Blogging as reflective practice

You are reading a blog that started off about art practice-based research charting
the journey of doing a phd. It explores alternative ways of using hand held devices
to create print-based interactive artworks using graphical tagging such as QR-codes.
Art, design, technology and craft were the main themes in writing. But life gets in the
way, and over this journey the story takes unexpected happy twists along the paths
of having a baby, going on a UK Digital Economy Sandpit, meeting fanstastic people,
and subsequent group success in funding for a large multidisciplinary research
project called TOTeM.

TOTeM wins £10,000

In early November the TOTeM Research Project Team submitted an application to the "Telling Tales of Engagement" Competition 2011. The competition was aimed at capturing the impact that our digital economy research is having. Three prizes of £10,000 were available to support researchers to write about the stories of impact and how we had engaged in interesting ways to a wide audience. And we won one of the three prizes! We’re going to use the money to fund an exhibition of TOTeM’s work, which will take place next summer, possibly in Glasgow or Manchester.

Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 04:21PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

A CHI Rebuttal

Back in late September in the brief window that I was in the UK between coming back from ISEA in Turkey and going away to Australia for IMPACT, I received an email from the one of people associated with CHI saying she had seen my and Chris Speed’s TOTeM paper at ISEA and would I be able to submit a paper for CHI?

CHI is one of the top ranking conferences in the world for Human Computer Interaction and anyone worth their salt knows this one is a good one to present at. It is also very very VERY hard to get into, and the review process is very strict, so being asked to submit a paper doesn't mean it will actually get in. Still, to be noticed by the folk at CHI was a compliment. For non- tecchies it is a little on the dry side and rather geeky, but it does get you marvellous REF brownie points! For 2012 they have Digital Arts strand, so it has the potential to be a little more stimulating to arts based research.

So when I was asked to submit a paper I was rather chuffed. The problem was the deadline was 2 days away and at very moment (the risks of checking email on my iphone) I was actually packing to catch a plane with my 2 year old to Australia the very next day. My headspace was in toddler clothing, what toys to take and weight restrictions, not HCI, explaining my research and word counts.

I emailed back explaining the situation, saying the best I could do was submit my ISEA paper, formatted for their requirements. I was told this would be OK, because if the paper did get accepted I would have until January to make changes and by then it would be a different paper. So I changed the title and submitted, knowing that it was a total wild card (to be honest I didn’t even read it when I submitted), and we would be damn lucky to get in.

We got the reviews of the paper a couple of days ago, and I wasn’t surprised that it didn't get a very high ranking, but I was surprised that it wasn’t out and out rejected. One reviewer actually gave it a 4 (out of possible 5), which was balanced out by one who gave it a 1.5, and the 3rd review was somewhere in the middle. I think if it had been accepted in its current state I would have been rather disappointed in CHI and begin to doubt their credibility.

The reviews, I feel, are actually really useful, and one reviewer actually took the time to list some really good online resources. The whole process is great for me to focus on disseminating my research and being able to clarify it to wider audiences. We have to write a rebuttal (5,000 word character count limit, including carriage returns) and actually I am looking forward to this, even if it is due at the end of this week and I am currently in bed with a nasty bout of the flu.  This will give me the opportunity to write I guess, more of a proposal for what I would really like to present at CHI, still on the same research, but done much better than throwing them a second-hand paper at the last minute from another conference. Their recommendations in my opinion seem fair and would definitely strengthen our paper, so I am quite happy to have been given the opportunity to go through the rebuttal process, even if we don’t get any further.

Since I do sit between quite a few disciplines, I didn’t really have a clear understanding of CHI’s rebuttal process, or the way in which they review and score papers, so I did a bit of research and came up with some useful blog posts:

David Karger is a CHI reviewer and his article on “Do we need three reviewers for every paper”? was quite helpful in understanding how they score papers, how many submissions they get and the general acceptance rates.

Gene Golovchinsky’s blog post on “Writing a CHI Rebuttal” is excellent.

Bryn Marie Evans' post on “Tips for dealing with CHI rebuttals” is also very useful.

20:20 at Dundee Science Festival 

Last night I took part in the pecha-kucha event 20:20 that I had been invited to present at for the Dundee Science Festival. There I talked about what we’ve been up to on the TOTeM project. Chris Speed, our Edinburgh College of Art Co-Investigator was also there, so we focused on different parts of the project. His was a fun piece on the notion f Posssions and the work TOTeM have been doing with Oxfam, while I showed what we’ve been up to tagging artists works here in the UK and also working with a remote First Nations community in the North West Territories of Canada. Overall it was a fun evening, chatting with some really interesting people from Culture Lab in Newcastle. It was also good to catch up with old comrades from the original Digital Economy Sandpit that was the birth of TOTeM and other exciting projects such as Digital Sensoria and VoiceYourView

Tales of Things goes to Sensation’s Family Fun Day 

As part of the Dundee Science Festival, Tales of Things will have a pop-up stand at the Family Fun Day this Sunday the 13th of November. Bring in a favourite object which has a good story and we'll capture the story using the tales of things platform, giving you a unique QR code for your object. We'll show you how others can scan the code with a mobile phone and see your story for themselves. Taking place at Sensation Dundee Science Centre, Greenmarket DD14BQ, from 1 - 4pm.

The Group at the Creativity & Cognition Studios, UTS

The methods that I have been using to test my work in the gallery space are those I came across in a paper by Ernest Edmonds, Zafer Bilda and Lizzie Muller called Artist, evaluator and curator: three viewpoints on interactive art, evaluation and audience experience . Here the group from the Creativity and Cognition Studios at the University of Technology, outline how they have used cued video recall techiques in testing experiences of interactive art. After doing allmy user testing over the summer at the Small Society Lab, I had quite a few questions to ask about their experiences which weren’t covered in the paper. I wanted to know if they had come across similar things that I had, so I contacted the group, and since I was going to be in Sydney, managed to meet up with Zafer to talk to him about his experiences.

It was great hearing about the research that had been going on at UTS, and also to find out that what I had experienced in my user testing was very similar to their experiences. It was also excellent to talk to someone based in Sydney after being away for so long, to get a lay of the land in terms of research, design thinking and interactive practices currently in Australia. The group are launching a book on the 24th of November called Interacting: Art, Research and the Creative Practitioner which looks great and a definitely must buy as soon as Amazon have them in stock!

Experiencing Coded Moments in a public space

Finally got to see my artworks for Coded Moments in the gallery at Victoria University! The space as smaller than expected and had a lot of through traffic, which as good and bad. Good because loads of people saw my work, bad because it was so noisy! There were a set of sliding doors that led onto Flinders Street which automatically opened whenever anyone walked by (even if they weren’t coming in) and with the grumble of traffic and ding ding of the trams I thought it would be impossible to really immerse oneself in the works.

Surprisingly though, this wasn’t the case. All my users (did more user testing) at some point said that the gallery and ambient noises disappeared for them as they concentrated on the works. I was exceptionally lucky to have two users who had seen the exhibition in Scotland also be in Australia for the IMPACT conference, so I tested the works on them too. The exhibition in Scotland was in a standard white cube where as this was more a public space – amazingly, according to these two users the works were not at all compromised by being in a public space as opposed to the white cube. I have my theories as to why this is so, but that's for my thesis, not a blog post : )

IMPACT7 in Melbourne, September 2011  

Innovative networking enforcement through rationing & an afternoon diet of orangesGoing to IMPACT straight after ISEA was a curious experience, eventually, in a good way, though it took time for me to warm up to the different dynamic. It could have also been the jetlag – after 36hrs in transit with a toddler anything takes on a surreal tone. I felt that the first day was a little flat and the first keynote speech put me to sleep, but again, I can’t blame them, might have just been my addled state.

The thing that I found totally weird about IMPACT was that everyone (except me) read out their papers! What is with this? What is the point of going somewhere to bore your audience to tears reading out an academic tome, forcing them to sit upright in uncomfortable chairs, while you drone on? If I want to read your paper, I’d do it in the comfort of my own home, with a nice cup of tea in front of my cosy wood-burning stove! I see conference presentations as an opportunity to enthuse the audience about whatever it is you’re talking about, and then that entices them to spend more time bonding with your paper in comfortable surroundings. Presentations should be exciting, full of pictures and full of life! I just can’t articulate how much I hate having academic papers read to me! What a waste of my time!

Having gotten that out of my system, there were a few gems at IMPACT where the speakers were good readers and got away with pretending that they weren’t actually reading with little tricks (ones you would have thought were obvious, but clearly weren’t to a majority of the presenters) like looking up at the audience, not using a monotone and the occasional smile – truly, it made all the difference!

Paul Harrison’s talk about the printed human was an interesting one that I found engaging, as was Sarah Bodem’s talk on drawing with a laser cutter. I enjoyed Annis Fitzhugh’s talk but then again, I may be biased as she is a friend. Christopher Waller’s presentation on The Aura of Semiotic Imprint was another interesting one in terms of content… real pity the presentation of it couldn’t have been spiced up a bit to keep people in the room. The couldn't be faulted and it was great to see the amount of artworks they had all in close proximity.  I really enjoyed the works of Brook Andrew!

Networking was made very easy by the organisers who very cleverly didn’t provide enough food for all the participants. This meant that at some point in trying to get food, one was forced to speak to strangers, either to beat them out of the way to secure a microscopic roast ham roll, or if you were unsuccessful at that, to moan to other unsuccessfuls at the compulsory weight loss regime the organisers seem to think we all required. Afternoon snacks were oranges, and no alternative – great for people who are allergic to oranges, get migraines from them or can’t have citrus because they have weakened tooth enamel! Still the mood was upbeat and the experience brought on lots of camaraderie. The next IMPACT conference is going to be held in Dundee, and already we were coming up with ideas to ensure that food is plentiful – got to focus on the important things, right?

ISEA Istanbul 2011

What a fantastic 5 days! I couldn’t attend the full 14 because I have to go out to IMPACT in Australia, but what I did see was full of great papers and really interesting talks! I really enjoyed a panel about 6 x 6/36: An Artists Book/ Exhibition project where they were using QR code stickers distributed in small books. The French group “nunc” are exploring similar areas to me, in terms of the physical artefact being augmented with digital content but coming at them from slightly different perspectives. Jesvin Yeo of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore also gave an interesting talk about experimental typography in the gallery using RFID tagging to trigger interactive works.

A boat trip on one of the evenings was also a great way to see Istanbul, both the Asian and European sides from one viewpoint in the middle, though after a long day of conferencing, a 3 hour networking event (sans drinks & nibblies)  with even more talks was maybe a little too much… still I felt that I got in as much as could!

I would have loved to have stayed longer to see a bit more of Istanbul, which is an incredible city and I would have loved to have seen a bit more of the Biennale, but the next conference calls, and off again I go to my next destination!