Summer 2013 Research with Janet Davis:
Persuasive Technology for Wellness

This document provides an overview of my project with students in summer 2013 and my expectations of those students.

Research areas

My main research area is human-computer interaction. My recent work is concerned with the application of design methods attention to ethics--specifically, participatory design and value sensitive design--to the area of persuasive technology

Persuasive technology systems are intended to change behaviors and attitudes. For example, the Google PowerMeter service is intended to provide households with feedback on their electricity consumption, so they can take steps to reduce it.  As another example, the Nintendo WiiFit Plus game not only provides feedback on the user's weight, balance, and mental acuity, but also encourages the user to set fitness goals, teaches users how to do exercises, makes it easy to do a set routine, and praises the user for playing regularly and for performing well. Although the examples I've given are commercial systems, persuasive technology is an active research area with roots in both interaction design and behavioral psychology.

The novelty of my work is in the adaptation of design methods that draw attention to ethical issues to the design of persuasive technology. We will apply one (or possibly both!) of the following approaches to our design process:

Before applying, you should read the following papers, which discuss my prior work in this area.

Although not required, it is helpful if you have experience with object-oriented design (CSC 207), software design (CSC 323/325), value sensitive design (CSC 295), visual design (e.g., art), or work with human subjects (e.g., psychology or anthropology).

The project

A team of students will develop persuasive technology applications to promote wellness at Grinnell. The application you develop might do one of the following:

Once a team has been formed, we will work together with Jen Jacobsen, Campus Wellness Coordinator, to identify a design goal that meets a need at Grinnell and suits the team's interests and expertise.

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.  


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 (with one exception discussed below).

Students will work in teams of two or four. We will meet most days during the summer and several times before the summer begins.


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 ACM SIGCHI conference), 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 and investigating further literature as needed.
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 may 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
I will expect you to contribute to a research paper for submission to a conference (probably PERSUASIVE 2014 or CHI 2014). If the work is accepted, and there is funding available, you will be expected to attend and help present your work.
Evaluation studies
If your project involves evaluation of a system designed and implemented during the summer, and this evaluation cannot take place during the summer (e.g., because it will require students' presence on campus), then I may encourage you to register for an additional 2 credit MAP for the fall semester. You will be expected to help plan the study during the summer, carry out data collection in the fall, contribute to data analysis, and report on the study method and findings.

Janet Davis (

Created February 3, 2010
Last modified February 1, 2013
With thanks to Sam Rebelsky: