Research has the potential to move in many different directions. There are constraints, sure. But regardless of where one starts, multiple paths reveal themselves at each step. Choosing a path is crucial for making progress. Moreover, revisiting and refining the intentions motivating one’s travels down a particular path is important. There is always value in asking why we’re doing the work we’re doing. Asking and answering this question is like steering the rudder on a boat.
Great news! We sent the final author proof of our article Schön’s Intellectual Legacy: A Citation Analysis of DRS Publications (2010-2016) back to the copyeditors for publication at Design Studies, which is one of the premier journals in the design field.
The article should be online within a week or so of receiving the final proof (yesterday). So, hopefully you’ll soon be able to read the outcome of a project conceived at the 2015 EAD conference, initially published at the DRS2016, and extensively revised and submitted for Design Studies this year.
I’m pleased to add that Refseer, whose origin story begins with Citeseer, was recently rekindled, and we’re going to be exploring ways to apply and expand it within the scope of our citation analysis project.. Onward!
Most of my blog entries are announcements of publications or generic thought pieces about topics of interest. One thing I’d like to do differently going forward is keeping track of current research projects here at Penn State University’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction (C4HCI) as way of providing some insight and value to folks outside of my network; especially members of community organizations, local government, and industry.
Community Data & Water Quality. A current project underway here at C4HCI has to do with water quality data as a kind of community data around which different stakeholders could organize and act. There are already several groups in State College collecting and analyzing water quality data, and our working assumption is that this data could be made accessible and interpretable to a wider group of residents.
In my view, and in an ideal case, the outcome of such would be a more data literate citizenry confident and capable to engage with local government around water quality (and other) policy and decision-making.
Tonight we held the first meeting of what we hope will be a series of conversations and workshops with folks who work for and with different water quality collection groups in Centre County, including: ClearWater Conservancy, PaSEC, WRMP, and Trout Unlimited. The goal of the meeting was to share our vision for a possible project built around water quality data and to engage in a meaningful conversation about what a collaboration between our groups could look like. The meeting was great. Our group learned a lot about the kinds of data these different organizations collect and about some of the barriers to sharing/using the data that we had not yet considered. We even identified a possible opportunity for supporting (one of) their efforts to build out an online resource for community members to learn more about water quality issues.
Looking forward to more!
I’m really excited about an introductory HCI course I’m developing (with some amazing collaborators) for the spring semester. For the last week or so, I’ve been working with several practicing designers to establish a set of core skills interns and/or entry-level designers ought to know in order to succeed in the workplace. Their comments and insights have been interesting to read, inspiring to think about, and generative of a much stronger course design than if I had worked independently. I’m appreciative of their help, and I look forward to sharing this collaborative approach with the students in my section. Onward!
This year was a good one for CHI rebuttal writing. I say that not knowing whether our rebuttal swayed any of the reviewers one way or another. But we took a different approach for this year’s CHI reviews than we have in year’s past. This year, we made changes to our paper as we wrote the rebuttal. Changing the paper became a way to think through the viability and possibility of each critique, and the rebuttal became (primarily) a record of changes already made to the submission. It may not be an approach for everyone, but I totally recommend trying it to see whether and how it works. And, I’d be curious to hear from others who take this approach when writing rebuttals (with short turnaround times) about how it has worked!
In an earlier post, I discussed adolescence as a metaphor for HCI research.
One thing that’s especially cool about this metaphor is the way it inspires thinking about time increments and their implications for knowledge growth. For instance, we might not expect a discipline “in its adolescence” to have a substantial body of theoretical knowledge. Consider, for example, the way Kit Fine riffs on this idea in the abstract of his text, Mathematics: Discovery or Invention?
Mathematics has been the most successful and is the most mature of the sciences. Its first great master work – Euclid’s ‘Elements’ – which helped to establish the field and demonstrate the power of its methods, was written about 2400 years ago; and it served as a standard text in the mathematics curriculum well into the twentieth century. By contrast, the first comparable master work of physics – Newton’s Principia – was written 300 odd years ago. And the juvenile science of biology only got its first master work – Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ – a mere 150 years ago.
A mere 150 years ago…!
One thing that’s especially cool about this is the different conception of time that arises when one sees the world from the perspective of a field or discipline. It becomes possible to see something 150 years old as an infant or toddler (not even an adolescent). And so HCI can be framed as a discipline not even close to its adolescence!
This is a crucial insight given that some researchers in HCI evaluate its theoretical adequacy as though the field is mature beyond its years.
In Making Social Science Matter, Bent Flyvbjerg examines the possibility that “the study of social phenomena is not, never has been, and probably never can be, scientific in the conventional meaning of the word science; that is, in its epistemic meaning,” and he explains why other fields tend toward such strong natural-scientific theoretical ambition. There is a logical simplicity to the natural science paradigm and the natural sciences have impressive material results.
Chapter Three, Is Theory Possible in Social Science, includes a brief exploration of the argument that natural science is “historically conditioned and requires hermeneutic interpretation” (p. 28). Flyvbjerg characterizes social science as “pre-paradigmatic” in the Kuhnian sense, which means that it “is in a state of constant reorganization, characterized by a multiplicity of directions” (p. 30). He then dispenses with the pre-paradigmatic argument that, with enough time, the social sciences can achieve the status of paradigmatic science.
Flyvbjerg argues that social science is no closer to achieving cumulative progress and that some natural sciences that are younger than social science already display such progress. He cites the hermeneutic/phenomenological argument. In social science, individuals and groups dialogue with researchers who themselves acknowledge the situatedness of their research activity. They are not separated from their subjects.
If I had to identify one thing I do well in the classroom, it’s this: I create an environment where it’s the norm to take risks, fail, and explore half-baked ideas.
My guess is that I model all three of these things. I fail up pretty much all the time, and I’m in the habit of sharing ideas before they’re well formed. And I think that’s great.
How else does an idea become fully formed or baked unless it’s subjected to questioning and critique from a smart group of students? Yes, it feels awkward, but I think it’s a mistake to wait until you have something to say. How will you know when to stop waiting if not by sharing what you have so far and learning from the reactions? The sooner ideas make it into a conversation the sooner they become stronger.
Lately, I’ve developed a strong interest in children’s books (cf. Martin Salisbury’s research) and the important role they play in shaping crucial perceptions and actions later in life (e.g. seeing artificial constructs as natural or treating certain subjects as taboo). There are two related to the concepts of idea sharing and failing up that are worth a read. I hope you find them as interesting and important as I do:
My wife (and daughter) gifted me a Lumio last week. I love it. It’s beautiful and fun. It sits on my desk next to my laptop and I find myself reaching for it several times a day. Each time I open it up, I pay attention to different details: the quality of the light filtering through the paper, the sound the paper makes as it expands and contracts, the feeling of the wooden cover on my fingers, the flexibility of the spine. Sometimes I turn off my desk lamp and I just sit for a little while enjoying the light.
Some additional good news to report. I submitted an abstract for a short paper to the upcoming IASDR conference in Cincinnati about some early-stage research that I’m working on with Erik Stolterman, and the abstract has been accepted! So now we’re writing the short paper and creating a poster to present at the conference.
Here is the abstract we submitted:
Scholars in a variety of academic disciplines have studied the peer review process. There are examinations of the biases that pervade peer review (Lee, Sugimoto, Zhang, & Cronin, 2013). Other studies propose tools or methods that might be useful for improving or standardizing the peer review process (Hames, 2008; Onitilo, Engel, Salzman-Scott, Stankowski, & Doi, 2013). Still others examine the kinds of criteria that ought to be relied upon in peer review processes, and in some cases these criteria are widely known and agreed upon. In the natural sciences, for example, we might say that there is a relatively stable set of criteria that can be used to assess the rigor, relevance, and validity of a scientific knowledge contribution. In this paper, our aim is to examine the process of peer review as it pertains to research through design. We aspire to build an understanding of the criteria scholars use when a design or prototype is the main contribution. How do reviewers evaluate designs as knowledge contributions? Is there any uniformity or stability to the review criteria? Are criteria from other fields (e.g. scientific criteria) used to evaluate designs? Toward this end, we report the outcome of a survey conducted with a group of meta-reviewers (n=15) from the design subcommittee for the 2017 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, which is the flagship conference in our field of expertise. The design subcommittee reviews papers that “make a significant designerly contribution to HCI [including but not limited to] novel designs of interactive products, services, or systems that advance the state of the art.” Our findings suggest that there is little agreement on a common set of criteria for evaluating research through design.
I look forward to sharing more as this important project moves forward!