Human-Centered Computing Track Overview Video

The following is a transcript of the video clip "Human-Centered Computing Track Overview Video":

Ben Limmer (Junior): Hi, I'm Ben Limmer, I'm a junior in computer science right now. If you could just start off by telling us a little bit about your background, and also just a little bit about HCI.

Leysia Palen (Assistant Professor): Sure, my name is Leysia Palen, and I've been at CU for 12 years now. My background is in Human-Computer Interaction, which, the term is still in use, although we've modernized it quite a bit, and we talk about it now as Human-Centered Computing. And I've worked in a variety of areas in Human-Centered Computing, starting in aviation, working in mobile computing, mobile telephony and texting, and now I work in disaster response.

Limmer: Great. So kind of along the same lines, what are some of the industries or jobs that are particularly useful to study in Human-Centered Computing?

Palen: Well I think that's a great question and follow-up to some of Clayton's remarks, where I think training in Human-Computer Interaction prepares one for a variety of things that you encounter in the workplace. When you go into the workplace you find that the software being built is, often meets a set of requirements, but doesn't always capture all the requirements for which it needs to be used in most situations. And Human-Centered Computing, the training in this area will give you, at the very least, it'll give you a set of skills and tools, and it will also help you develop an eye toward understanding the bigger picture in which technology is used. And so I think it helps at the levels of software development, it helps at program management, it helps at higher levels of management, and I think it can help in a variety, any number of areas. In my slide that I have, "Technology is everywhere", so virtually every industry has to encounter that, encounters problems like these.

Limmer: So with something that's so wide-reaching, what are some of the really cool, new sort of innovations in the topic of HCC?

Palen: Well, so because technology is everywhere, I think the innovations follow what is, it pushes the state of the art, it also follows the state of the art. So as others in other areas of science and computer science are pushing what technology is capable of doing, people in Human-Centered Computing are trying to anticipate how it's going to be used, and adapt it on a very large scale. So what I like about this picture, for example, is that it used to be that we had to think about designing just for desktop computers and single-user applications, and now, as technology gets smaller and more portable, we have to imagine the cases in which technology is everywhere in which it is. So in crowds, crowd-based human-computer interaction. Human computer interaction work in education, in every aspect of life. Lots of work done in domestic studies, in the home, in childcare, in health, all aspects of life.

Limmer: Great. So, HCC obviously is different enough from General Computing to warrant having its own track, so what would a student who is interested in Human-Centered Computing, what would they get form taking the HCC track as opposed to say General Computing?

Palen: Yeah, so maybe you want to go back to the tracks slide there. So, what you get early on goes back to that "Computer Science + X". You get the option to expand and understand the role of computer science as it relates to other fields and broader society. So there's a cognitive science emphasis, there's a social science emphasis. Clayton leads a wonderful professional development course that lets you think about the use of technology and opportunities its application in particular situations or in research. And then you can specialize among a variety of things. Katie Siek teaches Health Informatics, Mike Eisenberg does Things that Think, so has a more engineering aspect, Clayton Lewis and Alex Repenning do Game Programming, and Gerhard Fischer looks at Creativity and New Media, and so there's ways to expand computer science so that students get the training to understand how a machine works, and also think about how we then use that machine. And being able to traverse that boundary is a really, really powerful thing for people to be able to do as more and more people are thinking about how to use computer science. It's one thing to have great ideas about how we might use computers, but if you're trying to communicate that to somebody who doesn't understand what you're saying, and if the person who's working with the machine doesn't understand the application area, it's a really difficult bridge to cross. So being able to have some training and work between those two, cross that boundary, is a really important place to be in this society.

Limmer: So in addition to that, are there any other characteristics specifically that you think makes a student a good fit for HCC?

Palen: I think some core HCC training for all computer science students is helpful, which is why I think the User-Centered Design course is on many tracks. For students again who wish to specialize at that kind of moving between the boundaries of the machine and how the machine works in the real world, who are curious about some big picture concerns, which I think happens in all of our tracks -- it's not specific to this track -- but those who really want to start elaborating on the bigger picture and thinking about "what's next", how can we push innovation, how can we make it practical, how can we it commercial, those I think would be the students who might be best suited for this particular track.

Limmer: Great. And just as sort of an ending point, do you have any suggestions for someone who might watch this video or hear that they're interested, you know, they might be interested in HCC, is there any sort of research, blogs, specific work that they could look into to sort of see if they're truly interested?

Palen: Yeah, so there are lots of places to look. So we use Human-Centered Computing as a description for our track because that is the term that's being used at the National Science Foundation to describe this line of work, it captures the idea of social computing, social media, in the very broadest of sense, if you type that into Google you'll see how far-reaching this field is. With respect to what we do here at CU, I have a link here at the bottom (, and it'll give you an overview of the kinds of things we do, and certainly it focuses on giving you some pointers to the labs, the faculty who are doing research in this area here at Colorado. And the other thing I'll mention is that CU has, one of the universities that has the longest legacy in this area of research and teaching, predating this current name. Clayton Lewis, Gerhard Fischer, Tom Landauer, Peter Polson, others, really are known for starting HCI at CU, so we have a very nice, long legacy to pull from here. So there's lots to learn from this area here at CU, and hopefully that site will get people started.

Limmer: Great, thank you.

Palen: No problem.

Transcript provided by Erik Silkensen.