Category: Lab Stuff

On April 22, 2020, I completed and passed my Ph.D. thesis proposal defense with the help and support of my thesis committee members. The main aim of my thesis proposal is to explore how to design gestural interaction techniques for multi-touch spherical displays to support collaborative learning among family groups in museums. As a part of my proposed work, I planned to build a multi-touch spherical display application for collaborative learning and further evaluate its effectiveness by conducting two in-lab studies with family groups. The timeline for my proposed research work was between Summer 2020 to Summer 2021, intending to graduate in Fall 2021. However, in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic and campus closures, as a Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. student, it was important for me to keep progressing towards my proposed research goals and timeline while keeping in mind the risks of conducting human-subject studies. Therefore, preparing for my proposal defense during this challenging landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed me to give more thought into developing some alternative research plans prior to the proposal itself, to cover for a situation in which conducting user studies that involve face-to-face interactions with human subjects might not be safe for my participants. This idea of thinking about alternate research plans that will help me keep making progress in my research came up during a weekly meeting with my advisor. Usually, students might not have to think about alternative research plans for their proposals in other times. In this blog post, I will discuss and reflect on my experience related to preparing for my thesis proposal defense in these times of uncertainty. Keeping the constraints of running in-person user studies in mind, here are some of the questions I thought about when preparing alternate plans for my proposed research:

  • Can I use existing human-subjects’ data for my proposed research? As a first step to help me develop alternative research plans for my proposed work, I started looking at all the existing human-subjects study data I and my research team had collected over the past few years, in particular those related to multi-touch spherical displays. Then I made a list of research questions that we originally wanted to answer based on our existing study data but were still not answered. This exercise helped me come up with some alternative proposed research plans to discuss with my thesis committee that would not require any new user studies.
  • Can I adapt any online-study research methodologies used by prior work for my research? Another approach I took was to explore if it could be possible for me to conduct online user studies to help me build gestural interactions for large touchscreen spherical displays. I looked at prior research in HCI to help get an idea of the different types of research methodologies prior work has employed in this space to design interactions for co-located large touchscreen technologies. For example, one of the prior works I came across was from Morris et al. [1] in which the authors used survey methodology to elicit users’ expectations for managing conflicts around a large touchscreen display, which they later used to implement their interactive tabletop software. I took inspiration from this prior work to come up with some alternative plans for my proposed research.
  • How should I present these alternative plans to my thesis committee? After coming up with alternative research plans, I discussed them with my thesis committee members. This discussion happened during the closed committee question session. To make this discussion productive, I prepared some backup slides to help me present 4 alternative plans I developed to my committee. For me, this discussion turned out to be very useful. My committee members were super supportive and listened to all the alternate plans to help me decide the best route for me so that I can keep making progress towards earning my Ph.D. It is important to keep in mind that your committee members want to see you succeed and thus try not to get too stressed when discussing these alternative plans with them.

All the points I discussed above are just some of the ways Ph.D. students can consider navigating their proposal defenses in this unprecedented time. The proposal defense process can vary widely among Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) programs at different institutions and even depend a lot on your specific area of interest within the broader HCI research field.

I am Nikita Soni, a Ph.D. candidate in the INIT lab. Throughout the entire process of preparing and passing my Ph.D. proposal, I have learned that sometimes things might not go according to plan, and it is completely fine. Thus, we as Ph.D. students should adapt accordingly and take ownership of our work so that our thesis committee can help us succeed. I am looking forward to the next phase of my Ph.D. research in the INIT lab. If you’re about to propose your dissertation, good luck! Also, for anyone interested, I will be happy to share my proposal document and presentation slides. Feel free to reach out via email at

[1] Morris, M.R., Forlines, C., Ryall, K., and Shen, C. 2004. Conflict Resolution in Paper and Digital Worlds: Two Surveys of User Expectations. Proceedings of CSCW Conference Supplement.

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Today, the INIT Lab is proud to announce that PhD student Jeremiah Blanchard defended his dissertation work “Building Bridges: Dual-Modality Instruction and Introductory Programming Coursework” this afternoon! We held the defense virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Jeremiah’s committee members were myself (chair), Dr. Christina Gardner-McCune (co-chair), Dr. Joseph Wilson, Dr. Kristy Boyer, Dr. Corinne Huggins-Manley (UF College of Education), with special external member Dr. David Weintrop from the University of Maryland’s College of Education. Pending final comments from one committee member who will have to catch up via video, we’d like to say congratulations, Dr. Blanchard!😀

Here is a screenshot of the proud committee to document the occasion:

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The INIT lab is proud to share that PhD student Alex Shaw defended his dissertation work “Automatic Recognition of Children’s Touchscreen Stroke Gestures” earlier today! Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, we held the defense virtually. Alex’s committee members were myself (chair), Dr. Jaime Ruiz, Dr. Eakta Jain, Dr. Damon Woodard, and Dr. Pavel Antonenko (UF College of Education). Pending final comments from one committee member who will have to catch up via video due to scheduling challenges, we’d like to say congratulations, Dr. Shaw 😀

Here are two screenshots I took of the defense to document the occasion:


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A few weeks ago, the UF Department of CISE held their 2nd annual Halloween decorating contest! The INIT and Ruiz Labs participated again this year and the theme was “Haunted Movie Theatre,” in which your favorite scary movie characters come to life! We had a great time and can’t wait for next year’s contest.

P.S. Thanks to CISE’s Marketing & Communication Specialist Allison Logan for the photos!

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In my last post, I talked about themes, screen size, proportions, and looking at other lab’s websites to understand what our site should have.

The new website is complete. In my last post, I talked about themes, screen size, proportions, and looking at other lab’s websites to understand what our site should have. Everything from the theme to the minute aesthetic details have been critiqued and fixed, through the help of my lab mates. By getting a range of different opinions, I was able to ensure that each stylistic choice I made helped viewers navigate through the site.

While making some of the edits, I found that I needed to further personalize the slider plugin that I was using, as the design was misleading and made the content hard to understand. There are a plethora of photo gallery plugins available for free, which allowed me to chose an option that allowed for long captions, adjustable photo dimensions, and font manipulations. Previously, I was using Next Gen Gallery. Although this plugin did allow for long captions, I was forced to make changes to the base files. Although this is allowed in this specific plugin (for most other plugins, viewing the source code is alright, but editing it is not), when the plugin undergoes an update, all of my changes would be lost.

For these reasons, I switched to Smooth Slider. This plugin allows for long captions. For the font changes, I used CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

My next steps are to deploy the website onto the server, and teach all of my lab mates how to log in and write their future blog posts.

This fall, I will be a sophomore, and I hope to continue to excel in my classes and in the lab.

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The INIT lab is updating their website by moving from Drupal to WordPress. Our purpose is to increase awareness of the research we conduct here at UF. Drupal uses blocks and modules whereas WordPress has a greater access to themes and plugins available for customization. For these reasons, we decided to create a new website using WordPress.

I have been working on converting all of the pages from the current website to the future one, which is planned to launch at the end of the summer. As this is my first time creating a website, I have gained several new skills and learned a multitude of techniques.

I first started planning the aesthetics of the site by researching other lab websites. On the University of Washington’s MAD lab website I saw the artistic balance of presenting a photo portraying the business side of their lab, and another portraying the lab’s fun and creative character. The second shows viewers their enthusiasm to conduct research. I also looked at WisconsinHCI’s website which boasted edge-to-edge images and a clean-cut presentation. Lastly, I saw the and decided to also present a slideshow of photos on the Home page to present the different projects being done in the lab in an elegant way.

I am also doing research on ideal screen size proportions to make sure each image is not “fuzzy” and to make sure that a smaller screen-size does not hinder the viewer’s ability to read information. I created a mockup and shared it with my lab mates to gain a greater scope of perspectives and to understand what they would like to see in the future of the website.

WordPress offers a plethora of Themes ranging from elegant and fancy to modern and clean-cut. I decided to make a Child Theme of Seguente to utilize for our website since it would allow the structure of a crafted theme with the ability to customize. Furthermore, Seguente was the theme with the most similarities to our vision for the future website. Since then, I have been editing the style.css file to implement all of the changes to make our website express the character of the INIT lab. By implementing the changes, I have learned the versatility and flexibility of CSS. One thing that I previously considered difficult to do, but have found easy through the tools with CSS, is creating a hanging menu bar at the top.

Currently, there are over 30 pages on the new site and if all goes according to plan, the website will be launched in mid June. I am a rising sophomore, and I look forward to seeing how more of what I learn in my classes can be implemented while doing research as I continue with my courseload. As I am new to the lab, this is my first project. I am advancing through this project by learning through experiencing and making mistakes. In the future, I would like to learn more about how versatile WordPress is.

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Introducing the INIT Lab Website! Check out the About page for information about the INIT Lab and the Research Page to see our projects and what we are researching! Curious about who is involved with the INIT Lab? Check out the People page! If you have any questions please go to the Contact page.

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