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Reflective Living research group develops innovative media systems


The Reflective Living Group of our IGERT represents a diverse team of researchers from Engineering, Design, Media Arts and Computer Science disciplines. Team members collaborate together to develop dynamic online and situated media computation systems. This year, the group has focused on creating several novel applications for the workplace, dedicated to fostering creativity and cultivating a motivated workforce. IGERT trainee Ryan Spicer leads the development of the NextSlidePlease application designed for authoring and delivering agile multimedia presentations. Typical presentation tools present challenges both in terms of creating linear presentations from complex data and fluidly navigating such linear structures when presenting to diverse audiences. The NextSlidePlease tool addresses these challenges using a directed graph structure approach for authoring and delivering multimedia presentations. The application combines novel computational approaches for searching and analyzing presentation datasets, composing meaningfully structured presentations and efficiently delivering material under a variety of time constraints. Developed in collaboration with colleagues from Computer Science and Design, the tool demonstrates considerable algorithmic and interface design innovation and has been presented at prestigious HCI and multimedia conferences (SIGCHI and ACM MM), with an additional TOMCCAP journal article currently under review.

IGERT trainee Shawn Nikkila and IGERT associate Silvan Linn are researching ways to motivate, understand and value the diverse contributions of individual workers in collaborative enterprises. Today’s modern workplaces increasingly comprise distributed teams working together on complex problems. Several key workplace challenges can occur in such enterprises including lack of awareness of group-wide activities, lack of understanding of individual contribution within the context of the entire organization, and relatively few opportunities for restorative ‘downtime’ during the working day. In response, the researchers created Taskville, a distributed social media workplace game played by teams of workers on large, public displays. Taskville uses a city building metaphor to digitally represent the completion of individual and group tasks within an organization. The growth of these virtual cities over time acts as a metaphor for the growing contributions of diverse individuals, where each constructed building is a representation of a unit of work completed by an individual or team of collaborators. Preliminary results from two pilot user studies highlight the success of the system in supporting reflection on work patterns and community-building in a collaborative work environment. Findings from this research were recently presented at two workshops (Gamification, Social Gaming) at SIGCHI 2011 indicating the relevance of the approach in an emerging field of inquiry.

The Reflective Living group has also developed several hybrid physical-digital media systems of varying implementation scales in the past year. These systems were designed and built to address several challenges including identifying hidden structures in online social communication messages, stimulating public discourse, and understanding human activity in mixed-use spaces. IGERT associate Silvan Linn created Kiteviz, a workplace Twitter activity visualization tool, as part of his research into the application of socially reflective design principles to modern, mediated technologies. Kiteviz analyzes the Twitter activity of groups of users, identifying evolving features such as the conversational ‘closeness’ between user-pairs, calculated by the amount of replying to and retweeting between group members. This information is then displayed in the form of an interactive, metaphorical visualization application on a public screen in a workplace common area. Members of the working group can explore months of data to gain a greater understanding of intra-group communication using social media platforms. This work has been presented at the IDSA education conference, the national leading conference for industrial designers.

Led by IGERT trainees Andreea Danielescu and Ryan Spicer, The Building with a Memory project is an interactive media system that captures and represents dynamic human activity in a multi-use workplace. The system captures information about human activity, particularly movement, through fixed video-based sensors and Android smart phones running a mobile application. The activity is analyzed and rendered through situated flat panel displays, variable-color indirect lighting fixtures, and a mobile application. The system is intended to serve both aesthetic and utilitarian concerns: the ambient visualizations enliven the workplace, and the information they present about current and past activity levels is useful to community-members planning formal and informal activities in the workplace. Insights from this evolving work have recently been presented at a SIGCHI 2011 workshop and will be published at ISEA in Istanbul in October 2011.

Your___here is a participatory digital augmentation system for the built environment. Developed as a collaboration between IGERT trainee Ryan Spicer and IGERT associate Silvan Linn, the system promotes community engagement by projecting SMS messages submitted by the public in response to projected questions or probes. The system has been implemented in several site-specific locations, where the projections directly integrate with the architectural features and signage of the target buildings. Findings from this research were recently presented at the Large Urban Displays workshop at SIGCHI 2011.

Address Goals

The Reflective Living group uses a broad range of research approaches that reflect the diversity of the backgrounds and disciplinary training of the team members. The IGERT faculty, trainees and associates in the group demonstrate expertise in Computer Science, Engineering, Media Arts and Design. Working together in small teams on multiple related projects, engineering and science students are afforded an opportunity to deeply engage with collaborators from the arts and humanities on authentic problems of societal significance. This approach allows team members to purposefully integrate quantitative and qualitative methods from their respective disciplines in a mutually respectful manner. Team participants work hard to ensure the success of their collaborations, taking time to understand the terminology, methodology and evaluation criteria of the various contributing disciplines. In so doing, the scientific literacy of the participants from the humanities is more sharply honed within an authentic inquiry process, while the engineering and science participants learn to formulate and describe their work in an general, accessible manner. Creating research projects and applications that successfully bridge expertise and knowledge from multiple disciplines results in opportunities for our trainees and associates to present their work in diverse venues, ranging from prestigious conferences and journals to world-class galleries. Learning to clearly advocate the significance and impact of your work to diverse audiences and stakeholders is a vital skill for the future science and engineering workforce who will be called upon to solve complex problems beyond the answerable scope of their discipline alone.

The Reflective Living team designs, develops and analyzes online, mobile and situated social media systems. Social media systems fulfill an enormous socio-cultural, political and economic role in our society today. With over 500 million subscribers to Facebook and 100, 000 apps available for download in the Apple store, there is a recognized need for designers, developers and analysts in this quickly emerging market. In our group, we are cultivating an agile group of scientists and engineers who can respond swiftly to diverse problems and opportunities, working genuinely with a broad assortment of collaborators. Together, they are creating real-world workplace applications that address multiple challenges in today’s fast-paced enterprises and organizations. This type of research is producing transformational knowledge creating value and impact across multiple fields and disciplines.