Archives for the month of: February, 2014

…or a book or a journal article, anyway! This was the question facing the group this week, in the first meeting focussing on a lab member’s goal. Ben has been trying to write something quite specific in content, but the format has been a little unclear and that has been causing him issues with the writing. 

Ben’s initial task for this week was to produce a 2-page book blurb, to send around prior to the meeting for us all to read. Without giving too much away (he is trying to publish this, after all), he wants to produce an overview of current research in the area of intelligent tutors. He presented his ideas to us, sketching in some of the detail around why he wants to do this. Ben has been interested in the general area of intelligent tutors for a long time now (as he kept emphasising by referring to work he did in the last century!) and feels that the area currently needs this overview, looking at how the various pieces of the current research fit together but also to show where the gaps are. He says he isn’t really interested in providing the filler for these gaps. Ben has his imaginary reader as a would-be PhD student, looking for an interesting hole to plug. 

The discussion about what the format of the piece should take was interesting. Everyone agreed there was enough material for a book. Some felt that Ben didn’t need write the whole book himself, but should ask for chapters from people currently researching in the various areas. The resounding group opinion was that Ben was in the perfect position to introduce the subject and pull all of the threads together. The big difference was around the journal paper. Some felt that an initial journal paper should also be written, almost as a call-to-arms for possible contributors. Ben actually rather liked that idea, and felt that quite apart from anything else the journal paper would be a less daunting proposition! 

So the process has hopefully given him a good, clear next step. He even thought he might be able to commit to finishing the journal paper by mid-summer. In management-speak he now has a SMART objective, rather than a vague goal. Witness the power of presenting to the group! 

In other news, Jim and Ellie’s African Farmer Game has been attracting attention, with contact from a journalist reporting for El País recently. Also, Eric let us all know that he has managed to find a new job with Rica working on consumer research for older and disabled people, which fits right into his recent research interests but sadly means he won’t be around much. Still, we have him for a couple of weeks yet. 

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At this week’s lab session we were discussing a paper put forward by Marianna – Dual processing streams in chemosensory perception, from Frasnelli et al*. As the title may suggest, this is somewhat outside our normal fare. It is a short paper on the processing of smells and the areas of the brain used in the process. Marianna’s current area of research is in taste and smell elements of HCI, and as such she is using papers like this to give herself a background in the understanding that has been reached on these senses in other disciplines.

Short papers are not necessarily the most accessible way into a new area, with little space for defining concepts for the beginner. This was therefore a surprisingly taxing read, with a certain amount of googling of terms happening on the side. The paper basically tested and showed that the processing of the chemical sense of smell demonstrates a sub-division of processing between localisation and identification, and that this processing separation is similar to that seen in processing the physical senses, such a vision and hearing.

The main reaction of the group was “so what?”. By which we didn’t mean that this was unimportant, just that we couldn’t see what we, in the field of HCI, could do with this information. Marianna’s response was two-fold: first, she wants to know not only what the other sciences know about the senses, but also what they don’t concern themselves with. In this case, the experimenters were very interested in where the smell gets processed, but she is much more interested in how the participants make sense of that smell. Secondly she is looking for new techniques to try (although this paper’s procedure is not something she would use!), as these areas are so new to HCI. And finally she is interested in potentially feeding back to neuroscience. For example, in some cases, explicitation interviews (a technique that Marianna has used with some of her experiments on touch) have been carried out alongside the fMRI scans, and these have helped to explain some of the differences in processing found between the participants.

The discussion as ever veered through a range of topics – some more closely related to the original paper than others! One of Marianna’s interests is in trying to generate taste and smell sensations by stimulating other, more HCI-compatible, senses. We felt that at least this paper suggested that the processing pathways were not entirely dissimilar, so there may still be a chance of this working! Other group members were interested in seeing how the pathways might change if people were missing a sense – e.g. Marianna had interviewed someone born without a sense of taste. There were some questions around the differences in gender and the effects that may have, although given our lack of knowledge of the field there is a good chance that these questions have already been answered.

It was fascinating to read something so far from our normal focus, and to try to understand how we could perhaps bring it into our area. All in all, a very interesting read and discussion.

*Frasnelli, J., Lundström, J. N., Schöpf, V., Negoias, S., Hummel, T., & Lepore, F. (2012). Dual processing streams in chemosensory perception. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(October), 288. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00288

Most importantly this week, Liz graduated in the Winter graduation ceremony (in the video of the second ceremony at 1:37:30). Congratulations Dr Thackray!

This week’s lab session concentrated on the goals that the lab members have for the coming months, and how, as a group, we could support each other in reaching these. When we are all busy with teaching and other term-time activities the larger goals can get lost in the minutia of the every day. So what can we do to prevent this happening?

The goals offered ranged from writing a difficult paper with no target publication (or maybe even a book…) to a fellowship proposal with a strict deadline, with a smattering of conference papers and grant proposals along the way. The two things requested most frequently by way of help were people to talk through the ideas with and accountability – give us intermediate deadlines to force something to happen!

Both of these things are perfect for the lab meetings. Presenting ideas to the group forces you to think them through, to pull them into some kind of sensible and logical shape. The deadline pressure is there, because in a strange way it can be just as nerve wracking to present your ideas in front of a few people you know and see almost daily than to a room full of strangers. Turning up with nothing really isn’t an option! And we are not a reticent bunch when it comes to providing feedback or suggestions, and whether you agree with the feedback or not helps you to better hone your ideas and arguments for the future.

Suffice to say the next few lab sessions were swiftly filled, and we will be hearing more about lab members’ goals and ideas in the coming weeks. Looking forward to it!