CHI 2019 Late Breaking Work accepted!

In spring 2018, we conducted an exploratory study in which we asked groups of children (ages 8-13) and adults to interact with spherical displays in a real-world setting to help us understand how to design effective interactions for these novel technologies. Our paper on this study, titled “Towards Understanding Interactions with Multi-Touch Spherical Displays,” was accepted as a late-breaking work to ACM SIGCHI 2019, a top conference for human-computer interaction! The paper reports our preliminary findings related to similarities and differences between children’s and adults’ interaction patterns and mental models for interaction around a sphere in a public setting.

Here is the abstract:

“Interactive spherical displays offer unique educational and entertainment opportunities for both children and adults in public spaces. However, designing interfaces for spherical displays remains difficult because we do not yet fully understand how users naturally interact with and collaborate around spherical displays. This paper reports current progress on a project to understand how children (ages 8 to 13) and adults interact with spherical displays in a real-world setting. Our initial data gathering includes an exploratory study in which children and adults interacted with a prototype application on a spherical display in small groups in a public setting. We observed that child groups tended to interact more independently around the spherical display, whereas adult groups interacted with the sphere in a driver-navigator mode and did not tend to walk around the sphere. This work will lay the groundwork for future research into designing interactive applications for spherical displays tailored towards users of all age groups.”

Interested readers can find the camera-ready version (preprint) available here. The CHI 2019 conference will take place in Glasgow, UK from May 4 – May 9. I am really excited since this will be my first time attending CHI. I am looking forward to presenting our poster at the conference as it will help us gain valuable feedback regarding the future steps of the paper. I would also like to thank ACM Student Travel Grants for proving me partial funding to attend the conference.

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CSCL 2019 paper accepted!

In a recent post, we discussed that the TIDESS team was working on analyzing data from our tabletop lab study to understand the role of touchscreen gestures in facilitating collaborative learning around large interactive tabletop touchscreen displays. We are pleased to announce that our paper, “Analysis of Touchscreen Interactive Gestures During Embodied Cognition in Collaborative Tabletop Science Learning Experiences,” presenting findings from this analysis, was accepted to CSCL 2019: the International Conference of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. The paper outlines themes with respect to the types of direct-touch gestures that support collaborative learning experiences around interactive tabletops, and also proposes touchscreen interaction design guidelines to inform the design of future tabletop experiences for science learning. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

“Previous work has used embodied cognition as a theoretical framework to inform the design of large touchscreen interfaces for learning. We seek to understand how specific gestural interactions may be tied to particular instances of learning supported by embodiment. To help us investigate this question, we built a tabletop prototype that facilitates collaborative science learning from data visualizations and used this prototype as a testbed in a laboratory study with 11 family groups. We present an analysis of the types of gestural interactions that accompanied embodied cognition (as revealed by users’ language) while learners interacted with our prototype. Our preliminary findings indicate a positive role of cooperative (multi-user) gestures in supporting scientific discussion and collaborative meaning-making during embodied cognition. Our next steps are to continue our analysis to identify additional touchscreen interaction design guidelines for learning technologies, so that designers can capitalize on the affordances of embodied cognition in these contexts.”

Interested readers can find the camera-ready version (preprint) available here. The CSCL 2019 conference will take place in Lyon, France from June 17 – June 21. I am really excited since it will be my first time attending the CSCL conference and I will get to be in France on my birthday (June 20th). Also, this will be my first time presenting at any research conference. I am looking forward to presenting our paper and will post the talk slides when available.

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Focusing on content: what do people want to learn about the ocean?

pexels-photo-1680140 Daria Shevtsova ocean

Photo Credit: Daria Shevtsova

I’ve recently both successfully defended my dissertation and graduated from the University of Florida with my PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology as Katie alluded to in her post. I am now in a short term post-doctoral position with the TIDESS team and am working with the team to finish some research we started earlier last year.

I am spending most of my time currently on two specific tasks. The first is working with the team on revisions to our manuscript for the International Journal of Science Education. Katie previously mentioned our initial submission, though we have shifted to Part A of the journal rather than part B. The paper has since undergone an initial review and we are now making edits in response. Members of our team have discussed the process in more detail in earlier posts on the TIDESS blog.

Secondly, I am working with Katie on coding focus group data and starting to draft the associated journal paper. You might remember that Nikita described how we transitioned our prototype of ocean sea surface temperature data from an interactive tabletop to an interactive sphere. Last year, we ran focus groups with the goal of understanding what adults and children want to learn about, especially with regards to the ocean. Ultimately, we want to design our prototype so that anyone interacting with it can have an engaging and informative experience without someone there to facilitate. The focus groups allow us to gather information from the content side of things, while other work the TIDESS team has done examines details like how users manipulate that content. For example, Nikita recently described our efforts to investigate the gestures users employ with the sphere. These efforts will give us ideas to incorporate into future iterations of our touch interactive sphere prototype.

 One of the things I particularly like about this study is the level of involvement I’ve had the whole way through. Because of the team dynamic of TIDESS, we often may work on varying portions of studies and team members also come and go based on our academic timelines. However, I’ve been involved with TIDESS long enough to have sat in on the initial meetings for designing the focus groups. Hannah, a former education team member who has also written about her TIDESS experience, and I both facilitated the focus groups. I’m excited to be part of analyzing the resulting data and translating it into a paper.

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Understanding the IRB: How Does It Affect Us?

When I joined the INIT Lab, one of the first things I was tasked with was completing a series of IRB trainings. Like many others who don’t work in the research field (and had never done so before), I had no idea what the “IRB” was, or what purpose it served. I thought that it was just a set of rules and regulations we must follow to do our research. However, as I worked with the TIDESS group on several projects, I realized that, even after my trainings, I did not fully understand the purpose of the IRB. This may have been because I thought that most of the IRB information is hard to understand for someone who is unfamiliar with the field. The information presented within IRB trainings is verbose, and some of the terminology which is being used is specific to the research field. However, the thing that made understanding the IRB most difficult was my lack of context on what the IRB is, and the reasons it is important to our research. Topics such as privacy and safety are highly emphasized in the IRB trainings, but I could not fully understand the reasonings behind it, as I did not understand why safety/privacy was such a large topic within non-medical research labs such as ours. However, during my time as an undergraduate research assistant in the INIT lab, I have vastly improved my understanding of the IRB and the purpose it serves. In this post, I am going to explain exactly what the IRB is, and how it affects our projects on a large scale.

The IRB, or Institutional Review Board, is an administrative body that was created to protect the rights of participants in research activities. Each institution which is conducting research has their own IRB which reviews all research proposals, and either approves or denies them. Before anyone at an institution like UF can perform any studies/research involving human participants, they must get approval from the IRB. Every IRB is given latitude to interpret the federal regulations and create their own set of procedures. This blog post will cover what I have learned about UF’s IRB. Your own institution may do things similarly, or they may have differences.

The IRB review process begins with a research proposal, where a summary of the planned research is given. There are three categories of review that each proposal will fall into: Full Board, Expedited, or Exempt. An Exempt review means that the proposal will be reviewed by one IRB member, and is used when the proposal is low risk. An example of something that would be considered “Exempt” would be an anonymous survey. Expedited reviews are done on proposals which pose more risk than an exempt proposal (e.g., collecting height and weight data) and require either the chair of the IRB, or an experienced board member designated by the chair, to review. A Full Board review involves the entire IRB panel in the review process and occurs when there is “greater than minimal risk” involved in the study, such as in a study testing new medications. The risk level that a proposal is given is determined based on how identifiable the data is that you are collecting from the participants, what are the real and likely physical, emotional, or psychological risks of participating in the research, and whether any of the participants belong to any protected groups (like children) that may be vulnerable to coercion.

The research that we do as a part of the TIDESS project (and most INIT Lab research) typically falls into the Expedited category, as it poses no more than minimal risk to the participants. But what exactly does it mean for research to have “risk”? Research which many would think is perfectly safe, such as studying interactions with our touchscreen interfaces, actually involves possibly collecting many types of sensitive data from our participants. Even things such as contact information sheets can hold confidential identifiable data such as phone numbers, full names, and even addresses. However, following the IRB regulations assures that this information is seen only by those who need to see it and is stored in a secure environment. If information like this were to be handled unsafely, it could lead to personal data being leaked to the public.

One of my first moments seeing these regulations in action occurred when analyzing data of participants interacting with our sphere prototype (see Pufferfish). As part of our analysis, we were going to look at the videos of these participants interacting with the prototype, alongside written transcripts of everything they said. When I received access to these transcripts as a member of the team, every participant name was already replaced with a participant number, concealing any personal data that may have been present in the videos. Alongside this, the videos were stored on an encrypted hard drive, set to delete itself if the person who tried to access it did not have the correct password. Later, when making a presentation about the videos to the lab, we blurred out the faces of all the participants, when possible. All these security measures were done even though this information was just being utilized in the lab, and not in any way accessible by the public. If we were to have given this presentation to the public, we would take even more care to make sure anything that can be traced back to the participant would be removed. Any instances of participant names would be replaced with a number, and all faces would be blurred or even removed if possible. All audio would be checked/removed so that no personal information (names, etc.) is revealed. This would be done to make sure that nobody can use the information to identify the participants, fulfilling the privacy and protection goals of the IRB.

Another important factor of the IRB process is known as informed consent, where the participant is told exactly what the purpose of the study is, and the procedures they will have to do to participate. The goal is to ensure that they understand all the potential risks and benefits of the study to be able to decide for themselves if they would like to participate in the study. The participant has the right to withdraw from the study at any time (or choose not to participate), and the informed consent process assures that the participant is aware of their rights and understands them fully.

As a first-year student at UF, and a newcomer to the world of research studies, my time with the lab has changed my thoughts on the IRB. I realized that what I once thought were just excessive rules (e.g., blurring faces for in-lab presentations) are vital in protecting the participants of our studies. Privacy and protection plays a huge role in the research process, one which I was not initially aware of. The data we have access to is sensitive, and the IRB is there to assure that it is kept secure, in order to prevent dangerous consequences to our participants. Overall, the IRB allows us to conduct research in a way that prioritizes the safety and privacy of participants, and assures that they understand the full scope of what it is they are participating in.  

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Strategizing the CSCW Revise and Re-submit submission process

This year, on the TIDESS project, we submitted a research paper to the ACM Conference of Computer-Supported Collaborative Work and Social Computing (CSCW). Unlike the five-page abstract we previously submitted and presented at NARST, for this submission we prepared a full-length paper (typically 13-15 pages). CSCW is a peer-reviewed conference seeking to publish research on topics related to collaborative and social computing. Unlike other ACM conferences such as the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), papers submitted to CSCW undergo two rounds of review cycles. After the initial round of review, a research paper can either get a revise and re-submit notification, or a reject notification along with detailed reviews from the reviewers. Reviewers are other people in the research community, generally experts in a specific research area, who read the submission to evaluate it based on its novelty, study methodology, and contributions to the research community. The research paper we submitted to CSCW got shortlisted for the second-round revision cycle, and we were given a two-week period to address comments provided by our reviewers. All the reviews we were given from our reviewer panel were very insightful and constructive, which helped us strengthen our paper. These reviews were specifically targeted towards ensuring that our research questions, motivation, and situation within the previous literature were clearer.

However, addressing all the reviewers’ comments, which required significant re-structuring of the paper, along with ensuring that all the research team members were on the same page with the way revisions are being incorporated, was a challenging task to complete in two weeks. Therefore, we followed a four-phase iterative process to address the reviewers’ comments as listed below:

(1) Conceptually grouping the reviews: To make the revision process smoother, we first took a detailed pass of all the reviews line by line and conceptually grouped these reviews based on the section of the paper they were targeted at. For example, if the reviewers’ comment said, “The paper needs to identify a gap in the existing studies”, we grouped it under a higher-level theme called “ground work in the literature.”

(2) Team discussion and planning: The second phase involved all the research team members walking through the conceptually grouped reviews together and discussing potential ways in which we can address the points raised by the reviewers. This phase mostly consisted of team discussions and planning. Conceptually grouping the reviews by paper sections helped us visualize all of the comments related to a particular section and facilitated the development of optimized revision strategies.

(3) Prioritize the reviews: Given that we had two weeks to address the suggested changes provided by our reviewers, and we would not have time to address every single comment, it was very important to strategize our revision process. We did this by making sure that the major revisions suggested by our reviewers, alongside revisions that require significant restructuring of the paper, were our priorities. In addition to ranking the revisions, we also documented our strategies related to how we were going to address the review and what places in the paper needed modification to accomplish this. This planning was especially necessary to make sure that the paper flowed well after the revision.

(4) Prepare a response document for reviewers: CSCW also asked authors to prepare a response document for the revise and re-submit cycle which described the changes made in the paper and the rationale behind these changes. Within this document, we made sure to highlight all the changes we made in the paper both at high and low levels of detail as we addressed reviewers’ comments. This document helped to show the reviewers where we have strengthened our paper.

I am a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. program at the University of Florida. This was my first time submitting to CSCW, and I enjoyed the entire iterative process of revising and resubmitting the paper. Personally, addressing reviewers’ comments during the revise and re-submit phase helped me learn a lot about how to write a strong research paper. I think that approaching the revision process in a more strategic way definitely helped me and my team to come to a consensus and discuss the changes we were planning to make to the paper based on the reviews. Unfortunately, our paper ended up not making the final cut to be accepted, but we were able to resubmit to another conference recently and believe our paper was much stronger thanks to the thoughtful iteration from the CSCW community.

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PufferSphere Prototype Development

This blog post was written by our summer undergraduate intern, Ian Mayne:

The TIDESS Team has been investigating the natural and intuitive ways users interact with spherical displays by continuing to prototype on the PufferSphere. In my understanding as a new member of the team, the TIDESS project primarily aims to investigate ways in which children and adults interact with large touchscreen interfaces, such as spherical displays, to help us design interactive touchscreen exhibits for public science learning. More specifically, the project focusses on studying new types of touch interactions, or gestures, that allow users to manipulate and explore content displayed on the sphere.

To allow us to study how users interact with the PufferSphere and investigate natural user gestures, our team is in the process of developing a PufferSphere prototype to support future studies.  I have been primarily responsible for developing this prototype while part of this project this summer. In development of the prototype, I have faced issues with distortion of content shown on the sphere or more generally displaying 2D images and videos on a three-dimensional space. A simple solution that I have found is to limit videos and images to small windows on the sphere’s surface to decrease the effect of the distortion. I also learned that, when prototyping, especially on a new platform such as the PufferSphere, it is good practice to start your program with basic concepts and slowly add components. I found this idea to be helpful because, frequently, objects appear differently on the sphere than the desired outcome, and this allows for quick correction of any errors while preserving the already working components.

Currently, I have been attempting to add elements to the prototype that make it more visually appealing and provide motivation for participants to complete the study (e.g., “gamification” elements as popularized in Brewer et al, IDC 2013). I have also been working on logging touch data for the prototype. The PufferSphere already records touch information such as the start and end of a touch, as well as the longitude and latitude of the touch on the sphere. We want to record these pieces of data, with the time they occurred, in a CSV file to obtain the speed of a swipe/drag gesture or the length of time that a touch lasted. Logging touch data allows us to calculate this information after the study to do analysis across users. Other improvements to the prototype will be made after running pilot studies.

As an student from the IMHCI REU Program in the INIT at University of Florida, I have had many learning opportunities this summer. First and foremost, I have learned to be more proficient in task management. This was a necessity in my first research experience as I quickly saw that some of my assigned tasks had priority over others and deadlines, while at other times, I had independent/free time to read research papers relevant to the project. In the beginning of the summer, I was also timid to collaborate with others frequently. Now, I find it very casual to ask peers and mentors questions and even coproduce works for a multitude of assignments.  I am currently a third-year student at Elon University majoring in Computer Science (BS) and Mathematics (BS) with a minor in Physics. As the summer continues, I look forward to seeing how children will interact with the sphere during our study sessions.


  1. Brewer, R., Anthony, L., Brown, Q., Irwin, G., Nias, J., and Tate, B. Using gamification to motivate children to complete empirical studies in lab environments. Proc. IDC’2013, ACM Press (2013), 388–391.


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Back in the swing for fall

Over the summer, there were several changes to our TIDESS project team. We said goodbye to Carrie, who won a prestigious award to help her finish her dissertation (defense scheduled for October 25!), and Peter, who graduated. We welcomed two REU students, Ian and Saylie, and had temporary help from grad students Shae, and now Sarah. We even said goodbye to an advisory board member, Betty Dunckel, who retired from a long career at FLMNH, and welcomed Julia Plummer from Penn State in her place, who we met at NARST. Whew!

It was a busy one, though, as we resubmitted a paper to a conference, the first time we’ve had a revise-and-resubmit process for computer science conferences. We also submitted our first paper on the education side of things for International Journal of Science Education, Part B. This was based in large part on the work we presented at NARST. We also submitted as part of a symposium of posters on scientific practices in informal science education settings for NARST 2019. We submitted our second NSF report, and we ran a gesture elicitation study, all while continuing to develop the software and exhibit for the sphere.

Now that fall semester has started (it’s already week 4!), our smaller team heading into our third year (the no-cost extension year of the project) will be focusing on wrapping up what we can of these studies and planning for future work. Hannah and I are really digging into the design of our next embodiment study, with Carrie’s help as she is available. We are hoping to get to run an in-museum study this spring or next summer, but with Betty’s departure from the museum, things there have been in flux in terms of personnel. So as always, stay tuned!

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