Summer 2008 Research with Janet Davis:
Pervasive Persuasive Technology and Environmental Sustainability

This document provides an overview of my project with students in summer 2008 and my expectations of those students.

Research areas

My main research area is human-computer interaction. This project will involve aspects of several subfields: persuasive technology, ubiquitous or pervasive computing, participatory design, and Value Sensitive Design. Experience with software design and creative design will be beneficial; experience with electronics may also be beneficial depending on the direction we take.

The project

A recent document regarding Grinnell College's net carbon emissions charges the EcoCampus committee with changing behavior on campus to reduce carbon emissions. Although many non-technological approaches are possible, this presents an exciting opportunity for the application of persuasive computing: the design of computer systems to change people's behaviors or attitudes. This opportunity lines up well with my research interest in the relationship between technology and human values.

There are a couple of angles on the approaches I hope to take.  You might be thinking about, say, a Web-based game that tries to persuade people to change their views about some environmental problem. Although that is a valid approach, I am most interested in approaches that fall into the domain of ubiquitous or pervasive computing, and especially ambient displays.  The area of ubiquitous computing looks at applications of computing that go beyond the Web and the desktop, into the larger world. Ambient displays convey some information through the environment---e.g., a fountain or a moving sculpture---with the expectation that the display will usually be at the periphery of one's attention.

I am also interested in taking a participatory design approach.  Participatory design is a family of methods and theories that aim to include stakeholders in all parts of the design process. As a start, I am planning a Future Workshop for March, which will engage EcoCampus committee members and other stakeholders in  considering problems with the current situation, a vision for an ideal situation, and possible approaches (technological and non-technological) for effecting change.  I hope that several problems will emerge that might be addressed using the kinds of technology considered above.  Our use of participatory design this summer will certainly include rapid prototyping and getting feedback on several different ideas, and may also include design games, site visits, and other such activities. 

I intend that students will contribute to idea generation, interacting with stakeholders, and the development of multiple low-fidelity prototypes and at least one working prototype. Students with appropriate background may also contribute to planning an evaluation study and carrying it out during the following academic year as a continuation of the MAP.

I am looking for students who have experience in software design or HCI, and ideally both. Confidence in learning new languages and tools will be very important; development will likely involve the use of a toolkit for physical interfaces such as Phidgets or the Handy Cricket. Experience with a variety of languages is a plus, as is experience with art, electronics, or design of studies involving human subjects. 

Students who apply for the project should read my position paper, submitted to the Workshop on Pervasive Persuasive Technology and Environmental Sustainability, at the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing.

Approximate schedule

Much of this schedule follows the official divisional schedule for summer research. I will certainly understand if a student accepts a position with me and later chooses to take a more attractive position elsewhere. In that case, I will notify students on my waiting list.  

Our summer schedule may be adjusted by up to a week or so.


I have high expectations of my summer research students. I will expect my summer students to begin their work in the spring and continue it into the fall (and perhaps beyond). By applying for summer research you are agreeing to meet these expectations. You are unlikely to receive explicit credit or compensation for work in the spring and fall.

Students will work in a team of two.


Topic preparation
You will be expected to begin your background research during the spring.  In particular, you must review papers I have cited and identify at least four additional papers on related projects. Sources to consider include the ACM Digial Library (particularly proceedings of the CHI and UbiComp conferences), proceedings of the Pervasive Computing conference, and proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference. You are also encouraged to use the Web and, once you've identified potentially useful resources, to consult with the librarians about using Science Citations.
Skill preparation
If your project will require a programming language, data language, toolkit, or application that you do not yet know, you are expected to begin studying it. You need not master it, but should begin to develop some familiarity.


During the summer, you are expected to work full time on the project: 40-50 hours per week for ten weeks. This work will include scheduled daily group meetings and collaborative work time (e.g., pair programming or team design sessions). Working with stakeholders may require occasional evening or weekend work, depending on their availability. In short, your schedule will be flexible, but not arbitrarily so.
Topic preparation
For the first week or so of summer research, you will continue your preparation from the spring, developing a survey of "the state of the art" in whatever project you've decided to undertake. You should prepare a short survey paper. On the first day of the second week, you'll give a public presentation of your work.
Core research
For the next eight weeks of the summer, you will work on your project, using what you've learned during preparation for guidance. Some of this time may be spent continuing to develop skills.
For the last week of the summer (and, preferably, as you do your work), you will write a five-to-ten page paper describing your work and placing it in the context of related work. Your paper should meet the highest standards of writing at Grinnell. Students working as part of a group need prepare only one paper. You will probably be required to submit a version of this paper to a conference or journal. (I may provide significant assistance in developing the submitted version, in which case I will be listed as a co-author.)

Fall and Beyond

Poster presentation
You will create a poster describing your work and present it at the Grinnell Science Poster Seminar (typically during Parents' Weekend).
Internal public presentation
You will give a 25- to 50-minute presentation on your work as part of the Thursday Extras colloquium series.
External conference presentation
If your work is submitted to and accepted by a conference, and there is funding available for you to attend, you will be expected to attend and present your work.
External presentation
You must submit your work to the Midstates Science and Mathematics Consortium Fall Symposium on Undergraduate Research in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences. You must attend the symposium (including non-cs talks) and present your work (in poster or talk form) if your work is accepted. You must give at least one practice talk before going to the conference. I will join you if I am able.

Janet Davis (

Created February 6, 2008
Last modified February 7, 2008
With thanks to Sam Rebelsky: