” They may guess the experimenter’s aims and intentionally or unintentionally behave in accordance with or in opposition to them. They may also have strong existing opinions about interaction or visualization techniques, which can bias the outcomes. Finally, their experience with XR—either AR or VR—may make it difficult to generalize their data to the general population. Specifically, their expertise in the use of these platforms can be a confound to the outcomes of usability testing new tools and experiences.

However, there are also circumstances in which distributed studies across labs could be better than the usual population of convenience. Rather than a mix of participants who are familiar with XR and new to XR, a population of lab members would all be familiar with the equipment. This might be more generalizable to populations who might actually engage with the research. Assuming that lab members are in general less susceptible to simulator sickness (e.g., through self-selection), it could also reduce the risk of losing participants to this affliction. In short, it’s important to carefully consider which tasks can be best run with experienced participants.

Medium-term solution: Recruit external users who have the necessary hardware

In order to develop a more sustainable participant pool, a more organized effort is needed to start recruiting outside of the research labs. This phase is still limited to participants who have the equipment required for a given user study. However, given that six million people currently own a VR headset, there is clearly the potential to reach out to these individuals. Unfortunately there are no easy-to-use tools to run VR experiments online, and there are various technical issues with implementing and distributing experiments to consumer devices. A few early works, though, have demonstrated the possibility of controlling enough aspects of the design to produce usable results (e.g., [2,3]).

An initial step would be a website that allowed participants to register for recruitment and research labs to advertise their experiments. This system could use crowdsourcing websites to recruit participants, who would then be redirected to the site. This in itself brings many challenges. Simultaneous efforts by different regions (e.g., the EU, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Brazil) would be required to grow the effort by collaborating and seeking regional funds. For the site to be successful, different regional needs would need to be considered. For example, a study approved by an ethics board in the U.S. might not be acceptable to a panel in another country. This involves not only ethics but also local laws, such as the European GDPR.

Long-term solutions: Generate pools of users through funded hardware distribution

While the medium-term solution will improve the way we do remote distributed experiments, one suggestion for the long term is to provide equipment to a pool of subjects. Based on the experiences learned in the previous phase, this solution will continue to improve the tools and methods created, but it needs to identify ways of finding participants who can be lent equipment, in the hope that they then use it to participate in multiple experiments. This in itself is an expensive goal, but we believe it is possible because the equipment might become cheaper. Some governmental scientific funding bodies (e.g., the National Science Foundation in the U.S.) could provide funds to acquire the required infrastructure to expand the pool. This would offer an opportunity beyond Covid-19. First, it would allow us to have expert users test a VR application while also having access to naive users when needed. It would also enable us to validate research results with different subject pools from multiple regions, and would remove the need to bring participants into the lab—unless this were required due to specialized hardware needs or other restrictions imposed by an experiment’s design.

In other words, we could seed a community of participants with specialized technologies to allow for a more diverse subject pool. This would ideally look like the distribution of HMDs or similar technologies to volunteers around the world, who in exchange would agree to participate in experiments. These seeded participants would be registered through a citizen science crowdsourcing site. The benefit of having these seeded users would be a new level of diversity among participants. The distributed HMDs will be new technologies (at least for some time) and these participants would represent novice users. The research lab would still be able to provide incentives (e.g., additional compensation) to maintain interest among these users. This style of crowdsourcing has some precedents. Some people make a portion of their income from crowdsourcing sites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk and Prolific or by participating in paid medical trials. In some cases, these participants are not ideal test subjects, because they may be very experienced with common experimental tasks or situations (e.g., overfamiliarity with the “trolley problem” in psychological experiments). However, having an official pool of representative, well-compensated participants could also address issues of undercompensation and unrepresentative samples.

Ethical considerations

While ethical (and legal) considerations may vary depending on the country, review board, and institution, the following are some points to consider:

  • Pooling students to run each other’s experiments. While this seems to be an attractive idea, there is the problem that faculty members might induce students to take part in the pool. Thus, it is essential to have strong requirements about there not being an inducement to take part; for example, it cannot affect grades, funding, or progress toward degrees. A possible solution is to add a “non-inducement” clause while checking that it is enforced.

  • Desktop sharing. If desktop screen sharing is used (e.g., to make it easier for the experimenter to control the remote apparatus), this poses potential ethical risks for the participants. For example, the experimenter may then see personal notifications. One potential solution is to use only window sharing for the VR application, if this is viable. Still, it is vital that these risks are assessed and correctly managed by the experimenter and are mentioned in the ethics review process.

  • Running studies on social VR platforms. This poses several data-processing problems, as the confidentiality and security of emerging platforms is not assured. The platforms may require personal information to sign up, and as users we can’t be sure what data is being collected. While these risks may be alleviated through careful design (e.g., recruiting participants within the platform), they pose new concerns compared to, say, collecting data on social media platforms.

  • To that end, open platforms do exist and are gaining ground. Platforms that can be hosted on a server secured by the operator, such as Mozilla Hubs, or custom-made solutions solve many data-protection problems. We expect exemplar or template systems to emerge in the next couple of months.

  • While using videoconferencing and screen sharing to assist with remotely operating equipment are attractive, they present new challenges. In particular, they may be hosted or relayed by servers in different countries and may not be secure. This is one area where institutions may have policies driven by contract agreements with existing providers. Screen sharing presents specific problems because of the potential risks of personal-data disclosure. Therefore, it is important to be aware of such limitations before designing an experiment.

Health considerations

Safety issues may constrain some types of experiments. For example, while labs are often wide open spaces, domestic environments used for VR might be small and/or cluttered. While applications can be coded to fall within the “guardian” space that the user configures for the system, this might change. Thus, while games that encourage exaggerated movements are commonplace, we suggest not involving dynamic expansive gestures. Further, we suggest making sure that the experiment operates within a modest amount of space, and if, say, locomotion is important, that this is a key filter in the recruitment of participants.

Another issue, especially if hardware is shared among participants, is “hardware quarantine.” If a headset is used by only a single person, hygiene may be less of an issue. However, once hardware is shared, obviously hygiene has to be taken into account. Hardware should always be cleaned thoroughly between participants, but extra precautions will need to be taken to limit the possibility of, for example, spreading an infection. Using disinfectant wipes and additional masks that the user can wear underneath an HMD can be valuable, but they only offer limited protection. Recently, decontamination systems have become available that make use of ultraviolet light and nano coatings that offer additional benefits, yet they will also not cover every nook and cranny. Current research seems to suggest that contamination on surfaces may cease to exist after 72 hours for Covid-19 [4]. As such, cycling through HMDs that have been put away for some time may be an additional precaution. Currently, a combination of hygienic measures seem most appropriate, and users should always be informed about potential risks (e.g., in informed consent forms). Not doing so seems unethical.

Validity of the results

Running remote experiments makes keeping a uniform apparatus difficult. In a lab study, typically there is only a single apparatus. Yet remote participants might have varying hardware and, if not explicitly requested by the experimenters, even different headsets. Clearly, controlling for the uniformity of setups helps in isolating other factors that could affect the results. If, in order to reach a sufficiently large number of participants, it becomes necessary to relax the conditions for exclusion (e.g., by allowing users with different headsets to participate), it remains an open question how to consider the validity of results obtained in such a manner.

It can be argued that one of the goals of this type of research is to devise novel methods that can then be applied to a wide range of setups, which could then be expected to continue providing comparable performance, as indicated by the empirical results. However, some types of experiments can be too dependent on the specific combination of headset and controllers. Thus, if remote experiments with heterogeneous hardware become an acceptable platform to run experiments, how far of a divergence in hardware can be accepted? For example, an interaction technique designed to be operated with the now-standard trigger button of a specific VR controller might still work the same way with a controller designed by another maker, even though the ergonomics of the device will differ. Promoting the culture of replicating studies might provide the solution to these challenges.

Remote experiment design guidelines

Participants can be recorded completing the experiments over Zoom or any videoconferencing platform. However, these platforms have associated security risks. Another approach is for researchers to observe participants through a videoconferencing platform, without recording. This would also provide more control of the consistency of the procedure between participants. Because recording a participant and their home adds additional concerns for privacy, researchers should weigh the benefits of recording versus observing the participant in real time as they participate in the research study. Labs can still use research assistants to run consistent studies remotely without recording a participant’s home, personal space, and/or unwilling family members in their environment.

Some general remote experiment designs recommendations can be found in [5]. Researchers should remove or minimize as many accessibility barriers as possible. This can be achieved by adding feedback systems such as text, voice, and interface prompts. Researchers should also make sure that the language used is accessible to their intended audience. With the lack of a live audio or video connection, it might not be possible to further explain instructions after an experiment has started. Reminders can help to ensure that participants complete remote experiments. We also suggest that experimenters take cultural and regional differences into consideration. For instance, for a VR/AR driving simulator designed for left-hand driving countries, user performance and experience might vary in right-side driving contexts. Similarly, for VR text-entry studies, authors might consider the many different keyboard layouts around the world.

The required mental workload of the participant should be reduced to a minimum. This can be achieved by removing set-up steps and automating parts of the experiment. Screen or input switching during the experiment should be limited. If possible, all surveys should be displayed within the HMD, or at least in an application that is automatically started on the desktop. Since current text-entry UI solutions in VR are not as efficient as keyboards, experimenters might want to choose drop-down menus, sliders, radio buttons, or even voice-recording options to collect survey data in virtual environments. In a perfect setup, the entire experiment would be run from one executable, with consent, instructions, task, and post surveys all completed while wearing the HMD.

Experimenters should collect data on the device used, the specs of that device, the computer used, and the frame rate at which the experiment ran (ideally not just the mean, but also the standard deviation or other meaningful statistical information). The instructions of the experiment could be recorded in advance as a video or an animation in VR and shown to the participants. This could also include any training or context necessary to complete the experiment.

Before launching the experiment, researchers should solicit feedback from their own (and potentially other) labs. Ideally, experiments should be piloted with participants from outside the research group. Such feedback will help solve any setup challenges or other potential sticking points during the experiment and highlight potential safety concerns. This will also allow for a more accurate prediction of experiment completion times, which can then be communicated to participants. During such pilot studies, any applicable screen-capturing protocol can also be tested.

If the experiment is to be run over a video call, the connection speed for both parties should be tested. This will inform whether it is possible to record the video on the participant’s computer or the experimenter’s computer, as needed.

Any data logged by the application should ideally then be automatically uploaded over the network to avoid using methods that could de-anonymize data, such as asking participants to send log files to the experimenter via email. For this, the system needs to be able to detect whether or not the upload of the data has happened successfully. Should it have failed, the application would indicate where these files are stored and how to upload them anonymously, for example, via a file-upload web form that does not collect any data besides the log file. This, however, might open the potential of “fake data” being uploaded maliciously. Thus, experimenters should consider solutions to verify if the data being uploaded is genuine. Experimenters should also consider different end-to-end encryption methods to protect the participants’ data.

With this new style of remote experimentation, it is also advisable to ask participants questions about their entire experience of the experiment after completion, to allow for continuous improvement. These questions could include inquiring about their overall satisfaction, levels of immersion, the ease of use of the system, and how intuitive or clear the process was. More suggestions for testing for remote experiments can be found in [6].

While VR and AR HMDs are more popular than ever, they are currently not as widely used as TVs, monitors, or smartphones. As a result, most research on such systems is being conducted in research laboratories within specially designed environments. For instance, tracking base stations may need to be positioned according to the purpose of the experiment to achieve the needed accuracy. Windowless laboratories may be necessary to avoid incoming sunlight and increase tracking reliability. Meeting such environmental constraints might not be possible in participants’ homes, so design decisions may be different in distributed experiments. Experimenters have to consider these differences and design their experiments accordingly.

Remote experiment open questions

  • What is the best protocol for the transmission of projects and experimental data?

  • How can payment be sent to participants?

  • How much of a limiting factor is participants’ bandwidth for streaming video and results?

  • What are the ethical considerations needed to ensure the privacy of participants’ data?

  • What is the trade-off between acceptable quality of a recording versus its size?

  • Should we expect that participants have space on their computers to record to?

  • Is having experimental results streamed to computers outside of a lab a potential ethics issue?

  • What is the best way to monitor for simulator sickness when the experimenter is not present?

Advice to reviewers

Regardless of how this new wave of human-subjects experiments is handled, reviewers must be aware of the changing nature of article submissions. In response to the concerns around user studies during Covid-19, many conferences in HCI and VR/AR have sent out calls for participation, highlighting the appropriateness of contributions from systems, design, methodology, literature review, or other contributions focused less on user studies. It falls upon the program chairs to communicate these new criteria down the line to program committee members and reviewers. This change in mindset will be a collective process across all of HCI and AR/VR. Authors must clearly describe in the submissions the exact way the experiment was administered and also discuss the pool from which the applicants were recruited. For example, if an experiment predominantly uses members of VR/AR labs or enthusiasts, this has the potential to distort the outcomes. This is due to existing biases or perceptions coming from frequent exposure to VR/AR systems, relative to participants who have rarely or never experienced VR/AR. Such a biased participant pool could thus represent a limitation for a study. Yet, given Covid-19, these limitations may not invalidate the work being presented, as long as the authors are clear in the description of the participant pool and the reviewers are encouraged to work with the understanding that this is currently one of the very few options for running VR/AR studies. In other words, transparency of the process is one of the best ways that we can usher in this new wave of publications.

Conclusion

In situations such as the current pandemic, the use of the short-, medium-, and long-term solutions discussed earlier enables the field of HCI and XR to continue to forge forward with experimental work. A secondary benefit of the use of members of other labs in the community is that it increases the amount of transparency in the field by making people more aware of the exact nature of each other’s experiments. It could potentially improve the external validity of experiments by increasing the diversity of platforms and participants used for a given task. At the vary least, Covid-19 has strengthened this community and inspired new collaborations between researchers. While there are both ethical and practical concerns for distributed user studies, solutions for XR will likely be useful for other areas of HCI, and, indeed, any field that relies on human experimentation. This article provides a starting point. We hope other articles will follow with more specific information, either expanding topics presented here or offering new ideas.

Endnotes

1. We invite people to join the discussion. The current community is formed of researchers from the IEEE VR community, specifically a discussion launched at the online conference in March 2020. Email fortega@coloste.edu to be added to the discussion.

2. Steed, A., Friston, S., Lopez, M.M., Drummond, J., Pan, Y., and Swapp, D. An ‘in the wild’ experiment on presence and embodiment using consumer virtual reality equipment. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Traphics 22, 4 (2016), 1406–1414.

3. Ma, X., Cackett, M., Park, L., Chien, E., and Naaman, M. Web-based VR experiments powered by the crowd. Proc. of the 2018 World Wide Web Conference. ACM, 2018, 33–43.

4. van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D.H., Holbrook, M.G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B.N., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J.L., Thornburg, N.J., Gerber, S.I., Lloyd-Smith, J.O., de Wit, E., and Munster, V.J. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine 382, 16 (2020), 1564–1567.

5. Cooper, M. and Ferreira, J.M. Remote laboratories extending access to science and engineering curricular. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies 2, 4 (2009), 342–353.

6. Nickerson, J.V., Corter, J.E., Esche, S.K., and Chassapis, C. A model for evaluating the effectiveness of remote engineering laboratories and simulations in education. Computers & Education 49, 3 (2007), 708–725.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Tue, May 19, 2020 - 4:52:13

Anthony Steed

Anthony Steed is head of the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics group in the Department of Computer Science at University College London. He has over 25 years’ experience in developing virtual reality and other forms of novel user interface. He received the IEEE VGTC’s 2016 Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award. A.Steed@ucl.ac.uk
View All Anthony Steed's Posts

Francisco Ortega

Francisco R. Ortega is an assistant professor at Colorado State University and director of the Natural User Interaction Lab (NUILAB). His main research area focuses on improving user interaction in 3D user interfaces by eliciting (hand and full-body) gesture and multimodal interactions, developing techniques for multimodal interaction, and developing interactive multimodal recognition systems. His secondary research aims to discover how to increase interest for CS in non-CS entry-level college students via virtual and augmented reality games. f.ortega@colostate.edu
View All Francisco Ortega's Posts

Adam Williams

Adam Williams is a Ph.D. student in computer science at Colorado State University. His research is on multimodal inputs for augmented reality, specifically, user-elicited gesture and speech interactions. His research goals are to create novice-friendly interactions for 3D learning environments.adamwil@colostate.edu
View All Adam Williams's Posts

Ernst Kruijff

Ernst Kruijff is a professor of human-computer interaction at the Institute of Visual Computing at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences and adjunct professor at SFU-SIAT in Canada. His research looks at the usage of audio-tactile feedback methods to enhance interaction and perception within the frame of AR view management, VR navigation, and hybrid 2D/3D mobile systems. ernst.kruijff@h-brs.de
View All Ernst Kruijff's Posts

Wolfgang Stuerzlinger

Wolfgang Stuerzlinger is a full professor at the School of Interactive Arts + Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. His work aims to gain a deeper understanding of and to find innovative solutions for real-world problems. Current research projects include better 3D interaction techniques for virtual and augmented reality applications, new human-in-the-loop systems for big-data analysis, and the characterization of the effects of technology limitations on human performance. w.s@sfu.ca
View All Wolfgang Stuerzlinger's Posts

Anil Ufuk Batmaz

Anil Ufuk Batmaz has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from University of Strasbourg. He is currently affiliated with Simon Fraser University as post-doctoral fellow working on human-computer interaction and virtual and augmented reality. abatmaz@sfu.ca
View All Anil Ufuk Batmaz's Posts

Andrea Won

Andrea Stevenson Won is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. She directs the Virtual Embodiment Lab, which focuses on how mediated experiences change people’s perceptions, especially in immersive media. Research areas include the therapeutic applications of virtual reality, and how nonverbal behavior as rendered in virtual environments affects collaboration and teamwork. asw248@cornell.edu
View All Andrea Won's Posts

Evan Suma Rosenberg

Evan Suma Rosenberg is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. His research interests are situated at the intersection of virtual/augmented reality and HCI, encompassing immersive technologies, 3D user interfaces, and spatial interaction techniques. suma@umn.edu
View All Evan Suma Rosenberg 's Posts

Adalberto Simeone

Adalberto L. Simeone is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at KU Leuven in Belgium. His research lies in the intersection of 3D interaction and virtual reality with human-computer interaction. He is motivated by a deep interest in making immersive experiences more accessible by everyone. adalberto.simeone@kuleuven.be
View All Adalberto Simeone's Posts

Aleshia Hayes

Aleshia Hayes is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas. She is passionate about developing, evaluating, and iterating on technology used for learning in formal and informal environments. She runs the SURGE XR Lab where she has led interdisciplinary research with partners from manufacturing, defense, psychology, and education. aleshia.prof@gmail.com
View All Aleshia Hayes's Posts



Post Comment


No Comments Found


On physical and social distancing: Reflections on moving just about everything online amid Covid-19


Authors: Mikael Wiberg
Posted: Mon, May 18, 2020 - 10:55:04

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the spread of Covid-19 constituted a pandemic. They stated that that the virus was not just a threat to public health, but also a crisis that would affect every sector of public life: “All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights” [1].

In response to the pandemic, the WHO recommended physical distancing [2], maintaining a physical distance between people and reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other. The WHO proposed the term physical distancing as opposed to social distancing, due to the fact that it is a physical distance that prevents transmission. With people practicing physical distancing, they proposed that people could remain socially connected via technology. 

Despite this push for physical distancing, social distancing has become the more common term, and people are now trying to maintain social connectivity via digital technology. As a result of rapidly moving most of our social relations—work, education, family—online, videoconferencing systems are now being used more than ever.

But what does it mean to move so much of our social contact online? Is an online meeting the same as a face-to-face meeting? Probably not. Is videoconferencing with your friends and family the same as being together physically? Probably not. And what about the term social distancing when we are in fact only recommended to practice physical distancing— while maintaining our social connections over the Internet? What are we to make of physical and social distance here? Though the differences between the two may at first glance appear obvious, something more complicated seems to be unfolding during the spread of Covid-19 and the lockdowns that most of us are having to come to terms with. 

HCI, I want to suggest, offers a way to think about the complexities that the two forms of distance provoke. We have more than three decades of research on face-to-face interaction, and have conducted research on the difference between face-to-face and online interaction. In addition, there is a whole strand of research in sociology, social psychology, and environmental psychology on the important role of physical closeness—from basic communication aspects and the role of physical places for being together, to more complex questions involving matters of being together, belonging to groups, having special bonds, and feeling closeness to others (i.e., connections, belonging, attachment, and coupling). In short, there are multiple reasons why physical closeness is fundamental to us as humans— and maybe also why physical distancing feels so hard to practice for lots of people, for a number of socially rooted reasons. On the other hand, there are also many people who already always experience life with physical distance, and those who have no option to social distance (e.g., due to incarceration). Here, the Covid-19 pandemic might serve as an eye opener to show what this means on a personal and social level. 

Still—and amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic we do not really have any alternatives—many of us need to practice physical distancing. So can we say something more specific about why videoconferencing cannot fully compensate for face-to-face interactions? Do we have any established theories that can help us understand the difference between these two forms of interaction? And more fundamentally, what happens when we remove face-to-face interaction as an available mode of interaction—when we need to abandon face-to-face interaction and move online? In this article, I will reflect on these questions and also pinpoint a few things that we as an HCI research community might need to reflect on as we move forward.

HCI on the role of face-to-face interactions

In my own research over the past 20 years, I have been interested in various aspects of “the local.” When I did my Ph.D. in the late 1990s, it was concerned with collocated groups of people and how to support mobile and collocated users with digital meeting technologies [3]. After that, I continued to focus on the role of physical places. I have looked at architecture, proxemics, and material interactions—all aspects of being together, with each other, and in close relation to materials, things, and places that represent a large part of our everyday lives—at least until recently. 

“The local” has also served as a generative concept for lots of work in HCI. In fact, face-to-face interaction, or technology support for “same time, same place” interactions, was one of the four basic modes of interaction proposed by Ellis et al. back in 1991 [4] (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Interaction time/location matrix by Ellis et al. [4].

In fact, in HCI face-to-face interaction has been assumed to always be there as an available mode of interaction. Still, most technologies have been designed to bridge distances (e.g., email, the telephone, and the Internet). But what happens when we no longer have face-to-face interaction as an available form of interaction? Just a few months ago, that would have been a far-fetched and hypothetical question, but all of a sudden this pandemic has drastically removed this face-to-face mode of interaction for many of us. From being the most natural and taken-for-granted form of interaction, we all of a sudden cannot get together physically and find ourselves having to follow the WHO’s advice and stay in touch through the use of digital technologies.

In recent years, HCI has been even more clear about the importance of being together and the critical questions that need to be addressed, as we are increasingly acknowledging this as a fundamental part of being human. Our field has also explored issues of being separated, isolated, and apart, and to what extent we can design technologies that support loneliness and togetherness. If being together is fundamental to us as humans, then we also need to examine questions concerning how we are coming together. We see this in recent HCI research on the role of our bodies, on gender, and on inequalities. Being together is a very complex matter, and these questions also illustrate the richness and complexity of our social relations. Now, if we cannot be physically together, then it is not merely a matter of lacking communication tools—it’s a fundamental dimension of our societies, from the small-scale context of individual relations to large-scale matters of humans coming together to form groups, communities, and cities. 

So what does this imply as we are trying to move just about everything online? Could it be that physical distancing also prevents us from being together? Probably so. In the next section, I turn to media richness theory (MRT) to attempt to shed some light on why videoconferencing probably cannot fully compensate for face-to-face interactions.

Physical distancing also implies social distancing!

So why is it the case that people still refer to social distancing when it’s actually about physical distancing? And why do we have this boom in videoconferencing? Why haven’t emails, messages, and phone calls satisfied us? 

Well, if we turn to media richness theory we might see a pattern. In short, media richness theory (MRT) states that all communication media vary in their ability to enable users to communicate, which, in turn, depends on a medium’s richness. Further, MRT places all communication media on a continuous scale based on their ability to support communication, from simple information exchange to more complex forms of communication (e.g., negotiations, body language, emotions) [5]. For example, a simple message could be communicated in a short email, whereas a more complex message would be better supported via face-to-face interaction. 

If MRT is correct, it makes sense that people feel socially distant from each other even though they might still stay in contact via the use of videoconferencing systems. No matter which technology we use to mediate our interactions, it cannot compensate for the richest form of interaction: face-to-face interaction. Further, MRT might explain the current videoconferencing boom, and why we have shifted not only from face-to-face interactions to online meetings, but also toward an increased use of videoconferencing technologies—the second-best alternative to face-to-face meetings. 

While we try to use video to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interactions, we are probably also experiencing the difference between these two modes of interaction. It is hard to feel close to others over video, as it’s harder to communicate body language, gestures, and emotions. Further, it makes our everyday interactions bounded to particular sessions, and with that comes the risk of breaking the continuous flow of informal, spontaneous, and everyday encounters—the glue that keeps us together. When we practice physical distancing, we can no longer just bump into each other or maintain a shared common ground as we spontaneously meet. Instead, we need to actively seek and establish interactions— typically through planning and invitations—for a meeting, or just to hang out for a while. Physical distancing means that interactions more than ever demand an active decision to seek contact with others. Many of us might struggle to maintain the everyday connections we have from seeing each other in workplaces and around the neighborhood, or from just seeing familiar strangers at the bus stop.

In short, physical distancing also implies social distancing, even if we try to compensate for some parts of it thr