A Virginia Tech group of 11 students and faculty made the trek from Blacksburg to attend the CAPWIC 2023 conference in Richmond VA. CAPWIC is the Capitol Region Women in Computing conference, an annual regional opportunity to celebrate and promote participation of women and other underrepresented minorities in computing. Virginia Tech had a big presence, featuring 20 students, faculty, and alumni: (1) we were a conference sponsor, hosting a booth for each the Blacksburg and the Capitol Region Innovation Campus; (2) Virginia Tech faculty member and VT Innovation Campus Director Lance Collins presented the opening keynote, connecting “hidden figure” and VT alumna Dr. Gladys West and the new VT Innovation Campus; and (3) we led both a workshop and a panel, detailed here:

Designing Mobile Games for the Outdoors: From Interesting Ideas to Working Games, a workshop on designing games with outdoor themes. Participants learned about ways to design mobile games and how outdoor themes can drive appeal, building on the themes of our Tech on the Trail initiative. The workshop was run by Virginia Tech researchers Scott McCrickard, Morva Saaty, and Jaitun Patel, with 20 students and faculty from 8 colleges and universities engaging in a creative design activity using the Marvel POP sketch-based wireframing tool.

Designing Apps for Diversity: Building Bridges through Mobile and Web App Development, a panel featuring three Virginia Tech alums: Joon Suk Lee, Department Chair of Computer Science at Virginia State University; Chandani Shreshtha, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at James Madison University; and Mohammed Seyam, Collegiate Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech. Scott McCrickard moderated the panel. The panel explored how mobile and web apps can help give voice to individuals from groups that are often marginalized in computer science and other computing fields. Dr. Lee presented his work on microcoordination, delving into to roles of technology in coordinating attention, task completion, and interpersonal interactions. Dr. Shreshtha discussed how the ThoughtSwap tool, developed in her lab when she was a grad student, can be used to support conscientious discourse in classrooms. She talked about how contained anonymity and ephemerality play a role in the swapping of thoughts, toward supporting a broad and diverse set of opinions. Dr. Seyam discussed his experiential learning efforts, with a focus on how synchronous and asynchronous technologies can help facilitate communication.

Below are photos from the event, including of the students, faculty, and alumni who were in attendance.

Dr. Scott McCrickard talks to the VT attendees prior to the conference
VT Innovation Campus Director Lance Collins gives the opening keynote
Ice cream and a workshop preview, with the VT women's basketball final four game in the background
Panelists Mohammed Seyam, Chandani Shreshtha, Joon Suk Lee, and moderator Scott McCrickard
Workshop organizer Scott McCrickard kicks off the workshop
Virginia Tech student attendees
Virginia Tech students, faculty, and alumni at CAPWIC
Dinner in Charlottesville on our way back to Blacksburg
Fun in downtown Charlottesville

Designing Outdoor Games

I’m pleased to announce that our research on mobile apps for supporting outdoor activities was funded by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS). More to come, but here’s a description of the multi-university project:

This proposal assembles researchers with interests in education, gaming, science, art, history, and technology to explore and design educational games for outdoor settings. The proposed efforts will result in scientifically-grounded games focused on learning. The proposal addresses the ICTAS RFP by bringing together faculty at VT and HBCUs in an area likely to result in funding proposals. This proposal is related to the ICAT theme “Reimagining Education” by creating new educational games at the intersection of science, art, history, and technology.

The VT-HBCU team combines researchers and practitioners at Virginia Tech with those at two Virginia HBCUs: Norfolk State University (NSU) and Virginia State University (VSU). The three locations reflect differences in Virginia’s cultural, historical, environmental, and diversity aspects. VT PI McCrickard leads the Technology of the Trail initiative, exploring ways that technology enhances the outdoor experience, and he has led prior diversity-related initiatives with the partner HBCUs. Co-PI Morsi (NSU) has presented at GamiCon, the Frontiers in Education conference, and other top venues that reflect her expertise in research at the intersection of gaming and education. She will give lectures about necessary design elements to be included in successful educational games, and she will recruit and advise students to work on projects. Co-PIs Doswell (NSU) and McCrickard (VT) have worked together on prior Broadening Participation in Computing efforts, with external funding and publication success.  Co-PI Lee (VSU), a VT graduate, VSU department head, and CHILD Lab director, will sponsor projects in VSU’s new app development courses. The faculty are committed to pursuing government and corporate funding opportunities based on findings from the projects.

The proposed work will connect faculty and will identify students (both grad and undergrad) with interest in developing mobile games and educational software to help raise awareness of science, history, art, and the environment. Potential topics include: games for identification of plants; diversity-related historic trail walks; exercise games built on Fitbit data; and sharing trail experiences through photographs and videos. Games will be client-based, ensuring strong connections to science, history, and technology. Projects will be scoped by at least one PI and at least one client. Each possible client has worked with one or more of the PIs on similar projects in the past. We will actively recruit other clients from science, history, and art.

COMPASS 2022 paper: Reddit and the AT

Grad student Morva Saaty took the lead on a note published and presented at the COMPASS 2022 conference titled “Studying Sustainable Practices of Appalachian Trail Community based on Reddit Topic Modeling Analysis. Co-authors include Jaitun Patel, Norhan Abdelgawad, Jeff Marion, Scott McCrickard, Shalini Misra, and Kris Wernstedt. Morva and Jaitun represented Virginia Tech at the conference at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The note examined how the social media platform Reddit helps people prepare for the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail. A key focal point of our investigation was to see what topics were most frequently discussed, and whether issues of sustainability and “leave no trace” (LNT) were major topics of discussion. Certainly the first LNT principle, “plan ahead and prepare”, is a major topic of discussion. There was a lot of discussion about the right ways to care for the shelters and campsites, including LNT-related topics. But LNT as a topic itself rarely was raised, at least not by name. Our note concludes by issuing a challenge for social media researchers to understand Reddit in two regards: information and communication interventions, and understanding hikers’ experiences.

The ACM Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies (COMPASS) is a fairly new conference in the ACM lineup, starting in 2018. It focuses on research that addresses challenges of underrepresented and marginalized communities, including conservation, climate change, accessibility, equity, and education, among others. The conference seeks to include researchers and practitioners from both academia and industry, with a variety of research areas covered, including human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, networking, communication, government and public affairs, health and wellness, and many others. It seems to be a growing conference, one to consider for future submissions related to the tech on the trail initiative.

BOOK RELEASE PART 2: HCI Outdoors: Theory, Design, Methods and Applications

Our book received its first public unveiling at this year’s ACM SIGCHI Conference in May 2022.  HCI Outdoors: Theory, Design, Methods and Applications, from Springer Publishing, is an edited volume of contributions from 18 groups of authors in academia, industry, research labs, and think tanks who are defining new ways that technology is explored, designed, and tested for use in outdoor settings. The book consists of five sections: Rural Contexts, Willed and the Wild, Groups and Communities, Design for Outdoors, and Outdoor Recreation.

I provided a full description of the book in a previous post upon the release of the book. The SIGCHI event served as an opportunity for chapter authors to gather with the publisher and talk to interested readers. Despite an absence of many authors who had Covid concerns and other conflicts, six authors and editors were able to stop by the booth, and there was lots of interest from conference attendees.

My co-editor Mike Jones and I are brainstorming future ideas for the HCI Outdoors efforts–maybe a follow-up workshop at a future SIGCHI or another conference, partnership with companies that produce and distribute outdoor-related technologies and apps, and grants and publications with other academics and researchers. Please contact us if you’re interested in joining us in these efforts!