Archives for category: People

First and extremely importantly, we have more lab celebrations. Gareth popped back to Brighton from his new job in Shanghai this week to mount a successful defence of his thesis! Definitely worth making the trip. There were some bubbles shared after the event. Huge congratulations to Gareth.

So from a departing lab member today we turned to a new lab member. Marianna Obrist joined at the start of October, and today she gave us a little more of an introduction to her previous work and where her research is heading. She joins us after spending two years with the Culture Lab in Newcastle as a Marie Curie fellow and prior to that Marianna was an assistant professor for HCI and Usability at the University of Salzburg. This has allowed her to work on a wide variety of projects, of which Marianna described just a handful.

The first project she talked about was the Citizen Media – Social Change project, which ran from 2006-2009. It focussed on engaging communities in user-generated experiences (of the type that we are now, thanks to smart phones, extremely familiar with) and how to use those to allow the communities to change things in their areas. One of the big things that Marianna took from this experience was that engaging with and building interest in a local community for research purposes was really interesting, but dealing with that community at the end of the project, when there is no further funding and the researchers are moving on, is difficult.

She  was the lead of a module in the Christian Doppler Laboratory on contextual interfaces. One of the main aims of this module was to examine the way that traditional HCI methodologies carry over into less traditional settings – e.g. in the case she showed us a clean room environment. Clean rooms are kept as free of contamination as possible, with all objects coming into and out of the clean room needing to be carefully controlled. This precludes the use of paper, making note-taking rather difficult.

Then there were a couple of games that Marianna has worked on. One of these is called Ludwig. This is an Austrian game looking to teach people about renewable energy sources and other ideas in physics. This has moved on quite a lot since Marianna worked on it, and is being integrated with the Austrian school curriculum. The other game that Marianna told us about was the Emotional Flowers (“EmoFlowers”) project, which used the facial expressions of players as the game mechanic. This was a result of a participatory design process with groups of children.

When Marianna became a Marie Curie fellow she had more space to define her own research projects. She noted that almost all of her work so far, and in fact in HCI in general, focusses predominantly on visual and auditory channels. She started to wonder about the other sensory channels, such as touch, taste and smell. How can we study these areas? So last year she started with touch, and found that a language for discussing the different sensations was needed. Different haptics designers and engineers needed a shared language for different sensations, and an understanding of how those sensations could be generated. So Marianna worked with a neurophysiologist (where another shared language needed to be developed!) to identify the different receptors in the skin and to design ways to stimulate these receptors. This device was then used with an explicitation interview technique. The different descriptions were then analysed and the results were published at CHI last year.

Touch work

This year she has been working on taste (gustatory experiences) and smell (the olfactory channel). The research sounds interesting and tantalising, and happily she will be talking about it at this year’s CHI!

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Katy Howland1. Name 

Katy Howland

2. Role

Lecturer in Human Centred Technology (from September 2012)

3. Mac or PC?

It depends on the context! I use a desktop Windows machine for work and games, but have a Mac laptop for on the go and casual use.

4. What is your favourite book?

Very hard to single one out, as I go through different phases. In the last few years I’ve been reading a lot of Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Wilkie Collins and most recently George R.R. Martin. For my all-time favourite I’d have to say Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

5. How did you get here?

After a Philosophy degree (which was fascinating, but left me with an urge to stop theorising and start doing) I enrolled on the Intelligent Systems MSc at Sussex. The Interactive Learning Environments course, taught by Judith Good, inspired me to undertake a dissertation project in the area of technology enhanced learning. From there I was hooked, and went on to start my doctoral research soon after.

6. What are you working on right now?

I recently submitted my PhD thesis, which examined how narrative-based computer-game creation can be used as an activity to improve writing skills for young people, and how additional representational support can increase the benefits of the activity. I am particularly interested in the skills involved in conveying meaning using text in conjunction with other representational modes. I have also been working on the TERENCE project, which explores the potential for story-based games to support poor comphrehenders, and prior to that the Flip project, which involved the design and evaluation of a visual programming language for young game designers.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?

I am inspired whenever I see people empowered through technology to engage creatively with the world around them. Current and past members of the HCT group have been a great source of inspiration too!

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

A design challenge which fascinates me is balancing how complexity is revealed and hidden by interfaces so that users are given as much power as possible, without being overwhelmed by intricacy.

9. What else do you like to do?

I love spending time with my family and friends, seeing live music at gigs and festivals and other mildly active pastimes such as walking and cycling.

10. What’s next for you?

I have just begun working on a scoping project in the area of digital literacy for the EPSRC Digital Economy Communities and Culture Network +. I am keen to explore and delineate the skills needed to take on active roles in 21st century society, and hope to further examine some of the questions arising out of my doctoral research about the ways in which these skills can be taught.

1. Name

Eric Harris

2. Role

Visiting Research Fellow (Informatics) at the Human Centred Technology Lab

3. Mac or PC?

PC, all about the devil you know (or thought you knew!).

4. What is your favourite book?

“A Deepness in the Sky” by Vernor Vinge. The first place I heard of smart dust and animal pack minds.

5. How did you get here?

“Through the twists and turns of fickle Miss Fate”

I received my BSc in Maritime Technology at UWIST in 1985, after which I completed a MSc in Robotics at Coventry University. I joined Bwi Inex Vision systems in 1991, and left in 1996 as Technical & Operations Director for their European and African Operations. After a short time with a design company developing robotic “Hexipod” technology, I went on to be a Research Fellow on various EPSRC sponsored projects at the University of Sussex.

6. What are you working on right now?

I am keen to investigate the relationship between technology, especially new and emerging technologies, and the older community. It seems to me there is great opportunity to enrich the lives of older people with emerging technologies, that better supports their (our) needs and wants. I am working on creating some web space to engage the older community to play a more active role in the design and development of new and existing technologies, rather than being just passive consumers of technology.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?

Bumble bees, blue tack, wine gums, the BBC.

Shooting stars, racing cars, Andrew Mars.

Phidgets, widgets, smart_its and motes.

Serendipity, the preposterous and of course “The Interweb”.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

Focus and concentration

9. What else do you like to do?

Running, walking, gardening and most of all cooking with my wife, daughter and friends.

10. What’s next for you?

If only I knew!

1. Name

Judith Good

2. Role

Reader in Informatics, Director of the Interactive Systems Group, and the Human Centred Technology Lab

3. Mac or PC?

Mac, ever since my first encounter with an Apple IIe longer than I care to remember.

4. What is your favourite book?

It changes all the time, but Michael Ondaatje remains a favourite author.

5. How did you get here?

I arrived at Sussex in 2005, having started out at the University of Edinburgh, where I did my Master’s and Phd and worked as a research assistant, via a transatlantic detour to the University of New Mexico, where I was an assistant professor.

I originally got into the field of artificial intelligence and education as a result of hearing a lecturer describe some software which had been developed for students struggling with maths at university. The system developers had devised a hierarchical model of mathematical competence and embedded it into a intelligent tutoring system. The hypothesis was that the student’s current difficulties may have resulted from incorrectly learning simple concepts on which the current, more complex concepts depend. The system would diagnose the student’s current problems, trace back through its model to determine at what level concepts had not been learned or had been misunderstood, and then reteach those concepts to the student. This probably started my lifelong interest in learning and technology, especially in trying to design tools to help empower students who are struggling.

6. What are you working on right now?

Probably too much!

I’m working with Jim Jackson and Ellie Martin to develop a simulation game called African Farmer (formerly the Green Revolution online game). As its name suggests, students play the role of an African farmer with a small plot of land, and attempt to keep themselves and their families alive. The aim is to allow students to experience the complex decision making processes under which African farmers must operate first hand and, secondarily, to experience the effects of policy decisions at ground level.

I’m also a co-investigator on the ECHOEs project. In it, we developed a technology enhanced learning environment for typically developing children and children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs). In the environment, children can interact with a virtual character, and take part in activities which require such skills as joint attention, turn taking, etc. We are still analysing the results, but they are very promising, suggesting, among other things, that the behaviours that we observed when children used ECHOEs actually transfer to other situations, something which is often difficult for children on the autistic spectrum.

I recently finished the Flip project with Katy Howland and Keiron Nicholson, in which we designed a visual programming language to teach young people some basic computational skills in the context of 3D role-playing game creation. I’ve also been working on the Shyness project, in which we were studying how pervasive computing may lead to situations which trigger feelings of shyness in users, but also investigating how it can used in a positive way so that users can manage their presentation and use available feedback from such systems to mediate feelings of shyness.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?

Seeing the joy and confidence that arises when people learn new skills and abilities that they thought were not within their reach, or interact with the world in ways that were not previously possible. These moments often become self-perpetuating.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

Finding enough time to do everything that I want (and need) to do!

9. What else do you like to do?

For the moment, any spare time (and money) seems to go into restoring my overly large Victorian house.

10. What’s next for you?

I would like to focus my work on designing technology for children with Autism Spectrum Conditions, and particularly Asperger’s Syndrome. Many children face such enormous challenges (and resultant stress) just trying to navigate each day, with very little in the way of support. I think that technology could play a huge role in helping these children to feel empowered.

1. Name

Ben du Boulay

2. Role

Retired founder member of group

3. Mac or PC?

Mac

4. What is your favourite book?

It’s a book of a radio play – Under Milk Wood

5. How did you get here? 

I was a lecturer in Computer Science at Aberdeen prior to coming to Sussex.  Before that I had done my PhD at Edinburgh in the AI Department and had worked as a school teacher and in industry as a programmer/analyst.

6. What are you working on right now?

Developing a pedagogy around motivation and affect, and understanding the problems of learner programmers.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?

I’m eclectic, but I particularly like the work of Tanja Mitrovic and that of my friend Hugh Noble who continues to be creative and thoughtful about many issues, both academic and political, long after he retired.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

The lack of fine grained data.

9. What else do you like to do?

Walking on the Downs, landscape photography, playing badminton.

10. What’s next for you?

Gentle decline.

1. Name

Jim Jackson

2. Role

PhD candidate

3. Mac or PC?

A PC works best for me just now, but it’s not like a religious commitment.

4. What is your favourite book?

I don’t have one favourite – there are too many good books out there. Anna Karenina, Gilead, The Age of Innocence, Cultural Amnesia… if I answered the question next week I’d probably give you a different list. However I consistently find myself turning to Etty Hillesum’s Diary & Letters for inspiration.

5. How did you get here?

Serendipity. After working in the City and in technical engineering I came across the HCT group while studying Creative Writing & Personal Development at the university. I liked the people and hung around after I’d completed the MA.

6. What are you working on right now?

A couple of things. I’m working with my colleague Ellie on The Green Revolution Project, developing an educational game based around the lives of small-scale African Farmers. Just now I’m playing around with numbers for hazards, crop yields and nutrition, trying to avoid killing off everyone before they’ve had the chance to learn something. To date my PhD research work has been concerned with how reflection might be fostered in a multi-user gaming environment, though I’m thinking about moving into a new area of study.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?

Mainly from the people around me – my family, friends and work colleagues. I also find stepping outside the area in which I’m working gives me new ideas and perspectives.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

Staying focused on one area of research; not losing sight of the research questions while chasing down solutions to real-world problems.

9. What else do you like to do?

I enjoy reading, photography and exercise – mainly at the gym these days though I’d like to start running again. I also spend many hours each week neglecting my garden.

10. What’s next for you?

I’ve always had a keen interest in human development – what helps us change, the things that can cause us to get stuck – so work in this area would be a possibility. But given my track record, probably something unexpected.

1. Name Pejman Mirza-Babaei

Pejman

2. Role
PhD candidate

3. Mac or PC?
Mac. I shutdown my PC in Sep 2009, and never turned it on again, yay! 🙂

4. What is your favourite book?
I know it is strange but I don’t have favourite book.

5. How did you get here?
I did my Master in IT for E-Commerce (at the Sussex University, 2007) and had HCI course as one of my electives, I felt in love with the subject and knew that is what I want to do next.

6. What are you working on right now?
At the moment I am a visiting researcher at UOIT HCI + Game Science group, where I am conducting the final study for my PhD thesis as well as writing up the whole thing.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?
My family, in particularly my dad. I think when little boys growing up they always want to be the same as their fathers. That was the case for me and I am still trying to become a doctor 🙂

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
I am aiming to submit my thesis by March 2013, doable but challenging.

9. What else do you like to do?
I am a professional scuba diver but haven’t dived since I started the PhD. I want to go to a proper holiday (sun, beach, no technology with awesome diving sites). After I finish writing my thesis of course.

10. What’s next for you?
Most of my previous works were in collaboration with industry. Ideally I want to have this mix in future. If I stay in research I will make sure I can continue working with industry. If I get an industry position I will keep contact with academia, I enjoy writing research papers.

Liz Thackray

1. Name
Liz Thackray

2. Role
DPhil student – I’m now based in Sociology, but started off in Informatics

3. Mac or PC?
Mac, though I do find I get asked to fix PCs owned by other members of my household 😦

4. What is your favourite book?
That varies according to mood. Probably the books I go back to are Jean Auel’s Earths Children series, but I also like William Horwood’s Duncton Wood novels.

5. How did you get here?
By accident. I met Judith Good through some work I was doing with the Sussex Learning Network and acted as consultant on a course she led using a virtual world environment (Second Life). One day, I asked the foolish question of whether there might be a PhD in the work we were doing, and the rest is history. I might add that doing a research degree was never on my agenda. I spent many years working in voluntary and statutory social service organisations, lived in Germany for a few years being a ‘hausfrau’ and did a Masters conversion degree in information systems when I was fifty. I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed the learning opportunity the last four years have presented – just wish I’d realised that when I was much younger!

6. What are you working on right now?
My original research ideas didn’t work out due to circumstances beyond my control. I have ended up moving some way away from virtual worlds and am exploring the real life problem of the struggle/fight metaphor in relation to special needs. Hence my current location in Sociology, but I have retained my links with the HCT group and have been playing with some ideas that might link the two areas.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?
The people I work with.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
I see myself as a practitioner and find it difficult to identify as an academic, having always had a healthy scepticism as to the value of scholarship as against life experience and practice. The challenge for me is embracing both camps and valuing them equally.

9. What else do you like to do?
When I have time, I enjoy doing things with thread, mainly lace of one sort or another. I am actively involved in my local church and run a support group for parents of children with special needs. When I want to switch off, I watch TV (Grey’s Anatomy is a favourite) or read trashy novels.

10. What’s next for you?
I sometimes half-jest that my DPhil is retirement preparation. Next on the agenda is actually getting the thesis written. After that, I would like to write up some of what I have learned that hasn’t made its way into my thesis. I suspect, I’m not quite ready to retire yet, so I’m interested in doing things that allow me to use the different areas of knowledge and experience gained if different domains over more years than I care to count.

1. Name
Eleanor (Ellie) Martin

Ellie running the Cambridge Half2. Role
DPhil candidate

3. Mac or PC?
Mac, which surprises me no end.

4. What is your favourite book?
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg.

5. How did you get here?
I was working on some really nasty desktop software, which made me come and do the HCCS Masters. Then I went back out into industry as a web developer for a bit until I saw an advert for the Green Revolution project and attached DPhil.

6. What are you working on right now?
The Green Revolution project (a multiplayer online game)! I’m writing a lot of code, mostly. Struggling to define my objects, and what should go where and how it all fits together. Oh, and trying to write some conference papers. And process some study results. I’m researching how the rules of a game affect the players’ interactions, and whether it’s possible to predict the differences that arise using theories from sociology (specifically social identity theory).

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?
This is going to sound really sappy, but honestly without my partner I wouldn’t achieve nearly as much as I do. I am inspired to greater heights to repay that support in full. I am also inspired by intelligent conversations/blog posts that head in interesting directions, and people who look at things and think of crazy things to add to them, or ways to make them better.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Too little time! There are too many interesting things to do, all of which would quite happily suck up all the hours I could give them.

9. What else do you like to do?
Probably too many things! I run, knit, cycle, sew, garden… I also occasionally like to play music. I can play clarinet, sax, flute and ukulele, but at the moment I only play at home. If anyone needs a slightly rusty woodwind player let me know!

10. What’s next for you?
Ideally I’d like to stay in research. I’m interested in positive psychology and how we could use technology to make us happier. I’m also quite interested in how people manage and understand things like multi-author documents and versioning. It’s a common problem that doesn’t seem to have a really good solution yet.

1. Name
Chris

2. Role
Visiting Research Fellow

3. Mac or PC?
Mac

4. What is your favourite book?
The one I read (and intend to finish)

5. How did you get here?
It was my first post-doctoral position and I was hired to work on the ECHOES II project. I was a PhD student at QMUL before and what I found intriguing about this position was that it would allow me to enter the world of participatory design. I also always was interested in working with people with disabilities, so this fitted the bill.

6. What are you working on right now?
I am writing grant proposals to implement my research ideas which are about researching a different approach to developing assistive technology for children.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?
Broad mix, mainly from people I hear talk or have the chance to talk to. The immediate research environment is very important, but also conferences and meetings. I am also regularly getting lost in browsing the internet – where one interesting thing leads to the next so easily.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
At the moment, getting research funded. Many of my topics are seemingly “soft”, i.e., deal with underspecified, wicked problems that do not fit in well with a positivistic epistemology which is easier for funding bodies and reviewers to trust in. So, articulating that research through design produces theory & knowledge that is worthwhile and scientific in a different way, is a major challenge.

9. What else do you like to do?
Family, Climbing & the Outdoors

10. What’s next for you?
Partly answered above, I suppose. I am working on grant proposals with Geraldine, and my next destination is hopefully Vienna.