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 Children with Autism”. Enjoy!

UCI Informatics Write Up on DanceCraft

Lovely write up about the DanceCraft study by the Informatics department here at UCI: http://www.informatics.uci.edu/informatics-ph-d-student-introduces-dancecraft-to-oc-autistic-children/

News Coverage for our Dance Study

The OC Register covered part of our research on dance for kids with autism yesterday. Check it out!

What the news article doesn’t mention is that along with dance lessons, the participants also get to take home the DanceCraft system so they can keep practicing their dance moves.

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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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.

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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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Advancement to PhD Candidate

I’m happy to report I successfully passed my advancement to become a PhD Candidate!

My talk was titled “Technology Mediated Socialization for Children with Autism.”

Committee: Gillian Hayes (Chair), Rebecca Black, Mimi Ito, Josh Tanenbaum, and Tom Boellstorff

Abstract: Traditional face-to-face social interactions can be challenging for individuals with autism, leading some to perceive and categorize these individuals as less social than their peers. For example, autism can be accompanied by difficulty making eye contact, interpreting some nonverbal cues, and performing coherent verbal utterances. While these challenges can be interpreted as an inability or lack of desire for social interactions, researchers have begun to explore how to expand the definition of sociality for those with autism. My research explores how technology can support alternative means of sociality, particularly for children with autism engaged in social play. In this advancement talk, I will present two research studies: SensoryPaint and Autcraft. SensoryPaint is a multimodal sensory environment built to enable whole-body interaction with the Kinect. Evaluation of SensoryPaint was conducted in two stages: a lab-based study and a deployment study. Results from this study show how these systems can promote socialization. My second research project explores Autcraft, a Minecraft community for children with autism and their allies. I will present results from on-going ethnographic work exploring the community’s Minecraft server and other community affiliated social media. Results from this study highlight ways in which community members use technology to create a safe environment for children with autism to explore alternative forms of social expression. Findings suggest an expansion of how sociality has traditionally been conceptualized for individuals with autism and how technology plays a key role in facilitating this new sociality.

Diversity

A handful of experiences and people helped to transform me from a lost undergraduate who was thinking of dropping out, to a successful, ambitious graduate student. I struggled for many years as an underrepresented student, both as a woman and as a student with a disability, to complete my undergraduate degree and find my niche in the world. Now, not only do I want to make a career of researching assistive technology, I also want to be a mentor for those who follow me, just as I had mentors to guide my way.

As the only woman in my undergraduate computing classes, I faced adversity and isolation. I sought support and attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC). Upon learning that I was one of many women facing isolation in their computing courses, I founded an ACM-W Chapter for women in computing at Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV). I felt the need to create greater participation of college women in computing, a support network for them, and a way to mentor freshmen and high school girls. As the chair of the chapter for the first year, I planned a campus-wide event to encourage women to pursue computing careers and spoke at a panel discussion. The event hosted 40 women from campus and the local community and received very positive feedback. The women from the community college who had not considered pursuing a four-year degree until they heard our panel inspired me. I have continued to mentor one young woman who is now pursuing her undergraduate degree in computer science and intends to continue on to graduate school.

On my graduate school campus, University of California Irvine (UCI), I am involved in a similar group: Women in Information and Computer Sciences (WICS). I volunteered with WICS in summer 2013 to mentor middle and high school girls interested in computing. In fall 2013, I also helped start a graduate chapter of this group. As a graduate student representative for UCI, I attended GHC 2014 as a student volunteer. My connections with these groups led me to other opportunities, such as conducting research and presenting at two academic conferences, as well as mentoring underrepresented undergraduates.

Through my experiences with the women in computing groups, I have realized how important mentorship is for those in the early stages of their careers. Through teaching and mentoring, I have been able to ignite my passion for helping others through research with students and also pass along valuable skills that they will use in their future studies. During my first year as a graduate student, I led a diverse team of undergraduates, all of whom are underrepresented minorities, in the development of a whole-body interface application on the Microsoft Kinect for children with autism. I encouraged my team to work together to solve problems and learn how to collaborate effectively. I also coached them in giving a presentation to the lab about their work. Continuing this project, I have expanded the scope of the software, and have begun working with a professor from the Dance Department to create new avenues of therapy for children with autism. One of the undergraduates I mentored has since graduated with a B.S. in Informatics and is now applying to graduate school.

In an effort to serve my local community, I volunteer as an instructor for technology use workshops for young adults with autism who are transitioning into the workplace from high school. In a more formal setting, I have also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for undergraduate level courses. As part of my responsibilities, I have worked with students one-on-one, as well as leading discussion sections of more than 40 students. In addition to regular discussion lectures, I also gave a guest lecture to the entire class of 250 students. Knowing the importance of mentorship for undergraduates, these varied teaching experiences increase my desire to seek a position that allows me to continue mentorship my PhD.

Minecraft

Social media, including virtual worlds, has the potential to support children with autism in making friendships, learning pro-social behavior, and engaging in collaborative play with their peers.  However, currently, little is known about how children with autism interact socially in online spaces. Furthermore, there is much more to learn about how technology can support these collaborative interactions. In this study, I propose investigating how a virtual world can be intentionally run alongside other complementary social media (e.g., website, forum, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) specifically for children with autism. The contribution of this work is to create design guidelines for creating social media systems (including virtual worlds) to support social interactions of children with autism.

Click HERE to learn more about the overall study.

Current Publications:

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. [Acceptance Rate: 25%]. Best Paper. [PDF]

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

Ringland, K.E., Wolf, C.T., Dombrowski, L., and Hayes, G.R. “Making ‘Safe’: Community-Centered Practices in a Virtual World Dedicated to Children with Autism”. Proceedings of the 2015 ACM International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Work, ACM (2015). [Acceptance Rate: 28.3%].

Ringland, K.E., Wolf, C.T., Hayes, G.R. (2015, May 15). “The Benefits of Online Play: An Investigation of Virtual Worlds for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. International Meeting for Autism Research Salt Lake City, Utah.

Ringland, K.E., Hayes, G.R. (2014, April 27). “Virtual Worlds: An Alternative Method for Communication for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Workshop: Supporting Children with Complex Communication Needs. ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Toronto, Canada.

Last Updated: May 15, 2017.

I am now conducting interviews! Find out more information HERE.

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