Xerox fellow works on app to help groups of people interact more effectively


Xerox research fellow Luis Nova gives an update on his project to members of Assistant Professor Ehsan Hoque's Human-Computer Interaction group.

Assistant Professor Ehsan Hoque’s Human-Computer Interaction group was recently featured on the Microsoft Research Blog for its work on ROC Speak, an app that helps individuals improve their public speaking skills.

Hoque’s students are also working on understanding and influencing how an app can help entire groups of people interact more effectively – when they work together on a team project, for example.

“The goal is to develop a conferencing application that senses many aspects of human behavior to assess group dynamics,” explained Luis Nova, a rising junior in computer science who joined the group this summer as a Xerox fellow. Added Hoque: “A lot of people are spending time online doing videoconferencing, trying to reach a decision and collaborate with others to get work done. Is there a possibility for an automated system to give them automated and respectful feedback on maximizing their productivity?” This could be in the form of coaching, or a combination of private and shared real-time feedback and mediation when, for example, someone is spending too much time “monologuing.”

This is Nova’s first research experience, and he is already making a contribution.

When Hoque took Nova and other undergrads in his group out for lunch, to help them open up, Nova described his love for computer graphics, and suggested using a virtual reality approach for the group dynamic app.

“It’s a little detour from what we were planning to do, but I figure if he’s excited about it, I would let him run with it,” Hoque said.

“I think I learned more in the first month in terms of what I can do on my own than I have in my entire first two years of college,” Nova said.

This is the second summer in a row that Hoque has welcomed a Xerox fellow into his group. As a volunteer mentor, Hoque doesn’t get any extra pay, but doesn’t mind. “We have access to top students; we get to hand pick who we bring into our labs, and they are a great addition. The extra pay is the work they do. That’s the gain.”