Research Statement

My research areas are Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). As technology continues to be increasingly utilized in every aspect of our daily lives, there are ever more opportunities for computer scientists. As computer scientists, we improve these technologies and in turn our daily lives in many ways. As “HCIentists” (often also computer scientists), we focus our attention on improving how well the technologies suit us in “being the selves we wish we were” [4]. In HCI we consider not only how quickly a task can be accomplished with technology, but also (e.g.) whether the task should be completed with technology, and whether it should be completed quickly. Beginning back in my undergraduate software development in support of the UNC Housing department, continuing through my undergraduate research and industrial (IBM) experience in Assistive Technologies, my industrial experience with custom, multi-platform, and mobile business solutions (Red Hat), through my graduate studies at Virginia Tech including my industrial research internship (Xerox), I have seen that it is often more than whether a technology or software fulfills the requirements, but myriad other nuanced considerations of how people will use, appropriate, and adapt technologies that determines whether they are successful. My interest in how and why people behave and use technologies in the ways they do influences my design, implementation, and deployment of meaningful technologies that make the world a bit better by helping people be the people they wish they were.

In my master’s thesis work for example, I investigated the effects of transparency on group work. In a world where technologically supported group work seems to automatically mean immediate sharing of everything each group member does (total transparency), I looked at how this transparency might affect individuals working in groups. I found promising preliminary evidence that increased transparency may result in more contributions to group work, but that people in the less-transparent condition thought (1) others built on their ideas, (2) their imaginations were captured by others’ ideas, and (3) they built on others ideas more than participants in the more-transparency condition [1]. In an era of Google Docs and its competitors implementing real-time collaboration in as completely transparent a way as possible, it is important to consider the assumption that transparency is the most important design goal for group collaborations.

In pursuit of other ways to design to help us be the selves we wish we were, my dissertation work (Colisten) looks what it means to “feel together” with a friend or family member (a human need) and explores the potential for technology to facilitate people in meeting this need. For many, something as simple as listening to music at the same time as a remote friend or family member is sufficient to elicit the feeling of warm companionship that we may feel when co-located [3].

Aside from looking at how technology can support us in maintaining relationships we care about, another arena I am interested in utilizing technology to design better, more meaningful interactions, is in education in the classroom and out. For example, in ThoughtSwap, we are interested in how students discuss their course content. In particular, we are interested in facilitating students in expressing and in considering counter-attitudinal points of view [2]. Adults who can express, consider, discuss, and critique others points of view are well suited to make important decisions as citizens of a democratic political system, as laborers for companies, parents of children, and etc.

Along with many others in computing, especially in computer science education, I have investigated computational thinking. Being interested in increasing the diversity not only of people who go into careers in computing, but also the diversity of adults in every field who have certain competencies with respect to computing, I have explored the potential of proto-computational thinking to increase participant in computing. More specifically, I have worked with teachers in middle schools to explore integrating computational thinking into core curriculum [5] through research, development, and testing of technological interventions in core curricular areas.

To investigate questions and address problems that are meaningful today, interdisciplinarity is key. From the research methods themselves and the members of the research team, to the domains of study and the ways and means of communicating the findings, working together with a diverse team is critical to success. I have found my experiences working with diverse and interdisciplinary teams in academia and industry to be exciting and rewarding. In particular, working with undergraduate students as they learn what research is, and how to put the development skills they learn in class to use in software people can use has been my favorite part of my post-graduate studies. While interdisciplinary teams often entail significant work in communication and coordination, the opportunity to learn from my collaborators and to think about problems not often considered within my own discipline opens the door to new research directions.

I look forward to continuing my work researching how to help people be the selves they wish they were in diverse, interdisciplinary teams.


  1. Michael C Stewart, Steven R Harrison, and D Scott McCrickard. 2012. How Private is Private ?: Effects of Degree of Information Sharing on Group Ideation.
  2. Michael Stewart, Aakash Gautam, Sarang Joshi, and Deborah Tatar. 2017. Facilitating Class Discussions Through Anonymous Thought Swapping. The 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning.
  3. Michael Stewart, Deborah Tatar, and Steve R Harrison. 2016. Sharing, Communication, and Music Listening: A Diary Study of Technology Use by Pre-teens and Adolescents. Proccedings of the 2016 International Conference on Collaboration Technologies and Systems (CTS 2016), IEEE.
  4. Deborah Tatar. 2014. Reflecting out better nature. Interactions, 46–49.
  5. Deborah Tatar, Steve Harrison, Michael Stewart, Chris Frisina, and Peter Musaeus. 2016. (under review) Proto-computational Thinking: the Uncomfortable Underpinnings. In Computational Thinking: Research and Practice, Peter Rich and Charles Hodges (eds.). Springer.



Colisten-60@x3My dissertation work explores people’s feelings of “togetherness” through offering them a novel kind of mediated experience.  Many technologies today are “social”, but many of them can leave us feeling lonely.  Colisten enabled people to listen to the same music at the same time as their “framily”, close friends and family, even when they are far away.  Experiencing music at the same time as another person can provide some of the feelings and experiences of having spent time with them.
see also:

  • Michael Stewart, Deborah Tatar, and Steve Harrison. Sharing, communication, and music listening: A diary study of technology use by pre-teens and adolescents. In Collaboration Technologies and Systems (CTS), 2016 International Conference on, November 2016.

Master’s Thesis

Design Game
Screenshot 2016-10-01 14.05.38In my Master’s Thesis, I studied the effects of privacy, in the form of transparency, on group interaction in a CSCW scenario. For this work I reviewed prior work, designed the study, recruited project staff, trained the project staff to assist in data collection, collected data (system logs, researcher observations, video), analyzed the data (including video transcription and coding), and wrote the thesis.
see also:

Other Projects

InclusiveVT Explorer
Screenshot 2016-10-06 22.55.10As part of Virginia Tech’s ongoing efforts in Inclusion and Diversity on campus, I built the InclusiveVT Explorer to help browse the many programs aimed at issues related to inclusion and diversity on campus. I worked in collaboration with many people to develop the explorer, including members of the VT Graduate School Staff and InclusiveVT.  
se also:

algovizI worked on AlgoViz with Prof. Shaffer, AJ Alon, and Monika Akbar. AlgoViz aims to provide a portal where educators can share algorithm visualizations that are useful in teaching. In addition to sharing the visualizations themselves, the portal supports the instructors in sharing their experiences using various visualizations in instructors’ varied contexts. My role was assisting in migrating much of the content form a wiki to Drupal. Additionally, I began the work of user experience and design overhaul.
see also: 

ACM DL Author-ize serviceGetting algorithm visualizations into the classroom

Clifford A. Shaffer, Monika Akbar, Alexander Joel D. Alon, Michael Stewart, Stephen H. Edwards
SIGCSE ’11 Proceedings of the 42nd ACM technical symposium on Computer science education, 2011

Math for the Blind
Screenshot 2016-10-07 09.59.24I worked with Prof. Quek and Francisco Oliveira on a project that was intended to communicate a math instructor’s pointing to students with visual impairments. I helped demonstrate the system and analyze data from study sessions (I transcribed and coded videos).
see also:

Screenshot 2016-10-01 14.09.35I worked with Prof. North, Christopher Andrews, Haeyong Chung, and Alex Endert on Alex’s ChairMouse idea. When using large, high-resolution displays with computers, a user will often still use a conventional mouse as their pointing device. The problem is that with so many more pixels to traverse, the user must often resort to “clutching” or “rowing” where they move the mouse to one extreme of the mousepad, lift the mouse, and replace it at the opposite extreme to continue moving the cursor in the same direction. Our relatively low-cost and low-tech prototype worked surprisingly well.
I helped with literature review, building a sensor to detect mouse “rowing” or “clutching”, study design and execution (data collection), data analysis, and write-up.
see also:

Clock Partners
Screenshot 2016-10-01 14.08.18In some contexts (such as elementary classrooms) teachers may want to orchestrate classroom activities in part by composition of class small group or pair composition (e.g. Collaborate with Clock Partners). In collaboration with elementary school teachers, and a Mathematician (Jim Dickson), I wrote a small web application to facilitate this process. This application relies on modern web technology (javascript and svg) to be able to quickly produce the clock faces that a teacher can then print and distribute to their students.
  1. Clock Partners: Pre-assigned Pairs for Prompt Participation
Screenshot 2016-10-07 10.22.00I worked with Prof. Evia, Siroberto Scerbo, and Tim Lockridge to create a web application which would facilitate the creation of web comics that would serve as technical documentation.
See also:

ACM DL Author-ize serviceStructured authoring meets technical comics in techcommix

Carlos Evia, Michael Stewart, Tim Lockridge, Siroberto Scerbo, Manuel Perez-Quiñones
SIGDOC ’12 Proceedings of the 30th ACM international conference on Design of communication, 2012

Getting Lost in Email
Ben Hanrahan was working with Prof. Pérez-Quiñones on how people tend to get lost in email. I had the opportunity to assist in literature review, data collection, analysis, and write-up.
Astronomical Proportions
Screenshot 2016-10-07 09.11.29With support from the NSF, we worked with middle school teachers to understand the parts of their curriculum that they were least pleased with, and to target those areas as potential for integrating (proto-)computational thinking. I met regularly with a middle school science teacher, observed their class, and developed a robust prototype. Then, I went to the class again to observe the teacher using the prototype in their lessons. I collected data (observations of the class, discussions with the teacher, and logs form our system), developed the prototype, and wrote up the results.
With support from the NSF, we worked with middle school teachers to understand the parts of their curriculum that they were least pleased with, and to target those areas as potential for integrating (proto-)computational thinking. I met regularly with a middle school english teacher, observed their class, and developed a robust prototype. Then, I went to the class again to observe the teacher using the prototype in their lessons. I collected data (observations of the class, discussions with the teacher, and logs form our system), developed the prototype, and wrote up the results.
Sound of Fractions
Screenshot 2016-10-01 15.21.20Chris Frisina carried forward an effort begun by Siroberto Scerbo (with support from the NSF) to leverage students’ interests in- and engagement with music to support them in learning fractions in math class. I collaborated with Chris on the development of his prototype web application and his study (including data collection, analysis, and write-up).
Screenshot 2016-10-07 10.23.36Following on promising initial work, I worked with a team of undergraduate students to develop modern, scalable, robust implementation of ThoughtSwap that could be deployed in classrooms in a practical way. Then with a team of other graduate students, I studied ThoughtSwap with over 120 students in a total of 3 classes. I designed the study, recruited the participants, collected data, analyzed data, and wrote up the results. 
  1. ThoughtSwap-ing for In-Class Discussions
RaBit EscAPE: a board game for computational thinking
Screenshot 2016-10-01 14.03.30I worked with Panagiotis Apostollelis and Chris Frisina to conceive, build, and test a board game to help teach computational thinking concepts for Prof. Dennis Kafura’s Computational Thinking course.

ACM DL Author-ize serviceRaBit EscAPE: a board game for computational thinking

Panagiotis Apostolellis, Michael Stewart, Chris Frisina, Dennis Kafura
IDC ’14 Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Interaction design and children, 2014

“RaBit EscAPE: a board game for computational thinking” in the ACM Digital Library (IDC 2014). More details soon…

Collaborative PDF Annotator
Worked with a team of undergraduates to develop a prototype collaborative PDF Annotator (based on pdfjs and togetherjs). This is still a work in progress.
  1. Scaffolding Critical Reading and Constructive Peer Reviewing with Collaborative Document-Annotation
Continuing work begun with support of NSF, I am worked with a team of undergraduates (Adam Barnes and Joe Bruzek) to design the next iteration of an educational technology to facilitate students in social studies classes learning to read primary source documents critically, and comprehensively. 
Screenshot 2016-10-01 13.54.44Worked with a team of undergraduates to design, prototype, and implement a web application to support annotating online videos in a user-friendly manner. The videos then display these annotations as the video plays and the annotations can be used as an index into the contents of the video. This has applications as an instructional technology for use in a face-to-face classroom, online teaching, flipped classroom, and outside of education and training altogether.
  1. Indexing into Video with YouScriber
Screenshot 2016-10-01 13.50.58Worked with a team of undergraduates (James Beamer and Zawad Chowdhury) to develop a web application to track and archive tweets containing twitter hashtag, and to display these tweets on a map as a way to share a study-abroad experience. The first implementation supports the VT Graduate School’s Global Perspectives Program.
  1. TripVis: Geographically-Situated Reflection, Sharing, and Presentation for Study Abroad Experiences

  1. 2015 Global Perspectives at the Swiss Embassy to the United States, Washington, D.C.
  2. 2016 Global Perspectives at the Swiss Embassy to the United States, Washington, D.C.

Please feel invited to peruse my CV for further demonstration of my work.