Monday, October 27, 2008

Dr. Jennifer J. Preece

Today I would like to introduce Dr. Jennifer J. Preece, Dean of the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. I first became aware of Dr. Preece's work when writing my candidacy paper on online communities for parents of children with disabilities. I will continue to develop that paper for my master's thesis.

According to her web site, Dr. Preece's research interests include computer-mediated communication, human-computer interaction, management of online communities of practice, health, education, and knowledge. I share these interests, and I find her work to be both compelling and relevant. In 2000, she published a book entitled Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability, a resource that I am consulting quite a bit as I work on my thesis. I admire Dr. Preece's commitment to what she describes as her three main research areas: (1) knowledge exchange, cross-cultural communication, empathy, trust, and etiquette online; (2) why and how people do or do not participate; and (3) heuristics and methods for developing, maintaining, and evaluating online communities.

Online communication is the main reason that I developed an interest in IST in the first place. Dr. Preece's incorporation of design strategies into her study of online communities is inspiring for me as I work to incorporate HCI theories into my work.

As I look over a history of Dr. Preece's employment, I notice that she did not quickly rack up her baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees. Although her accomplishments are impressive even going back to the beginning of her career, I still see a trend of slowly building up to where she is now. Additionally, I notice that her bachelor's degree was in biology, which seems completely unrelated to computing -- it appears that her foray into the IS world occured several years after she graduated, when she joined the Computers in the Curriculum Project (which sought to develop computer-based curricula for teaching science at the high school and college level). I admire this gradual career path, with twists and turns along the way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Publish or Perish?

As graduate students, we're often reminded that in order to survive (never mind thrive!) in academia, we absolutely must publish. And, if you look at the CV of any assistant professor at a major research university, you'll likely see a firm confirmation of this maxim. Publishing is the primary method of "getting your name out there" -- and, of course, sharing the work you're doing with other scholars.

Of course I think it's great (and necessary) that the research we do is shared with the world. At the same time, I think the necessity of publishing in great quantity varies by what field you are in, what degree you seek, and what your career goals are.

I have decided that pursuing a master's degree is the best fit for me. I do not desire a career in research or in academia (at least not academia in the strict sense). My career aspirations instead focus around community outreach (which certainly may and likely will involve universities) and teaching in the context of a community college or technical school.

Given my academic and career aspirations, publishing is not as high a priority for me as it would be if I were a doctoral student. However, I still hope to publish work related to my research assistantship (community informatics/wireless) and/or my master's thesis (online communities for parents of children with autism). Here are three places I might publish:

1) Once again, CHI. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, my name is on two submissions this year. I am hopeful that one or both of these submissions will be accepted. I would love the opportunity to share my work and ideas with CHI community, and learn about the work that others are doing in HCI.

2) IJHCS: The International Journal of Human-Computer Studies concentrates (of course) on HCI. A special call for papers is seeking submissions related to medicine and health care (HCI4MED). Jack, my advisor, has suggested that I might submit a paper related to my thesis for this special issue.

3) Journal of Community Informatics: This is a venue that has interested our wireless team, since the project is considered to be under the community informatics umbrella. It would be great to be able to publish a paper in this journal based on the work we have done. Jack and Mary Beth have published articles in the JCI before, based upon earlier work.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Technology and Music

So much of our discussion of technology revolves around utility. How can such-and-such artifact help me perform more efficiently and effectively as I complete such-and-such task? Important stuff, no doubt, but every now and then I like to reflect on how technology can bear art.

The other day I had iTunes playing on shuffle as I did some work. A stellar recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing Puccini's Nessun Dorma began to play:

I'm not going to philosophize on why music is beautiful and why it evokes emotion. Suffice is to say that this is a shining example of art. And when I listen to it on iTunes, or watch it on YouTube, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am able to do so.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Part of the Gang

It's all well and good to get to know people within your own college and university. But what about making connections around the nation and the globe? Success today is largely defined not only by what you know, but who you know. Undergrads and grad students alike constantly are reminded of the importance of building their social networks -- networks that include people from a variety of places, backgrounds, and interests. Becoming a member of various academic communities is a great way to start building such networks. Not only can you increase your chances of success by establishing more contacts and making a "name" for yourself, but you can meet some fascinating people and broaden your knowledge and understanding.

Three academic communities that I can see myself being a part of someday are ASIS&T, CHI, and CSCW. Here's why:

1) ASIS&T, or the American Society for Information Science and Technology, mirrors the composition of the IST College by combining the efforts and ideas of scholars from computer science, linguistics, management, librarianship, engineering, law, medicine, chemistry, and education. According to the ASIS&T website,
ASIS&T increases the influence of information professionals among decision-makers by focusing attention on the importance of information as a vital resource in a high-technology age and promotes informed policy on national and international information issues by contributing to the formation of those policies. It supports the advancement of the state-of-the art and practice by taking a leadership position in the advocacy of research and development in basic and applied information science.
This Society caught my eye because it is so closely related to IST itself. Many of the academic communities and scholarly venues that IST researchers belong to are not nearly as diverse as IST is. This is fine -- we certainly need narrowly defined communities and venues -- but it's also great to be able to experience the interdisciplinarity of IST. I am presenting a short paper with Jamika Burge, the post-doc with whom I am so blessed to work on the wireless project, at the ASIS&T Annual Meeting this month in Columbus, Ohio. (And I'm thrilled to have the chance to visit my home state's lovely capital!)

2) CHI, ACM's special interest group for Computer-Human Interaction (generally called human-computer interaction or HCI, but "CHI" is a nice monosyllabic name), is the premiere conference for HCI researchers. It is heavily focused on design research and empirical studies. As CHI (among many venues) attempts to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology, it has changed its format a bit, instituting subcommittees and contribution types to encourage more cutting-edge and diverse submissions. I've read more CHI papers than papers from any single other venue during my tenure in IST; you simply can't be one of Jack's or Mary Beth's graduate students and not be intimately familiar with CHI! I was among the authors on two papers submitted to CHI this year. The acceptance rate for CHI is very low (about 15%), but I'm still hopeful. :)

3) CSCW, ACM's conference for Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, began as an offshoot of CHI and is now a primary venue for CSCW researchers. Unlike CHI, which is held annually, CSCW is held every two years. Computer-mediated communication is one of the main reasons I am interested in IST, so CSCW's focus on interaction and collaboration makes it a top contender among possible academic communities for me. Although the title suggests that CSCW is only interested in collaboration in the workplace, this is not the case. CSCW is interested in all sorts of computer-mediated interactions, including gaming, instant messaging, and mobile communications.

So there you have it. Although all of these communities are also publication venues, their value goes far beyond that of publishing. Attending conferences, reading the work of other scholars, learning about what research others are pursuing, and networking so that other researchers can learn about me and my work are all ways of building community within academia. I picked these communities -- one IST-esque and broad, two more focused upon my own research interests -- because they reflect who I am and who I want to be as a scholar.


Colin and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on July 21. In exquisite graduate student fashion, we celebrated not by taking a weekend trip (no time), but by purchasing a Nintendo Wii.

We have enjoyed our Wii immensely. So far, we have not purchased additional games for it, so we are limited to the Wii Sports that comes pre-loaded on the console. However, our creativity has shown us another way to have fun with the Wii: playing with Miis.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Wii gaming system, let me explain. A "Mii" is an avatar you use during play. You can customize your Mii quite extensively. You can choose body type, face shape, hair, nose, eyes, mouth, and extra features like freckles, glasses, and facial hair. If you're willing to put in some effort, you can end up with a pretty authentic Mii.

Of course, as soon as we got our Wii, we made little Colin and Weezey Miis. But why stop there? Eager to include avatars of people that we could otherwise only play with in our dreams, we made Miis for all of the main characters on our favorite television show, The Shield. Now, when we bowl, we are cheered on by such unlikely combinations as Claudette Wyms and Vic Mackey or Dutch Wagenbach and Shane Vendrell. But chances are you aren't familiar with them, so I'll stop there.

The other excitement we have found relative to Miis is creating avatars of either famous figures or mutual acquaintences and asking each other to guess whom we're designing. We typically do not save these Miis, but the process is hysterical.

How do you use technology for fun in ways that were probably not intended by the designers?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Presenting Blaine!

For the next installment in the series that has been emerging -- "people I look up to," one might say -- I have the pleasure of introducing Blaine Hoffman, an advanced graduate student from the CSCL Lab headed by Jack Carroll and Mary Beth Rosson.

Blaine began his career as a doctoral student in IST in 2005. Prior to that, he double-majored in computer science and communications at Denison University (in my home state! although Blaine is from Delaware). Even as a fresh undergraduate, Blaine knew that he wanted to learn about both the technical and social components of computing. Coming to IST after graduating from Denison was a natural step.

According to Blaine's website, his research interests include "virtual community building and support, open-source software, design based research, creativity in relation to software, interface design, wireless technologies and their role(s) in communities, usability, design, video games and associated communities." That's a lot of interests, and the broad range is not uncommon for an IST student. Like many students whose research is computer-science based (in Blaine's case, HCI), his research tends to be published at confereces (and not in journals). Blaine has publications at the First International Workshop on Social Computing, Behavioral Modeling, and Prediction, the 10th INFORMS Computing Society conference, and Conference on Designing Interactive Systems 2006. He has also served as a reviewer for CHI 2007 and 2008 and DIS 2006.

It is evident from reading Blaine's website that his extracurricular interests and his research interests fit together very well. Although of course his hobbies include activities unrelated to IST (such as fiction, debate, and philosophy), he's an avid video gamer and enjoys web design and computer gadgetry. I work with Blaine on the Wireless State College research team, and I can personally report that his computing skills are excellent, and he seems to have a natural inclination to working with all sorts of technical tools -- and a genuine interest in discovering more.

Academically speaking, Blaine and I have a lot in common. I was also interested as an undergraduate in learning about both technical subjects and human communication: I majored in computer information systems, and I minored in English studies. Our similar paths drew us both to HCI, and we now work not only for the same advisor in the same lab, but on the same project. Of course, we diverge in some ways. For starters, Blaine is part of the "software team" within the Wireless project, whereas I work more as a social scientists and requirements gatherer, conducting interviews and focus groups to learn more about how wireless might benefit the community. This difference makes a lot of sense when I consider that Blaine seems to be more passionate about the technology piece of IST than I am. Although of course I am interested in technology, I do not tend to "junk around" with it at home, playing with computer gadgets and trying to make them better. I have never been a gamer, and until college, I had never programmed or done anything more technically advanced than create a basic HTML webpage.