conference · eHealth · EIT Health · Group work

Some remarks on EIT Alumni Connect 2017, in Budapest

Connect

As I wrote in my last blog post the EIT Alumni Connect event was hosted in Budapest October 15 –  October 16. I really had a great time during this event and if I should choose one word to describe the overall impression I got from the event it would be “Inspiring”! There were a lot of inspiring and thought provoking talks/keynotes spread over these two days and the hands-on activities provided learning as well as networking opportunities. A lot happened during these days and I cannot cover everything in the blog post, but I will at least make a few important points.

First of all, I really liked the setting in the room we all gathered in during the event. There were around 100 participants and 16 round tables and the activities performed especially during the first day made sure that there were representatives from several alumni networks (EIT Health, EIT Digital, EIT Raw Materials, Climate-KIC and InnoEnergy) by each table. This gave an excellent opportunity to develop an understanding of the different main areas where EIT is involved. One of the main aims of the event was to provide an opportunity to connect with other alumni and the setting ensured that networking could be performed both within and across the represented areas.

One especially interesting group activity was performed during the last part (before dinner) of the first day. The main aim was to work on real problems identified by the participants – problems related to the main areas of EIT. The group work activity started out by a discussion among the participants at the respective tables, about different project ideas that we would like to work with. My idea was, of course, based on patient accessible electronic health records and more specifically means of using these systems as mediators during patient visits. The ideas presented at my table were very different from one another since the participants represented different alumni networks. The next step was a very short pitch, given on stage so that everyone could hear. About 20 participants pitched ideas. Based on the pitches the rest of the participants should decide which idea they wanted to work with for the rest of the day. I never pitched my own idea, since I was really curious about another participant’s idea (about developing a system to enable digital consent for use of health data in research) and hence wanted to work on that instead. During the following 1.5 hours we discussed the respective projects within the newly formed project groups. The focus was to develop the idea and to develop a pitch which should be presented to a jury. This step was really important, since the three top groups would get a grant of 5000 Euros from EIT, which they should use to implement the ideas! Just before lunch the second day the three winners, named EIT Workshop, Impact and EIT Chaos, were announced.

The gamification component introduced in the group work activity was really working. Everyone gave great pitches and there were so many interesting ideas represented in the room. I’m quite sure the jury had a tuff choice to make. I also think it’s great the EIT actually give grants to promising projects. EIT support for projects and most of all start-ups was a theme that was covered in almost all keynotes and activities. The communities really support entrepreneurship and innovation. The different EIT KICs (Knowledge Innovation Communities) have supported several startups and projects through grants, accelerators and incubators. Some of these startups, which have become real success stories, were show cased during one of the presentations.

The keynotes covered EIT in general as well as different opportunities and challenges when it comes to most of all innovation and entrepreneurship. Some lectures also covered successful spin-offs of the kind of group project activities I described above, from earlier years  of EIT Alumni Connect. One of this spin-offs was the new group Women@EIT. The opening keynote showed that many good things have come from the EIT KICs during the recent years. E.g. several companies supported by EIT have great impact in many different areas and more and more students graduate from EIT master programs. A few challenges were, however, also mentioned. One identified need was that end users should be involved to a higher degree (HCI researchers really have an opportunity to contribute here!). EIT also wants to add new KICs so that all major issues we face today are covered (integration, security and water protection are a few areas that are not covered today). The board also wants to create even more collaborations across KICs. I really think the last point is important, since key challenges must be addressed from several different angles.

I really enjoyed being a part of the EIT Alumni Connect activity and I’m really considering applying for one of the open positions at the EIT Health Alumni board. (as I said earlier EIT Health Alumni is fairly new). I think I can make important contributions since I’m both a chronic patient and a researcher – maybe it would be beneficial to have a patient representative on the board? There were quite a few open positions to choose from (they were all presented during a lunch meeting with the current board members earlier today).

I will end this post by some words different participants used to describe EIT Alumni Connect during the first session today. I think they summarize what EIT is about in a good way: networking, explosive, fun, collaboration, innovation, inspiration.

communication · Group work · Haptics

More about my work with haptic communicative functions in collaborative virtual environments

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I’m currently in the process of writing a job application for an associate professorship and to make sure I don’t miss anything I recently browsed through my old conference folders to find the articles to append. When I came to EuroHaptics 2010 I was reminded about something I had completely forgotten – I was actually one of the organizers behind a workshop at that conference! I spent quite a lot of time preparing for the workshop, which focused on haptic communicative functions, but the weekend before the conference I got very sick and was forced to cancel my participation. I will take this opportunity to briefly introduce the workshop and discuss some of my work prior to it. My earlier blog posts on haptic feedback as an interaction modality were the following:

It was a shame that I could not attend the workshop/conference in Amsterdam, since it was based on my work on collaboration in multimodal environments up to that point. Thus, this was the perfect opportunity to discuss the work performed and get input regarding future work in the area. We described the focus of the workshop in the following way:

In this workshop, concrete examples will be presented and discussed in terms of how the touch modality can support communication and collaboration. Also, the technical challenges of distributed haptic feedback will be addressed. The target audience of the workshop is researchers and practitioners focusing on haptic feedback supporting people in settings where more than one user are involved. We invite other researchers and practitioners to share their research and experience from their different projects focussing specifically on the collaborative perspective. It might be that the collaborative aspects in your project have not yet been addressed. In that case, interesting collaborative aspects can be identified during the discussions in this workshop.

Quite a lot of work was performed by me and my “multimodal colleagues” 🙂 prior to the workshop. First of all, I had performed my master’s thesis work back in 2006 which focused on collaboration between visually impaired and sighted pupils in elementary school. Evaluations were performed in schools, where visually impaired and sighted pupils collaborated in dynamic collaborative environments where objects could be moved. During that work, and especially during a re-analyses performed during my first year as a Ph.D. student (2008) I realized that communicative functions based on haptic feedback had a real potential both when it came to supporting collaborative work and supporting inclusion of the visually impaired pupils in group work with sighted peers. It became especially clear that haptic functions for guiding (holding on to the same object or holding on to the peer’s proxy) can replace verbal guidance to a large extent.

Imagine a situation where you need to guide a visually impaired pupil to a particular place in a virtual environment. If you only have the visual feedback to rely on when establishing a common frame of reference, you need to talk a lot like  “go down, more down, …no, too much, go back…, now to the right…no, not down, up again… here it is!”. If you have haptic feedback available you can just grab the other person’s proxy and move the visually impaired peer to the right place and just say “here”. Needless to say, haptic feedback affects the dialogue between collaborators in this case. If you want to learn more about this explorative study you can read the journal article we finalized a few years after the study.

One problem that was evident from the evaluations with the visually impaired and sighted pupils was that the visually impaired pupil was not aware about what the sighted pupil did when haptic guiding was not utilized. This is why we performed a follow-up study where we added sound cues to the above mentioned dynamic interface to provide feedback on actions taken in the interface (e.g. grasping and putting down objects). We compared the new visual/haptic/audio version to the original visual/haptic one. We managed to show that the dialogue between the collaborators differed depending on which program version they worked in and it was also clear that the work was more effective (measured as time to complete task) in the visual/haptic/audio version. Once again, we could also clearly see how access to haptic feedback influenced the communication. You can read more about this study in this article.

These two studies resulted in a theoretical conference paper presented at HAID (Haptic and Audio Interaction Design) 2009, where we tried to develop a kind of conceptual model regarding haptic communicative functions’ effects on the dialogue between collaborators. This was my first attempt at a meta-analysis of the insights gained within this research area. The paper summarizes and discusses all the effects on the dialogue I had seen in my studies thus far. The paper made quite an impression – it is still the most referenced of all the papers I have produced up until today! At that point we were still quite unique when it came to haptic collaborative environments and I still think I’m one of the very few researchers who study the effect of haptic and audio feedback on the dialogue between collaborators.

The HAID conference paper laid the ground work for the workshop described in the beginning of this post and during the workshop the idea to study collaboration between two sighted persons was introduced and discussed. Next time I write about my earlier work I will introduce my latest study on collaborative multimodal interfaces, that showed that haptic and audio feedback indeed have effects on the dialogue between sighted persons as well!

 

Group work · Haptics

Haptic interaction research: one great memory!

Since Christmas is coming up I will in this blog post break my series on haptic interaction and talk about a specific memory from my research (rather than discussing an application area in general). The memory I’m presenting here comes from evaluations performed in schools several years ago.

The evaluations were performed within the scope of an EU project (MICOLE), which aimed at developing tools for supporting collaboration between sighted and visually impaired pupils in elementary school classes. One of the major problems today is that sighted and visually impaired pupils use different work materials which are not easily shared, sometimes causing them to do “group work” in parallel rather than together. By developing environments based on haptic feedback, which could be accessible to both sighted and visually impaired pupils, the project tried to address this important problem.

One of my contributions to the project was a 2D (or rather 2.5D) interface presenting a virtual whiteboard on which geometrical shapes and angles were drawn (felt as raised lines). Two haptic devices were connected so that one sighted and one visually impaired pupil could be in the virtual environment at the same time. The tasks, during the evaluations in schools, were to go through the shapes and angles respectively together and categorize them. These kinds of tasks were chosen since we knew that the pupils in the schools where we performed the evaluations had just started to learn geometry.

When we came to one of the schools we soon realized that the pupils had just started to learn geometrical shapes, but they had never talked about angles – they could not discriminate between right, acute and obtuse angles. Therefore we needed to explain how to discriminate between the different types of angles before the evaluation started. When a task presenting 10 different angles (some right, some obtuse and some acute), forming an irregular star-shaped figure, had been loaded the visually impaired pupil took a few minutes to explore the interface in order to locate the angles in the figure. After this, the pupil moved directly to one of the angles and categorized it, correctly, as acute – something that also the sighted pupils agreed on. They then browsed through the angles, one by one, always focusing on the angle the visually impaired pupil was currently “touching”. They always came up with the right answers!

I really enjoyed watching this group working in the interface. It was so obvious that the application could be used as a shared interface for discussing a concept which was new to everyone. It was equally obvious that the visually impaired pupil, after just a few minutes of exploration, knew exactly how to navigate to the different angles in the star-shaped figure (without having to follow all edges!). This enabled the visually impaired pupil to take and keep the initiative during the discussions! Thus, the interface clearly, at least in this particular case, enabled inclusion of the visually impaired pupil in the group work. Watching this group work in the interface, and especially seeing the visually impaired pupil leading the discussion, is definitely one of the greatest memories I have from my research on haptic interaction.

I will get back to this study, and related studies, in a later blog post related to communication in haptic interfaces. Those who are curious about the study I briefly introduced above can also read this article.

 

Merry Christmas to everyone!