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.


The primary text for the class is my 2001 book, "Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction." I will also distribute readings from my new book with Genevieve Bell which is due to be published in May ("Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing.")

Other readings are drawn from research research literature, especially at the Ubicomp and CHI conferences, and will be made available online (see class schedule below).

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.

3/29 Introduction and course overview
3/31 Seminal ideas: Discussion
4/5 Tangibility and Embodiment


4/7 Tangibility and Embodiment: Discussion (Leaders: Boaz and Sen)
4/12 Social computing


4/14 Social Computing: Discussion (Leaders: Audrey and Nitin)
4/19 Foundations
  • Dourish, P. 2001. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT Press. Chapter 4.
4/21 Foundations
  • Dourish, P. 2001. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT Press. Chapter 5.
4/22 End of Week 4: Term paper topics due
4/26 Theory and Design (Leaders: Eric and Tiago)
4/28 Mobility and Spatiality (Leaders: Ken and Abhisht)
5/3 Infrastructure (Leaders: Jim and Nilmax)
  • Dourish, P. and Bell, G. 2011. What Lies Beneath. From Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing.
  • McCullough, M. 2004. Embedded Gear. From Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, 67-94. MIT Press.
  • Star, S. 1999. The Ethnography of Infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377-391.
  • Dunne, A. 2005. Hertzian Space. From Hertzian Tales, 101-121. MIT Press.
5/5 Seams and Seamfulness (Leaders: Raminder and Colin)
5/10 No class

Paul away.

5/12 Privacy (Leaders: Lea and Boaz)
5/13 End of Week 7: Term paper outlines/drafts due
5/17 Case study: GPS tracking of parolees (Leaders: Jagannathan and Audrey)
5/19 Critical and Cultural Perspectives (Leaders: Jacklyn and Ian)
5/24 Ubicomp and CSCW (Leaders: Nitin and Eric)
5/26 Evaluating Ubicomp (Leaders: Martin and Madhusudan)
5/31 No class.

Paul away.

6/2 No class.

Paul away.

6/3 End of Week 10: Term papers due