How CS6724 has changed my life…

A hyperbolic statement? Possibly. Really though, I have learned a great deal from my time in this course (Applied Theories in Human-Computer Interaction). When I first chose to register for the course, I was in a situation where I wasn’t entirely sure how to situate my own research under the umbrella of human-computer interaction. My research spans a number of disciplinary boundaries–primarily computer science, music, and psychology. As I’ve said elsewhere, I currently deal with the interactions of music and human emotion, using affective computing as a tool for exploring these interactions. Certainly then, I believe that this research does have a place in human-computer interaction, but I was at a loss when it came to describing those theories, models, or frameworks that have been developed by other HCI researchers that might come to bear on my own work. In all truthfulness, I can’t say I’m in a very different position today than I was at the beginning of this course. What I can say, however, is that I’m in a much better position to begin to look for the answers to these questions now, both due to my own time presenting for this class, and also due to my experiences participating in the presentations that others have given. From each side of the lectern, I’ve read and discussed scholarship that has all but slapped me across the face and screamed, “Don’t let your own work end up looking like this!”, as well as scholarship that has very clearly demonstrated the right way to go about my work.

Bad research. I came into the course incredibly biased against what I thought (and often still think) is the status quo for rigor in HCI research. I’ll admit that there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but it seemed that after reading any arbitrary piece of HCI literature I was more often than not left wondering what reviewer in their right mind would recommend this paper/article for acceptance. Part of my reason for taking this course–one that I articulated in one of the first course meetings–was that I hoped that this course would provide me with the opportunity to have this assumption to be proven wrong. To be honest, there have been a number of things we’ve read over the course of the semester that aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. Reading these, combined with discussions with others in the course and the gripes of other well-respected scholars, I’m now convinced that our field does have a problem with ‘research’ that plays fast-and-loose with academic rigor.

Good research. On the other hand, I have been heartened both by calls for more disciplined approaches to research, as well as exemplars of the same. For example, Ackerman’s argument for creating a new science of the artificial from CSCW (and HCI as a whole), coupled with a call for carefully planned and executed, fundamentally sound inquiry brings me the hope that there are researchers in our field who do give a damn about the respectability of their work. At the same time, several pieces of literature that we’ve read serve as wonderful examples of such clearly thought-through and well-executed examples of such research. What does this mean for me, as a young(ish) scholar, in the end? It means that I believe that I have an issue with the level at which we’ve set the bar for acceptable research in our field. It means that I see the fingerprints of the allure of quick and easy work in my own research. And finally, it means that in recognizing my own shortcomings and these larger problems in our field I am responsible for bringing what I can to the table in my own work to be a part of a change for the better in our collective work as a group of academics. More to the point (and at the risk of sounding esoteric), I see the problem both in our field as a whole and in my own work, and its up to me to make a difference where I can by letting my own work serve as an example of what quality scholarship should look like. This is how CS6724 has changed my life.