Grant application · Group work · Haptics

Looking back at the first two years of research at Örebro University, part 2: accessible digital collaborative learning environments

This research area is related to my first success when it comes to research grant applications. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post I drafted a Vinnova application for their call “Digital tools” during my first weeks at Örebro University. The first sentences on that application were actually written during my very first day at the university! The application was entitled “Virtual environments supporting group work between sighted and visually impaired pupils” and focused on designing and evaluating new digital learning environments partly based on the results from observations and interviews with both pupils and teachers during the first part of the project.

This is a perfect continuation of my earlier work within the area – my entire doctoral project was focused on designing and evaluating collaborative virtual environments based on combinations of visual, haptic and auditory feedback. You could say that my research career started here. This article summarizes my earlier work in this area, which included design and evaluation of new learning environments in which sighted and visually impaired pupils could work together to solve tasks related to geometry and the concepts of area and volume. The new learning environments were then evaluated in different elementary schools. You can read more about this earlier study in this blog post. When working with this study I also came into contact with the concept of haptic feedback for the first time and since then I have developed and evaluated several haptic applications that provide feedback to your sense of touch through special hardware. You can read more in my blog series on haptic interaction design.

The Vinnova application was handed in around a month after I started at Örebro University and after a few months of waiting, Vinnova sent us the accept message! I wrote this blog post, where I introduced the project partners, shortly after Vinnova made their decision public. I have really enjoyed working in this project, which is the result of my first ever accepted research grant application (co-applicant). As I write in this blog post we have experienced some problems due to the pandemic (e.g. observations in schools could not be carried out and all interviews needed to be carried out online), but the project was mostly a success. The blog image above actually shows my work set-up at my country side, where I was carrying out all my parts of the project.

My main responsibility in the project was to design and implement one of the project’s new digital collaborative learning environments. My application focused on the coordinate system concept and should be used to teach pupils about for example points and the equation of straight lines. The visual part was not that hard, but the haptic implementation was a real challenge. Let’s take the straight line as an example – how would you design the line so that it is clearly felt and possible to follow while at the same time making sure that it does not interfere too much with the exploration of the coordinate system? Keep in mind that severely visually impaired pupils should be able to use the application. It took several iterations before I ended up with the slightly magnetic line that was used in the final application. I will write more about the many interesting technical aspects in a later blog post, where I will also write about how I worked remotely with my KTH colleague Kjetil Falkenberg to synchronize his sound model with my visual and haptic model. I wasn’t the only one developing applications in the project – my former KTH colleague Jonas Forsslund (now Forsslund Systems AB and Haptikfabriken AB) developed another application based on exploration of maps. Also based on this application we had many interesting design-related discussions about the haptic and audio designs. I will come back to some of those later on as well.

After several iterations of development and user testing with users we ended up with two applications that I think we should be very happy with, especially since the whole idea with the Vinnova call was to develop prototypes and/or proof-of-concepts (not applications that are ready for implementation). I will describe the applications more thoroughly when the first results are about to be published. One risk with Vinnova projects is that they are often a lot more focused on development than on research, but in this case we have plenty of material from the design process and the interviews that we can publish and/or use as a basis for future research. This concerns for example interesting design dilemmas, the overall design process and support for collaboration between visually impaired and sighted pupils in general. All project partners are very interested in continuing to collaborate and I’m quite sure that this Vinnova project will not be the last externally funded project we will be engaged in. This time around, we did not include any colleagues from Örebro University, but I have every intention to include more of my colleagues in future projects in this area.

As I have written earlier, I recently bought new haptic devices to be used in research at my department. I’m still at my countryside due to the pandemic, but as soon as I get back to my office it is time to start discussions on how we can make use of the haptic dimension in our future research!  🙂

DOME · eHealth · Grant application · Medical Records Online · NORDeHEALTH

Looking back at the first two years of research at Örebro University, part 1: eHealth services for patients

In my last blog post I began my summary of the first half of my assistant professorship at Örebro University. In this blog post I will write more about the research part. During these last two years I have conducted research within these three different areas:

  • eHealth services for patients
  • accessible collaborative digital learning environments
  • teaching in higher education

My initial idea was to write one single blog post where I would summarize my research activities within all these areas, but I soon realized that the blog post would be too long. Instead, this post will focus on the first area, and the next two posts will focus on the second and third area, respectively.

eHealth services for patients

Just like I was before I started working at Örebro University, I have been a regular member of the DOME (Development of Online Medical records and E-health services) research consortium. This consortium gathers researchers from several Swedish universities and I have really enjoyed the collaboration with other DOME-researchers ever since I joined 2016. At the time I started up my assistant professorship, DOME was not externally funded (members were involved in e.g. Forte projects, but the consortium was not funded as a whole). During the first months at Örebro University I was one of many DOME researchers who wrote an application to NordForsk, in collaboration with partners from Finland, Norway, Estonia and USA. This was of course a great opportunity to fund the consortium as well as strengthening the collaboration with researchers in other countries who also focus on the implementation and effects of eHealth services for patients. The result of this hard work was the NordForsk-funded project NORDeHEALTH (Nordic eHealth for Patients: Benchmarking and Developing for the Future)! You can read more about the partners and the focus of the project in this blog post and of course on the official project webpage. The three-year project has now been running for around 8 months. Our project leader, Maria Hägglund from Uppsala University, leads management meetings each month, where most researchers participate, and we also have shorter informal “coffee and chat” sessions twice a month.

I really enjoy being a part of the NORDeHEALTH project and we have a really nice mix of researchers from several different disciplines! The only real down side up to this point is related to the pandemic – we have been working together for several months and we have still not gotten the opportunity to actually meet in person. Hopefully, we will be able to meet for the first time in December.

My responsibilities in the project are to lead the team at Örebro University and to co-lead the work package “WP 2 – National socio-technical contexts and policies” together with Isabella Scandurra. In this blog post you can read about the first months of work in our work package. We are currently working with collecting data related to the Swedish patient portal 1177 and the Swedish patient accessible electronic health record system Journalen. It will be very interesting to compare the results from the different countries later on during the autumn! Quite soon, large surveys will also be distributed in the participating Nordic countries and interview studies with both patients and healthcare professionals will be carried out. I will get back on this later on. There is no doubt that this project will play an important role when it comes to for example the understanding of the implementation and effects of eHealth services for patients, as well as future development of these kinds of services (at least) in the Nordic countries.

Before NORDeHEALTH started, I mostly worked with data from the large national patient survey that I have been writing about many times on this blog, and I was also part of a smaller research collaboration with my colleague Gunnar Klein and Region Örebro regarding the region’s implementation of video visits in primary care. Hopefully, new funding will come in making it possible to study both the implementation and initial effects of engaging in video visits, in depth. I would definitely welcome such a research project. I mentioned the successful research application above, but of course some unsuccessful ones were handed in as well. Four applications (one to the Swedish Research Council, one to AFA Insurances and two to Forte) were declined. Three of them were focusing on different aspects of patient accessible electronic health records and shared decision making and the fourth, to AFA Insurances, focused on how digital technology could be, and should be, used when relatives communicate with dying relatives without being able to meet in person. I assume that we will be making new rounds with the applications during this autumn and next year.

When it comes to conferences I have participated in both Vitalis and The International Symposium for Health Information Management Research (ISHIMR), which were both held online. You can read about my online Vitalis experience here and you can actually find the video presentation that Hanife Rexhepi and I used for the ISHIMR conference here.

Distance work · DOME · eHealth · Grant application · Haptics · NORDeHEALTH

Just reached half-time of my assistant professorship at Örebro University!

In the beginning of August 2019 I started off my work as an assistant professor in Informatics at Örebro University. The assistant professorship is a four year position, and towards the end you will, in most cases, be promoted to a senior lecturer or associate professor after an application procedure. Since I have now reached half-time, I think it’s reasonable to summarize what I have done this far and discuss what lies ahead.

Overall, I’m very happy with how the first two years played out when it comes to both research (~80%) and teaching (~20%), even though the pandemic posed some difficult challenges in both areas. I have gotten the opportunity to participate in some very interesting research collaborations. The funded Vinnova project I drafted the application for during the first weeks at the university ended just before summer 2021 and the collaboration that was built with the involved stakeholders was really fruitful. Representatives from both The Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired and The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools (SPSM) want to continue the collaborations and we are already looking for new funding opportunities in the area of accessible digital collaborative learning environments. The national and international collaborations in the NordForsk project NORDeHEALTH, which started up formally in January 2021, have also been fruitful and I look forward to another two years of research on personal eHealth services in the Nordic countries. Aside from working in externally funded projects, I also started up some internal collaborations, mostly related to pedagogical research. I will write more about the first two years of research, and the publications published, in my second and third posts about the first half of the assistant professorship.

The teaching has been more of a challenge than I expected when I stared working as an assistant professor two years ago. I know the courses, but being thrown into digital teaching mode made the teaching more difficult than ever before, especially since I have been course responsible for the courses I have been involved in (Interaction design and System development theory). Despite this, the courses worked really well and the students seemed to be happy with them. I will write more about these courses, and the challenges associated with digital teaching and examination, in my fourth and last blog post about the first two years of my assistant professorship.

I really hope, and also believe, that the second half will be just as rewarding as the first one. Hopefully, I will be able to start even more internal research collaborations, especially now when I have made sure that we have two brand new haptic devices at the department – this should open up several new research opportunities within, for example, the areas of digital learning environments and multimodal data exploration and analysis!