Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction

The emergence of the "ubiquitous computing" paradigm in the late 1980s introduced a series of significant challenges for research and practice in human-computer interaction, by moving the locus of interaction from the person sitting at a desk in front of a PC to the person moving through a world suffused with devices and information. This has supported an expansion of HCI's topics to include questions of spatiality, tangibility and experience. New theoretical understandings and new practical issues attend the design of ubiquitous applications, but also shed light on issues at play in traditional interaction models.

This class will survey classic and current research at the intersection of ubiquitous computing and interaction. We will begin with a mixture of lectures and discussions, with the emphasis on discussions of readings as the quarter moves along.

Grades will be based on participation in online and in-class discussion, and on a term paper due at the end of the quarter.

Weekly Discussions

Most of the quarter is structured around in-class discussions of readings (see schedule below). For each class, two students will be selected to lead the discussion. Everyone else should post a response to the readings online, due 48 hours before the class starts (in order to give the discussion leaders time to use them to prepare for the discussion.) Your participation in discussions, online and in class, will be one component of your grade for the class.

Discussion responses should be posted on the class wiki. You can login using your UCINet ID.

Term Paper

The second component of your evaluation is a term paper. You may write these individually or in pairs. Term papers are typically around 5000 words, on any topic related to the subject of the class. Abstracts/topics for term papers are due at the end of week 4; drafts or outlines of papers are due at the end of week 7 (these drafts are not graded, but are an opportunity to get early feedback.)


The readings are stored on UCI's webfiles service. To gain access, you will first need an activated UCINet ID, and then to register for a Webfiles account.

3/31 Introduction and course overview

A few of the things that came up during my rambles: the Honeywell Kitchen Computer and its classic ad; the Microsoft Surface video and a lovely parody.

4/2 Seminal ideas: Discussion
4/7 Tangibility and Embodiment


From the discussion: an excerpt from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations on language and language games; the Ubicomp 2005 paper on SignalPlay.

4/9 Tangibility and Embodiment: Discussion (Discussion: Ben, Faith, Yohan)
4/14 Social computing


One paper that came up as I talked was Sacks' lecture On Doing Being Ordinary.

4/16 Social Computing: Discussion (Leaders: Justin, Anahita, Karthik)

Another paper that came up in our discussion: Star's Ethnography of Infrastructure.

4/21 Foundations
  • Dourish, P. 2001. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT Press. Chapter 4.
4/23 Foundations
  • Dourish, P. 2001. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT Press. Chapter 5.
4/24 End of Week 4: Term paper topics due
4/28 No class
4/30 Privacy (hosted by Prof. Gillian Hayes; Discussion: Vrishti, Sean, Chung-Yi)
5/5 Theory and Design
5/7 Theory and Design


5/12 Critical and cultural perspectives (Discussion: Kyle, Nadine, Xing)

In the discussion, I mentioned some of Emily Martin's work on "flexibility". Here's a chapter from her book, "Flexible Bodies." A lot of her concern in that book is with flexility through the lens of immunology as practice and metaphor, but this chapter focuses more particularly on the concerns I discussed yesterday.

5/14 Mobility and Spatiality (Discussion: Tom, Josef, Ryan)
5/15 End of Week 7: Term paper outlines/drafts due
5/19 Case study: GPS tracking of parolees (Janet Vertesi)
5/21 Mobile Technology in the Messy Now (Hosted by Prof. Don Patterson; Discussion: Kim, Joey, Jonathan)
5/26 Infrastructure
5/28 Seams, seamlessness, seamfulness (Discusion: Ben, Faith, Yohan)
6/2 Ubicomp and CSCW (Discussion: Justin, Anahita, Karthik)
6/4 Evaluating Ubicomp systems (Discussion: Vrishti, Sean, Chung-Yi)
6/5 End of Week 10: Term papers due