Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GHC10: PhD Forum 3 UI/Education: another perspective

I love the PhD forums, as you get 2-3 short presentations on fascinating new work

In this session, Laurian C Vega started with her presentation on Usable Security in Practice: Collaborative Management of Electronic & Physical Personal Information. Ms. Vega is taking a unique stance of data security: that it's not the user that is the weakest link, but the systems that make it difficult for the user to act in a secure manner. For example, one government agency she spoke to had an application that required 60 different passwords to use it fully. Now, there's no way someone is going to remember that many passwords, so users will work around this by writing things down or reusing passwords. Systems need to be made with security and usability in mind.

She went to physicians' offices and childcare facilities in rural Virginia to see how they managed their data records. She found many still used paper, but in some ways it was more secure than digital records. Obviously, nothing was online, so that threat was eliminated, and the physical records were very strictly controlled, typically by the physician themselves or by the director of the childcare facility. The downside of such a system, though, is that archives and "backups" (ie photocopies) often end up stored in someone's basement, where access is not controlled.  So, there is something to be learned from the old way - both practices to initiate and to avoid!

Katherine Panciera presented In the Beginning: The Early Lives of Users in Online Communities. She had read a paper, Becoming Wikipedian, which talked about the evolution of a Wikipedia editor, showing that the more edits people performed, the more involved they got in the community. She wanted to see what she could learn about the users of online communities and how their behaviour would change over time. Much of her research so far has been on users of an interesting bike website, Cyclopath.  So far, she's found that power users actually show themselves within their first few days of using the site. It'll be interesting to see what further research shows.

Our last speaker was Lijun Ni presented Building Professional Identity as Computer Science Teachers. Apparently there is a lack of teachers in this country  that can teach computer science to high school students. For example, the entire state of Georgia has only 72 CS teachers! I wouldn't have even known about this problem, as it seems all the high schools (and even some of the middle schools) in the San Francisco Bay area all have CS teachers. Heck, even my high school in Indiana (R Nelson Snider) had a math/CS teacher back in 1990.

Ni's research shows that a major contribution to this is teacher retention - 46% of teachers leave the profession after only 5 years! This is so surprising to me, as it seems they are only working about as long as it took them to get their initial qualification to teach! The other major issue is that teachers who do stay are very resistant to change in their curriculum. Makes me wonder if anyone is still teaching Basic in high schools?

Ni's furthering her research to try to resolve those problems, and it seems she has a lot of work ahead of her.