Horizon CDT PhD student Joe Strickland (2017 cohort) talks about his internship at the BBC and leading a workshop on Augmented Reality storytelling.
You can hear Joe’s talk here.
post by Gustavo Berumen (2017 Cohort)
This was my first experience at a conference in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, also known as CHI and pronounced “kai”, is the most prestigious conference on HCI in the area. In 2019, the conference was held in Glasgow. It was quite special for us, the members of the Mixed Reality Lab, because the lab celebrated its 20-year anniversary and had a designated space in the exhibition area. We presented several of the MRL demos, such as the broncomatic and the VR playground.
Since CHI is a fairly large conference, I will focus on my participation in the two workshops in which I presented a paper, as well as on my attendance at a panel discussion. In addition, I will reflect on the learning outcomes from CHI conference that are still guiding my research today.
CHInclusion: Working toward a more inclusive HCI community
The objective of this workshop was to reflect on our research practices and how researchers can make HCI a more inclusive space. I collaborated with a short paper of a reflection about my personal experience doing research in an international environment . In the first part of the workshop, we reflected on the effects of “privilege”. We talked about the struggles faced by people who belong to minority and marginalised groups in their professional development due to privilege and related issues. In this workshop, there was a fairly vibrant environment in which people not only did perceive a problem but were also willing to propose solutions and promote changes to reduce the influence of privilege.
The participants of the workshop were not only young researchers but also academics with a long university career who perceive the need to create a fairer society. We carried out various group activities in which we discussed our personal experiences regarding discrimination. We then presented possible solutions to promote change in our fields of expertise. This conference was quite stimulating and encourages me to think that a fairer academic environment is possible.
New Directions for the IoT: Automate, Share, Build, and Care
The objective of this workshop was to talk about cutting-edge topics in the development of ubiquitous technologies, innovative ways of conducting research and designing solutions that serve people. This workshop brought together researchers interested in the IoT area, which is related to my Ph.D. topic. The researchers’ interests were diverse and covered a wide range of areas such as social interactions, the smart home, and cooperative robots, among others.
The workshop consisted of two parts: The first part, in which each of the attendees gave a talk about their research, and the second, in which we answered questions from the attendees. Here, I presented my workshop paper titled “Finding Design Opportunities for Smartness in Consumer Packaged Goods”. The paper presented analysis methods that I designed to study the use of items in the cooking process, analysing information from an auto-ethnographic study. In this workshop, I received helpful and insightful comments that have helped me further develop my methods in a larger study.
Finally, we participated in an activity in which we shared our ideas on how to develop IoT technologies that serve people’s needs first and foremost. We were divided into groups and used Post-it Notes to share our thoughts with the rest of the participants.
Roundtable — Rigor, Relevance, and Impact: The Tensions and Trade-Offs Between Research in the Lab and in the Wild
CHI is a fairly large conference attended by thousands of attendees. At such a scale, it is inevitable that several of the presentations that one would like to attend occur at the same time. Luckily, the talk can later be found online in the conference YouTube channel and the papers can be found in the conference proceedings.
I was recommended to attend as many roundtable panel discussions as possible. These panels joined together a diverse group of researchers who engage in discussions that one can be a part of. This kind of experience can hardly be found online. In these panels, researchers who would not normally interact are integrated in order to share their experiences and enrich the conversation with the discussions they can generate when professionals from different areas get together. Personally, I found this panel inspiring. There were researchers in the area of industry, such as Google’s Shumin Zhai, and academics, such as Enrico Costanza, University College London. They discussed both how to do research that has a greater impact on society and how to take research outside the academic space. Attendees had the opportunity to be part of the conversation in a welcoming, friendly environment.
Learnings that Continue a Year Later
My participation in CHI was profoundly fruitful, as it gave me the opportunity to approach cutting-edge research in the area as well as get to know researchers at all levels closely, from renowned professors to young students who were excited to be entering part of this field. The lessons I learned at the conference have emboldened me to carry out my research, and I have been able to apply them to various aspects of my work, such as organizing my own workshop. I certainly think the impact of participating in a conference lasts much longer than the period over which the conference takes place.
Venue: CHI 2019, Scottish Event Campus, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
Harriet Cameron (2018 Cohort) and Velvet Spors (2017 Cohort)
Hi, our names are Harriet and Velvet, and we’re PhD students within the Horizon CDT. In September 2019 we ran a full day workshop as part of the Digital Economy Network summer school. The workshop was designed to reach academics from across a broad spectrum of subjects and schools of thought, and bring them together to explore how identity, space, and place (ISP) were present in their research.
We ran the workshop as a group of four researchers; Velvet, Harriet, Luke and Hanne, all of whom are currently at various stages of their PhD’s within Horizon, and all of whom have different academic and professional backgrounds. We came together as a group because we recognised that each of us had a strong link with identity, space and place within our work, and were keen on exploring how these concepts both shape, and are shaped by, a wealth of different influences. For instance, Harriet comes from a background in human geography, and explores situated identities in both virtual and physical worlds, and Velvet is interested in human-centred, holistic ways of being with each other as a way of caring for yourself—being explicitly and implicitly connected. Together, we were able to provide a broad basis of theoretical and practical knowledge about identity, space and place, in order to facilitate valuable discussions around the importance of these topics, and their impact on research practices and outcomes.
We split the day into three core sections, each to address a different aspect of ISP. The first part of the day was spent simply getting to grips with these ambiguous and diverse concepts, sharing each other’s understandings and reflecting on our own assumptions. In our first activity, we set everyone free to spend a few minutes running around Jubilee campus, and finding examples of identity, space, and place; sending photos back to us so we could then discuss what everyone had chosen and why. This was a fantastic exercise, because all the photos taken were unique and showed completely different interpretations of not just definitions of identity, space, and place, but also different interpretations of the spaces they interacted with.
The second part of the day was designed to encourage reflection on how ISP affects daily life, and daily routines. We asked each delegate to draw a map of a route they take regularly or had recently taken, and then talked through what each person had created. Each map was highly individualised, in terms of what was represented, how those things were represented, and how the delegates showed their own personalities on their maps. This activity demonstrated not only how ISP impacts every single person on a mundane level, but it also allowed us to begin discussions on how technology shapes and is shaped by ISP at a day-to-day level.
The third part of the day continued to draw on themes of technology in ISP and got everyone thinking about how ISP related technology might be shaping their research, and how technology could be used to capture and explore ISP more overtly. In this section we got everyone to play free games related to ISP in some way and talk through which elements from our earlier discussions were apparent in the games, and which were more hidden. This allowed for some great exploration of how virtual and digital space, place and identity can be experienced, accessed and represented.
The last bit of our write-up contains personal reflections from each of us individually, showcased in a conversational presentation (if you feel like it, please read it out loud in two silly voices!).
Velvet: We ran the workshop not only to get researchers thinking about these complex themes and how they shape and are shaped by our research, but also as a part-experimental pilot and part sense-making activity: It was designed to feel the space out — literally and figuratively — to see if there was potential for a collective way of working and being with each other. Happily, the workshop was a success, and it seems that long term connections were made which will be fostered as a mechanism to continue these crucial discussions and share knowledge between participants.
Harriet: The multitude of voices we were lucky enough to bring together for the workshop, ranging from computer scientists, to engineers, to architects and more, contributed momentously to the positive outcomes we were able to draw from the day. It also demonstrated the value of these kind of events, where researchers with different ideas and perspectives come together, break each other out of their comfort zones, and question the assumptions that are all too easy to forget to question ourselves. It’s sometimes easy to become so involved in your own subject that you can forget the real-world applications and implications of concepts you may have come to take for granted. Hearing from those other perspectives not only re-centred us, but it also gave some fresh ideas and takes on those topics that we had almost forgotten to continue to critically examine. This was best demonstrated for me during our discussions defining space, place and identity early on in the day, when one delegate offered their definition of place as a “region in space, defined by co-ordinates”. This was so interesting, because they took their definition and applied it to cyberspace, comparing co-ordinates as used in the physical world, to URL’s used to navigate the internet. They explained that navigating websites, much like navigating physical places, requires you to narrow down your co-ordinates further and further, until you reach a point where you are capable of finding your exact destination. In the real world, this might be zooming in on your map app, or switching to a local paper map instead of a regional one. Online, this might mean navigating to the area of the website which contained the content you were interested it, by clicking through toolbars and hyperlinks. This offered a fresh perspective on navigating online spaces which I had never consciously considered before and has contributed to my own understanding of cyberspace.
Velvet: But apart from these overarching understandings and fresh impulses, running the workshop also generated insights for own personal research.
Harriet: A big part of my own research centres around trying to understand identities of individuals as situated, fluid constructs which are performed as part of social, cultural and political contexts. Part of the value of this workshop for me came in the form of being able to see those different identities demonstrated, not only in the context of students studying all over the UK taking part in a workshop at the University of Nottingham, but also in the ways that those different identities were reflected on during the activities and within the discussions. During the mapping activity for example, we were shown what priorities and performed identities the workshop participants had as part of their daily routine, be that in the form of their favourite shop, their place of worship, their favourite places to study, and so on. No two maps were drawn in the same way, even if they shared certain places or themes, demonstrating the breadth of experiences and the impact of our own identities on the landscape.
Velvet: On a very individual level, this workshop also showed me how people approach similar topics in very different, multifaceted ways. For my own PhD work, this means that I now feel even stronger about bringing people from different areas together and to create a safe, inclusive and open space together, so that synergies and a mingling of ideas can happen. When we first discussed doing this workshop, we were worried – perhaps even slightly apprehensive – about the experimental and open nature we wanted to implement. Most workshops we have attended in research or academic settings tend to be very directed, expert-led and focused on clearly defined goals or outcomes. In most of these workshops, we also bring ourselves in as a researcher or expert – a very different version of ourselves than in private. In a way, our workshop asked for a researcher perspective, but also a very private and personal one. Bringing an authentic version of yourself into an unknown space is difficult and a slightly scary undertaking – especially if you feel strongly about the concepts that are being discussed. Space, place and identity can become very personal very soon, especially since they are ideas and factors that everybody has experienced. Bringing lived experienced into a group requires a collective understanding of what it means to open up and how to approach it respectfully, without letting ideas go unchallenged. Now, having conducted this workshop, I am excited about exploring a variety of facilitation, openness and outlines with space/place/identity and in my own studies – especially how to do the whole process justice.
Harriet: In conclusion, hosting this workshop as part of a series of Digital Economy Network summer school activities was a fantastic opportunity to share and develop expertise and ideas, with a host of others who all brought their own invaluable perspectives to the workshop. On a personal note, it was also a much-appreciated plunge into facilitation and public speaking, in a way where I was able to practice those valuable skills, in a space with other researchers at similar points in their academic journey, whilst also facilitating and encouraging them to do the same.
Velvet: After a personal reflection and getting feedback, we aim to turn “Space/Place/identity” into a series of activities, with other workshops and get-togethers to exchange knowledge, but also to hold space for each other to be. How that’s going to look like in future? We are not entirely sure yet, but this workshop has laid out the groundwork for sure. We aim to facilitate it in an unconventional, experimental way that allows for a non-hierarchal way of organising ourselves. Maybe we are going back to web rings, individual HTML webpages – maybe we are going to use peer-seeded automated networks. Whatever shape it might take, we are excited to work on it collectively!
Finally, we want to shout out to Felicia Black and Monica Cano, whose patience and perseverance made this workshop not only possible, but a success. Thank you, Felicia and Monica!
Post by Luke Skarth-Hayley (2018 Cohort)
What is an academic workshop? As someone coming from ten years in industry I was not sure. I’ve since attended several, and have now led one, which I talk about here. I hope this blog sheds light on what a workshop is, what happens, and how it is useful. I led the workshop with my fellow Horizon students Velvet Spors, Harriet “Alfie” Cameron, and Hanne Wagner.
A workshop is an opportunity to discuss work in progress. It is a chance to engage with researchers who share an interest in the topic. It is also a space to test out aspects of your research. Or you can share a useful skill or working practice that might benefit other researchers. Sharing knowledge and collaborating with other researchers is the best way to think about it.
The four of us delivering the workshop shared some themes in our research. We positioned it as an opportunity to communicate these themes and our ideas within them. We are keen to find potential collaborators, and to build a community around the themes. In the long-term we would like to share works and outcomes via a collaborative virtual space.
The workshop was for a full day and consisted of a series of activities based around three key themes. These themes were Space, Place and Identity. We sought to examine their use in digital and interdisciplinary research.
My initial understanding of Space, Place and Identity were as follows:
Velvet, Alfie and Hanne are more capable of explaining the subtleties of these interrelated concepts. Their parts of the workshop sought to explain and investigate them and related theory further. It was great to watch the interdisciplinary group who joined us discuss and unpick competing definitions.
Velvet introduced the structure of the workshop, setting out the key themes and purposes. They also introduced several icebreaker activities to define the themes. I sat with a group that included an architect, an engineer, a humanist sociologist and a human computer interaction specialist.
For the engineer and architect, space is a bounded subsection of a physical region, with places being the physical buildings and rooms. The humanist sociologist defined space as conceptual, and as specific spaces that contain identities. For example the space of the university contains student and academic identities. This shows that different disciplines have different understandings of the same words. There is always much work to do in reconciling these differences to enable interdisciplinary research.
Alfie provided knowledge of human geography and delivered a session where we had to draw a map of a route we regularly took. This showed how different people conceive of the spaces and places they inhabit and move through. Hanne collated the work that took place in the workshop, summarised it, and presented the group’s call to action and intentions for future work.
I provided a brief introduction to various mainstream, emerging and alternative technologies. I then showed how they served as bases for digital space and identity. This led to discussions of the problems and opportunities in these technologies, and how our research examines or is affected by them. As an example: the dominant paradigm of internet services, such as Facebook, follow the client-server model. The client-server model has many client devices connect to one server. The server becomes a “single source of truth”. There are implicit biases in the client-server model. These may then inform identities and spaces on platforms using it.
I then got people to play space and identity-oriented computer games. My PhD research is into game engines for future media with BBC R&D. The workshop was a useful opportunity to get people to engage with some unusual “games”. Specifically, narrative-focused experiences and those without obvious objectives. It was enlightening to see how people responded. It became clear that computer games need technical, practical, and cultural knowledge. Not everyone has this knowledge, or the means to access it. There are also assumptions in interactivity and the term “game”. Some participants found experiences that lacked clear or meaningful agency confusing.
There was discussion around the value of such experiences as compared to games that are more objective-oriented. There was also comparison to other visual media such as television and film with non-interactive narratives. One experience called Flotsam – playable here: https://candle.itch.io/flotsam – gave two people wildly different experiences. One person’s decisions led to an inspiring phrase that resonated with their research. Another’s led to their being trapped in a place the game warned them against. This led to much discussion, particularly given the two-dimensional and limited colour palette of the game. These limitations required more interpretive “work” compared to “realistic” games, yet somehow gave a more meaningful experience.
I found the workshop useful on several levels. In practical terms, I have improved my communication, presentation and collaboration skills. The workshop enabled me to engage with varied perspectives. It also allowed me to better understand others’ areas of expertise. Preparing and delivering my part, and the discussions within the whole workshop, gave me much needed clarity in what my priorities are. It is valuable to intensely investigate an aspect of one’s research. This helps to understand what really matters to you, inspires you, and where best to focus your research efforts to make full use of your skills.
Finally, huge thanks to Felicia Black and the Digital Economy Network for supporting our workshop. We are grateful for all the help in making the day run smoothly!