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December 12, 2012

CSEdWeek: A Q&A with Frank Bentley

Posted by: Katie Heasley

Happy Computer Science Education Week! We’re posting a series of mini-Q&As with MIT Press authors throughout the week to celebrate. Paul Ceruzzi, author of Computing: A Concise History, along with several other books, kicked us off on Monday. Today's Q&A is with Frank Bentley, coauthor (with Edward Barrett) of Building Mobile Experiences.

 
What sparked your interest in human-computer interaction and mobile apps?
 
When I was an undergraduate at MIT I worked at the Media Lab with a producer from PBS. We were exploring new systems for interactive television, and obviously the viewer, their interests, and their interactions with the system were key to the research.  This introduced me to the field of Human-Computer Interaction, which was far more interesting to me than the algorithmic side of CS.  From there, I found several interesting research projects at MIT in Ubiquitous Computing, which led me to become interested in mobile applications and services.  The concept of a small computer that we carry around at all times, that was always connected to the network and to people that we care about, was just starting to be realized at that time and I knew that was where I wanted to focus my research.
 
 
How have user-centered design processes shifted since you first entered the field?
 
In the 90s, HCI as a field was very focused on the usability of systems and a task-based method for designing applications. That worked well for many business applications and the very task-oriented systems that were being created at the time.  But as computing moved out into the world and became more social, these methods were not as helpful in creating systems that people actually wanted to use.  So the field has moved on to incorporate methods from Anthropology and other social sciences to understand the opportunities for new services as well as to understand how these new systems are adopted into daily life.
 
 
What kinds of changes do you think we need to make in computer science education?
 
Computer Science as a field is becoming much more diverse and inter-disciplinary as computing moves off of the desk and into the world.  It is now much more than algorithms and optimizations and increasingly about the opportunities for computing to improve our daily lives.  As such, a well-rounded CS program needs to cover topics in HCI, design, and methods to understand how new computing applications fit into the lives of their users.  This is critical to developing applications and services that people will consistently use, and is an area that many traditional CS programs are struggling to incorporate.

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