Research Statement

Jochen "Jeff" Rick

Broadly, my research interests lie at the intersection of learning, collaboration and new media. I create innovative and effective educational technologies and research their value in authentic contexts. Because of my expertise in electronics and programming, I feel comfortable developing for new technologies. As a learning scientist, I can recognize the potential these technologies have to support constructivist learning. In particular, I value exploratory, design-based and inquiry-based collaborative learning. What follows is a brief summary of my larger research projects.

More on the CoWeb/Swiki SoftwareIn 1999, I started working with Mark Guzdial on collaborative websites—the first design-based research on wikis. In collaboration with educators in architecture, English composition, mathematics, engineering and computer science, we developed a wiki engine and corresponding uses to enable computer-supported collaborative learning in university-level classes (Guzdial, Rick, & Kerimbaev, 2000). In several domains, we saw a positive impact. Most notably, when adopting this simple technology, educators were able to go beyond using the system as we had envisioned to being able to invent their own uses to serve their needs (Guzdial, Rick, & Kehoe, 2001). In architecture, the wiki served a transformative function: It was introduced into the introductory class at the same time that the size of the class was increased from 15 to 120 students; the collaborative activities that the wiki enabled allowed the class to maintain its focus on learning by doing (Craig, ul-Haq, Khan, Zimring, Kehoe, Rick, & Guzdial, 2000). English-composition students engaged class concepts more deeply in the wiki-using class than in the newsgroup-using comparison class (Rick, Guzdial, Carroll, Holloway-Attaway, & Walker, 2002). While many of our results were positive, some were not. We discovered significant cultural barriers (e.g., a competitive atmosphere) to adoption in academic fields such as engineering and mathematics (Guzdial, & Carroll, 2002). Based on our understanding of these barriers, we were able to successfully apply wiki technology in an introductory computer science class to transform the normally competitive atmosphere into a more collaborative one (Rick, & Guzdial, 2006).

My dissertation project extended our wiki engine to support personal home pages in academia, a prominent setting where personal home pages have a vocational purpose. I designed the AniAniWeb system to better support the composition process and enable collaborative contributions. Others began adopting AniAniWeb in September 2003. For the research, I conducted a case study of six of these adopters, understanding their use with three analytic frameworks: media theory, communities of practice and core identity theory. One larger emergent theme was the importance of the multiple-audience problem—the same home page is seen by many different audiences (colleagues, friends, family, potential employers, etc.) with different needs and expectations. This problem was particularly pertinent to this context as AniAniWeb adopters created three times more content than a comparison group using conventional technology (Rick, 2007a). Most found the system convenient enough to add information that was intended for themselves, such as a "to do" list. Thus, both the amount of information and the number of audience categories was increased. Adopters who wanted to separate content and audiences found it difficult; as a medium for broadcasting identity to oneself and others, personal home pages encourage an integrating self epistemology (Rick, 2007a). One defense against the multiple-audience problem is access control. Based on observed usage and interviews with users, I was able to implement a useful and usable system of access control that addressed many of the discovered needs (Rick, 2007b).

After graduation, I worked for 3 years as a postdoc with Yvonne Rogers on the ShareIT project. ShareIT was an interdisciplinary collaboration between Rogers's Pervasive Interaction Lab (Computer Science, Open University) and Nicola Yuill's Children and Technology Lab (Psychology, University of Sussex) to investigate how new shareable technologies can support co-located collaboration between both children and adults. As lead technologist, my main role was to develop innovative applications for shareable technologies, often working closely together with others to design and refine applications. My work concentrated on interactive tabletops, which allow multiple users to interact concurrently with the same device through touch input.

DigiTile at the Brighton Science FestivalUnderstanding the potential of new technology requires concrete experiences. As a first foray into interactive tabletops, I ported Lamberty's (2007) DigiQuilt to the DiamondTouch tabletop (Dietz, & Leigh, 2001), terming my version DigiTile to distinguish it from the original. I was familiar with DigiQuilt, having contributed code to polish the application, and felt that it might support collaborative learning. By adapting an existing design, rather than starting anew, I was able to save significant design / development time (Rick, & Rogers, 2008). I was pleasantly surprised at how well children worked together with DigiTile. DigiTile has been used in three classroom studies. Pairs were able to work together to accomplish difficult fraction challenges and showed significant gains in post-test evaluation (Rick, Rogers, Haig, & Yuill, 2009). Examining successful dyads allowed us to examine how group dynamics impacted collaborative learning at the tabletop (Rick, Marshall, & Yuill, 2011).

One central mission of ShareIT was to understand the difference between how adults and children use these technologies. As previous work had already investigated how adults work together on a planning task (Marshall, Hornecker, Morris, Dalton, & Rogers, 2008), we next developed a desk arrangement and seating allocation task for children. Unlike with DigiTile, I did not carry out the prototype phase for OurSpace; my contribution was to transform the paper-based prototype into usable software. In the attendant study, we compared how groups of three worked together in two modes, one that allowed concurrent interaction and one that enforced turn taking. This allowed us to investigate the value of concurrent input for collaboration (Harris, Rick, Bonnett, Yuill, Fleck, Marshall, & Rogers, 2009). Because interactive tabletops can log user activity, we were able to investigate how the position of the children at the tabletop affected the parts of the design space that children accessed (Rick, Harris, Marshall, Fleck, Yuill, & Rogers, 2009). We also used this work to characterize how children collaborate on a design task (Fleck, Rogers, Yuill, Marshall, Carr, Rick, & Bonnett, 2009) and how they deal with design conflicts (Marshall, Fleck, Harris, Rick, Hornecker, Rogers, Yuill, & Dalton, 2009).

Building on my previous research on collaborative games (Zagal, Rick, & Hsi, 2006), we developed a collaborative game where groups of three work together to solve a mystery. Every round, each detective travels to a location on the game board to receive an individual clue on their handheld device (iPod Touch). To share clues and manage the large amounts of information, we provide a simple mind-map application on the interactive tabletop (DiamondTouch). We created a game that is challenging, engaging and requires working together. In the research phase, we investigated how the composition of groups (e.g., all adults, all children, families) affects collaboration at the tabletop and how the multiple devices support information sharing.

2 Children using ProportionSince 2010, I have been on the faculty of the Department of Educational Technology, Saarland University. While much of my research efforts have been devoted towards writing grants, I have continued to investigate how interactive surfaces can support co-located collaborative learning. My focus has shifted from tabletops to tablets. My current research on Proportion (Rick, 2012) investigates whether tablets can support collaboration in similar ways to tabletops.

These projects demonstrate three characteristics of my research. First, the research investigates the potential of new media before or as they gain wide acceptance. While Wikipedia is now a household name, that project was not even conceived when we began our work on wikis. When I began research on interactive tabletops, no commercial hardware was available; now, these are starting to become available, though the dearth of quality software is still a significant barrier to widespread adoption.

Second, it is design-based research. As Alan Kay famously surmised, "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." Early work can have a great impact on how technology is adopted (Bijker, 1995). I aim to provide that early work. For me, the quality of such research is dependent on the quality of the design; therefore, I place a high value on creating robust, elegant, and powerful designs (Rick, & Lamberty, 2005), even if achieving this requires numerous design iterations and a commitment to revisit design decisions that have proven to be mediocre. At last count, over 300 classes at GT have use CoWebs in architecture, English composition, engineering, mathematics, CS, etc. AniAniWebs are also still being used, although I intentionally tried to limit adoption as I could not count on the service being supported long after I graduated Georgia Tech. DigiTile is robust enough that a teacher was able to administrate the tabletop independently for a two-week study.

Third, the work is interdisciplinary, relying on insights from education, psychology and human-computer interaction (HCI). While I am knowledgeable in these areas, I have enjoyed working with others whose expertise complement my own. In the future, I aim to continue seeking such partnerships in education and psychology. I have also found it useful to work closely with teachers and users in both the design and study phase of the research. Given the early nature of my research, it is imperative for me to take a leadership role in introducing and supporting new researchers to the field as it expands beyond technologists. I have taken several concrete steps in that direction. To date I have organized five workshops to bring together researchers from learning sciences and HCI.

As my research is on new media, the exact focus will invariably change as new technologies become available. While the technology will change, I will continue to create innovative systems to support collaboration and collaborative learning. I view my primary research communities as CSCL (computer-supported collaborative learning) and IDC (interaction design for children). I am well established in both these communities, serving on the PC for both conferences, being on the editorial board for the journal of the former, serving as a papers chair for IDC 2012. In the near-term future, I plan to continue my work on supporting co-located collaborative learning with interactive surfaces. Multi-touch interaction is particularly well suited for children and my own research has demonstrated the potential for the right software to support collaborative learning. Right now, there is a particular sweet spot in mid-size devices (i.e., 27" all-in-one desktop machines). These are large enough to support fluid collaboration and the arrival of commercial hardware offers important practical advantages: lower price, higher resolution displays, more robust touch response, integrated packaging, etc. I have already created a new version of DigiTile to explore this medium.