On November 19, 2020, the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering hosted a webinar about the state of HCDE today—what our operations look like during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how HCDE researchers have pivoted to pandemic-responsive research.
In a conversation moderated by HCDE Teaching Professor Brock Craft, we heard from HCDE Professor and Chair Julie Kientz about how families are using technology at home during the pandemic; Associate Professor Charlotte P. Lee about how employees and employers are adapting to remote work; and Associate Professor Kate Starbird about how misinformation and disinformation related to the pandemic is spreading online.
In addition to questions answered during the webinar, find answers to questions cut for time below.
What are some of the best things that people with more accurate information in a crisis communication event can do?
Starbird: Everyone, even those who think they have “more accurate information” could benefit from slowing down a bit and reflecting about why they are activated by information before sharing it. Misinformation — and especially disinformation — often affects us emotionally, through anger, outrage, disgust, etc. If possible, verify before sharing. And beware that “friend of a friend” rumors are a primary way that misinformation spreads, leveraging trust in social connections to spread.
What is the role of science in sense-making and does it hold the authority that it “should?”
Starbird: People often invoke science to support arguments in online sensemaking — in part to use the credibility of science to make their points. In many cases, this can look like open discussion and debate, part of how science works. But it can also manifest in less productive ways. Sometimes people misinterpret science — either its findings or its limitations. Often, they cherrypick studies that align with their arguments and fail to present studies that contradict their arguments. In some cases, they take findings out of context and apply them to cases where they would not apply. And in a few cases, people seize upon pre-print, non-peer-reviewed, or retracted studies — and present these studies as “science” — invoking the credibility of science, but citing information that does not actually represent the scientific process.
What differences have you noticed between asynchronous and real-time communications during this time?
Kientz: Families in our study were really mixed with how they valued asynchronous vs. real time schooling. Parents who had to work valued having synchronous sessions that would engage their children without their needing help, whereas parents who had more time valued asynchronous work that allowed them flexibility for accomplishing different learning tasks.
Have there been any increased challenges in recruiting participants during this pandemic? If so, how have you overcome these chalets?
Kientz: We used a variety of methods, including running a UW press release and social media ads, and actually were able to recruit a large number of families to complete a screener survey (over 300) and selected our 30 diverse families for our remote co-design sessions from there. We did have some challenges with some of our families during our study as they struggled with current events, including needing to pause the study for a week after the death of George Floyd in late May, and we assisted one family with finding resources in their area after they became homeless.
How is discourse over this pandemic different from other crisis events like earthquakes or hurricanes that have impact of shorter time length?
Kientz: I would imagine that one of the primary differences is just the sheer number of people worldwide impacted by this crisis - other crisis events are typically more localized.
Kate, with disinformation threatening things of importance such as our lives (covid) and our democracy, what do you think is the foundational issue that will help in the future? Education? Real-time fact checking? Fixing socioeconomic inequality? Other? Game designers planting backfires?
Starbird: This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for a problem that cuts across so much of our society — and has social, psychological, cultural, and technical dimensions. My sense is that we need to “chip away” at these problems from diverse directions. Education. Design of online platforms. Design of the economic models underneath our online platforms. Platform policies. Governance. Supporting journalism. And so many more.