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Ways of knowing in HCI
Olson J., Kellogg W., Springer International Publishing, New York, NY, 2014. 472 pp. Type: Book (978-1-493903-77-1)
Date Reviewed: Dec 30 2015

The title aroused my curiosity, so I took this book for review expecting to find different types of knowledge and their representation in the context of human-computer interaction (HCI). The book was not about this “knowing.” Nonetheless, I was fascinated by what the book had to offer. It is a book about the different ways in which “knowing” happens in HCI. How does one design and build HCI that goes well with users? And how does one collect, study, and analyze the user responses? In this high-tech era, there are many different sources that one can resort to, from sensors and surveys to ethnography and social networks, to gather such information. The book shows that there are many in this list. I knew about some, and some I did not. This book is an attempt to document such approaches in one place. As you travel through the 18 chapters of the book, the landscape opens up in front of you. The editors claim in the beginning that the collection is not exhaustive; still, it is an impressive collection in terms of the level of detail and variety. It is a commendable effort, indeed.

The chapters are written by experts or experienced practitioners of specific approaches. However, unlike many other edited collections, most chapters look very similar in their overall layout and approach. The editors clarify that the chapter authors had been given a set of guidelines in terms of what should be covered, and most of the chapters have followed this. That reduces the disconnect among the chapters.

Each chapter is focused on some specific approach. The book opens with ethnography, grounded theory, and action research, spread over the first few chapters. The use of online communities, science and design, research through design, experimental research, survey research, crowd sourcing, sensor data streams, eye tracking, retrospective study methods, and log data analysis are the major topics that follow in the subsequent chapters. Each chapter includes a brief introduction to the topic, as per the template. I found this inadequate for some of the chapters; nonetheless, it should give some comfort in understanding the chapter, particularly for readers unfamiliar with the topic. Apart from the brief technical exposition of the topic, there are guideline sections on how and when to use the specific technique for one’s own work, when not to use it, and the author’s personal experiences and motivations regarding this technique. There are even guidelines on publishing research work based on different approaches, as not all types of research are accepted in all avenues. A major concern when researchers adopt a method of study is how to use the method properly so that quality of work is ensured. This aspect also finds mention in the book. For a researcher or practitioner involved in HCI-related work, these are common questions, and a presentation like this will certainly be very useful.

Beyond this stream, there are chapters on field deployment (again with many useful guidelines), agent-based modeling, and social network analysis. With growing computing power and complexity of systems, simulation models are a quickly growing approach to study many things. As the chapter says, this is in between the “theory-generating” approaches like formal models and the “theory-testing” approaches like surveys. The last chapter is on research ethics and HCI, another important topic in this field. In the epilogue, the editors try to connect the pieces and sum up their perspective on the field. I feel that a good overview of the field in the beginning, briefly introducing all of these topics, would have made the book more reader friendly. This was a major weakness in my eyes.

There are plenty of references in each chapter, which are good for those who want to dive deeper. There are also a few exercise questions at the end of each chapter.

On the whole, this is a welcome book for those with an interest in HCI. It will also be useful for any kind of research involving users and their experience. As a matter of fact, despite the term HCI in the title, there is little in the chapters that is specific to computers.

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Reviewer:  M Sasikumar Review #: CR144066 (1603-0186)
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