Category Archives: software development

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.

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.

Many Factors Behind IT Stress

The magazine Publikt did a survey study with public authorities. The results showed that there are enormous work environment problems related to the IT systems. Many of the union elected representatives who responded to Publik’s survey indicate that employees are stressed and frustrated due to the shortcomings of IT tools.  In their presenteation of the survey, I was asked to comments on the results:

“Most people I interview now have 15 to 20 different systems, including smaller systems like phones and other. If you go back ten years in time, nobody could know or suspect that this development could happen. The situation has just arisen, and this has contributed to this enormous problem.”

Some of the problems experienced by users can be linked to the difficulty of meeting the needs of the business with standardized systems.

“Standard system fits no one,” says Åsa Cajander. There are too long distances between those who use the systems and those who develop them. Even if you have user groups or the like, it’s very hard to make it work.

Developing and managing your own system is of course much more expensive than buying a standard system, she states.

“But you start counting the costs in a big organization, then maybe it would pay off. This could be a research study.”

The full article in Swedish is found here:


We Need to Digitalise Carefully – My Professor Installation Lecture

I did my professor installation lecture last week. And of course I was super nervous. And of course I as usual felt:

“Why on earth did I agree on doing this”.

This was of course also combined with a sense of imposture syndrome including thinking that everyone else that is a full professor has understood everything about their subject area. My area just evolves and becomes more difficult to explain by the day. Sigh.

The abstract of the lecture is found below:

Systemutvecklingsarbete är svårt, och många IT-system fungerar inte på ett tillfredsställande sätt trots intensiv teknikutveckling. Min forskning handlar både om att förbättra situationen och att förstå vad problemen beror på. Jag forskar på att ta fram förbättrade arbetssätt i de organisationer och i de projekt som utvecklar och inför IT. Fokus här är användarcentrerade metoder, genus, sociotekniskt perspektiv och agil utveckling. Jag har också forskat på de kompetenser som personerna i projekten behöver bemästra för att kunna arbeta med utveckling av komplexa system som stödjer människor på ett bra sätt.

The lecture is found here:

Interviewed for ”Research Profile of the Month”

Being interviewed is always a learning experience, as you get questions that you seldom ask yourself. The interview for the “Research Profile of the Month at the Faculty of Science of Technology” took several hours (3?), and the questions were related to all my areas of research. The person who interviewed was really a good listener, and had planned the interview carefully.

For me the interview created lots of reflection, and I will make use of it while thinking about where I want to go in my work life. Perhaps I will take a few minutes and relax in the grass, as illustrated in this blog post picture, during summer holidays.

Some of the questions were:

  • Why have I chosen the research questions that I am studying?
  • What are my plans forward?
  • How is it to do research on areas that have no clear and simple answers?
  • How is it to combins family and research?
  • What is my strongest personality trait?

In the link below my research is presented at Uppsala University’s web page.,32&typ=artikel&lang=en

Participating in Panel Discussion about Software Engineering @ITiCSE 2018 on Cyprus

I have been invited to be a member of a panel on Software Engineering. The area to discuss is how the field has advanced and whether its education addresses the main problems and industry needs. I have several ideas of what to bring up at the workshop, and I haven’t really decided which one to choose yet. The ideas are:

  • Generellt software engineering at the university has too little focus on addressing wicked problems. There are far too many IT projects that fail.
  • Too little focus on professional competencies and the development of those.
  • Too little focus on user involvement and user needs.
  • We need to prepare students for working in an automateld software engineering profession. And we need to engage in the creation of this profession.
  • We need to see to it that computing becomes an inclusive profession and address the gender equality issue. Now!

I’ll write another blog post when I have decided which direction to go in… This will be fun!

Why are Ambient Assisted Living Technologies so Difficult to Develop?

I was appointed as one of the external reviewer of Jean Hallewell Haslwanter´s PhD dissertation with the title “User-Centered Development of Sensor-based Systems for Older People”. I must say that this was indeed an interesting thesis to read and I strongly recommend it for anyone who is interested in healthcare technology and user-centered design.

Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) is a technology that has been proposed to help society with problems related to an ageing population, as it could support older people to live at home instead of moving into elderly homes. However, despite the fact that many IT projects and companies have been working with the development of this technology, and large amounts have been invested in AAL, few such technologies has reached the market. In her thesis, Jean Hallewell Haslwanter addresses the issue from a user-centered design perspective and her work aims at understanding why AAL technologies have proven so difficult to develop.

The thesis has a substantial empirical contribution as it studies the development of AAL systems. One interesting finding is that the complex and multifaceted descriptions of the users fade away as the project continues, and is replaced by stereotypes of older people. Other contributions include recommendations for practitioners working with development of AAL technology.

Jean Hallewell Haslwanter’s dissertation is a monograph, but she has 13 research papers that are previously published. Many of the papers are conference papers, of which many appear in highly ranked international conferences. There are also conference papers that have been turned into journal papers. If you are interested you can find these publications online at the link.

Including Communication and PR in the IT in Society Class

Communication and PR are an important part of innovation and change. People use social media and Wikipedia to understand reality to a large extent. Through these channels we create the truths.  (Or alternative truths :-o). Hopefully in parallel with other more traditional media channels. Even though communication and PR are very important for success, there are very few courses in the IT related programs at the university level that deal with this.

The students in the IT in society class has always marketed their work with an invitation to their presentation the final week, but this year we have put a more explicit focus on communication and marketing of their work.

They have one group of students who will work with communication and PR. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do! It will also be interesting to see what effects this will have on how known the course is, and how well they manage to communicate the results to media, other students, county councils etc.

We know that the students will submit an abstract to Vitalis and if they are accepted a few of them will go there and present in April. Last year the students did a fabulous job presenting at Vitalis 🙂

Creating a Learning Environment for Development of Professional Competencies in the IT in Society Class

I would claim that the Learning outcomes of the IT society course are very different from most courses at the University.  The IT in society class has focus on development of professional competencies.

The learning outcomes specified of the course are:

  1. Collaborate in a large project with an external client, and present a professional solution, both orally and in written form to the client.
  2. Handle, validate and analyse a very complex and multi-facetted problem in a constructive manner in a project group.
  3. Evaluate, criticize and validate solutions to IT-related problems from perspectives such as ethics, sustainable development, work environment, economy and usefulness.
  4. Illustrate, show and describe experiences from working in a multi-cultural distributed project.
  5. Evaluate and analyse one’s abilities and competencies regarding working in a multi-cultural and distributed project, as well as develop strategies that lead to lifelong learning.

In this blog post I will be talking about the last learning outcomes in the list above, number 5. The learning outcome that people should have the ability to evaluate and analyse one’s abilities and competencies, and to develop strategies for lifelong learning in the area of Computer science.

We have been working on creating a learning environment where it is possible to develop and practice the lifelong learning competence. And we have improved the environment quite a lot over the years. This is how we do it this year:

  1. First, we have a traditional lecture about professional competencies. We present one way of looking at these competencies and what they consist of. We have chosen to work with the competences developed by Curtin University.
  2. Second, we have a workshop with the students where they write their own personal learning agreement. These learning agreements should include
    1. Why they have chosen three specified competencies to work with during the course.
    2. What they will do to develop their confidence in the three areas.
    3. How they will know that they have improved. And how faculty can know that they have improved.
  3. Third, we have meetings with groups of three students. In these meetings, the students present their learning agreement, and we discuss it together as well as the social strategies to improve that competence.
  4. Often this meeting is followed by a second meeting where we do the same thing in the first meeting since the students need more help in writing these learning agreements.
  5. By the end of the project we meet again in the same groups to discuss what happened during the semester, and how they were able to fulfil their learning agreement.

We have written a few papers on this topic and you find them here:

  1. Cajander, Å., Daniels, M., McDermott, R., & Von Konsky, B. R. (2011, January). Assessing professional skills in engineering education. Australian Computer Science Communications, vol 32, pp 73-78. (pp. 145-154). Australian Computer Society, Inc.
  2. Clear, T., McDermott, R., Parsjö, E., Cajander, Å., Daniels, M., & Lagerqvist, N. (2016, October). A framework for writing learning agreements. In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016 IEEE (pp. 1-8). IEEE.
  3. Peters, A. K., Hussain, W., Cajander, A., Clear, T., & Daniels, M. (2015, July). Preparing the global software engineer. In Global Software Engineering (ICGSE), 2015 IEEE 10th International Conference on (pp. 61-70).




mHealth in Emergency Care – Half time PhD Summary by Anders Klingberg

Anders Klingberg has done some interesting work related to the intention and motivation among emergency care staff to use smartphones for burn injury tele-consultation. He has been looking at burn care in South Africa and in Tanzania where these kinds of injuries are quite common, especially in young children. One of the problems that they have found is the burn diagnosis and initial treatment, and they investigate the use of smart phones for burn injury consultation.

Yesterday Anders Klingberg presented his work at Karolinska Institutet, and I was a part of a committee of three people who discussed his work with him. So far he only has one published paper, but there are more papers to come – so watch out for them 🙂