Human-Computer Interaction Thesis Defense

  • Remote Access Enabled - Zoom
  • Virtual Presentation
  • ALEXANDRA TO
  • Ph.D. Student
  • Human-Computer Interaction Institute
  • Carnegie Mellon University
Thesis Orals

Empowering Uncertainty Resolution for Marginalized Populations through Social Technologies

We all experience uncertainty every day. What will the weather be like? Will I be able to do well on that test today? Will my sister call me back this evening? Sometimes the uncertainty we experience can be overwhelming and the stakes can be very high. Will my paycheck arrive on time to pay my rent? What was the result from the medical scan I had yesterday? For people from marginalized groups, the stakes of even those ‘everyday’ types of uncertainty can become overwhelming and provide unique and difficult threats. Did the teacher not call on me because I’m a woman, a person of color, both, or neither? Am I being pulled over because of my race, and what can I do right now to keep myself safe?

In my research, I study how marginalization amplifies the impact of uncertainty and how technology can intervene to empower people in labeling, navigating, and reducing uncertainty. In some situations, uncertainty can be used to create enticing motivation to learn more and gain competence. For example, puzzles present uncertainty that can be fun and in fact encourage learning. However, in other situations, overwhelming uncertainty can be stressful and cause undue burdens to cognitive load and disengagement. For example, acts of discrimination in the workplace can create uncertainty about a person’s standing and ability to perform well at their job. In this thesis I seek to study and design tools to empower uncertainty reduction for people from vulnerable groups.

First, I explore how to increase comfort with uncertainty through transformational game design when uncertainty may be expected and even necessary - in STEM contexts for adolescents from underrepresented groups. Next, I explore a context where little is known about how marginalization and uncertainty interact - examining social support-seeking behaviors and preferences for adults who have experienced interpersonal racism through interviews. I then conduct participatory design workshops with targets of racism; towards this work I present methods for using interactive fiction for facilitating participatory design around sensitive topics such as racism. Finally I design and evaluate provotypes for more empowered futures in coping with the uncertainty that stems from experiencing racism.

Thesis Committee:
Jessica Hammer (Co-Chair)
Geoff Kaufman (Co-Chair)
Jason Hong
Kevin Jarb (Social and Decision Sciences)
Kody Manke (Psychology)

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