ASSETS 2016 Best Paper Award

I’m excited to announce we received the ASSETS 2016 Best Paper Award for our work on Autcraft. I presented this work this past week. You can find the slides here.

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]

Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism

Preview: Those with disabilities have long adopted, adapted, and appropriated collaborative systems to serve as assistive devices. In a Minecraft virtual world for children with autism, community members use do-it-yourself (DIY) making activities to transform Minecraft into a variety of assistive technologies. Our results demonstrate how players and administrators “mod” the Minecraft system to support self-regulation and community engagement.

A Minecraft garden room with pink flowers and a grassy path.
A calming, quiet garden in Minecraft.

“Need a place to calm down? Quiet? Peaceful? Choose a Calm Room to visit here. In these rooms [t]here is no chat. It’s a place to relax. Visit any time.”

If a child finds face-to-face conversations challenging and feels isolated from their peers at school, where can they go to make friends? How can people use currently existing systems to help those with disabilities, including children with autism? We studied how one online community, Autcraft, through a variety of social media platforms, augments and extends current platforms and transforms them into assistive technology for children with autism.

Autcraft is a Minecraft community for children with autism and their allies run by parent volunteers. The goal of the Autcraft community is to have a safe space for children with autism to play Minecraft free from harassment and bullying (for more information visit the Autcraft website). As part of our study, I have been conducting an on-going ethnography within the community (see our paper for details). This study included analysis of activity within the Minecraft server, forums, website, Twitter, Facebook group, YouTube, and Twitch.

Our analysis demonstrates how players and administrators “mod” the Minecraft system to support self-regulation and community engagement. This work highlights the ways in which we, as researchers concerned with accessible and equitable computing spaces, might reevaluate the scope of our inquiry, and how designers might encourage and support appropriation, enhancing users’ experience and long-term adoption.

Autcraft community members have modified Minecraft to do the following to help players internally regulate themselves and externally manage their engagement with others:

  • Self-Regulation. Community members use Minecraft in a variety of ways to self-regulate, including both sensory regulation and mood regulation. Dealing with sensory overload can be a difficult experience for anyone with autism, particularly for children and adolescents who are still learning coping skills. Members of the Autcraft community have created spaces within the virtual world and the other platforms to help even the youngest members learn to deal with these sensory needs. Additionally, to help regulate mood, members are able to put into words their emotional experiences, safely share and vent their feelings with others, on the forums and through in-game chat. They can do this in Autcraft without the fear of reprisal from bullies or trolls—which is something they may fear in other online spaces. While this type of behavior may not be unique to Autcraft, the ability to vent in this safe space is possibly unique for the community members personally. They may have communication challenges in their physical environments that limit their abilities to express their feelings fully.
  • Interacting with Others. Members of the Autcraft community have appropriated the entire ecosystem of technologies surrounding Autcraft to support interfacing and engaging with others. These efforts support engagement with both the internal community and across community boundaries by supporting sociality explicitly. One mod, teleportation, enables players to jump from one place to another in the Autcraft virtual world nearly instantly. This mod, which can be found on a variety of Minecraft servers, creates a “safer” virtual world experience and to support socialization among community members. Teleportation is available through various waypoints within the Autcraft Spawn area as well as through the text chat window. This teleportation functionality not only enables these quick avatar interactions, but also gives community members an ability that they do not have in the physical world. This helps support empowering these young community members to engage in socialization with their friends, when and where they choose.

Individual players appropriate the Autcraft virtual world to suit their own needs, shaping their virtual environment, embodied experience, and, in time, influencing the overall experience for everyone in Autcraft. As the children worked within the confines of the virtual world to make their environment more usable by appropriating with what was available, administrators are able to then iterate on these appropriated instances to re-appropriate the software itself. Thus, administrators, following the cues of the children within the virtual world, are able to instantiate these appropriations and make them available to everyone on Autcraft.

As a group, children with autism are doubly disempowered: both as children and as people living with disabilities. Here, however, we see how this kind of technological openness allows them to customize and create their own play spaces, a type of autonomy that is inherently empowering. This work explores how designers and researchers can learn by observing how even the youngest of users augment and appropriate mainstream technology to become assistive in their daily lives. This work highlights the ways in which researchers concerned with accessible and equitable computing spaces might reevaluate their scope of inquiry and how designers might encourage and support appropriation, enhancing the individualized experience and long-term adoption of assistive devices and systems. The appropriations we observed in Autcraft point to a future model where child-initiated modifications can guide research and design, providing greater access for disempowered communities.

For more details about our methods and findings, please see our full paper that has been accepted to ASSETS 2016 (to appear in October 2016). Full citation and link to the pdf below:

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]

ResearcherKateAcknowledgements: We thank the members of Autcraft for the warm welcome into their community. We also thank members of LUCI and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this paper, and Robert and Barbara Kleist for their support. This work is covered by human subjects protocol #2014-1079 at the University of California, Irvine.

Related Posts:

Making in Minecraft: A Means of Self-Expression for Youth with Autism

Preview: Maker culture values fabrication and production in both the digital and physical realms as well as the sharing of ...
Read More

PDF of Analog Games Paper

Here is the pdf version of my Analog Games Paper, "Who Has Access? Making Accessible Play Spaces in Minecraft for ...
Read More

QGCon Presentation Available on YouTube

My QGCon presentation, "Minecraft as a Site of Sociality for Autistic Youth," is now available on YouTube. My talk starts ...
Read More
Loading...

ASSETS Best Paper Finalist

Our ASSETS 2016 paper, “Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism” is a Best Paper Finalist! I will be presenting this work at ASSETS October 24.

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]

Winter Update, Grad School News

Hello! Here’s just a quick update from me. The first 6 months of my graduate school experience has just flown by. I’m now in my second week of winter quarter. Phew!

First, I want to just make an observation about my experience so far before I get into the news segment of this post. I have had moments of sheer anxiety and insecurity, but those seem to be balanced out with moments of happy triumph. An email I received recently really sums up why there is this oscillation of confidence. The contents of the email were along the lines of “You have a really awesome idea, I’m impressed with you. Why aren’t you talking more in class? You should sit in the front row.” And this is what grad school is all about: small moments of celebration followed by many moments of pushing you to the next level. I’m learning to treasure my little celebrations and embrace all the criticism because it’s going to make me a much stronger person in the long run.

Talking more in class discussion? I’ll save that subject for a different blog post.

Onto the news!

My team submitted a project to the iConference Social Media Expo competition and made it to the final round. We will be flying to Berlin the first week of March to present our work. My favorite part of the project was editing together the video for it. You can see the video and read our abstract on my portfolio page.

I also presented my poster at ASSETS 2013 in October for work I did on the Clothing Tagging Systems for the Visually Impaired. While I probably won’t be doing further work on this project, I got a lot of valuable feedback. The experience I gained from this project has influenced much of the work I am currently doing and will be doing in the future.

I have a couple more projects in the works that I’m excited to share with everyone when they are a little further along. Stay tuned!

Competitive Edge 2013, Week 4 & 5- New XP

It has been five weeks since I started this Competitive Edge program and got a jump start on graduate school life. I will admit that it has had its ups and downs. However, I can safely say that I am doing something that actually inspires me to wake up in the morning and go into work every day. The only other time I felt this way was when I was doing my DREU project last summer at UMBC- my first taste of life as a researcher. I have definitely found something to be passionate about and if there are bumps along the way, they are well worth the effort to overcome them.

In the last two weeks, I have accomplished a lot and gained a lot of new experience points. I’ll just talk about some of my experiences so that you can get an idea of all the different things going on in my life at the moment.

Presentations. It’s the dreaded event that anyone doing research has to deal with. Being able to present effectively is important for disseminating findings from your work. During Week 4, I was asked to give a short presentation of my planned research project to the STAR Group. We have weekly meetings where people have a chance to get the group’s opinion on research ideas or project planning. I gave a short talk on my project that I had just started planning. I will be honest that my presentation style still needs work, but that’s why we practice. I was also very nervous because this was the first presentation I was giving as a graduate student to my peers (and advisor). I had extreme anxiety over being judge “not good enough”. Anytime I have tried something new this summer, I will admit that I have fears that people will realize that I got into grad school as a fluke and they’ll realize I really don’t belong here. I am told by many more senior grad students that this is a perfectly normal feeling and that it does not really ever go away. Awesome.

After the STAR Group presentation (where I did learn a little bit about how to deliver a more effective presentation and no one told me I shouldn’t be in grad school), I gave another presentation, this time to my fellow Competitive Edge students and mentors. I will be honest, I was not nearly as nervous about this presentation. Partly, I knew that this group wouldn’t be judging me as harshly (not that my STAR Group was judging me harshly, but it’s all perception…). And, partly, I had a little more experience to go off of.

I have at least one more presentation practice with Competitive Edge this summer and then I have to give my presentation at the Summer Research Symposium on August 15th. People ask me if I am nervous about it, but I have to honestly say “not really”. I know by the time I reach the 15th, I’ll be adequately prepared and there’s no use wasting energy being nervous now. Talk to me 20 minutes before I go on stage and you’ll get a much different answer.

IRB. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is put in place to protect those that are participating in human subjects research. I whole-heartedly believe it is a very important process to have in place for a number of reasons. However, when one is the researcher that has to get their project approved by IRB, it can be a fairly intensive process- especially for newbies like myself.

The perks of the process were that I got to put myself down as Lead Researcher (and consequently take all the responsibility for the paperwork that that title implies). Nothing boosts the self-confidence like seeing your name next to the title “Lead Researcher”. The process also helped me clarify exactly what I wanted to do step-by-step for the study. It was like writing out a detailed research plan, which I think would be really helpful for any project. It forced me to work with my advisor to clarify details I was unsure of and helped me focus my research questions.

The downside, of course, is that I spent five days filling in paperwork and creating all the required documents. It was extremely time consuming and exhausting. When it was finished, I felt like I should have been relieved to turn it in, but instead I just felt anxious about whether or not I did everything correctly. The other downside to the process, is that now I have to wait. I cannot recruit subjects or start my study until I receive approval, which could take several weeks. Luckily, I have plenty to do in the meantime!

Spending Other People’s Money. This probably sounds weird, but I am finding spending money that is not mine extremely unnerving. As part of the preparation process for my project, this last week I have had to start procuring all the equipment needed. I was fine with the idea of doing this, but when it came to that actual deed, I had a minor panic attack. I realize, I’m not your average bear and do have a tendency to react with stronger emotions than most. But it was something that happened, so I will still write about it. I had all sorts of guilt and questioned everything I bought. “Is this the right thing? Am I going to get in trouble?” Completely irrational. My solution is to either never require equipment again (unlikely, unfortunately) or to somehow deal with these irrational fears. Hopefully, with experience, it will get better. I guess I didn’t expect to be the one to actually do the buying. We needed a computer for the study, so I give my advisor the specs. She says “Ok, go down to the bookstore and get whatever you need…” It’s very intimidating when all the responsibility falls on your shoulders, I guess. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even opened the box for the computer yet because I am so scared I bought the wrong thing or did something wrong. Pretty crazy, I guess.

Allowing Myself Downtime. This is a super important point that I keep forgetting. It’s okay to work hard and push until something gets done (especially with deadlines involved), but I have to remember that it is equally okay to take time off. This weekend, for instance, with the exception of wanting to write this blog, I am not even thinking about work. And this blog is more therapeutic anyway.

Learning To Be Myself, Whoever That Is.  I am finding that I am not like a lot of the other students in my cohort. And that’s perfect alright. We get along during workshops and are quite friendly. But I am not the sort of person that goes to bars or clubs. I don’t feel a burning need to do things on the weekends. I am actually perfectly happy curling up at home with a good book or video game. And that’s okay. I am just in a different space than many of the other people I’ve come across. I guess I could categorize myself as “settling down” or more sort of family oriented. It was different at WSUV because a lot of people had families and lives outside of school. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to drink, party, or stay up late. I’m happy for people who want to do those things, I just don’t want to do them myself.

Large-Scale Multitasking. I have to juggle a lot of different tasks at once. I have my project (which has several balls in the air right now), Competitive Edge requirements (which don’t especially overlap with my project), networking inside my lab and outside, maintaining my household, and making sure Kyle remembers who I am. I am working on my research project which I am hoping will turn into a submission to a conference while simultaneously working on my NSF GRFP proposal (will give all the dirt on this in a separate blog post) and working on past research (my ASSETS poster was accepted, YAY!). I feel like there is a lot in the air and I’d better not let anything drop!

Stay Tuned! I’ll be keeping you posted on my research project progress and I am planning a blog entry dedicated to NSF GRFP. Until then, DON’T PANIC!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 3

Have you read Part 2 yet?

October 2012: More Traveling Fun

Amidst getting through my senior year classes (which were amazingly more difficult than my previous courses), I traveled some more in the fall. At the beginning of October I went to the Grace Hopper 2012 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I had been given a scholarship to attend, all expenses paid. It was great because I was traveling with some of my friends from the west coast. We all stayed in the same hotel and I got to show them a little bit of Baltimore (like the train from the airport to downtown).

At Grace Hopper, I was sure to visit the booths of some of the schools I was planning on applying to. It was nice to connect up with people I had made connections with the previous year and with those I had made connections with over the summer.

Later in October, I attended ASSETS 2012 in Boulder, CO. This conference was a lot smaller than anything else I had been to, but it was definitely worth the trip. Here again, I connected up with people from the summer and learned a lot about the assistive tech scene. It was sort of an affirmation that this was the field that I wanted to go into and was proof that it was a viable field to go into. I think one of the best parts was going to dinner with Amy and Michele (that I worked with over the summer) and getting all sorts of advice on how to proceed with my grad school application process. It was a lot more information in one evening than I had ever gotten from anyone at my home institution. I am glad to have made these connections and definitely don’t want to ever turn up the opportunity in the future to make more connections like these.

November 2012: Wrapping Up the Semester and the Applications

By the time I came home from ASSETS I was ready to finish up my applications and get everything done. I had a much stronger idea of what to write for my personal statements and a stronger overall story for the application package. I spent the rest of November writing all the different personal statements and starting to turn in my applications. For the most part, I was able to get all of my applications done by the first of December. This gave me a little breathing room before finals. While the majority of the applications were due December 15th, I didn’t want to be trying to turn them all in last minute.

It was at the beginning of November that my first paper (I was second author) got presented at a conference. The conference was in Taiwan, so I didn’t have the funds to go, but it was still exciting to have a paper published.

December 2012: This is the End?

I got all my applications done before finals and wrapped up the semester completely exhausted. And broke. Did I mention how much money this whole process ended up costing? I’m a little scared to actually tally up the total, so I won’t. But it was a lot. It was probably in the neighborhood of $1000 after application fees, GRE tests, and transcript requests.

Then the worst part of the entire process began. The waiting.

Knowing that my entire future was in the balance and that the outcome of these applications would determine where I would be living and what I would be doing in less than a year was completely nerve-wracking. And it wasn’t just my life I was messing with- it was also my husband’s.

January 2013: Dealing with Rejection

Luckily, schools were on the ball and started culling their applications by mid-January. I got a couple of rejections right away. While this was a bit discouraging, I had mentally prepared myself for such occurrences. And a rejection was much better than not knowing at all.

But I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself or worry too much because I was also keeping myself busy with school and MORE travel! I was prepping at this point to head to the Tapia Conference in Washington, DC. I was to present a poster on work I had done in the fall for my professor.

Right before I left for the conference I found out that I had a phone interview with UC Irvine the Monday after I got back. While I was very nervous about this, I was happy I had made it past the culling phase with at least one school!

I also got invited to interview with Facebook at the Tapia Conference and invited to a Google workshop called Google.GetAJob(). I felt like I would have a lot of hard decisions to make in the next couple of months about our future.

February 2013: It All Starts Coming Together

The first week in February is when I attended the Tapia Conference. While I was there I spent a day visiting my friends at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I talked to them about my grad school applications and interviews. It was really great to catch up and also know that what I was going through was completely normal. The conference itself was also really great. I got to meet people from all over and network with the research labs. I did a poster presentation, which I had only done once before. I got a lot of really great feedback and most of it was positive, too.

During the conference, immediately after my Facebook interview, I got an email saying that I had been accepted to present my poster at the Student Research Competition at CHI 2013 in Paris. If I had had any thoughts of just skipping graduate school and going to industry, they instantly vanished. I knew I wanted to do well at CHI and continue doing research that I enjoyed so much.

After I came home from the Tapia Conference, I had my interview with UC Irvine. It was very informal and a really positive experience. I was able to tell them I had gotten accepted to CHI, which really helped my own confidence.

I also found out that I was invited to an interview on campus at University of Colorado, Boulder set for the 14th of February. So, off I went on another trip after having just come back from Washington DC.

The night before I left for Boulder, I found out that I had gotten into UC Irvine. I was over the moon. It also made me feel much more comfortable while traveling to Boulder. There I met with students and faculty on the campus. I really loved the town, at least until I got snowed in and ended up staying an extra day. I’m not sure I could live in a place where there’s that much snow. It was still a great learning experience and I got a good idea of what I wanted to find out about Irvine when I visited them in March.

ASSETS 2012 Conference

To be honest, I started this blog immediately after I returned from the ASSETS 2012 conference, but everything else in this semester got away from me and I didn’t post it. I’m on winter break now, so I am finally able to catch up on things.

I have finally returned home from my journey to Boulder, Colorado. Firstly, we drove. We should have realized what a crazy idea this was when we stood in a room full of Ringlands, told them our plan to drive down to Boulder and back in a week, and no one even batted an eye.

Family eating lutefisk dinner.
Some of the Ringlands eating at the lutefisk dinner in Poulsbo.

With a belly full of lutefisk (because nothing says the start to a great road trip than unending plates of lefse and lutefisk) we left Poulsbo, WA to arrive 36 hours later in Boulder, CO. I’m going to admit upfront that I missed the keynote Monday morning.  We rolled into the hotel as the address was about half-way over.  If only we hadn’t stopped for that 2 hours of sleep in Rawlins, Wyoming!

First impressions:

*ASSETS is much, MUCH smaller than any other conference I have attended (less than 100 people versus a couple thousand plus).  This allowed me to get to know a lot of the people there.

*ASSETS is a single-track deal.  This was great!  I didn’t have to choose between two awesome papers.  Everything is in one room.  With the exception of the keynote, I didn’t have to miss any of the conference.

*It’s really nice having such a close-knit, small community.  People were super enthusiastic not only about their own projects, but other people’s work and were very willing to get in there and give each other ideas.

There was a lot of really fantastic work presented at the conference.  It ranged from web accessibility to assistive tech hardware to biofeedback interfaces. The populations being worked with were quite varied from physically disabled to the elderly to the visually impaired and so on. I think the most heartening thing about the conference was to see how much great work is being done to help people.

The grad student I worked with on my DREU project, Michele A. Burton, gave her presentation on the accessible fashion we had been working on. She did a fantastic job. I very much wish to follow in her footsteps.

Boulder itself was absolutely beautiful. I had the opportunity to visit the campus and see the Human-Centered Computing Lab there. It was great to meet some of the students and see what projects they are working on. This is definitely one of my top choices for graduate schools.

We got 5 inches of snow just as the conference was ending. It forced us to stay an extra day, but it was worth it.

Snowy creek and trees.
A creek near our hotel in Boulder, CO.