SciTech

IS major applies skills to data collection

Sophomore information systems major Kevin Schaefer conducts research in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His project involves improving data collection techniques for teachers of autistic students. (credit: Jennifer Coloma/Operations Manager) Sophomore information systems major Kevin Schaefer conducts research in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His project involves improving data collection techniques for teachers of autistic students. (credit: Jennifer Coloma/Operations Manager)

While the press may focus on research published by Ph.D’s, undergraduate research at Carnegie Mellon is alive and well. Kevin Schaefer, a sophomore information systems major who is conducting research for the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), is one example.

He became involved in his current project when he was searching for something to occupy his time over the summer. His friend Quintin Carlson, a junior decision science major, introduced a project he was working on for the HCII.

Schaefer, consequently, landed an undergraduate research role under Anind Dey, an associate professor of human-computer interaction, and Gabi Marcu, a Ph.D. student in human-computer interaction.

Part of his job is to work with faculty members and teachers who analyze and collect a massive amount of data on autistic students at nearby special education schools. Unlike conventional schools — which gauge their students’ progress based on assignments, tests, and quizzes — the special education schools require that their teachers collect data on each student manually.

As a result, each teacher is assigned to one student and he or she has to mark down the student’s behavior and learning progress by hand. The data collected varies dramatically. Schaefer and his teammates deal with finding a method to transition manual collection and storage to a digital version. This way the teachers can spend less of their time just observing and collecting data, and more time instructing and interacting with each student.

“Discovering a way to transition data collection and storage makes the teachers’ jobs more efficient,” Schaefer said, “because recording data virtually allows them to manipulate information and analyze patterns easily, as opposed to the process being more tedious on hand-written surfaces.”

This advancemet could also benefit the students, as it has been shown that education quality is improved if each teacher allocates more time, effort, and attention to their students. In order to carry out this research, Schaefer and his teammates have to answer the question: “Why is the process happening on paper instead of a virtual interface?” Part of their objective is to find a technological solution to the teachers’ inconvenience.

Schaefer said that it was his personal objective to find practical, applied human-computer interaction methods, such as conducting studies and interviewing people.

“Without research, I wouldn’t have gotten these skills until senior year, but it is beneficial to acquire them at a younger age,” he said. He also claims that his favorite part about doing research is that most undergraduates do not focus solely on the research aspect of the job, and instead treat it as an opportunity to practice practical skills in human-computer interaction. Schaefer enjoys the comfort and safety of being under the guidance of his professor and advisors as he works to obtain valuable skills.

As a researcher, Schaefer has been described as detail -oriented and design-centric. “He is passionate about what he works on in terms of user experience,” Carlson said.
“I’m proud to say I go to the same school and am in the same program as him,” said Julia Teitelbaum, a junior information systems and human-computer interaction double major.

Outside of being a researcher, Schaefer is just like any other college student. “He’s extremely friendly, intelligent, and caring,” Carlson said. He has a variety of interests, including the new Windows 8 phone and his Volkswagen Jetta. “People get into fights about his Jetta, and he is protective of it,” Carlson explained.