The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing had two special technical tracks added to the program this year: open source and human-computer interaction. While I was definitely happy to see the open source track, it was the HCI talks that really got me excited. I'm just getting into HCI myself, choosing it as one of my topics for my PhD comprehensive exams and submitting my first CHI paper. There was so much to learn from a variety of great speakers!
Elizabeth (Beth) Mynatt, associate dean and professor in the College of Computing and director of the GVU Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, opened the track with an overview of what GVU does and thus what HCI is all about. Their focus is on the ability to unlock human potential through technology with the assumption that people are not boring or static, but rather can learn and change over time.
The main ways to unlock human potential are captured in six themes that the GVU focuses on: creativity, emotion, wellness, independence, learning, persuasion, and trust. As you can probably already tell from this list, there are so many amazing ways to affect the world through computing. Technology can help us express ourselves in new ways and evoke very specific emotions in us. It can help us maintain our health and manage disease. It can support our need to be independent and help us maintain our quality of life. It can be used to guide us to adopt a particular idea or action, and nurture human-to-human exchange, cooperation, and collaboration. And, my personal favorite, it can create opportunities for life-long learning.
There were many other great sessions in the track, but one of the highlights for me was the field trip at the end. I walked in the heat with my heavy backpack to get to the GVU building and didn't regret it for a moment. There were more than 100 demos of research projects, and my only complaint is that there was simply not enough time to see them all (after all, we didn't want to miss too much of sponsor night at the Georiga Aquarium!). I particularly enjoyed the augmented reality work and even ran into a fellow student volunteer I had met last year at ISMAR in Orlando, Florida.
I can only guess that the HCI track was exciting for those already in the field, but for someone just getting started I have to say it was an incredibly motivating experience. I hope there will be a similar track at next year's conference!