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HCIL Seminar Series - 2006 - 2007

The Seminar Series offers a common ground that can promote interdisciplinary discussion on a wide range of topics relating to Human-Computer Interaction.

These lectures are free and open to the public. No reservations are needed.

For questions or comments, contact HCIL at

The Maryland Insitute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) has a Spring Speaker Series as well. Click here for pdf flyer.



November 7, 2006

Tuesday, 12:30pm, Room 3258 A.V. Williams Bldg

Martin Wattenberg
IBM Research

The Social Life of Visualizations


Visualization is often viewed as an efficient way of getting information out of a database and into an individual's head. I argue that the value of many visualizations derives instead from their position in social systems involving two or more people. Through a series of examples from both science and art, I will discuss how this viewpoint leads to new directions, questions and design principles.


Martin Wattenberg is a research scientist at IBM, where he leads the Visual Communication Lab. His work focuses on new approaches to data visualization and collaboration.  He is known for both applied and artistic visualizations, interpreting such disparate information sources as online communities, music, baby names, and stock market data.  He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from UC Berkeley.

December 5, 2006

Tuesday, 12:30pm, Room 2120 A.V. Williams Bldg

Gordon Kurtenbach

Unnatural User Interfaces


In the past forty years computers have evolved from having literally no user interface to the now pervasive graphical user interface that allows a vast number of non-technical people to utilize computers. A corner stone of this accomplishment is the notion that creating computer interfaces that are “natural and intuitive” can attain ease of use. In this talk I argue that the concepts of "natural and intuitive" are, at best, very general and close to meaningless concepts, and there is an array of other more powerful concepts such as skill transfer, learning, and feedback upon which the success of a user interface depends. I present several examples of innovative user interface techniques invented by the research group at Autodesk that are not "natural and intuitive". However, these techniques are easy and effective to use, and I will offer an explanation as to why. I shall argue that this type of thinking is an essential element needed to continue to advance the state of pen based user interfaces and ultimately the field of user interface research.


Gordon Kurtenbach is a director of research at Autodesk where he oversees a group whose focus is research on 3D interactive graphics in the areas of input technologies, manipulation, modeling, animation and rendering. Prior to Alias, Gordon was a researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center working on pen based user interfaces for wall-sized display systems. Before Xerox, Gordon was a member of Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group researching gesture-based input techniques for graphical user interfaces. Gordon's Ph.D. work on "marking menus" is a patented feature used Autodesk products. Recently, he served as head UI designer for Alias’s award winning Sketchbook application for the tablet PC. His research interests in the field human-computer interaction include input devices, bi-manual input, high degree of freedom input, menuing systems, UI for 3d graphics, human motor control and perception. Gordon has many research publications and twenty-one granted patents.


February 20, 2007

Tuesday, 12:30pm, Room 2120 A.V. Williams Bldg

Jeff Pierce
IBM Almaden

From Personal Computers to Personal Information Environments


While today's users work with and encounter a growing number and variety of computational devices (desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, PDAs, cellphones, etc.), continued adherence to the model of working with a single, personal computer has resulted in little support for coordinating activities across those devices. In fact, most devices are still completely unaware that a user might own other devices. In this talk I will describe my research on supporting the shift from working with a personal computer to working within a personal information environment that contains both a user's personal devices and devices in his or her local environment. I will discuss the opportunities and challenges for interaction spanning multiple devices; present an initial infrastructure for facilitating exploration of the design space for multi-device interaction; and describe some initial point designs.


Jeff Pierce is a researcher at IBM's Almaden Research Center where he works on interaction across multiple devices. Prior to escaping and joining IBM Research, he served time as an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. There he led the Personal Information Environments (PIE) research group and co-directed the Adaptive Personalized Information Environments (APIE) lab with Dr. Charles Isbell.


April 2 , 2007

Monday, 11am, Room 2119, Hornbake Bldg, South Wing

Genevieve Bell
Intel Corporation

From the Edges of the Network: Anthropological Musings on Wireless(ness)


In 1840, Maori elders from New Zealand's north island agreed to the terms and conditions of a British treaty. Amongst its many provisions, the Treaty of Waitangi as it is commonly known, retained Maoris rights in land and taonga (treasures). In 2005,, a Catholic think-tank in New Mexico declared that the 'network is the church" and set out an ambitious agenda for research into the role that technology might play in the spiritual lives of America's (and the world's) Catholics. What do these events have in common, and why might they be relevant to our contemporary discussions about wireless technologies?

In this talk, I propose to re-examine the notion of 'wirelessness' from an anthropological perspective. This paper is informed by nearly a decade of ethnographic research, with a particular focus on the Asia region, and by ethnographic and feminist theory. I draw on historical and contemporary cultural practices, events and accounts to create 5 interpretative frames for wirelessness. Wireless as schematics; practice(s); politics; citizenship; and imagined. Using these frameworks I suggest a different way of thinking about one of the dominant technology infrastructures of this decade.


An internationally recognized ethnographer, Genevieve Bell has developed product shaping insights into consumers world-wide and is bringing a research driven, end-user focus to Intel. Her influence has been recognized with the award of Intel’s highest honor: an individual Intel Achievement Award. She is a Senior Principal Engineer and the Director of User Experience within Intel’s Digital Home Group and manages an inter-disciplinary team of social scientists, designers and human factors engineers. She and her team strive to stay ahead of Intel’s technology roadmap, using insights gained for in-depth ethnographic and design research to help drive innovations in and around Intel platforms, creating technology that responds to human needs, desires and aspirations.

Bell is particularly interested in issues of cultural difference as they are expressed around technology adoption and use; she has conducted fieldwork around the world and is currently working on a book based on her recent ethnographic research in Asia. Her work has been widely published and cited and she is active in the fields of anthropology, computer-human interaction and ubiquitous computing.

Raised in Australia, Bell received the bulk of her education in the United States. Prior to joining Intel in 1998, Bell taught anthropology and Native American Studies at Stanford University in California. Bell received her BA/MA in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1991. She earned a PhD in cultural anthropology from Stanford University in 1998.


April 24 , 2007

Tuesday, 12:30pm, Room TBA

Stan Ruecker
Assistant Professor of Humanities Computing, University of Alberta

The Research Potential of Transferability


Interface design researchers are in a position of constant tension between the specific and the general. On the specific side, the principles of user-centred design suggest that involvement of users throughout the design process is essential to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Users not only suggest specifications but also assist in iterative testing and refinement. Participatory design pushes this involvement even further, and seeks to actively involve users as co-designers. On the general side, researchers often hope to develop and test concepts that extend beyond a specific user community or subject domain. For example, a search algorithm that would work only in a particular document collection would not be highly prized as a successful algorithm. However, it is impossible to properly study an algorithm without applying it to specific collections and their users.

Somewhere in the middle of this terrain of the specific and the general, we propose locating a “designerly” approach to research that emphasizes transferability, where research occurs through the user-centred or participatory development of specific design solutions, but these prototypes are then transferred or transformed to other specific design solutions for different kinds of users in different subject domains (Chow and Ruecker Forthcoming). This presentation examines three examples of such interface design clusters, where an original project has been conducted, then transformed and transferred to a new subject area with new tasks for a different group of users. These clusters are formed around the mandala browser (Cheypesh et al. 2006), the digital playbook (Sinclair et al. 2006), and the delegate browser (Ruecker et al. 2006). Based on these projects, we can begin a preliminary discussion of the characteristics of design transferability, as well as the kinds of research questions it facilitates. First, it seems clear that some projects are already more generally applicable than others. For example, the mandala browser was conceived of as a general mechanism for browsing any collection or individual document encoded in XML. It is therefore not a design that is particularly transferable, since it was never very specific to begin with. On the other hand, the digital playbook, which also relies on XML, was specifically intended for actors, directors, and students of plays. Variants of the digital playbook that are currently being prototyped include one for studying football plays (Ruecker et al. Forthcoming), and another for examining traffic patterns. In terms of the kinds of research made possible by transferable designs, there are insights to be developed both about the general principles that inform each cluster, and about the specifics of the deployment of the design within each domain and its user community. As Jonas (2000) suggests, the result can be the iterative construction of a knowledge base full of ‘quasi-objects,’ consisting of both the results of investigating general principles and the details derived from studying the particulars of each design instance.


Dr. Stan Ruecker is an Assistant Professor of Humanities Computing in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. He is a graduate of the University of Regina (BA Hons English 1985, BSc Computer Science 1988), the University of Toronto (MA English 1989), and the University of Alberta (MDes 1999, PhD 2003). His PhD research was on the affordances of prospect for computer interfaces to large, interpretively-tagged text collections. His postdoctoral research dealt with browsing interfaces for electronic documents. His current research interests are in the areas of computer-human interfaces, humanities visualization, and information design.


May 1, 2007

Tuesday, 12:30pm, Room TBA

Amy Bruckman
Associate Professor, College of Computing, Georgia Tech

Shaping the Age of User-Generated Content


In the mid 1990s, we began to ask some hopeful questions about the potential of the Internet to empower the individual: Can the Internet help democratize the creation of content? Can users become creators of content, rather than merely recipients? What can people learn through working on personally meaningful projects and sharing them online? 1990s utopian enthusiasm tarnished a bit by the dot-com bust around the turn of the century, and we began to wonder: maybe it will all be business-as-usual after all.

But then it started happening. On Wikipedia, thousands of volunteers collaborate to create a shared resource that, while not without flaws, is astonishing in its breadth and speed of adaptation. Furthermore, the process of writing this resource is truly collaborative to a degree that should make any CSCW professional envious. On MySpace, teens create their own web pages, sharing snippets of html and expressing themselves in a quintessentially teenage fashion. Blogs written by ordinary citizens have become influential in politics and culture, almost just as envisioned by science fiction writer Orson Scott Card. User-generated content, it seems, has arrived.

Of course for every thoughtful photo essay shared by a budding young photographer, the Internet has a hundred self-broadcast photos of under-age drinking. What percentage of Internet traffic, we wonder, is devoted to flirting and gossiping? And how much have the last few years increased the world's stockpile of really bad poetry?

In this talk, I'll review the history of user-generated content on the Internet, and present current research in Electronic Learning Communities (ELC) Lab at Georgia Tech that aims to help shape this phenomenon. Drawing on work in the fields of online community design, CSCW, and CSCL, we can help design Internet-based environments conducive to collaborative learning.


Amy Bruckman is an Associate Professor in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She and her students in the Electronic Learning Communities (ELC) research group do research on online communities and education. Current projects include Science Online (a wiki-based public science resource in which students learn science content and method by writing for a real audience) and ThinkGame (where students studying games both reflect on their own experiences and have an opportunity to contribute to the new field of academic game studies). Amy is interested in ethical issues in Internet research, and was a member of working groups on this topic organized by AAAS, AoIR, and APA. Amy received her PhD from the MIT Media Lab's Epistemology and Learning group in 1997, her MSVS from the Media Lab's Interactive Cinema Group in 1991, and her BA in physics from Harvard University in 1987. In 1999, she was named one of the 100 top young innovators in science and technology in the world
(TR100) by Technology Review magazine. In 2002, she was awarded the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies.


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