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HCDE alumni and faculty present work at the IEEE 10th Global Humanitarian Technology Conference

January 12, 2021

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Ashley Boone and Monica Posluszny, recent graduates from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, presented research at the 10th IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference with Assistant Teaching Professor Irini Spyridakis.

The IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC) focuses on advancing technology for humanitarian projects around the world, concentrating on resource-constrained communities and vulnerable populations. Presenting in the quality education track of the conference, the HCDE graduates presented two research projects conducted in HCDE: a STEM outreach project focused on underrepresented communities, and a VR project that addressed sustainability, behavior, and climate change understanding among college students. Both projects were developed in Directed Research Groups and independent studies led by Irini Spyridakis, an assistant teaching professor in HCDE, where students expanded on concepts they learned about in Spyridakis’ Advanced Communication in HCDE class that she frames around a number of the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

STEM Outreach in Underrepresented Communities through the Lens of Play, Creativity, and Movement

Ashley Boone presented the paper "STEM Outreach in Underrepresented Communities through the Lens of Play, Creativity, and Movement," that she co-authored with fellow ‘20 alumni Jamie Vanderwall and Maya Klitsner, and HCDE Assistant Teaching Professor Irini Spyridakis. The paper describes an outreach program designed to leverage creativity, play, and movement to engage students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. 

“I am passionate about creating supportive and inclusive learning environments with the ultimate goal of engaging diverse voices in decision making,” Boone described. “When diverse perspectives are excluded from STEM, underrepresented groups miss out on high earning careers, and technology is built on unchallenged assumptions that can perpetuate or worsen inequality. I want kids from all backgrounds to be able to see themselves as scientists, engineers, and designers so that we can move towards making STEM a more inclusive field.” 

Boone focused her outreach efforts on the benefits she experienced from participating in dance programs at UW. “Going into my senior year I began to realize the creative outlet and supportive community I found through dance was helping me gain confidence in the classroom and overcome some of the barriers that face women in STEM,” Boone described. “I thought that bringing creativity, movement, and fun into the classroom could help others feel the same way.” With her HCDE classmate Jamie Vanderwall, the pair incorporated dance and creative movement into an initial curriculum they were designing with Spyridakis in an independent study so as to lay the foundation for a STEM outreach curriculum. The following quarter, they were joined by nine other students who further developed the curriculum around kinesthetic movement, collaboration, and project-based learning, which they shared with students in a fourth- and fifth-grade after school program. 

“The paper is really directed at educators and administrators to advocate for bringing creativity, movement, and play into the STEM classroom,” Boone described. “Our study revealed that female students and students without previous extracurricular STEM experience had the most substantial gains in confidence and interest over the course of the outreach program. I hope that people reading the paper will realize that play through STEM activities not only can help kids have fun, pay attention, and build creative skills, but it also has the potential to engage kids that might be left behind in a traditional classroom setting.”

Promoting Sustainability through Virtual Reality: A Case Study of Climate Change Understanding with College Students

Monica Posluszny presented the paper "Promoting Sustainability through Virtual Reality: A Case Study of Climate Change Understanding with College Students," that she co-authored with Geon Soo Park (BS '18), Irini Spyridakis (Assistant Teaching Professor), Sarina Katznelson (BS '20), and Sam O'Brien (BS '19).

The paper describes an exploratory case study in which the research team applied the UCD process to create a virtual reality (VR) educational experience concerning sustainability and the effects of climate change in an American city (Miami, FL). The team used VR to facilitate building awareness, creating empathy, and inciting behavior change. "We chose an American city because our research revealed that participants often feel disconnected from the effects of climate change since news regarding its impacts seems to always be in faraway countries," Posluszny described. "We hoped that a VR experience showing impacts in the United States would hit closer to home."

The team of students began working together in Spyridakis' Advanced Communication in HCDE course, where they explored technology for social good, aligning with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Climate Action, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Quality Education. They later teamed up to explore designing a VR user experience in a Directed Research Group led by Spyridakis. "As a team, we each wrote up scripts, combined our ideas, conducted research, and storyboarded together. Later, Sarina and I tackled learning Blender while Sam and Caleb worked on learning Unity. It’s [VR] an awesome medium for people to share their stories. There also is so much opportunity for overlap with art and technology, which is something I’m personally passionate about,” Posluszny described. 

“VR has the potential to be a great empathy-building tool. It can change hearts and minds by literally putting you in someone else’s shoes," Posluszny concluded.

“Ashley and Monica gave stellar and engaging presentations at the conference, and did a superb job of representing their teams, HCDE, and the UW. I am extremely proud of their work, the work of all of the students who contributed to the published papers, and the efforts of all students in my DRGs. Guiding students to connect theory to practice is greatly rewarding. It is always an honor to work with and mentor students in conducting research, providing outreach and service, publishing, presenting, and attending national and international conferences. My hope is that through such activities they can see themselves as powerful change agents in future roles as researchers, scholars, practitioners, and leaders,” states Irini Spyridakis. 

Posluszny and Boone thank their collaborators for their creativity and dedication, and Irini Spyridakis for her mentorship and guidance throughout the process.