People of ACM - Yvonne Rogers

February 13, 2018

Why is this an exciting time to be working at the intersection of ubiquitous computing and human-computer interaction?

It is always an exciting time to be working in human-computer interaction, especially when a technology is introduced that offers new possibilities for augmenting what humans can do. A focus of my work has been to find ways to harness diverse new technologies in order to make learning exciting.  My goal is to encourage children and adults to experiment, discover and explore, whether it is outside on a field trip or at home or in a classroom setting.

The arrival of ubiquitous computing in the late 1990s (mobile devices, sensors, physical computing and data collection tools), was a game-changing development because it offered a whole new way of designing learning experiences in the wild.  We were able to create many new kinds of interactivity. The outcome has been to push the envelope of what is possible. Many of my projects, from the early Ambient Wood, to more recent ones, such as Magic Cubes, have demonstrated how adopting this approach can encourage people from all walks of life to become truly curious about the world, whether through coding, problem-solving, creating new inventions or explaining their ideas.

What is an intriguing application (or potential application) of the Internet of Things to urban settings that hasn’t received enough attention?

I think the most intriguing ones are those that can sense and present aspects of a place in informative and surprising ways—for example, technologies that show how a public place, such as a park or a shopping mall, is actually being experienced and ”lived in.” IoT applications can be put in place to detect all manner of things, such as where tourists go and what they do in a city; how many pints of water or ice cream are consumed each day; what is the most popular type of vegetable being eaten; how much different plants have grown in the last week in different parts of the city; and so on. We could also bring museum displays alive by visualizing real-time data collected in the vicinity about how many bats, foxes, cats, cars, bikes, etc. visit a particular locale each night and what their activities are. Perhaps we could also analyze how much time people spend at each museum exhibit, how many sandwiches are eaten in the canteen, what are the most popular sandwiches, and so on.

I am currently working with clinicians at the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, where we are conjuring up ways of making all sorts of newly-available data visible to the patients and staff. This might include how many pints of blood are used each day, how many people have a particular type of operation, illness, etc., or whatever data the staff or patients suggest might be useful to collect. The data is anonymized to protect each patient’s privacy. These kinds of applications of IoT are intriguing because they provide real-time aggregated data that is normally invisible to us, and can make us stop and wonder about the beauty and enormity of life, rather than always focusing always on new business opportunities—which much of IoT has done so far.

You have written about designing technologies that foster collaboration among students. Why is collaborative interaction an important goal in education and society? What are some promising approaches in this area?

Organizations and companies are made up of teams who work together to innovate, educate and solve problems. Students need to learn the art of collaboration and conversation to be able to fit in and excel at team and group work.  Sharing, taking turns, empathizing, giving up on one’s pet idea in favor of another person’s, and so on, are key skills. How can technology help in this process? While there are many online technologies available that can support people interacting remotely (Twitter, Slack and messaging, Google docs, telepresence), there are far fewer that have been developed to enable people to work together in co-located settings.

One strand of my research has been to investigate how to design novel technologies that can facilitate face-to-face collaboration. We have built a diversity of technologies and apps that are intended to facilitate—and sometimes force—people to collaborate, using multi-touch surfaces, tangible interfaces and yoked mobile devices. Our findings have shown that a wide variety of users—including the very young, families, high school students, those who have learning difficulties, and the elderly—learn and enjoy interacting through these interfaces. They enable them to mediate their observations of each other, facilitate an offer or request for help, and encourage creative and caring group work. Sometimes, users can get impatient waiting for their turn, but acquiring patience is also an important lesson.

Another approach has been to design technologies that try to bring the best out in human nature. For example, there are a number of websites that encourage pro-social behavior, such as connecting a community of runners to visit isolated people while on their runs. It is a win-win situation that enables them to get fit while also meeting other people who cannot go out or run themselves.

Interaction Design, the textbook you co-authored, has sold over 200,000 copies and been translated into four languages. How does the fourth edition of the book differ from the first edition?

The first edition of our textbook was published in 2002. We spent a lot of time deciding what to include to make it an introductory course that would appeal to a range of students from different backgrounds. As would be expected, we covered the basics in the field—theory, design principles, methods and practice—and illustrated them with case studies and up-to-date examples. But what made it stand apart from the competition at the time, and led to it becoming an international best seller, was how we transformed the text into material that was student-friendly, aesthetic, informative, intriguing, and pedagogically sound. We also added a human touch to the book by including a number of insightful interviews from key luminaries in the field, who talked about their work and gave advice to students. To engage students further, we included dilemmas for them to tackle that were at the forefront of HCI research, such as the role of anthropomorphism in interface design. Finally, we seasoned the text with a touch of humor, by way of cartoons.

The accompanying website to the first edition provided supplementary free materials, such as an exercise in designing a user interface for a cell phone. A students' corner enabled students from around the world to talk to one other, answer pop quizzes and enter design competitions. To keep the book (and website) fresh and up-to-date, in subsequent editions, we replaced some chapters and content to reflect the rapid changes in the field.

We made the fourth edition available as an e-book, and are now discussing what to include in the fifth edition, which we are planning to publish sometime next year or in 2020. Once again, we are thinking about how students learn best in the online world, where paper textbooks are increasingly being replaced with e-textbooks.

Yvonne Rogers is Professor of Interaction Design and Director of the Interaction Centre at University College London. Her research interests include ubiquitous computing, interaction design, and human-computer interaction. Recently, she has researched and written about Internet of Things (IoT) applications in urban settings.

Rogers has authored or co-authored more than 300 publications, including articles in journals, proceedings from conferences, and books. In 2017, she was named an ACM Fellow for contributions to human-computer interaction and the design of human-centered technology. Rogers was also elected as a Fellow in 2012 by the British Computer Society and the ACM CHI Academy.