Four problems when teaching HCI in IT programmes for computer scientists

I think it is super difficult to teach human computer interaction in core computing programmes. I have tried different approaches and have tried to understand the problems for almost 20 years now. It feels like I fly over a landskapet of problems that i don’t really know how to address. I fly slowly with little possibility to really affect where I am going, like with the parachute in the blog post picture. Here are four of the problems that I have seen.

1) My experience is that students of IT programmes often come with a value system and interest closely connected to technology and the core programming area. With this I mean that they are more interested in the technology in itself, such as the specifics of databases, efficient coding and machine learning. They are less interested in how people use technology, how to introduce technology in organisations, or how technology affects the work environment. In short: Many of them are not particularly interested in the area that I work in and in my teaching. Still they need to take classes of human computer interaction in their programme, and these are really another kind of courses.

2) The problems that they have encountered so far in their education are often of the kind that there are many possible solutions, but there is a definite way of saying what is right and wrong with different solutions. This is also the kind of problems that you address in many Science research projects. In my courses, where I teach about how to deal with the management of numerous IT systems in an organisation, such as in the Complex IT systems in Organisations course, there is no correct answer. The problems I teach about are so called wicked problems and they are not used to these. This results in them not understanding me when I explore and reflect on different approaches to solve the problem. They think that I don’t really know what I talk about since I don’t give a definite answer.

3) The kind of Human Computer Interaction problems that I teach are very closely connected to student’s development of professional competencies. A professional competency can be seen as consisting of three different parts 1) theoretical knowledge about the problem 2) skills to deal with the problem in practice and 3) attitude or disposition to see the problem as important and interesting. The professional competency that I want the students to develop is however not easy to incorporate into traditional teaching.

4) One of the problems connected to all the other problems is that when students meet me in the classroom I am not perceived as a computer scientist. This is due to a combination of all the other problems with the area that I teach. But it is also due to me being one of the very few women they meet as teachers. Sometimes I am the first one they encounter in their university education, and I teach something that they don’t find interesting, don’t have the same kinds of problems and is based in a wider view of what they need to learn (professional competencies).

If you are interested reading more about this I have written a paper about students and unexpected behaviour in teaching. The paper is called Unexpected Student Behaviour and learning opportunites.

Reflections on Learning and Supervision of PhD students

Sometimes I get the feeling that I should know everything about a research area when I supervise PhD students. For example: If I supervise someone who is in the “Design of the Moon Area”, I should be the expert of designing the moon. This idea of course also includes lots of imposter syndrome feelings, ie. I am a fake, I am not doing a good job, everyone will soon realize that I don’t know everying of the moon etc.

One of my post docs listened to me telling about this feeling – and he commented that if I would know everything it would instead be a great problem.

  • The first problem he pointed to is that if I would know everything there is to know no more research would be needed about the moon. Hmm. He has a point.
  • The second thing he pointed to was the core idea of independence and PhD work. As a PhD student you need to work independently of you supervisor. How would that be possible if the supervisor knew everything there is to know about the area?

Of course he has good points. I need to let go of the idea that I need to know everything because clearly I don’t. And it is not even a good idea to know everything due to the above.

However it is still a question how little you can know about an area and still be a good supervisor in that area?

Being the supervisor of PhD students is indeed a learning experience for me. All my PhD students move in different directions in the field of human computer interaction. At the same time the field is expanding enormously due to digitalization of every field of society. On some level my knowledge about methods, the writing process, publication processes and academia is still relevant. But I do not have the same time to reflect and think as they do. They spend a lot of time reading, going to seminars and reflecting. I feel like my calender is mostly full of meetings instead of reflections. Sigh.

Often I learn many interesting things through listening to their discussions and from reading what they write. I try to understand what they have learned, and often my role is to say: Explain more, tell me more, that is interesting – explore that a bit. But I still often have the feeling that me knowing more would be so much better. Hmmm.

To sum up: Dealing with imposture syndrom requires grit and perseverance. And also colleagues to discuss it with. And for me imposter syndrome never seems to end.

Collaboration with Region Uppsala Resulted in Students Presenting at Vitalis

This years’ IT in Society Class got the task from Region Uppsala to look into primary care. Students in this class come from Uppsala University and the highly prestigious Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Anne Peters, Mats Daniels and Åsa Cajander are teachers in Uppsala, and Cary Laxer is the teacher in Indiana. The Rose-Hulman students visit Uppsala twice during the semester and experience snowy Sweden (see picture).

By the end of the semester they submitted an abstract to the peer-reviewed industry conference VITALIS – and they were accepted! The Vitalis conference is the leading eHealth conferences in the Nordic countries with more than 5000 participants who now have the opportunity to meet our students. See you at Vitalis!

Below is the abstract: 

What could a digitalized primary healthcare look like in 2030? This was the question addressed by a group of around 25 computer science students from Uppsala University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the US. To examine this question, they collaborated with healthcare professionals in Region Uppsala. In their semester long project, they researched the current primary healthcare system in order to find digitally related improvements that can impact how healthcare could look like in 2030. The research conducted is human-centered and seeks to define modernization methods that would improve the working situation for the medical professionals, as well as the patients’ experience. To grasp the current workflow in Region Uppsala we conducted a holistic overview from two perspectives: the patient perspective and the healthcare professional’s perspective. We found that the current primary care system has areas of improvement in the fields of User experience and Graphical User interfaces for computer systems that patients and staff members use. We also found that digitized self-assessment and triage is an area that can reduce the workload of the staff and enhance the patient experience.

Our research has also highlighted the need to find new digital tools and adapt the existing digital solutions to provide a better working environment for workers in primary care. This would imply moving away from “pen and papper” analog systems towards a more digitally integrated, cohesive system.

The suggestions that we provide in this presentation are based on sound scientific studies previously conducted and on extensive field interviews with more than 20 involved specialists and data gathering on the current system. We have also conducted two surveys in order to understand how patients feel in regards to the current primary care system and participated in observations to see how primary care professionals operate on a daily basis.

Some of the solutions we propose are:

– the smart, easy to use design of graphical interfaces that also adapt and learn the user’s behaviour to provide ease of access

– adding more real time alternatives to get in touch with medical professionals such as live chat messaging

– using wearable devices to monitor frequent patients’ clinical measurements

– modernizing the analog areas of the current system with the help of new technologies.

Looking forward into the future, we have ideas of how a future system could look like in 2030. The areas of improvement are relying on the continuous development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, all integrated to reiterate our objective: an efficient, human-centered primary care. We hope that these improvements would lead to a better medical system and change society for the better.

Public Seminar about Digitalisation and the Work Environment

A few weeks ago I did a public seminar related to digitalisation and the work environment at Tierp library. I talked about the very techno positive culture that we have in Sweden, and that people seem to think that with digitalisation we solve all problems. We will be more efficient, human errors will disappear and work will be based on rational processes. Examples of very successful IT systems are for example Watson to support decisions in health care and robots for surgery.

However, there is also another very parallel story to this. A story about how seldom IT projects are successful, and how often large IT projects fail completely. And a story about how much money that costs every year (44 billion SEK in 2016 according to Unionen).

There is also a story about people in different organisations who feel frustrated over their jobs, who lose the feeling of satisfaction and joy from working and some even burn out. We need to digitalise with human beings in mind. Digitalisation of work needs to include ideas of how to create a good and motivating work situation.

I think that the small audience that listened were very interested and gave many good examples from their work situation.

Welcome to an International Summer School in User Centred Design and Health & Wellbeing in Finland

Welcome to an international course on interaction design!

I am co-organising a summer school together with a group of Nordic researchers.

This Nordplus funded class brings together practitioners, students, and teachers from Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, and Sweden to gain a higher level of digital literacy. The course provides the basic skills in user-centred, hands-on interaction design during two intensive weeks, including Google Design Sprint.

Experimental Interaction Design
29 July – 9 August, 2019
Aalto University, Finland (

Applications deadline: 31 March
Acceptance notifications: 19 April
More information:

For questions, please contact:
Ilja Šmorgun, Lecturer of Interaction Design, Tallinn University


Interviewed by SVT Nyheter about Gender Equality Work in Academia

As you know I work with gender equality in academia and also do some research on career paths in eHealth.
The department’s work with gender equality and recommendations for successfully doing so was broadcasted on TV last week followed by a new article. In the interview they talked to me and the former Head of Department, Michael Thuné. Of course one of the recommendations for others who want to work with gender equality is to collaborate with external experts and researchers in the area. Other recommendations that we make are to have the management’s active support for your work, to work with this as an integrated part of you ordinary work and to have a long term strategy.
You can find the piece of news here:

Participating in the Panel of Experts for Academy of Finland

I must say that participating in the panel of experts for the Academy of Finland has been a very positive experience. First the call for funding was super interesting, and so relevant for my research area.  The call that we were reviewing drafts for was in the Strategic Research area and addressed culture and technology. Also, the discussions have been very inspiring and such a learning experience for me. The people on the panel came from industry and different sections in academia which gave many different perspectives and experiences to base the discussions on.

If you are ever asked to be on panels – grab the opportunity to participate! 

Busy Week and Radio Interview

Last week was a busy week with reviews of applications, feedback on PhD theses, three sick kids with stomach flu, and two media appearances. I did a TV interview on Monday, and Friday I was interviewed in the radio. The reporter was really friendly and perhaps I talked a bit too much. Hm. But at least I was relaxed and able to think ok. When doing this kind of interview you really don’t know what they’ll ask in advance, and that makes it a bit nervous.

The interview is found here 2 hours and 45 min into the program


There was also a discussion on Facebook related to the program. Some of the comments on Facebook were really super funny!

p4 uppland

Work life balance

How do you balance important deadlines with family life including kids who need support and are sick? This is something I have struggled with the past months. The plan with this blog post is as much about reminding myself of how to find the balance as it is to contribute to the discussion around this. We need to help each other cope without burning out.

This weekend I had to spend the whole days working. I had one deadline on Tuesday and one on Thursday. It it very seldom I end up in this situation. That is good. And I had made a New Years’ resolution NOT to end up in this situation at all. Four weeks later I am completely swamped with work and all kinds of things have happened at home with the kids. And of course that means I need to prioritise my fours kids. But it stresses me out completely.

So what can you (I) do in this situation:

  • Prioritise the things in your calendar into the grid of important and urgent. I found this blog post that really describes the method well:
  • Set asked time to prioritize and reflect on what you do on a regular basis to keep track of how you prioritize.
  • Ask people for help when possible. Both with family things and at work.
  • Set asked time to exercise to get rid of stress.
  • Use the pomodoro technique when you focus on the important things. This means set an alarm Clock and do nothing but the things you planned to do.
  • See to it that you get enough sleep.

Finding Projects Ideas and Writing Applications for Funding

A couple of my research projects are ending, and it’s time to write applications for funding again. This is not something I find especially easy or quickly done. On the contrary it takes me hours, hours and hours. It also takes lots of sighing and thinking “this is just too difficult”.

The main thing with my kind of applied research is to find a project that fits all of the following criteria:

  1. A project area that the organisations that I collaborate with are interested in working on. This means a lot of meeting to understand what things are on their agenda. 
  2. Something that I want to do, and that the people I write the application together with want to work with. There are many crazy ideas out there related to digitalization 😮 
  3. An research area where I have the competence to do the research in. For me that means for example digital work environments, computer science education or eHealth implementations.  
  4. An area where there is research missing – and where we can fill that hole as in the picture for this blog post. This means quite an extensive literature review to be able to describe the current state of the art and how the research project fits. This also means that you need plenty of time. 
  5. Something that is possible to do within the framing of the call that you send the proposal to. Often the project is three years, and not all things can be done within this time frame
  6. An idea that fits with the current calls for research projects available. And an understanding of what kind of research they are funding. This is knowledge that I have gained gradually, but I am far from knowledgeable yet.