Author: Lisa Hitch

BASIC Computer Tutoring Resumes at Portage Lake District Library

From WLUC-TV6. Published March 26, 2022.

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) – Since 2018, Michigan Tech University senior Mitchell Eckstrand has come to the Portage Lake District Library to help people in Houghton with computers. It is something he has enjoyed doing almost every weekend.

“If I can do my part to help other people feel more comfortable with their devices or other tasks that they’re doing on their computer, {then} it’s rewarding for me,” said Eckstrand.

These tutoring sessions are part of BASIC, which stands for Building Adult Skills In Computing. For at least 11 years, MTU professors and students have helped community members understand technology.

MTU faculty members Charles Wallace (CS/ICC-HCC, CompEd) and Kelly Steelman (CLS/ICC-HCC) direct the volunteer program.

“Sometimes, it’s questions they don’t know about,” said Chuck Wallace, an Associate Professor of Computer Science. “Sometimes, it’s problems with existing technology. But, we take them on one-on-one and work together with them.”

Saturday, marked the first in-person session in two years.

Besides regular computers, people get help with their tablets, phones, and even Chromebooks.

“Having some Chromebooks here for people who don’t have those is a really great way for people to be able to try out some more portable technology,” said Kelly Steelman, an Associate Professor of Human Factors and Psychology. “So, they might consider whether they want to get something like that for themselves.”

The program also helps those who are anxious about asking technological questions.

“As the pace of technology progresses,” Steelman explained, “it’s more of a common discussion that everybody needs help and will need help at some point.”

Eckstrand says those he and his peers help are not the only ones who learn something new.

“A lot of times, I’ll get questions that I don’t know the answer to, and then we’ll work together to figure out the problem,” he stated. “I learn a lot of things, too that I probably would have never known had I not been involved in this program.”

The BASIC sessions will continue helping others gain technological knowledge until the end of April, before starting again in September. They are open to anyone in the community, and no sign-ups are necessary. The free sessions are on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library’s Community Room.

Copyright 2022 WLUC. All rights reserved.

Graduate Research Colloquium, 2022

Each spring, Michigan Tech’s Graduate Student Government sponsors the Graduate Research Colloquium (GRC) Poster & Presentation Competition. The GRC is a unique opportunity for current graduate students to share their research with the University community and to gain experience in presenting that research to colleagues. During this year’s GRC a virtual mock conference will be set-up where presenters are broken down into various technical sessions, ranging from Advances in Modern Medicine and Health to Power and Energy, and everything in between.

Five Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) students will be competing in this year’s event on March 29-30.

Lamia Alam

Assessing Cognitive Empathy Elements within the Context of Diagnostic AI Chatbots

Empathy is an important element for any social relationship and it is also very important in patient-physician communication for ensuring the quality of care. There are many aspects and dimensions of empathy applicable in such communication. As Artificial Intelligence is being heavily deployed in healthcare, it is critical that there is a shared understanding between patients and the AI systems if patients are directly interacting with those systems. But many of the emotional aspects of empathy may not be achievable by AI systems at present and cognitive empathy is the one that can genuinely be implemented through artificial intelligence in healthcare. We need a better understanding of the elements of cognitive empathy and how these elements can be utilized effectively. In this research, the goal was to investigate whether empathy elements actually make a difference to improve user perception of AI empathy. We developed a scale “AI Cognitive Empathy Scale (AICES)” for that purpose and conducted a study where the experimental condition had both emotional and cognitive empathy elements together. The AICES scale demonstrated reasonable consistency, reliability, and validity, and overall, empathy elements improve the perceived empathy concern within diagnostic AI chatbots.

Betsy Lehman

Easy Does It: Ease of Generating Alternative Explanations As A Mediator Of Counterfactual Reasoning In Ambiguous Social Judgments

According to sensemaking theory (Klein et al., 2007), people must first question their theory of a situation before they can shift their perspective. Questioning one’s perspective may be critical in many situations, such as taking action against climate change, improving diversity and equity at work, or promoting vaccine adoption. However, research on how people question their theories is limited. Using counterfactual theory (Roese & Olson, 1995), we examined several factors and strategies affecting this part of the sensemaking process. Eighty participants generated explanations and predicted outcomes in five ambiguous social situations. Likelihood of an alternative outcome was the measure for questioning one’s frame. Two models of the data were created. Using path analysis, we compared fit between a base model (i.e., ease, malleable factors, and missing information) and a model based on counterfactual generation theory with ease as a mediator. Results indicated that the counterfactual theory model fit was better, indicating that ease of generation may be a critical mediator in the sensemaking process. This work contributes to research focused on understanding of the mechanisms of perspective shifts to support applications for system design and training, such as programs to reduce implicit bias.

Anne Linja

Examining Explicit Rule Learning in Cognitive Tutorials: Training learners to predict machine classification

Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) systems are becoming more commonplace and relied upon in our daily lives. Decisions made by AI/ML systems guide our lives. For example, these systems might decide whether we get a loan, and the full-self driving car we’re sharing the road with even makes decisions. However, we may not be able to predict, or even know whether, or when these systems might make a mistake. Many Explainable AI (XAI) approaches have developed algorithms to give users a glimpse of the logic a system uses to come up with its output. However, increasing the transparency alone may not help users to predict the system’s decisions even though users are aware of the underlying mechanisms. One possible approach is Cognitive Tutorials for AI (CTAI; Mueller et al., 2021), which is an experiential method used to teach conditions under which the AI/ML system will succeed or fail. One specific CTAI technique involved teaching simple rules that could be used to predict performance; this was referred to as Rule Learning. This technique aims to identify rules that can help the user learn when the AI/ML system succeeds, the system’s boundary conditions, and what types of differences change the output of the AI system. To evaluate this method, I will report on a series of experiments in which we compared different rule learning approaches to find the most effective way to train users on these systems. Using the MNIST data set, this includes showing positive and negative examples in comparison to providing explicit descriptions of rules that can be used to predict the system’s output. Results suggest that although examples help people learn the rules, tutorials that provided explicit rule learning and provided direct example-based practice with feedback led people to best predict correct and incorrect classifications of an AI/ML system.

Tauseef Ibne Mamun

Connected Crossings: Examining Human Factors in a Field Study

Poor driver decision-making continues to be a challenge at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings (HRGC). One way to improve safety has been to introduce a new, in-vehicle warning system that communicates with the external HRGC warning systems. The system gives drivers different rail-crossing-related warnings (e.g., approaching crossing, train presence) depending on the vehicle location. In a rare field study, 15 experienced drivers drove a connected vehicle (Chevy Volt) and used the warning system on a 12-mile loop, then completed a semi-structured interview and usability survey. Results from the post-drive survey and interview are reported and provide a template for future usability assessments for field studies involving new technologies.

Lauren Monroe

Don’t throw a tempo tantrum: the effects of varying music tempo on vigilance performance and effective state

Vigilance tasks, or sustained attention tasks, involve an operator monitoring an environment for infrequent and random critical signals buried among more frequent neutral signals for an extended period of time. In addition to an observable decline in task engagement, task performance, and arousal over time, these tasks are also related to an increased subjective workload. Previously, music has been shown to have a positive impact on operator engagement and reaction times during sustained attention, however the differences between fast and slow tempo music on vigilance performance and subjective mood measures have not been studied. The present study (N=50) examined the effects of music played at different tempos on a selection of performance metrics and subjective measures of mood, engagement, and workload. Results indicated that varying the tempo of music did not have an effect on the decline in the correct detection of critical signals. There also was not a significant impact on measures of arousal and stress, but the fast tempo condition had a slightly positive impact on worry and engagement from pre to post task subjective measures.

For more information on our student and faculty research see:

Undergraduate Research Symposium, 2022

Emilie Jacques

Hunter Malinowski

The tenth annual Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) took place on Friday, March 25, 2022, in the Rozsa Lobby. The Symposium highlighted the cutting-edge research conducted on Michigan Tech’s campus by some of our best and brightest undergraduates. The students represented a wide array of scientific and engineering disciplines from across campus and highlighted the diversity of research areas being explored.

UG psychology students Hunter Malinowski (CS dual major) and Emilie Jacques were among this year’s URS participants. Hunter presented her research with advisor Dr. Shane Mueller in “Assessing the Effectiveness of the XAI Discovery Platform and Visual Explanations on User Understanding of AI Systems”. Emilie presented her research with advisor Dr. Susie Amato-Henderson in “The Immediate Effects of Mindfulness on Test Anxiety”. Both students were recipients of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

Congratulations to all participants!

Samantha Smith Selected for Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Samantha Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS), is this week’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase member.

Smith will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series.

Dean David Hemmer selected Smith for her innovative course design that takes full advantage of the beautiful Keweenaw.

Smith’s new course, Nature Psychology, centers experiential learning and takes an innovative approach to helping students explore how our mental experience is connected to the natural environment. The course was selected for an IDEA Hub pilot project grant because of its innovative approach to making the subject meaningful to students and because it provides students with an interdisciplinary perspective on the subject matter by connecting them with faculty from a variety of disciplines that engage with the natural world.

Smith’s course features a significant service learning component. After a meeting with Jill Fisher, outreach coordinator from the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), the students have designed a pamphlet that will be placed at various KLT trailheads. The pamphlet will explain many of the ways that spending time in nature is good for mental health, physical health and cognitive performance — which should be a good way for them to share the things they are learning about in class. The class is also creating a family-oriented activity with the aim of getting more people out exploring and learning about the KLT and the land they protect.

The course culminates with a nature retreat in the Porcupine Mountains, allowing students to directly experience and reflect on concepts they’ve discussed throughout the semester. To prepare for this retreat, Smith completed an intensive five-day wilderness first responder course over the winter break.

Nature Psychology is not Smith’s first experience with experiential learning. In her Environmental Psychology class, she also takes students outside the classroom to observe psychological principles and practices at play in real-world settings. For example, she brings students on a walkability tour of Houghton and conducts a scavenger hunt at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum to explore the design of educational environments. Student and peer evaluations of these courses have highlighted their excellent organization and pacing through a combination of demonstrations, discussions, individual and small-group activities, and lecture.

CLS Chair Kelly Steelman says: “Since joining the department in 2019, Dr. Smith has developed a reputation as a high-quality, innovative instructor at the introductory, upper-division and graduate level … and one that excites students enough that they seek out opportunities to provide glowing feedback. In fact, last semester, I had two different students from two different classes stop me on campus to rave about her courses.”

Hemmer includes similar praise in his nomination: “Hiring faculty is one of the best parts of my job. When newer faculty like Dr. Smith quickly make such a positive impact in (and out!) of the classroom, it is truly heartening.”

Student Spotlight: Brandon Woolman

Brandon Woolman with Triforce at Otter River Sled Dog Training Center

This weekend, huskies and their mushers from near and far will gather in Calumet, Michigan, for the Copper Dog 150. Brandon Woolman, Michigan Tech University Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) masters student, will be among the over 50 teams registered for the event. Brandon is a member of The Mushing Club at Michigan Tech – maybe the only collegiate-level mushing organization in the nation. His role as “handler” will be to help prepare and care for a very energetic team of dogs, poised and ready to run!

Brandon gives us an insight to how he got into dog sledding, the relationship between mushers and their dogs, and what he’d like to accomplish during his time with the Mushing Club.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the sport of dog sledding?

I grew up in Waterford, Michigan and earned my undergraduate degree in cognitive neuroscience from the College of Wooster, Ohio. Two summers ago while visiting Houghton, I went to the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center with my partner Suzie Harris, who is a member of the Michigan Tech Mushing Club and current secretary. It was so cool to see all of the dogs and the workings of the kennel. Later, when I was accepted to the ACSHF masters program, I realized that I could actually participate in the Club myself and help out with the dogs.

I’ve kind of always been an outdoors person. I really enjoy the winter so I like the cold and snow. Southeast Michigan doesn’t get a ton of snow compared to up here where we’ve gotten nearly 250 inches so far this season. But I also grew up in Grayling, where my father lived, and we would do a lot of ice fishing, sledding, tubing, and snowboarding – all sorts of winter activities.

The thing that I like best about the sport of dog sledding is its friendly competitive nature – two adjectives you usually don’t hear together in describing a sport. When I started going to the races, I had never been on a sled before. I would just go and talk to all the mushers and the people involved with the races, and help out with the dogs. I also enjoy seeing the Michigan Tech team arrive at the events with so many people. Other teams might have two to four, but at the last event, Marquette’s Midnight Run, we had 20 members of the Mushing Club helping out with our three teams.

It’s always nice to hear stories from the mushers. They’re all very friendly and so are all the people who help put the races together – from the volunteers at the start, checkpoint crews along the way, and the judges. I try to talk to as many people as I can and hear their stories of past races, experiences they’ve had caring for their dogs, and learning more about their lifestyle.

The mushers definitely form a strong bond with their dogs. And the lead dogs are amazing and really smart. Until you get them leashed up and ready to go, you wouldn’t realize the strength of just one dog, and the mushers are racing with a team of 6-12, depending on the length of the race. That’s a lot of power in front of a sled.

I’ve learned that good mushers prioritize praise and positive reinforcement when training their dogs. With patience and time, they build trust with their team. Of course belly rubs, ear scratches and treats help as well. Mushers learn what motivates each dog, just like humans, they are all unique.

Do you have a mentor in the sport?

I definitely look up to Tom Bauer. He and his wife Sally are the owners of the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center and sponsor the Mushing Club. We [club members] go to their kennel and help take care of the dogs. We feed and run them and keep their spaces clean.

I’m always excited to follow Tom during a race. It’s cool when he’s out there and I get to watch where he is on a tracking system. You can actually see as his team moves through the course and encounters other racers. It also helps to estimate the location of the teams and how close they are to the next checkpoint.

As a handler, I help with the maintenance and feeding of the dogs before and during the race. At the rest points, you’ve got to take the dogs out of their houses every four hours and let them stretch their legs. It can be a lot of work when you’re staying overnight and you need to wake up at 2 or 4am. It definitely helps when you have a lot of handlers with the team, so it’s not just you. We’re all bearing through it together – negative temps and snowstorms alike. As far as dressing to stay warm, I wear Rocky boots, wool socks, lots of layers, and a good pair of Carhartts.

A highlight for me so far this year was helping run Tom’s team to the starting line at the Midnight Run. So much excitement and adrenaline ready to break loose as crowds of people watched on. It took four of us to hold the team, along with Tom pressing on the break until the countdown was complete.

How do you balance your studies and time spent with the dogs?

I try to get to the kennel at least once a week. My schedule is rather busy with coursework and research so it really depends on how things are going. Some weeks I just can’t make it, but then there are those weeks when I’m able to help out a lot. The kennel has nearly 70 dogs so any time I can give makes a difference.

Right now I’m trying to learn all the dogs by name. There are some of our Club members who know them all. Mushers have a naming system that helps in remembering which dogs are from what litter. Each litter is named after a certain category, such as Greek Gods with one named Ares, for example.

My goal before I complete my degree and leave the Mushing Club is to race as a musher for the team. But until then, I’ll enjoy being with the dogs and the people in this very interesting world of dog sledding.

Brandon is currently working with his advisor, Dr. Kevin Trewartha, CLS/KIP associate professor, in a research project aimed at evaluating whether subtle differences in motor behavior could serve as a sensitive marker for early cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease. The project, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), is assessing differences in rapid motor decision making between healthy older adults and individuals with mild cognitive impairment or early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

100 Years in the Making

Hello, I’m Sara, a second-year psychology student at Michigan Tech and I’d like to invite you to Winter Carnival 2022!

My sorority, @mtu_alphagam, is one of nearly 70 campus and community organizations participating in this year’s snow statue competition. We have spent a combination of 102 hours shoveling, hauling, stacking, packing, freezing and adding the final touches to our creation. Did you know that it takes three different teams to complete a snow statue? There are people who work on the statue itself, then those who make the letters displayed in front of the statue, and people who make the ice sculptures.

This year Alpha Gamma Delta is partnering with our neighbor, Sigma Tau Gamma, in a variety of carnival events including statue building, stage revue, and several other competitions such as curling, broomball, speed skating, and human dog sled races. One of my sisters, Abigail Bethune, was voted Royal Majesty and will reign over the week’s events. We are very proud of her!

The annual Winter Carnival tradition has come a long way since the one-night event in 1922. Now the week-long schedule includes snow volleyball and soccer, ice bowling, speed skating, skiing and snowboarding, broomball, CCHA hockey games, human dog sled races, Bigfoot Glowshoe, and the SnoBall, to name a few.

So, Come One, Come All To Our 100th Carnival!

Q&A with Dr. Natasha Hardy

In the week leading up to Mid-year Commencement 2021, we got to chat with ACSHF PhD recipient Natasha Hardy and hear about her journey from starting the program in Spring 2011 to accepting her current position with a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded company. Read along to learn more.

Hello Dr. Hardy – First and foremost, congratulations on successfully completing your dissertation and earning your PhD degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) at Michigan Technological University. Before we get into specifics, can you briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?

I’ve always been very driven to grow and improve myself and I’ve pursued education with an almost single-minded determination since graduating from high school. Looking back, I can’t believe I made it through but my first mentor – Dr. Wayne Wright – always said, “I didn’t come this far to turn back now” and I took that philosophy very much to heart.

I started in the ACSHF program in Spring 2011 and began working and going to school full-time in 2014. In that time, I’ve had 7 jobs with 5 employers and I’ve grown from an entry-level analyst with a small non-profit to a senior level researcher with a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded company.


Q: When did you first realize this was the type of career you wanted to pursue?

A: My catalyst for coming to Michigan Tech was working on my capstone thesis for my Master’s degree: I was so inspired by researching adult learning theory I really wanted to find a program where I could better understand the psychology of learning. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Cokely and begin my journey at Michigan Tech.

Q: What excites you about your work and/or the field of behavioral research?

A: Understanding the way people think is so fundamental to living – it helps us understand the choices people make, the things they say and do – and I just find it so incredibly interesting and inspiring. Whether you are sitting down with one person and hearing their personal story and diving into key decisions in their life or looking at a nice big fat excel file of data and seeing those decisions in aggregate numbers, there’s just no end to what we can learn and interpolate about people and how they do things. I was inspired to work in UX because every day we encounter things that are unnecessarily challenging due to poor or sub-optimal design.

Q: Looking back, can you tell us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way?

A: There are too many lessons to count, honestly. I have been heart-broken and sobbing, scared, angry, and frustrated beyond reason at some point in my academic journey. Everyone’s path is different, but I think the most important thing I had to learn was to take care of myself and my mental health. There was a point where the anxiety and pressure I felt ate away at me until I was physically ill. I’ve had to learn not to bottle up my thoughts and feelings and instead rely on supportive relationships to help me through hard times. Working with Kelly [Dr. Steelman, advisor and CLS chair] was one of those supportive relationships that carried me through some of my most challenging times.

Q: What piece of advice would you like to give to a first-year psychology / human factors student?

A: Statistics is the most important class you will take, embrace it! I think a lot of people are inspired to come to psychology because they want to have a positive impact on people’s lives. In order to know if you are having an impact, you need to be able to measure, compare, and predict. I use statistics constantly in my work and have had to learn many new statistical techniques. Even though I find it very difficult to learn and understand statistics, it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Q: What do you see for the future of human behavior and design / human factors?

A: This field is going to continue to grow. In industry there is both a top-down and bottom-up push to improve user experience. I think there are two paths you can take. One is creating experiences that inspire people to use them and the other is creating experiences that reduce failure. So, for example, my work with Rocket Mortgage focuses on understanding how people think about and approach home ownership – from the time they start looking at houses through purchasing and into maintaining. This information drives how we design products and tools that help people achieve that goal in the most frictionless way possible. In this case, a good UX should be unnoticeable at worst and delightful at best. On the other hand, my husband built and coded a process to reduce pacemaker failure by improving anchoring coils to give more torsional stiffness but not reduce flexibility, so the anchors wouldn’t break inside the human body. In this case, product failure can be deadly. Which one of these inspires you?

Q: How do you practice a healthy work-life balance?

A: First, I want to acknowledge that being able to say, ‘No’ to work is a privilege. Some people absolutely do not have that luxury. I also know that as a mid-career professional I can probably be more pushy about what I want from an employer than someone who is fresh from school. I stop working at five to prepare dinner for my family and I also always take my vacation time that I earn at work. Only you can decide what is good and appropriate for you. And you should do that proactively so that you know what to look for in an employer.

Q: What is next for you on your life journey?

A: I have so many projects I want to work on! I’m planning to get a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell next – I’m so inspired by the health outcomes associated with plant-based nutrition I just want to learn more. I’m also moving to a new job at Indeed as a UX researcher for their data platform.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

A: Navigating people is central to successful work in UX. It’s not about you, it’s about other people and how they think, feel, and act. As a researcher, it’s important to seek to understand the mindset of others by asking questions and challenging your own preconceived notions.

Congratulations to all Fall 2021 graduates and best wishes for your future! Please stay in touch.

ACSHF Forum: Monday, September 13

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host speaker Cindy Miller (staff engineer, Harley-Davidson Motor Company) at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Human Factors in Aviation, Healthcare and Motorcycles,” will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (Sept. 13) via Zoom. Dr. Miller will present a summary of human factors engineering projects in aviation, healthcare, and motorcycles. She will discuss some of the tools, methodology, and design processes used for these projects, as well as provide a short review of her career path.

ACSHF Forum flyer