Staff profile: Dr Elaheh HomayounVala

In this post, we meet Dr Elaheh HomayounVala, a lecturer in Computer Science at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research looks at how people interact with technology and how to adapt technology to needs and preferences of people.

Growing up in Iran, Elaheh’s passion for tech began in high school, when she would travel by bus to one of the first computing companies in the city to study IT. She later became one of the first women in the country to graduate with a master’s in Philosophy of Science.

“The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been finding the right career path for me. When I was at school most of our teachers advised us to study medicine or electrical engineering, but I knew that I wanted a career that would allow me the flexibility to be a wife and a mother as well, and computing offered that.

“While I enjoyed my undergraduate degree in Computer Science, I had other interests I wanted to explore – like psychology and the humanities – which was why I chose Philosophy of Science as my master’s subject. It was a really new programme and I was one of only two women in a class of 10 students”

When she moved to London, she undertook her PhD at King’s College. Elaheh combined her tech skills with her interests in people and psychology to begin researching user modelling and personalisation – looking at how people interact with computers and how technology can be adapted to suit both individuals and groups.

“I like the unpredictability of humans as users of computers, and I’m very interested in how we can personalise technology to suit such diverse users. It was a relatively new field when I began, so I’m proud that I recognised early on that this was going to be an increasingly popular area – 15 years on many big companies are really investing in personalisation.”

As part of the Goldsmiths Computing team, Elaheh firmly believes that students should have the opportunity to use their computing skills in the areas that interests them.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about Computer Science is that it’s only suitable for people who love maths and are very techy and therefore that it can’t have anything to do with fields like art or psychology. That is completely untrue. Areas like Human Computer Interaction rely on a multidisciplinary team, with computer scientists working alongside graphic designers and psychologists.

“One of the best things about the Computing department at Goldsmiths is that people working here come from all kinds of different backgrounds. We have students who are interested in management and entrepreneurship or artificial intelligence and medicine and they combine those passions with technical skills. What we’re showing our students is that just because you’re interested in more than one field of study, you don’t need to choose between them. You can use computing skills to support you in any area you care about.”

As technology increasingly intersects with every element of our lives, Elaheh believes it is becoming even more important to redress the balance between men and women in the tech sector.

“Technology is changing the world we live in and more than that, it is changing the world our children will live in. We need both men and women to help shape that world. We add our own perspectives – as sisters, mothers, wives. That’s not to say we have a better perspective, but we all benefit from considering lots of different views, particularly regarding ethical issues surrounding areas of computing like artificial intelligence, which will have such a big impact on future generations.”

As her own daughter prepares to start her undergraduate degree in Computer Science at King’s College London (where she herself began her PhD 18 years ago), Elaheh has some pertinent advice for young women everywhere who are wondering if tech is for them.

“Start by thinking about yourself. Know what your interests are and what you enjoy doing. Have a look at the range of jobs available now but also at where future trends are likely to go – you will enter the job market in a few years’ time and computing is always changing so can you imagine yourself working in any of these future trends?

“But most importantly, remember it’s okay not to be sure. You can start your journey and adapt it along the way. The flexibility offered in Computer Science will allow you to make your own unique career path.”

This article was adapted from an interview published in the University of London’s online magazine, London Connection.

Dr Helen Pritchard interviewed on RWM

Dr Helen Pritchard, head of BSc Digital Arts Computing and lecturer in computational and digital arts, was recently interviewed for Radio Web Mocba, an online radio project for popular education.

Listen here

In the podcast, Helen speaks about her work as an artist and researcher operating in the grey area in which computing intersects geography, design and cyberfeminist technoscience.

She discusses some of her works and collective projects, and talks about orcas and sensors, fossils and fracking, alpaca and recipes, sheep and data infrastructures. Through her artworks, writing, talks and workshops, Pritchard seeks to articulate a different social political gaze on code and computation, based on the notions of co-research, radical pedagogy and participation as key strategies to “move away from the idea of the expert or the genius” and to bring forward questions about collective learning and knowledge production.

Helen is a member of the European Research Council funded project Citizen Sense, which develops physical computing and sensing technologies to think through and develop new theories of citizen sensing.

Listen to the podcast


Experiments in Play

Join us for a showcase of inventive and experimental playful experiences developed by students on the MA Independent Games & Playable Experience Design.

Website: EXPERIMENTS IN PLAY
Course: MA Indie Games + Playable Experience Design

The exhibition promises to push the boundaries of what games can offer as a medium, and experiments with the vast capabilities of play. Expect an array of inventive and experimental playful experiences that sit at the intersection of games, interactive design, and creative technology.P

  • Opening gala: 6pm-10pm, Thu 19 September 2019
  • Exhibition continues: 10am-8pm, Fri 20 and Sat 21 September 2019

Work on show includes physical performances and workshops, interactive literature, VR & AR experiences, alternative controllers, and playable works of art, as well as more traditional video game and board game experiences.

The show explores the possibilities of embodied and immersive storytelling and alternative narrative structures, considers how games are evolving to critically impact on issues of gender, mental health, sexuality and intimacy, and reimagines a world of gaming that champions inclusion and accessibility.

As part of the Experiments in Play showcase we are holding an Opening Night Gala, which will feature a series of talks and panel discussions. Speakers will be announced soon.

Website: EXPERIMENTS IN PLAY
Course: MA Indie Games + Playable Experience Design

MA/MFA Computational Arts Degree Show 2019

We warmly invite you to Goldsmiths’ 2019 MA/MFA Computational Arts degree show exhibition, So how is that working for you?

It’s our biggest exhibition to date with more than 60+ computational artists. There will be interactive installations, performances, workshops, panel discussions, drinks and nibbles.

Private view + party: 5-10pm Thursday 5 September 2019
Where: St. James Hatcham (‘The Church’), Goldsmiths. Google map
Exhibition continues: Friday 6 September (11am-8pm), Saturday 7 September (11am-8pm) and Sunday 8 September (11am-5pm).

ARTISTS’ STATEMENT

Working through the ever evolving tensions around technology and art, we feel the responsibility to explore and reflect on some critical questions surrounding the past, present and future of technologies that permeate our everyday lives.

How do we situate and consolidate our artistic agency within a world where technologies are seemingly integrated into the very fabric of society on the one hand and weaponised and used against us on the other?

What is the role of computational art in the Anthropocene’s era where technology is simultaneously part of the problem and part of the solution?

So how is that working for you? is a speculative response to these questions and tensions. Comprising current work from our practice, the show traces a route through seven conceptual threads: intelligence, phenomenon, narration, network, matter, embodiment, surveillance.

List of performances and events

Instagram feed

Student invents fabric circuit boards as tech teaching aids

Elisabetta Motta

A third year student from Goldsmiths Computing has developed a unique felt circuit board to enable primary school children to learn about electronics.

The project, ‘Felt-e’, was created by BSc Creative Computing student Elisabetta Motta as a potential new resource for teaching physical computing to children.

She said: “My research into primary schools found that teachers in computing lessons often lack the resources and time to enthuse young boys and girls about the subject. Felt-e provides a unique, hands on experience for kids and allows them to be creative while learning about electronics. It’s also a resource that’s easy to understand for teachers who might be unfamiliar with computing.”

Elisabetta, 28, surveyed a number of teachers during her initial research, exploring the frustrations of many Key Stage 1 and 2 teachers around lack of computing knowledge and pressures to prioritise literacy and mathematics.

Common feedback included a difficulty keeping pupils focused and lack of resources to run hands-on activities, which inspired the design of the Felt-e board.

Similarly laid out to a breadboard – a commonly used electronic tool which allows the user to lay out components – Felt-e includes two bus strips and ten terminal strips. Each strip has metallic poppers, to which the user can connect ‘wires’ and other components.

The longer wires have one popper on one end to connect to the board, and a crocodile clip on the other end to connect to the micro controller. The shorter wires have poppers on each end so connect points on the board.

Components are made from white felt with drawings of the relevant electronic symbol on one side and positive and negative signs on each end (if relevant to the component). The circuit is also compatible with micro controllers including the BBC micro:bit.



This post was adapted from an article by Chris Smith published on Goldsmiths News.

Generation 2018! Undergraduate Computing degree show

cropped-generation_2018_header

Thursday 7 June sees our annual celebration of achievement by undergraduate students from across the department.

A mash-up of exhibition, show-and-tell, performance and academic conference, GENERATION is a showcase of outstanding computing projects realised by undergraduates in 2017-18. It’s an exhibition for anyone who’s interested in how digital technology and computer science is impacting on health, education, business and entertainment.

This year we have a lots of computer games, as well as virtual reality experiences, augmented reality apps, interactive thingamajigs and technologies for art, music, education, business and healthcare.

generation2018

Opens: 1pm-5pm Thursday 7 June
Bar & performances: 5pm-9pm Thursday 7 June

Goldsmiths Student Union Bar
Dixon Road, Goldsmiths, University of London

GENERATION website

🍕 ‘Secret language’ of emoji revealed

emoji

People create their own ‘secret languages’ by attaching lasting alternative meanings to emoji unrelated to what they are designed to represent, according to a study from Goldsmiths Computing.

In people’s secret languages emoji of pizza or wedges of cheese mean ‘I love you’ (because these were foods people love), a bathtub emoji means a coffin (because it was the closest to a coffin shape), and a thinking face means ‘lesbian’ (because the position of the thumb and forefinger on the chin means ‘lesbian’ in American Sign Language).

These alternative meanings can be assigned randomly but become permanent and are used consistently over time between partners, friends, or family members, the research found.

The study, by researchers from Goldsmiths and the University of Birmingham, is due to be presented at the Computer Human Interaction 2018 conference in Montreal, Canada (21-26 April 2018).

In 2016 there was a furious customer backlash against Apple for changing the rendering of its peach emoji to look smoother. Researchers found that most Apple users were using this emoji to refer to buttocks, with only 7% referring to the foodstuff, and were angry the redrawn emoji did not fit this alternative meaning.

The Goldsmiths-led team launched an online survey to investigate how individuals personalise emoji to create ‘secret’ meanings. Those responding reported repurposing 69 different emoji for secret communication with the most common emoji chosen being an octopus, the most common emoji for an affectionate name being a penguin, and the most common category of emoji used ‘Animals & Nature’.

Dr Sarah Wiseman, lecturer in Computer Science at Goldsmiths and co-author of the study, said: “While we know some fruit and vegetable emoji have been repurposed by many people to mean something else, we were intrigued to find out about personal instances of this – examples of emoji that have a special meaning for just two people. Often this was about more than just typing something more quickly: people found that by using emoji they could convey very complex meanings and thoughts with them that could not be described in words.”

Of the survey’s 72 respondents (134 participants in total) who reported repurposing emoji:

  • 47% exchanged them with partners and 28% exchanged with friends
  • 21% used the emoji to express some form of affection
  • 19% used them to symbolise a particular person or pet
  • 7% used them to refer to sex
  • 6% used them to be covert while referring to sex or illegal activity

Dr Sarah Wiseman said: “Our study shows that people use emoji in a similar way to nicknames or slang, as a handy shortcut to what they mean, which through consistent use creates an intimate ‘secret language’ others don’t understand. Creators of emoji need to bear in mind the subtle way that people repurpose them and the impact even small visual changes to them could have on these alternative meanings.”

A report of the research, entitled Repurposing emoji for personalised communication: Why  🍕means “I love you” will be presented at the Computer Human Interaction 2018 conference in Montreal, Canada (21-26 April 2018).


Adapted from an article first published on Goldsmiths News.