The recipient of the 2018 award for the best doctoral dissertation completed at a Canadian university in the field of Human-Computer Interaction is Dr. Max Birk.
His dissertation, Investigating Avatar Customization as a Motivational Design Strategy for Improving Engagement with Technology-Enabled Services for Health, explores one of the biggest challenges in effective digital health solutions—attrition due to lack of long-term user engagement. Limited uptake thwarts the tremendous clinical potential of, interest in, and evidence for the efficacy of technology-enabled services. Drawing inspiration from game design, Birk conducted four studies: the effects of avatar customization on user experience and behaviour in a game setting, the effects of avatar customization on attrition in an intervention context using a breathing exercise, the immediate effects of avatar customization on the efficacy of an anxiety-reducing attentional retraining task, and the effects of financial rewards on self-reported motivation and performance in a gamified training task. Together, these provide evidence for a causal effect chain whereby avatar customization increases self-reported identification with an avatar, which in turn increases self-reported motivation that leads to increased behavioural engagement and focus, and those lead to heightened exposure over time or qualitatively higher exposure through increased focus in the moment of use, which in the end can increase the efficacy of the intervention.
Motivational design strategies to improve engagement are not well understood and thus are under-utilized. Birk deployed experiments both online and in-the-wild to investigate how compensation for participation and the timing of payments affects adherence. Noting clear differences between the relatively high adherence levels found in strict RCT (randomized controlled trials) versus the attrition rates often encountered with in-the-wild studies, he developed new methods for studying adherence over time that have already been adopted by other researchers to help address a major limitation in current research— that participation rates in experimental contexts simply do not translate into actual use.
Max Birk completed his doctorate in computer science at the University of Saskatchewan under the supervision of Dr. Regan Mandryk. He had previously earned a Diplom in Psychology (equivalent to a master’s degree) at the University of Trier (Germany) in 2012 on the topic “Provoking aggression in the laboratory: Physiological responses to violent video games.” He then studied computer science at the University of Saskatchewan before entering the doctoral program there. Papers he co-authored received honorable mention (top 5%) awards at both the CHI 2017 and CHI 2018 conferences, and at CHI Play 2015 one paper he co-authored received a best paper (top 1%) award and another received an honorable mention (top 5%) award. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Design at Eindhoven Technical University in the Netherlands.
Funding from an anonymous donor established this award in 2011 in honour of Bill Buxton, a Canadian researcher, designer, and musician who has done much to promote excellence in the field of Human-Computer Interaction, both within Canada and internationally. Bill challenges how academics and practitioners think, and he inspires them to do things differently. He is true advocate for Human-Computer Interaction.
The award is determined through a juried process by a selection committee consisting of accomplished researchers in Human-Computer Interaction. This year, the jury was Dr. Andrea Bunt (University of Manitoba), Dr. Fanny Chevalier (University of Toronto), Dr. Jeremy Cooperstock (McGill University), and Dr. Kellogg Booth (University of British Columbia) who facilitated the process.