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You are here: Home 2006 Vol.38 No.4, October 2006 HCC Education Digital Library
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HCC Education Digital Library

A new role model in online resources: Human-Centered-Computing Education Digital Library offers HCC/HCI web content for faculty and students

James Foley created the Human-Centered Computing Education Digital Library site nearly three years ago with the hope that it would encourage faculty and students to share and obtain teaching resources dealing with HCI/HCC. “I realized there was a need for (a site like this),” said Foley, who is a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It focuses on HCI educational material as opposed to research material.” Users are able to directly contribute and post HCI/HCC content to the site, which is primarily targeted at those teaching HCI/HCC-centered courses for the first time. Resources are also beneficial to instructors who wish to simply refresh a course, or students who enjoy studying the topic more independently with supplemental material.

In April 2005, Foley helped organize the CHI Workshop on Graduate Education in Human-Computer Interaction in Seattle, which focused on the goals and curricula of various HCI programs, as well as the strengths and weaknesses involved in each program. According to Foley, the HCC Education Digital Library site is continually evolving and administrators are always looking for suggestions to improve functionality, usability and the quality of indexing.

Currently the site is maintained by several people advised by James Foley, including Edward Clarkson, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. Clarkson's focus is on HCI in general as well as design issues that affect digital library use in particular.

Edward Clarkson, HCC Education Digital Library administrator:

Q. What is the history of the site? Right now you can add PowerPoint lectures, class syllabi, videos, example projects, exams, homework assignments and more. Are you continually updating the site to allow more features?

I’m always looking for things to improve (and enjoy getting suggestions from users), from the minor to the major. Since the initial roll-out of the upgraded Digital Library, we’ve added smaller UI features like the ability to filter document tables when browsing the repository, mouse-over tooltips, and more links between related materials.

My major focus over the past few months has been on our new search facilities, which we upgraded over the summer. We changed to a Lucene (open source search and indexer) based system which incorporates some Digital Library visualization tools I’ve developed, based a graph layout technique called the treemap. I’m hoping the visualizations will assist in interpreting and understanding search result sets, and I also have some interactive versions of the same visualization for browsing the repository.

We also have a team of undergraduates working on an upgrade to the document submission system—what we have now is based on a Java applet and scales linearly with the number of documents you have to submit. That’s ok for one or two submissions, but not when you have whole class worth of material. The goals for the new system are to eliminate the need for (and overhead of) the Java runtime and to address the scalability issue using multiple selection, drag-and-drop and tagging operations.

Q. What exactly is your role in the creation and/or upkeep of the HCC Education Digital Library?

I took over the project when it was in its early stages—just a collection of hand-edited HTML pages (developed by another of Jim’s Ph.D. students, Jason Day) Since then, I’ve been kind of the day-to-day manager on the project (under Jim’s advisement).

The current version of the library (much improved over the old hand-edited site) was launched at the beginning of 2006; Andy Cox (former M.S. student, now at The Weather Channel) deserves the credit for developing the back-end infrastructure (database design, PHP scripts, etc.) for that. Andy Wu is a current M.S. student working on the project now, doing similar back-end work and also helping me with some tools for end-user studies. We also had a summer undergraduate intern, Kevin Yang (from UMBC) develop our submission applet.

Q. What is your background in general? How did you first become involved with the HCC Education Digital Library?

I grew up in Columbia, SC and received a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from Washington and Lee University (’00). After graduation, I worked for IBM in the Research Triangle Park for three years, and following that moved to Atlanta for the GT CS Ph.D. program. I spent my first year at GT on several smaller projects before starting to work with Jim Foley.

I’ve done most of the front-end design and development, along with general project direction and management. I also review all user-submitted content to make sure it’s appropriate and to clean up the submitted metadata.

Q. What are the goals of this site, for you specifically, and in general? What would you like to see happen in the future with the site? Are you happy with the current product?

Helping me graduate, first of all! The visualization tools I mentioned are part of my dissertation research on Digital Library UIs, and part of that will be using the library as a platform for user studies on such tools.

Overall, I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, though there are specific elements that I hope we can improve more (such as the document submission system). Right now, syllabus creation and data entry is a manual task for me, and we’d like to create a tool (adding on to the new submission system) to let users enter their own syllabi, using any combination of their own and the HCC EDL’s materials.

For the future, I’m hopeful that I can introduce some innovative DL features to help the DL browsing experience, as well as continue to grow the repository and its usage. We will also face some significant challenges as the site ages in terms of scalability and the aging of content.

There are so many things we could add (Wiki features! Tagging! Annotation! etc.) that one of my biggest problems is figuring out what we should focus on next. Add the constraints of me trying to write a thesis and graduate and being half the available labor, and there’s only so much we can tackle. So sometimes it’s maddening knowing all the cool things that could be there!

Q. How has this site influenced the work you complete as a student? What other projects have you worked on in the past with Thad Stamer, Jeff Pierce and Gregory Abowd?

My work with Thad is in the area of mobile text input—specifically, studies of text entry rates with miniature QWERTY keyboards. With Jeff and Gregory, I also experimented with mobile input, but with pressure sensitivity on mobile phones. I’ve also worked with Ron Arkin (a robotics professor) on issues in Human-Robot Interaction. The different perspectives gained from each of these projects have helped me given the HCC EDL’s scope over all of HCI.

The work and research on the HCC EDL pretty much is what I do as a Ph.D. student (outside of required classes).

Q. What has your feedback been from the site? Positive? Negative? How do students, in your experience, feel about the site?

There’s been fairly positive response—a number of encouraging emails and comments, etc. Initially (and perhaps now as well) some were skeptical of the need, given that there were (and are) a number of much larger digital repositories. However, we felt — and feel — that the mission of the large repositories is unavoidably general, and focused efforts like the HCC Education Digital Library can provide more customized, relevant data and experience to their communities.

Student response is always a tough call—typically students are mostly interested in what impacts their grade (especially undergraduates), although in focus groups students have liked the idea of the repositories and said they’d use it. Talk and action are two different things though—our hope was, and is, that motivated students will benefit from it, but I have to wonder about how realistic that is. Unfortunately, we don’t have empirical data to say anything definitive.

Q. Do you have any type of counters that reflect the usage of your site? If so, what are those numbers like?

Yes (via Google Analytics). Since inception, we’ve averaged about 35 visitors per weekday; a bit over 55 per weekday since the beginning of this academic year.

Q. Who knows about the HCC Education Digital Library? How are you promoting this? Are you advertising in anyway?

Mostly word-of-mouth. Jim has sent several emails to his acquaintances in the field, and I give on-campus talks fairly regularly at colloquia and demos to visiting groups. I’ve also had posters at a couple of academic conferences about various aspects of the site, and Jim organized a workshop on education at an HCI conference early in the site’s development.

At this point, I think many of the people who know about it are at larger research universities. I hope we can find some way to change that, since I think some of the people who would benefit most from it are faculty at smaller teaching-oriented colleges and universities.

Q. For those who don’t know about the site, how would you promote and encourage them to use it? What are the benefits, in your own words?

The HCC EDL’s major benefit for people interested in HCI/HCC is that it’s kind of a one-stop shop for educational content. We think it’s especially well suited to new professors or instructors who may be teaching their first HCI course—a common way to figure out how to teach a course is to look at what others have done. The HCC EDL gives people a way to see a greater variety of viewpoints on a subject than they might otherwise. The repository also gives authors of quality content the chance to show off their stuff and be recognized by all the people who end up seeing (or using) their material.

Q. I would think that a benefit would be that the site is generally self-maintaining because everyone continually posts new information – but how much time do you usually tend to dedicate to the upkeep and maintenance of the site?

Upkeep and maintenance are relatively minimal for the moment—all that’s involved is approving new submissions or responding to any system crashes, but it’s a little more than negligible, especially when something breaks!

Q. What are your hopes for the site?

My hopes are that it continues to grow in terms of audience, scope and depth of content, and most of all we figure out the best way for the project to continue to grow after I graduate.

Q. Any other comments that you would like to add about what you do, or the site in general?

Not a whole lot—I do want to encourage anyone who sees/reads this that we’d love to hear your comments or suggestions. Use the email links on the site!

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