Exam topics: mini-dissertation in human-computer interaction 2013

As in 2012, I’m sharing the topics my students created for a hypothetical proposal. In this proposal, students demonstrate their understanding of the research process — how to formulate a problem statement, how to review the relevant literature, how to choose a methodology… and, of course, how to write well.

Popular topics this year included gamification, input methods and digital publishing. If you’re interested in connecting with one of these students based on their proposal, contact me.

Smartlove: Is it possible to mediate intimacy in long distance relationships through the use of smartphone technology?

Abstract: Intimacy it is the key to a successful relationships and plays a role in creating and maintaining the lasting bonds that people many share. It arises from various interactions people share such as awareness of presence, the expression of emotions, physical interaction, sharing joint action, the giving of gifts and the creation of memories (Hassenzahl, et al., 2012). Before the rise of technology people were only able to experience these intimate interactions by being physically in the presence of their significant other or through much less immediate actions such as the sending of love letters. The invention of the telephone created a much more direct line for expressing one’s emotions, yet many of the other intimate actions were still void in the realm of a phone call.

With the rise of the internet and  researchers have shifted their focus to try understand how people are using more advanced technology to mediate these intimate actions and discovering how to enhance and create new methods using the technology available to further allow for intimate interaction to take place from a distance via technology.

This research investigates previous attempts to use technology to mediate intimacy and attempts to discover how they can be applied in the context of smartphone technology. It also attempts to discover new methods of achieving intimacy through the unique capabilities and possible interactions available with the smartphones of today. Finally we present a prototype application which draws from previous research as well as the insights gained from our own user tests as a proof of concept which is able to convey various intimate acts and increase the number of intimate interactions possible through the use of smartphone technology.

The ideal keyboard for speed typing: finding out what the best combination of physical key characteristics is for the ideal QWERTY keyboard

Abstract: Keyboard designs are getting smaller in favour of becoming more portable. Some of the changes that it has undergone recently are keytop sizes getting smaller, key travel distances getting shorter, no more auditory feedback, no curve on the surface of the keys, and low profile designs. The purpose of this study is to find out if these characteristics are beneficial for typing efficiency, how they can be improved, and what characteristics have a negative effect on typing performance (speed and accuracy).

The methodology that will be used is a focus group that is tested with different types of keyboards as well as a user preference questionnaire. Participants will each be given 7-minute typing tasks for each of the keyboards that will be tested. Their speed, accuracy and common errors can be monitored and quantified. The results that is expected from this study is that the smaller sizes of keyboards have a negative effect on typing performance, and that old-fashioned mechanical keyboards are better for typing performance.

An evaluation method framework for Teen Computer Interaction

Abstract: Teenagers seem to be neglected within the field of human computer interaction, stuck in the gap between the field of child computer interaction and typical human computer interaction, which focuses on adult users. This research proposal presents my plan for creating an evaluation method framework for teenagers. The aim of this research is to determine which evaluation methods of each, child computer interaction and human computer interaction, are applicable to teenager computer interaction and can be combined to formulate a new evaluation framework targeted specifically on teenagers, whereas child computer interaction is currently focused on younger children.

Upon completion, the framework will be put to the test by performing usability testing against existing methods in the child computer interaction and human computer interaction fields. I hope the results show that an evaluation framework designed specifically for teenagers is more successful and appropriate than using methods focused on either younger children or adults.

“Look Ma, no HUD!”. The role of minimalistic interfaces in creating an “invisible interface” for optimal video game experience

Abstract: This proposal discusses the need for a paper that examines the creation and sustainability of so-called “invisible interfaces” in video games through the use of minimalistic interfaces, specifically in story-driven games. These story driven games are further examined as either “traditional” or “interactive cinema” games. Conclusions seek then to be drawn on how each type causes the manifestation of the invisible interface in order to better understand both how traditional and interactive cinema games remediate from each other, as well as how invisible interfaces can be better implemented in games of all types and genres as a result.

Being in the Game: Evaluating the Influence of Narrative on Immersive Gameplay

Abstract: This is a research proposal for evaluating the influence of narrative on immersive gameplay. We discuss the importance of immersion in Video Games and how this can be influenced by narrative. We propose a qualitative research where players will be asked to play three games, during which we will track eye movement to measure attention during gameplay, where after the player will be interviewed to determine their perceived level of immersion as well as their thoughts on the game narrative during their play session. The purpose of this research is to get more insight into narrative influence on immersion. This is important to both the young domain of Video Game HCI and also to provide game designers with a clearer understanding of narrative influence in order to improve immersive game design.

Gamification of the workplace: Using game elements to boost productivity

Abstract: Many office environments require of employees to produce discrete units of work at a high rate. Repetitive work can be demoralizing and reduce productivity because of demotivation. This is a problem because the success of a business is dependent on the productivity of its employees. A progress tracking and achievement system is proposed to increase productivity of employees by inducing a competitive atmosphere in an office environment.

The proposed system allows users to compare productivity amongst one another and view achievements unlocked by individual employees. Some design aspects of such a system is investigated. An experiment approach is suggested whereby the productivity of employees is measured before the introduction of the system into the workplace to establish a baseline for comparison. Productivity is measured after the introduction of the system into the workplace and evaluated against baseline productivity.

Strategies for increasing user engagement in operation control rooms

Abstract: The question of control room operator engagement has been a subject of worry in the field of operator control room ergonomics, and although the displays have been optimised (Koffskey, et al 2013), and the control rooms automated to minimize human error (Larson, 2012), not much attention has been given to increase operator engagement in their vigilant activities.

This paper intends to focus on increasing operator engagement in control rooms by exploiting a well known engagement technique (Zichermann and Cunningham, 2011) gamification. I will be conducting a quasi-experiment using the interrupted time series design in order to evaluate operator response times to real and simulated emergencies over a period of 6 months. By juxtaposing their reaction times both before the use of the gamified system and after, I will be able to prove that the use of a gamified system has increased their response times, and therefore be able to deduce if increased engagement increased overall safety on the plant.

In conclusion, this paper intends to shed light on how to increase operator engagement in their vigilance tasks, and in so doing decrease the amount of tragic events that occur due to operator irresponsiveness.

Evaluating the use of Social Media by the South African Government

Abstract: Social media is playing an increasingly important role in society. Many organisations including governments have started to notice this importance and increased their social media presence. This study aims to evaluate the efforts made by the South African government in terms of social media. A literature study will provide background on social media, as a whole, in other governments and in the South African government.

Qualitative data will be gathered from interviews with a sample of the population selected, using the stratified sampling method. Quantitative data will be gathered using questionnaires sent out to the various government departments to gain knowledge about their social media efforts. Finally a usability test in the form of a case study  will be done on a government social media account.

The research is conducted under the hypothesis that the South African government does not have a strong enough social media presence and will aim to prove that hypothesis.

An Empirical Investigation of Learner-to-Learner Interaction for The Support of Virtual Interaction in Promoting Learning

Abstract: As the industry applies greater pressures on higher education institutions to deliver quality and generic graduates, the various institutions employ instructional strategies to make this possible [13]. Included in these strategies are e-learning environments which attempt to actively involve the learners in their own learning process [5, 7]. In an e-learning environment, actively involving the learner is key to meeting the objectives of an online course [9]. A subset of the e-learning environment is virtual interaction, which attempts to simulate the learner-instructor interaction [4].

The proposed study research will build on previous research, ranging from learning theories to applications of learning strategies. The proposed topic builds specifically on research by Cao et al. [4]. Additionally to replicating the study by Cao et al., social mechanisms are added to the prototype proposed by Cao et al. [4]. These social mechanisms have the purpose to enhance the interaction satisfaction of a virtual interaction environment, whilst not interfering with a learner’s learning performance.

The research will be field based by exposing the virtual interaction environment to students during two lectures. A control group, representing the students that need to endure the traditional classroom face-to-face lectures, is also participating. The type of knowledge that will be taught in the two lectures will be different. Quantitative data will be gathered throughout the lectures, pretests and posttests. Furthermore, qualitative data will be collected by utilising the system logs and audit trails of learner activities within the virtual interaction environment and by video recording the control group’s activities during the lectures.

Quantitative analysis techniques, like the repeated measures analysis [20], ANCOVA [2], MANOVA [16], etc. will be used to investigate the quantitative data. The qualitative data will be processed by the authors by viewing them and determining patterns using qualitative techniques.

Proposal for Using a Stylus as a Tool with Mobile Tablets to Improve Copy-Editing as a Separate task from Content Creation

Abstract: The process of creating content, printing it for review/editing/marking and then retrieving it for feedback analysis can be laborious and time wasting. One of the reasons it is still done today, even with the available collaborative and distributed software, is because of personal preference. 

A proposal is created to investigate an alternative using tablet computers and stylus pens that could mimic the natural writing process and potentially satisfy the personal preference of the copy-editor, whilst adding the functionality and convenience of software based editing. The proposal includes currently available software, and guidelines for creating an application that would facilitate the experiment. Suggestions on how to elicit results are also made, noting issues.

A Research Proposal for Evaluating the Accessibility of the EPUB 3.0 standard for the Visually Impaired

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to evaluate the accessibility provided by the EPUB 3 format for the visually impaired. The EPUB 3 standard is a widely published eBook format supported by multiple devices and therefore is a necessary standard to evaluate in terms of usability for the visually impaired. Various sources cited within this research claims the EPUB 3 standard allows and promotes use by blind users, thus it is sensible to evaluate its accessibly support. Sources contained in this research proposal claim the accessibility of EPUB, but very little research has been done to evaluate the actual usability of an eBook utilizing the accessibility guidelines that the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) state in the EPUB 3 standard.

This research is specifically aimed at evaluating the usability for the visually impaired. This research aims to evaluate the EPUB 3 standard’s accessibility guidelines to determine how accessible the format is to the blind. The study does not investigate device functionality, but the accessibility potential of the standard. This research aims to conduct a case study consisting of two parts investigating the EPUB 3 standard and the accessibility the standard provides to blind users. The first part of the case study involves visually impaired users being observed using an EPUB 3 publication created according to the standard.

The second section involves a focus group with the participating users in order to discover frustrations they experienced and requirements they have from an eBook. The research proposed in this paper can lead to valuable discoveries which can be used in future accessibility development of the EPUB standard. Results obtained can be utilised to reflect the needs of blind users in future versions of the EPUB format.

Cloud testing quality – success factors and metrics. A User experience centered study on the success factors and metrics for cloud testing quality

Abstract: Cloud Services is becoming an increasing choice for the growing resources- and computational needs of the software industry. One of these services, called Cloud Testing, offers testing capabilities and resources on a large scale to (mostly) Web-based solutions and mobile applications.

A potential research opportunity exists for the assurance of quality and user experience in online software testing – a common enough outcome of any software testing. This paper serves as a proposal to research and understand possible Success Factors and metrics for quality of online testing. A Grounded Theory approach together with a user-experience experiment will serve as the main methodology for this research.



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