The fall semester is in the books. I am now about two-thirds thru the required credits for a master’s degree in computer science. With chipping away at the degree in a part-time manner, when complete, it will have taken me around four and a half years to finish an otherwise two-year degree.
This year, the courses I took involved HCI – Human Computer Interaction. For those who did not click on that Wikipedia link, HCI is an area of computer science that looks at (observes) how people use computers and associated technologies, as well as the creation (design) of technologies that let people computers in interesting ways.
For the spring semester, the course I took was titled, Collaborative & Social Computing. It explored, from a fairly high-level, the many aspects of HCI. We looked at Wikipedia, Zooniverse, Mechanical Turk, a host of dating sites, as well as Chris McKinlay’s gaming of OkCupid (
there’s also a book on this, too). The class ended with a two person project – my partner and I implemented a very crude Wikipedia-of-CompSci-course-work. Think of this as a free and open platform to obtain questions and their answers for computer science coursework. This was to be an instructor-centric platform where instructors could share with other instructors their courses’ questions. We called it AssignmentHub.
This course was a bit of a gateway-drug for HCI. Little samples – gets you hooked, gets you interested – convinces you that the next level, HCI & UI Technology, should be a great course.
The name, HCI & UI Technology, is a bit of a catch-all and does not clearly state what my fall semester’s primary course was about: research methods within the context of human-computer interaction. What’s that I just said? The gist of the course was look at a research paper from the HCI-world and look at the methods of research used. Grounded theory method, surveying of individuals, was there a statistical process applied, and so on. We read a lot. Thirty-eight papers or chapters, likely many hundreds of pages.
Many of the papers and chapters have blended together in my mind. Which ones were on Facebook? Which ones used mturk? Which ones were about designing technologies and which ones were about evaluating perceptions of technologies?
There is one paper that stands out a bit in my mind. It is likely that it stands out because I had to co-present it to class. The paper was Project Ernestine: Validating GOMS for predicting and explaining real-world task performance.
It’s a 74-page paper, published in 1993, that chronicles the scientific effort to compare work-times of telephone operators using two different workstations at NYNEX. Those with a keen mind for remembering late 1960s television might realize that Ernestine was the name of one of Lily Tomlin’s characters on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Ernestine was a sarcastic telephone operator.
The paper also draws on work from Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their efforts to measure worker performance and study motion in a more scientific manner.
After all the readings, the term was rounded out with co-authoring a research paper. The paper was modeled after Understanding User Beliefs About Algorithmic Curation in the Facebook Newsfeed. Instead of Facebook, we looked at Reddit and people’s perceptions of Reddit’s Best algorithm.
And, that’s it. Lots of reading, three research projects (including the research paper). Social and Collaborative Computing was certainly gateway-drug to the more hardcore HCI & UI Technology (HCI Research Methods in disguise). It was interesting to learn more about the inner-workings of a sub-area of computer science, but I have definitely had my fill for a while.
Below is a table of nearly all that we read this term. Enjoy.