Krzysztof Gajos




There are several themes in my research. Some relate to the specific technical areas I am excited about (Crowd-powered systems, Adaptive and personalized user interfaces), others to particular application domains (Education, Accessiblity), and yet another theme is about developing and validating methods to engage broader publics in the process of conducting research. Most projects belong to more than one theme. I synthesize these themes below.

Adaptive and personalized user interfaces

Wenger 16999 Swiss Army Knife with 87 implements There is a limit to what we can accomplish with one-size-fits-all design. For one thing, by trying to be everything to everyone, many products become bloated and ultimately lose a lot of their usefulness. The Wenger 16999 Swiss Army Knife (see image to the right) provides an amusing illustration of this point. But the problem is even deeper than feature creep and bloat. One-size-fits-all design inadvertently, but inevitably leads to discrimination: User interfaces designed with able-bodied users in mind, even if they are technically `accessible', are inefficient for many impaired people to use not because of any inherent barriers to efficient interaction, but because of the mismatch between the user's effective abilities and the designer's assumptions. Interfaces designed with Western aesthetic sensibilities in mind, will appear less trustworty, engaging or usable to people from other cultures potentially causing them not to take advantage of valuable digital resources. As our study of Doodle users shows, people in different cultures perform social decision making tasks differently.

I argue that personalized and adaptive user interfaces are one way to accommodate these individual differences and, thus, to provide more equitable access to digital resources.

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Lab in the Wild

We are developing and validating tools and methods to enable novel ways of conducting large-scale empirical work with human subjects. Our core goals are to enable a much faster theory-to-experiment cycle, to facilitate access to larger and more diverse participant populations, and to enable larger scale experimentation (in terms of numbers of conditions and experiments) than what is feasible with lab-based methods.

Some recent highlights: Since its start in the summer of 2012, our LabintheWild platform has attracted 2.7 million visitors and resulted in nearly 1 million completed experiments. Our recent study (published at CSCW'15) shows that data collected on LabintheWild are as good as those collected in traditional laboratory settings. Our work on crowdsourcing performance evaluations of user interfaces shows how to conduct valid performance experiments with unsupervised participants hired via Amazon Mechanical Turk.

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From Paid to "Organic" Crowdsourcing

I am broadly interested in what we can accomplish when we combine crowd and machine intelligence to empower individuals.

Like many others, I have done a number of projects with crowds hired on the Amazon Mechanical Turk: our PlateMate system demonstrated that crowds of untrained amateurs can perform nutritional analyses of meals as well as experts and our Mobi system provided a solution to the thorny problem of crowdsourcing problems with many inter-dependent subcomponents.

But, I find it even more interesting to look for ways to convince crowds of volunteer contributors to perform meaningful human computation tasks for free as a byproduct of activities that they are already intrinsically motivated to perform. In such "organic" crowdsourcing, people contribute to a human computation algorithm as a byproduct of engaging in an activity that is valuable to them in and of itself. Organic crowdsourcing goes beyond mere entertainment as a way to recruit participants. Instead, it requires the interactions and the underlying algorithms to be co-designed such that users naturally perform activities that reveal useful information to the system. We seek to uncover reusable design patterns to inform the design of future organic crowdsourcing systems. This is the approach we are taking in Organic Peer Assessment and Learnersourcing projects.

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Tools that help people learn

I aspire to build systems that make it possible to deploy effective pedagogical interventions at scale (e.g., Learnersourcing project) or in contexts where such interventions would be difficult to apply without help from technology (e.g., PETALS project).

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I am rather disappointed with the state of the public discourse on accessibility. We are still fighting to make it even possible for people with impairments to access digital resources, but we fail to notice that we have created new sources of discrimination: In a world where work, education, civic engagement, commerce and social relationships all require computer access, we spend many hours every day in front of computer screens. In such a world, it is not enough just to make access possible. Instead, access also has to be equitable. That is, we need to enable access that is efficient (so that, for example, an injured college student can complete his computer-based assignments in a reasonable amount of time). It has become perfectly clear in my work that universal design is an elusive and dangerous dream. There is no way you can design a single interface to be efficient for an able-bodied user, a user with a severe dexterity impairment and a user with muscular dystrophy. You can, however, design an efficient interface for the individual with a dexterity impairment and a separate efficient interface for the individual with muscular dystrophy. Inefficient access is not inherent to those medical conditions. Rather, inefficiency is a result of a mismatch between the assumptions the designers make about their users and the effective abilities of users with impairments. For all those reasons, in most of my work on accessibility, I seek scalable mechanisms for delivering personalized and adaptive solutions that make the optimal use of what each individual user can do. This brief article published in the interactions magazine captures my vision for the future of accessibiltiy.

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