EsR12, 2014-2017

My DiXiT experience started in July 2014.

During three years, I conducted user studies to analyze the use of digital editions with a variety of expert users. The original DiXit  call was complex, asking for prospectives that have been finding less and less space in scholarly editing, from cultural studies and ethnography to exploration of alternative methods. To answer this call I designed a research project strongly focused on data collection and user feedback. This involved systematic user research, experimenting with Usability, UX, Ergonomics applied to the evaluation of knowledge products. My idea was to unite practice and theory, on the one hand, and systematic user research key to designing on the other. Later I found in these methods an interesting framework to account for less explored aspects of the process (or at this point the experience) of making and using editions.

It must be said that this research has evolved over time with substantial changes, until Dr. Fabio Ciotti became DiXiT supervisor, at the end of the second year. From the early plan to design the front-end design for Ecdosis — an interesting project that we lost in process — the focus little by little evolved towards testing in and of itself. Then Dr. Brigitte Mathiak joined the team, she practically took over all of the data acquisition operations for DiXiT. Thanks to her advice, we conducted two user studies, published reports, and disseminated the results in a variety of conferences all over the world.

In particular, we (Brigitte is currently supervising my Ph.D.) study how experts use information resources by gathering them in a lab and observing their interaction. We organize small sessions in the computer labs of universities, where volunteers are asked to use various information resources, given tasks to solve and asked to rate their experience. This allows gathering mixed data on what people say and do; that is not only good enough to significantly fix and improve editions but an opportunity to get an insight into processes which are not easily measured. Things get slippery as we introduce the idea that interaction is linked to higher-level mental processes, yet much of the quality of use of knowledge tools depends on the efficiency and effectiveness with which this link is re-engineered. With this in mind, I tried to the design experiments to account for latent behavior, where possible, by combining tasks and screen captures with audio recordings of more traditional focus group sessions.

In addition to user research, the idea of an agile edition and global outlook have also been prominent aspects of the project, which has grown up enriched by a variety of case studies. From Bichitra’s review, I explored editorial practices alternative to those of the European school, making important contacts with centers and scholars in Latin American and Japan. Adventures like this are key in discovering opportunities for dialogue, collaboration, knowledge, and technology transfer. Thanks to one of these, I could organize the next user study in Buenos Aires. South American DH, known as Humanidades Digitales represent a very interesting case study in substantiating the data we already gathered and in figuring out the scalability of our approach. I can’t wait!  a.r.t.e.s. liked the idea and is financing the trip. After that, I will wrap up my work in my Ph.D. thesis for Cologne.

Most of this would not have been possible without the substantial freedom and mobility that the Marie Slodowska-Curie Action Program grants to its researchers. I also want to thank my fellows, supervisors, all the centers, and collaborators for the intrinsic value of sharing a desk with the most competent professionals and researchers in the field. It was not only the biggest pleasure but most significant factor for motivation and learning. I am grateful to Cologne University, and CCeH for their support; in particular, we could not have done the studies without Andreas Speer and the Thomas-InstitutPaola Italia was key to recruit participants in Rome, while the people at DigiLab facilitated much the whole process. Thanks to Fabio Ciotti, who brought the stability that was missing, and pushed me to join DHSI Victoria (definitely coolest event!  I took an amazing class on Minimal Computing). Finally, thanks to all the others who have contributed to the research with ideas, questions, and encouragement Desmond Schmidt, Sukanta Chaudhuri, John BryantGimena Del Rio Riande, Kyonori Nagasaki, Marinos Ioannides.

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