iSchool Receives Google Android Education Grant

The Verizon Droid phone built on the Android Phone

School of Information (iSchool) faculty members Matt Lease, Randolph Bias, Luis Francisco-Revilla, and Unmil Karadkar have been awarded a joint Google Android For Education grant to support hands-on exploration of the Google Android platform across a wide range of iSchool courses. The grant provides the University of Texas (UT) iSchool with a pool of Google Android phones for students to explore the capabilities of such technology across a diverse range of courses covering Information Retrieval (IR), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and Usability Studies and Design. Access to the Google Android platform will provide iSchool students with an unique opportunity both to become proficient in the latest mobile computing technologies and to integrate conceptual learning from IR, HCI, and Usability courses on a practical test bed.

Prof. Lease's course, INF385T/CS395T: Topics in Information Retrieval and Web Search, brings together a diverse body of students spanning the iSchool, CS, ECE, Linguistics, and Design Studies. A major portion of the course develops student knowledge and experience of advanced IR topics by having students design and execute advanced projects. Several student projects have already begun exploring capabilities of the Android platform this semester. In one project, iSchool students Ramona Broussard and Yongyi Zhou are studying the usability and interface design of library catalogs for mobile phones, addressing questions such as: (1) what are intended search behaviors in this domain, (2) what are the essential interface components, and (3) what new modalities of search can the mobile platform facilitate. In another project, students Cynthia Blatherwick (iSchool), Nabil Qamar (CS), and Nandita Raman (CS) are exploring use of location-aware GPS technology to provide locally relevant search results integrating multiple vertical information sources.

Prof. Francisco-Revilla's course, INF382C: Understanding and Serving Users, explores how study of user needs and behaviors can inform interface design, interaction mechanisms, and evaluation of information systems. This course also involves a major group project, and last semester students built three large multi-touch tables from scratch (lumber and all!) as well as developed three novel applications for these interactive tables which showcased exciting possibilities for collaborative multi-touch operation. This semester's project theme is “Interactive TV”, and students Karen E. Ballinger, Ana Veronica Carmona, Kathryn Garvey, Bhavna Verma, and Kimberly Whitmer are using the Android to study how people use and interact with video on a mobile platform in comparison to traditional desktop or laptop computers.

Prof. Karadkar's course, INF385S: Digital Libraries, explores creation and management of large digital information repositories. Mobile devices have already dramatically reshaped the way people create, transfer, and share digital content, but thus far these devices have been under-utilized for managing this content. This course also features a major course project, and student groups are designing and evaluating methods for augmenting information repositories with rich metadata. In one project, iSchool students Andrea Cato, Elly Stevens, and Jessica Wood are expoiting the ubiquity of smart phones to provide a location-aware interface for visiting historical markers. The project's Google Android interface highlights historical sites in Texas's Travis county and serves as a front-end to a rich, multimedia document collection.

Prof. Bias will coordinate a systematic analysis of user data across the other three courses, vis-à-vis the usability of the devices (both the ergonomics of the device and the usability of the user interface). These usability studies constitute a real-world usability evaluation of the device and its associated software with the potential to inform future releases of the platform. Prof. Bias also regularly offers two graduate-level courses which will integrate use of the Android platform. These are INF385P: Introduction to Usability and INF385T: Advanced Usability. In particular, these courses will engage student groups in focused usability evaluation of the Android, including heuristic evaluation and end-user testing.

The Google Android platform encompasses an array of mobile computing technologies which impact peoples' daily interactions and experiences with computing devices. The iSchool is especially pleased to be able to offer its students this unique opportunity to explore the capabilities of such technology first-hand and gratefully acknowledges Google's continuing support for promoting innovative student education.

Cynthia Blatherwick, Nandita Raman, and Nabil Qamar Ramona Broussard and Yongyi Zhou
Karen Ballinger and another iSchool student Left to right: Andrea Cato, Unmil Karadkar, Jessica Wood, Elly Stevens

Posted: 04/23/2010

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