Reflection on “Interaction Science”

During the last term, I took part in the MSc Course ‘Interaction Science’. Even though I have known of many of the concepts about cognition and perception used in HCI from my MA studies in Interaction Design, the overall approach in this course has been complementary and very different from the more practice based introduction I had earlier.

The course consisted of 8 weeks of lectures in the morning and practice seminars in the afternoons. Additional possiblity for practice has been given thorugh the use of the Peerwise platform, in which students are encouraged to write questions about the course content, which are critized during the answering process and the opportunity to ask questions by other students.

The lectures gave a good overview about frameworks used withing HCI research. It was a good revision from what I learned in the taught elements of my MA course, going into more depth in some cases. While the MA teaching familiarised me with some of the principles that underlie cognition and the way it influencd HCI such as the ‘Human Processor Model’, the Interaction Sciece course gave more background into how these concepts had been developed, who had been important in their discovery and how they are used within HCI today. It was useful to see these frameworks tested and evaluated in experimental designs, rather than the design implications they lead to. Throughout the course, the lecturers pointed towards academic papers that adress the topic discussed, which I found very useful as it combined the basic theory with different approaches of HCI research.

The study sessions have been particularly useful for me as a tool to critique and improve academic writing. Often struggeling with the planning of my writing and structuring it in a way meanignful to the readers, especially the first sessions gave me good guidelines on how to improve my writing. I have since taken to outlining my writing more with subheadings to stick to formats recognizable and useful to the reader.

It will have to be confirmed when I start writing, but I feel that the course has enhanced my vocabulary both in terms of planning of studies, but also in the reporting. I can observe that I read academic sources differently and more critically since the start of the course and pay more attention to the report of method than I did before.

Another point I found very useful about the course has been the opportunity to plan out conceptual studies and discuss the process with others. In my MA course I did not do any structured experimens, nor had it been of great importance during the taught modules, so that I have no experience in this area. Working together in teams with psychology students, who have much more experience, has been useful to get into the process of planning. Even though I feel I will have to study further before setting up my own successful experiment, I am more aware of principles of good research and the plannning process in general through this course.

The progress from research focussing on internal processes within the individual towards a more distributed cognition, covered in week 5 has been very interesting to me as I think something comparable is happening at the moment in technology for dementia. With a focus on office-based work in the beginning of HCI, it feels that other areas, such as health care go through comparable steps with a delay. The process can obviously not be transferred one to one, but addressing socio-technical systems rather than individuals to make technology more effective, more useful and more used, is a step I recognize from my current research.

Many of the insights of the ‘Interactive Search and Information Foraging’ module sounded familiar, which I expect to be a reminder rather of my library sciences course rather than the MA. Information access and retrieval has been a large part of the course and even though the role computers play within the search process has only been hinted at – I graduated in 2005, when computers where slowly becoming a normal occurence in libraries – the role cognition and strategy played in the process has been covered. It is very interesting to compare the contents taught in this course with what I learned 10 years earlier and how both understanding and practice has been developed since then.

The part of the course that focussed on ‘Human Errors’ was perhaps the one that offered the most new content to me. Even though I was aware that this is an important part of HCI research, it had not played a large role in my work before and had not been covered in the MA course as far as I can remember.

One of the insights about this course I found the most interesting was not in the content, but in regards to my understanding of HCI. Coming from a design background, making the step from fashion into computer science in a very short timeframe, I tend to question my role within HCI. Not being familiar with certain frameworks and ways of working supports this feeling. There have been sessions within Interaction Science when I experienced this particularly strong, especially when the focus was on the measurement of interaction modes, such as point and click experiments related to Fitts Law, covered in the last session. Even though I can understand why this may be of importance in a work setting, it does not relate much to how I work, what is important to me and what I cover within my PhD. The sessions have therefore been a good preparation to defend my way of working in contrast to other approaches that are also used in HCI. I hope I will be able to preempt criticism from more experimental, work-based researchers and use this to strenghten my arguments.

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