ASSETS 2016 Slides & Paper on Appropriating Minecraft for Youth with Autism

Earlier I posted a blog summarizing my findings from my ASSETS 2016 paper. I’m happy to report the slides from my talk can be found in pdf form, as well as here as a slide show. I hope to have a more accessible YouTube version of my talk soon.

ACM is allowing free downloads of the official version of the paper for a year. So go ahead and download that now!

Kathryn E. Ringland, Christine T. Wolf, LouAnne E. Boyd, Mark Baldwin, and Gillian R. Hayes. 2016. Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism. In ASSETS 2016. [PDF]

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CHI 2016 Paper on Sociality in Minecraft Getting Some Great Press!

I was recently interviewed by a reporter from the New Scientist who wrote a piece on our paper, “Will I always be not social?”: Re-Conceptualizing Sociality in the Context of a Minecraft Community for Autism, that I will be presenting on May 9 for CHI 2016.

We were also covered by “Don’t Hate the Geek” in their article Minecraft Server for Autistic Gamers on May 2, 2016!

Want to find out more? Please see our full paper that has been accepted to CHI 2016. Full citation and link to the pdf below:

Ringland, K.E., Wolf, C.T., Faucett, H., Dombrowski, L., and Hayes, G.R. “’Will I always not be social?’: Re-Conceptualizing Sociality in the Context of a Minecraft Community for Autism”. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM (2016). To Appear. [Acceptance Rate: 23.4%]

POST LAST UPDATED: May 2, 2016.

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Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 4

So, I’ve finally found time to write my last day of CHI entries. I was sad to see CHI be over, but on the other hand, four days of solid conference is a lot of conference.

I first attended Vint Cerf‘s talk in the morning (he was one of the inventors of the internet). I thought the whole talk was interesting. He discussed how everything is now going on the internet and it’s important that standards be created so everything can talk to each and talk to the aliens when they come to visit from outer space.  The best part of his talk, however, was when he ended the first part of his talk and launched into the necessities of accessibility. Now this just happens to be my area of interest. And apparently, not enough people are interested, unfortunately.

Vint Cerf talks about Computer Conversations
Vint Cerf talks about Computer Conversations
Star Trek and Ubiquitous Computing, Talking to a Mouse
Star Trek and Ubiquitous Computing, Talking to a Mouse
Vint Cerf at the Podium
Vint Cerf at the Podium
Slide on Accessibility
Slide on Accessibility

I then went the session on Autism. I enjoyed listening to all the papers presented. The first (Why Do They Still Use Paper? Understanding Data Collection and Use in Autism Education by Marcu et al.) covered why teachers and caretakers in schools were still using paper to keep track of all the student records. Basically it comes down to: there is no really good software solution yet for schools. The second paper (TOBY: Early Intervention in Autism through Technology by Venkatesh et al.) was about the Toby Play Pad, which is an app that is meant as an early intervention tool when parents find out their child is autistic. It targets four developmental areas: sensory, imitation, language (receptive and expressive), and social (eye gaze, joint attention). The third paper (Evaluation of Tablet Apps to Encourage Social Interaction in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Hourcade et al.) was on a method to evaluate tablet apps for encouraging social interaction. The fourth paper (Investigating the Use of Circles in Social Networks to Support Independence of Individuals with Autism by Hong et al.) was about social media and using social networks to support youth with autism. This helps shift the burden off over-reliance on the primary caregiver and spreads it around to other people in the youth’s social circles.

In the afternoon, I also attended a panel with Vint Cerf discussing accessibility and what’s currently being done. It’s nice to know some big names in computing are concerned about this and maybe it will get more attention this way.

Finally, here is a slide show of the rest of Paris, in case I don’t get around to a post about that part of my trip:

Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 2

Today was day 2 of CHI for me. It was a long, but wonderful day. I started by attending the CHI Women’s Breakfast. The food was very good and we got some very cool swag from Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. I met a table full of very interesting people including Bonnie John and Arnie Lund. While I was not very happy with the logistics of the breakfast (the organizers tried to direct our conversation, which ended up just making the conversation more stilted and less about what I would have liked to talk about). We still ended up running over into the first morning session.

During the first break I was supposed to talk to people about my poster. Unfortunately, my poster did not get put up after the judging session. I am sad to know I will probably not get it back because a lot of hard work was put into that poster and I was hoping to hold onto it.

My favorite paper for the morning was Analyzing User-Generated YouTube Videos to Understand Touchscreen Use by People with Motor Impairments by Lisa Anthony et al. This was another study that looked at a specific set of videos found by searching on YouTube. I learned about how valuable user generated content on the internet can be as a source of information about a group of people.

Then I went to lunch with my UMBC family. It is really nice to be able to spend time with some people here that are friendly, familiar faces. CHI is so large that it can be quite overwhelming at times. After lunch, I spent some time with Amy and Lisa. They both gave me a lot of really excellent advice about my upcoming transition to grad school. It was nice to get some insight into my journey ahead and also to know that there are safe people I can turn to for advice if I need it. It’s these connections to a support network that will ultimately be the most important thing I foster as a grad student, I think.

In the afternoon session, I especially liked the paper entitled Technology Preferences and Routines for Sharing Health Information during the Treatment of Chronic Illness by Carolyn Pang et al. This was a study of how families with an individual with chronic illness uses different technologies to connect with each other for comfort. This was probably one of my top favorite papers thus far, it’s up there with the Motherhood paper from yesterday.

I then spent about five minutes at the hospitality reception at the convention center. It was way too crowded with not enough to drink, eat, and do. I met up with a bunch of people later to attend the joint UW, U of Michigan, and Georgia Tech party. I met a couple of people that I was happy to meet. Otherwise it was another loud, crowded place with not enough to drink and eat.

I’m happy for all the connections I am making here at the conferences. I feel like I can start this summer of research at UCI strong now. But first! Two more days of CHI!!

Daily Log: CHI2013 Day 1

Woke up at 7 this morning in order to give myself plenty of time to get ready and head to the convention center before the morning keynote. The weather turned really nice today so it was a very nice walk to the convention center from our hotel. It takes about 15 minutes if I walk a little briskly.
The keynote speaker was Paola Antonella from the MOMA. Her talk was about design- what is it and how people perceive it. People often mix up design with art, but they really aren’t the same thing at all. She talked about how design is about the interaction, how people interact with objects and their environment. She explained her video game installment. She maintains that these video games are one way users interact with their world, often times intertwining the physical with the virtual. To me, it now makes sense why Dwarf Fortress would be the perfect sort of interactive object for her installment. I really enjoyed her talk and it made me think a little differently about how I personally view the things I’m interacting with and how I would like to approach design in the future.
CHI 2013 Dwarf Fortress
CHI 2013 Dwarf Fortress
I then went to the Enhancing Access session. My two favorite papers from the session were Older Adults as Digital Content Producers by Jenny Waycott et al and Health Vlogger- Viewer Interaction in Chronic Illness Management by Leslie Liu et al. The first was interesting because it looked at how older adults can be users and creators of digital content and how that interaction played out amongst themselves. The second showed what vloggers on youtube have done when suffering from chronic illness. The vlogging actually acted as a wider support network for the person suffering from the illness and actually gave them a sense of purpose and comfort by educating viewers on their illness (like showing people they are still a human being even though they are HIV positive or demonstrating how chemo works). I connected with this paper because I have found blogging and making videos therapeutic in my own life.
Then I had lunch from the grocery store at the lower level of the conference center. I just sat on a step and watched people go by for an hour (and there were plenty of them). It was quite refreshing.
I then went to Technologies for Life 1 in the afternoon. Overall, I think I enjoyed this session more than the more session. I don’t know if I was just more awake or if the speakers were just more engaging, or I liked the topics more- or all three. I think my favorite paper was called Digital Motherhood: How does technology help new mothers? by Larna Gibson and Vicki Hanson. This was a study on how new mothers use technology, such as smart phones and the internet, to stay connected to the outside world. As I know a lot of people who have recently had kids I have personally witnessed this phenomenon. I liked the way the study was conducted- the researcher had just had a child so she was already attending “mommy and me” groups. She basically did an anthropological survey and recorded relevant information as it surfaced during conversations. She then later interviewed a select few of the mothers for a more in-depth follow up. The note Access Lens: A Gesture-Based Screen Reader for Real-World Documents by Shaun Kane et all was also really cool. The technology used was a camera that could help a visually impaired user find their way around a paper map, for instance.
I then attended the Student Research Competition judging session. It was a complete mess from an administrative standpoint. The room was too small and there was no where to hang our posters. Students had to alternate holding posters when it was not their turn to talk. Because of the time crunch, the judges had to split into two groups, which meant we had to present our poster twice, once for each set of judges. And the groups went at the same time, so the room was completely silent except for two people talking about their posters at once. Then it was timed, so we had exactly one minute to speak and then 1.5 minutes for questions. The timer would yell “STOP!” really loud at each interval. It was all very nerve-wracking. I think my talk went okay, but I probably could have prepared more. Anyway, I did not win, so I will not have to give a presentation on Wednesday. I still am giving my poster presentation to the public during the first break tomorrow, but then after that I can relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.
I ended my evening with dinner at Oresto just down the street from the conference center. It was my very first Abowd family meeting. I was even presented to the group as the newest family member (second generation apparently). It was really nice. Everyone seems super great and I’m really happy to have such a supportive group of people around me.
A street on my walk back to my hotel in the evening.
A street on my walk back to my hotel in the evening.
Now it is late and I have another long, full day ahead of me tomorrow!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 2

Did you miss Part 1?

Summer 2012: DREU Internship, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

I won’t go into all the great details of my life during this summer internship. Most of it can be found other places on this blog already. The highlights I will mention are: after working at UMBC I began to realize that going to grad school could really happen and that I might actually enjoy it, Amy and others at the school really mentored me and helped me get a deeper understanding of the whole process of grad school applications, and I started actually writing my grad school application material.

Having this internship gave me a perspective into what grad school could be like. I can’t imagine applying to grad school without knowing that experience and knowing whether or not it was something I could handle/enjoy. I was also able to talk with Amy about potential schools and make a list of schools I would consider applying to in the fall. It was the mentorship and guidance that I really appreciated. Just being able to talk to someone who knew the field and could give solid feedback about my ideas was great.

I also got to do some really cool research and see other people working on some equally awesome stuff. I got the chance to write a paper (which I later submitted, more on that later) and present a poster at the end of summer festival. I was even selected to present my work to the entire festival, which was a huge learning experience. I had to put the power point together (make a video for it!), write the presentation, and then speak to a room with at least 100 people in it. It felt like every step I had taken that summer was a new one, going deeper into a mysterious cave of wonder or something.

August 2012: Home Again (And Time To Get To It!)

By the time I had come home and started back at school for my senior year, I had already completed my list of schools I was going to apply to, started a rough draft of my statement of purpose, and signed up (and taken the week before classes started) for the GREs.

It was at this point I made one of my bigger mistakes. I really should have asked for more help. It’s hard when you’re at a small university and very few people truly understand why you would even want to apply to a PhD program. As has been a consistent theme for me, I felt isolated and, therefore, isolated myself. I could have reached out to more mentors (at home and at UMBC), but I decided to go it alone. This was especially difficult to write and edit my statement of purpose(s) and the essay for the NSF GRFP.

I sorted out my references as soon as classes began. I committed one of those faux pas where I only had three letter writers. Fortunately, they all pulled through and I didn’t to materialize another letter writer at the last minute. I used two professors from my home institution that I had worked with on research and with my ACM-W Chapter. My third reference was my mentor from UMBC.

September 2012: Keeping it All Straight

I think the hardest thing from September on was keeping everything organized. I had to keep track of all the materials I was submitting to each institution. It felt like every single one had different essay requirements (not to mention all the other requirements!). Some wanted multiple essays, others wanted just one. And the length was different for each as well. Some only wanted 500 words or less, while others were 2000 words. There was no real way to write just one essay and tweak it for each. I had to write fresh essays for almost every university I was applying to.

Next week: lots of traveling and the submissions in Part 3!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 1

This blog is probably one that would have been better written in the moment rather than as a retrospective, but as you will see from the timeline I was too overwhelmed with everything else going on to think about writing a blog.

When I was looking to apply to grad school I scoured the internet for information from other grad students and professors looking for anything that would give me the best possible chance at a) knowing if this grad school thing was what I wanted to do and b) giving me the best possible chance of getting into the grad school that was going to be best for me. Now that I’m on the other side of the application process and I’m feeling great about the outcome, I thought I would attempt to share my experience for the next generation of applicants looking for more information.

DISCLAIMER: This is a completely personal experience and should in no way be treated as a how-to guide. Everyone is going to be different, coming from a variety of backgrounds and going into a multitude of different fields of study. Please don’t read this as the perfect way to get into the grad school of your choice; I’m sure there are much easier ways of doing it.

I think the best way to do this is write this out as a timeline of events, with links and info about each of the events. If this gets to be too long, I’ll break this into multiple parts and if something needs more attention than everything else, I’ll break that into its own blog article.

October 2011: Grace Hopper 2011

I went to Grace Hopper in Portland, OR as a student volunteer. It was the first time I got a real good look at what someone could really do with a computer science background. I met a lot of students who were in grad school working towards their PhD. I heard about some cool research being done that I learned was in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Up until this point, I thought a computer science degree was good for getting a job at a software company writing code. The seed of the idea of grad school is planted.

January 2012: Industry Job Interviews

Between Grace Hopper and early 2012, I subjected myself to several really uncomfortable industry interviews. Let’s just say coding on the fly, in a high pressure situation and recalling complex algorithms and data structure optimization is *not* my strongest skill. It’s at this point I really start to question what I am doing and why I am trying to push myself into something that clearly isn’t working out.

February 2012: DREU Internship Application

At the very last minute, I decided to apply to the CRA-W’s DREU internship. It’s also around this time that I started working with a professor at my campus on his smart grid research. He had asked for volunteers, so I decided that it was worth the experience.

It was also around this time I decided that I wanted to pursue a career more in the area of HCI. I was taking the elective “Intro to HCI” offered by my school (which turns out was that great of an intro) and thought my interdisciplinary studies in Psychology and Computer Science were a good fit for this area. I applied for a scholarship to attend CHI 2012 in Austin, TX through the ACM-W.

March 2012: DREU Acceptance and Matching Results

At the beginning of March I received an email saying that I had been accepted to the DREU program for the summer. I was really excited and very worried at the same time. I hadn’t done any extensive traveling and never really on my own. They said they would email me soon with my matched mentor and the location I would be traveling to for the summer. I looked at all the past mentors and their universities. Where would I be living that summer? Who would I have to work with? The only things I had heard from friends that had completed REUs was how awful it was. The mentors just give you some project and are too busy to actually mentor you. The projects aren’t of much consequence or the results end up being something you can’t get a publishable paper out of… I started wondering if I had done the right thing.

I was up all night worrying I would be shipped off to some strange place I couldn’t survive and have a mentor I wouldn’t be able to work with. However, I was not in agony long. It was at school the next day when I got my match-up. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read plenty about my DREU internship on my blog space. Dr. Amy Hurst was the best mentor a person could ask for. She was exactly what I needed at a time when I didn’t even know what I needed or what I was doing with my life.

April 2012: CHI 2012 in Austin, TX

My first real research conference was CHI. Talk about amazingly overwhelming. It’s a lot of people. And I had never been to Texas before. And it was my first time on a plane in years. I really enjoyed it, nonetheless. I think my overall impression was excitement that so many people from so many different places were all passionate about the same thing. There were more computer-oriented people and there were more psychology-oriented people, but they all meshed together to make something pretty exhilarating.

People ask me what my favorite talk was and I don’t even remember. I think if I went back to the program notes and see what I went to, I would probably recall. I have learned a lot since I was there though. How to go to conferences and pick what talks you want to see is an important skill.

CHI is also where I met Dr. Amy Hurst for the first time and some of her students. All in all, it was a good first experience into a world I was soon to submerge myself in.

The saga continues next time in PART 2…

Nerdy is the New Cool

Spring semester has begun. The readings have been assigned and the first homework assignments have been passed out. I am now counting down the days until my first (*squee*) ACM-W planning meeting on campus. It’s five days, in case you’re wondering. I thought I would find the task of being our campus’s first ACM-W Chapter President daunting, but instead I am so excited I might pee my pants. Well, I hope I don’t pee my pants, that would make for a very awkward first meeting. And really, this is just the preliminary brainstorming session to see how we are going to make this chapter work for the campus and for the girls of the Engineering and Computer Science Department.

A little bit of back story: The ACM is the Association of Computing Machinery. It’s the big organization that does all things computer science related. It releases all sorts of journals with research from the various disciplines and holds conferences and so forth. ACM-W is the branch of the ACM devoted specifically to women. Yes, we get our own branch- mostly because there is such an under-abundance of us in the field. I decided back in October that I really want to start a chapter of the ACM-W at our campus to help promote more women entering the computer science program. Even more than that, I wanted to have a group to help the women that were already in the computer science not only stay in the program, but get out of the degree everything they want (i.e. learning about the various disciplines, being able to talk about the kind of careers available, getting internships, etc.). After attending the Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing 2011, my friend and I decided we were going to make this group a reality.

Just in the wake of me sending out the Facebook group invites and the emails confirming our first meeting time, this article in The Guardian came out. There is a growing crisis in the ratio of men to women in the tech industry. According to their article, only 148 girls took the computing A-levels out of 2,271 students. That’s 6.5% girls taking the examination to be able to study computing at the college level. That’s not a good number. Instead of improving, these numbers seem to be getting worse. Even in the United States, the numbers are pretty dismal. From personal experience I can say that I am the only woman in a class of 22 students taking Systems Programming, which is the prerequisite class for all the senior year courses. That means if I have any hope of working with other girls in my senior level classes next year, they will be transfer students. And what are the odds of someone transferring in for just their senior year courses?

The Guardian article links to another interesting article from the BBC Magazine from 2010 about Computer Engineer Barbie. There is no way that this Barbie doll has anything to do with the reality of being a computer engineer. I don’t know if the doll does more harm than good by portraying such a bizarrely feminine tech freak. Beyond all the obvious flaws with the doll, I take issue with the fact that for a girl to be a computer scientist that it is all about appearance. I believe a woman can dress however she feels comfortable (and if you’re at your desk coding all day, you’re going to want to be comfortable). The important part to being a woman in computer science is you have to have passion. You have to enjoy technology, learning new things, figuring out puzzles, creating the stuff that other people will want to play for hours on end, making the world a better place for everyone. It’s all about pushing boundaries and seeing how far you can get a program to take you. With that passion, you will be an excellent computer scientist, no matter your gender. Do we get that message from a doll like Computer Engineer Barbie? No, not especially. Is there a good way to have a doll transmit that message? Maybe.  I’ll admit, we’ve come a long way from 1992’s “Math is tough” Barbie.

I think it’s high time for society to send a new message to the young girls. It’s okay to be passionate AND have fun doing math and science. Nerdy is the new cool. Unfortunately, I’m not a great singer, so I’ll have to figure out another way to get that message out there beside to my readers on this blog.  As soon as I do, I’ll be doing it. I want the daughters of tomorrow to grow up thinking that the best job in the world would be to have the job their moms have- computer scientist.

Happy Times at Grace Hopper 2011

This year, November 9th through 11th, I went to my first technical convention. The Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing is not your typical convention, however. It is plugged as primarily for women attendees (men were, of course, welcome but it turns out very few elected to come). It is held in a different city in the United States every fall and I was lucky enough to have it come near me this year, Portland, Oregon. Not only that, but as a student, I was selected through lottery to become a Hopper, which is a student volunteer at the convention. This meant that in exchange for a few hours of my time during the weekend I would receive a refund on my entrance fee. Not an insignificant amount of money. Even though it was in the middle of my school semester, all my professors made allowances for me to go and my computer science professor was particularly enthusiastic that all the women in his class attend.

I knew all this was going to be a huge opportunity for me to grow as a woman in technology and as a person in general. I didn’t fully realize how much of an effect it was going to have on me until I was a part of it.

I arrived at my hotel the evening before the convention opened. I had to be at the convention center before 7 am in order to get debriefed on my Hopper shifts. I wanted to get to my hotel with plenty of time to walk around and time how long it would take me to get to various places, but I ended up packing and repacking so many times that we didn’t get there until 8:30 at night. Now, bear in mind, that my house is a 30 minute drive to the hotel room. I was packing out of sheer nervousness and excitement for the weekend. Had I forgotten something (which I invariably always do) I knew I could just run home and get it, but that didn’t matter. It was the act of getting ready for the trip that made the whole thing seem more real for me. I spent so much time in the weeks preceding thinking and talking about how wonderful and fun the convention was going to be that I had really worked up into this glorious thing, the night before I was worrying my expectations were too high.

Anita Borg Institute Throws Grace Hopper Celebration 2011.

I hadn’t. I got there early the first day to go to my shift debriefing, as I mentioned. The place was very quiet, there were only a few early birds like me. I didn’t have to wait in line to pick up my goodie bag and badge. Having never been to a conference or convention like this before, I had no idea how much free loot I was going to get. The crazy amount of swag was impressive. My only comment to the companies out there would be: 4 different compact mirrors? Really? That’s what webcams are for. Someone is CLEARLY not in touch with today’s technical woman. I would have been much happier with cute flash drives.

Lots of Goodies From the Conference!

On the plus side, Google and Microsoft both had very nice t-shirts (women’s cut ++) that I actually feel sexy in. There is something about Microsoft’s red “Geek Girl” shirt that makes me feel really good. Also, Microsoft wins again by giving out air plants at their booth instead of more plastic crap, thereby showing they have a vested interest in reducing their carbon footprint. I’d say they get the overall prize for best free stuff ever.

One of my first thoughts as I wandered the halls locating the essentials (coffee stands, food carts, escape routes, and bathrooms) was, “The lines for the bathrooms are going to be ENORMOUS. What a pain.” Well, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had that thought because almost every single men’s room door had this taped on them:

Men's Rooms were all converted to Women's except for one.

Glorious. In his speech about how important diversity is to the future of technology and encouraging women to join the technological field could only be a good thing, President of the ACM, Alain Chesnais said that he finally understood what it was to be in the minority because he had to walk halfway across the convention center just to go to the bathroom.

Overall, there was an energy about the conference and a camaraderie that I have not really felt before. The closest I think I’ve ever come to it is at PAX (when I had the good fortune of going a few years ago.) There were about 2600 women in attendance at Grace Hopper and they were all there to help each other out and give the kind of support that is hard to get in a male dominated classroom or workplace.

I learned a lot from everyone I interacted with and a motivation to excel in my field was rooted in me that I didn’t know existed. I came home from the conference with a desire to pursue my dreams of making my own computer games and starting an ACM-W chapter at my school. I want to share this support and courage that I gained from the women at the convention with all the women in my department that didn’t have the good fortune of attending. I guess you could say I want to pass it on or pay it forward.

Most importantly, I want to keep going because I’m not just doing it for myself but all the women who will come after me, who perhaps just need a little more encouragement to get there.

Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing 2012 is being held in Baltimore, Maryland next year. I’m already brainstorming ways that I am going to get there. This year’s convention was that good.