Category: Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors

Measuring Changes in Motor Learning Outside the Laboratory

The Aging, Cognition, and Action Lab in CLS is currently investigating the validity of a new web-based application for measuring changes in motor learning that occur in healthy aging and Parkinson’s disease. Traditional laboratory approaches to measuring motor learning impose barriers to accessibility for many participants, while few options for portable devices such as smartphones and tablets have been developed. An effective web-based approach would allow testing to occur remotely, improving the reach to multiple populations of interest.

As a part of their investigative research, Dr. Kevin Trewartha and his team are seeking healthy older adults to participate in the study, as well as those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Interested participants are otherwise free from medical conditions that affect movement besides Parkinson’s disease, are between the ages of 60 and 90, and are familiar with computers and how to use them. Participants should also be free from other medical conditions that impair cognitive function.

Photo of PhD student Alexandra Watral

The research is spearheaded by ACSHF PhD student Alexandra Watral who received a Songer Research Award for this project. This award is funded through a generous donation from MTU alumni Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) to the College of Sciences and Arts.

For more information or to see if you qualify for the study, contact the Aging, Cognition and Action Lab at 906-487 2378.

Assessing the validity of an online assessment of motor learning, Alexandra Watral, 2022

Student Spotlight: Warat “Pomm” Khaewratana

CLS congratulates its most recent PhD recipient, Warat “Pomm” Khaewratana. 

Dr. Khaewratana successfully completed his dissertation, “Word games for education: Investigating the effectiveness of adding elaboration tasks to crosswords for learning technical vocabulary,” in May 2022.

Receiving a Royal Thai Scholarship to study in the United States, Pomm set out to help resolve the problem regarding a lack of skilled laborers in Thailand’s workforce. His motivation was to create effective and innovative workers with knowledge in the latest technology and skills obtained through specialized training and curriculum. He began his graduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), New York, and earned the degree Master of Science in Manufacturing and Mechanical Systems Integration before arriving at Michigan Tech. 

Pomm was accepted to the Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) PhD program in Fall 2018. He focused his doctoral research on the challenge in STEM education to not only memorize technical terms but learn and remember how to apply them in practice. He examined the gaming technique of crossword puzzles combined with strategies to enhance memory for training technical information. See dissertation abstract below for more information regarding this research.

Abstract: One challenge in STEM education is the learning of technical terms. In order to reason about higher-order scientific concepts, knowledge of technical vocabulary is often a prerequisite. Improving the knowledge may enhance learning of higher-order concepts because it reduces cognitive load students experience while learning. To that end, we need innovative learning-aid tools that help students not only in learning and remembering technical terms but also in applying the learned knowledge in broader concepts. This dissertation investigates the hypothesis that learning gain from crossword solving can be used to teach technical terms. Furthermore, I am also examining the hypothesis that an additional elaboration technique will enhance the effect of the crossword puzzle. In a series of seven experiments, I investigated the effect of crossword with add-on elaboration on students’ ability to retain memory of learned technical terms and to provide more in-depth explanations of those terms. Across experiments, I investigated (a) three different types of elaboration technique, (b) collaboration vs. individual participation, (c) in-person vs. online training, and (d) short vs. long delay. Across experimental variations, results indicated that using a crossword alone produced a statistically significant learning effect relative to a control condition. Although adding structured elaboration did provide benefits when added to crossword-based study, the results were mixed where additional time was given to crossword, and different elaboration techniques did not provide specific enhancement on memory retention. Implications for theoretical perspectives on learning technical vocabulary and best practices to implement crossword in educational settings are discussed.

Pomm will join Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a teaching professor as part of the Royal Thai Government fully-funded international scholarship agreement. 

Pomm says the best memory of his time at Michigan Tech were all the group activities provided by Graduate Student Government (GSG), CLS department socials, and other university events. “I was able to try new things that I may not have gotten the chance to do on my own. Or if I did, it would not have been the same as experiencing it with others,” he explains. 

He also gave special thanks to his Co-advisors Elizabeth (Beth) Veinott and Shane Mueller, committee members (Shari Stockero, Amanda Gonczi, and Qian Zhang), colleagues, CLS staff, and chair Kelly Steelman. In closing, Pomm stated “I am who I am now because of them. Graduate student life can be very challenging. These people have helped me to succeed and prepare for my future.”

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Special shout out to colleagues Isaac and Stephanie Flint, Thomas Offer-Westort, Kaitlyn Roose, Anne Linja, Lamia Alam, and Shruti Amre.

Undergraduate Research Symposium

On Tuesday, April 19, the PSY 3001 Research Methods class hosted a poster session presenting the research they completed during the last semester as part of the course. The course instructor and research advisor for these undergraduate students is CLS associate professor Dr. Shane Mueller.

There were seven posters from 15 students in the symposium with faculty staff and students attending the event.
The abstracts for each poster is listed below the photo gallery.

Peer Evaluation Study of a Women’s Reproductive Health Course: A Synthesis of a Qualitative Study of Medical Professionals.  
Erin Brooks
The education of young women has transitioned from health and sex education to what it implies to “get your period” and how to actively avoid pregnancy (Schmitt et al., 2021). Young women have the right to be taught the basics of their reproductive system and the skills to identify and understand their own health. In an effort to combat this lack of knowledge, studies have researched the knowledge of fertility awareness in individuals and where they received their education (Chowlowska et al., 2020; Armour et al., 2021). The goal of this two part study is to identify a gap in the knowledge of young women about their reproductive health and to design a course that would educate women about the information that was not taught to them. The study was of a two part design: the first was semi-structured interviews with women’s health professionals, and,the second part was a peer evaluation of a course that addressed this gap. The results of the first study came to a conclusive identification of an educational gap on the natural signs and patterns of a woman’s cycle, including misconceptions women have held about their own bodies. The peer evaluations also held a high rate of correlation in the direction that the knowledge presented in the short course was beneficial to them as individuals. These studies helped to bring to light the knowledge gap there is in the education of young women today and where there is room for growth, providing the basis for courses for future classes.

Failure to Replicate: The Influence of Post-Event Information on Situation Recall.
Kaitlyn Baccus, Gabby Bosley and Makenna Nuttall
The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of post-event information on situational recall. We hypothesized  that when given leading post-event information after viewing a dashcam video, participants will be less likely to accurately describe and remember the event than those who are not given leading post-information. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two Google surveys with questions to assess their knowledge of a dashcam video of a car accident they watched. Questions about the accident included filler questions and one key question about car speed. The results of the data did not support our hypothesis and showed that the non-leading group reported a higher average speed than the leading group. These results encouraged us to conduct a second study, this time a within-subjects study. Four surveys were created using older car accident videos and an attention-check video of a mountain bike accident. These videos were counterbalanced with leading and non-leading questions regarding the event that occurred in the videos. The key questions were again related to the car’s speeds. The results of this study showed that there was not a significant effect of verbiage on vehicle speed estimates between the conditions.

Comparing the Perceived Effectiveness and Difficulty of Memorization Strategies in Different Age Groups.
Trenton Laramore, Abby Morley, and Samantha Walker 
Previous studies on the use of mnemonics as a study technique have found that deeper analysis and longer processing time of material will enhance memory performance (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). However, there has not been much research on the comparison of mnemonic strategies. It is hypothesized that the Story Strategy (SS) would be more effective in free recall compared to the First Letter Strategy (FLS). An online randomized questionnaire assigned participants into four groups that watched two videos testing both strategies. After recall, participants were asked to assess difficulty and effectiveness. Results show that participants recalled more words using the SS compared to the FLS and thought the SS was more effective and difficult overall. These results suggest that deeper levels of processing are linked to better performance. This study leads to further research in our second study about how age impacts perceived difficulty and strategy performance. Participants were randomly assigned into two groups and watched four videos where both strategies were tested. Participants were then instructed to recall words utilizing the strategy they were given. After recall, participants were asked to subjectively assess effectiveness, difficulty, and usefulness.  Results show that FLS was considered more difficult, while SS was considered more effective, but memory performance was not impacted by age for either strategy.  Results suggest that use of memory strategies may successfully counteract organic mild effects of memory loss as we age.

Sexual Education Comprehensiveness As It relates to Comfort and Suggested Material for Grades 6-8.  
Keighley Blindauer, Cat Madish, and Katie Ulinski  
The teaching of sexual education is currently under scrutiny by many and the value of teaching the topic is under question. Previous research has shown that students retain knowledge better when the class is comprehensive and inclusive as well as that students want that kind of instruction (Narushima et al., 2020). It is therefore the goal of study one was to discover if there is a correlation between comprehensiveness of past sexual education and comfort level when discussing sexual topics. The data showed that there was not a correlation between comprehensiveness and comfort level (Perarson’s correlation, p=0.886, p > 0.05). Despite this finding, it is the goal of the second study to suggest a new course in sexual education that is more inclusive and comprehenesive than pervious standards. To do this, current standards were compared and a new syllabus was suggested. A specific lesson plan was also suggested. Based on the first study and suggested materials, the teaching of sexual education is a constantly shifting field that needs to respond to what students learn best to.

The Perception of Self-Esteem Levels and its Effect on Mental Disorders.
– Jayden Middlecamp and Caity Weirick 
Self-esteem and mental illnesses are two things that often go together, and the presence of mental illnesses can create low self-esteem over time through feelings of anxiety, depression, and many other common mental health conditions. There is often a stigma surrounding mental illnesses in the United States that everyone who suffers from them will have low self-esteem, and those who have higher self-esteem are not as prone to developing or suffering from mental illnesses. Previous research has investigated these stigmas of mental health, as well as addressed the ways in which mental illnesses impact self-esteem. However, our interest lies in investigating whether or not levels of self-esteem (low or high) will impact someone’s perception of that individual’s mental state. Two surveys were created in order to assess this and included four different scenarios with common, easily-identifiable mental disorders. Each scenario was accompanied by statements from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale in order to imply low or high self-esteem without directly stating it. This allowed participants to get an impression of the person in each scenario. Following up, they were asked if they believed their self-esteem impacted their mental disorder. Results of this study were computed in a paired-samples t-test, giving a result of 0.008. Since the p value is less than 0.05, the null hypothesis is rejected and the results are statistically significant, showing that participants were more likely to say that high self-esteem impacted mental disorders compared to those with low self-esteem.

Change Blindness: Recognizing Facial Change and Comparing Confidence.
Alyssa Everett & Kallie Weecks 
Past research has shown that small changes often go undetected, which introduced a phenomenon known as “change blindness.” Research has also been done to show that the brain has a specific area called the Fusiform Face Area for recognizing facial features. However, little research has addressed which parts of the face changes often go unnoticed or how confidence affects detection. Utilizing the flicker paradigm, videos were developed to test if relevant changes were more easily noticed in faces and less susceptible to change blindness. The results from Study 1 showed that there was a significant difference between big and small changes, but irrelevant and relevant changes were not statistically different. This shows that the materials used in this study were well made to have big and small changes indicating that these videos could be used for further research. Study 2 used the materials from Study 1 to compare confidence to the ability to detect changes. This was done by showing a short clip of a video and asking participants to rate their confidence in identifying a change in the longer video. This found that there was a statistically significant correlation between the confidence and the accuracy of detection. This implies there may be the ability to detect a change before identifying what the change is.

Identity Formation Among Undergraduate Engineering Students at Michigan Technological University.
Emily Grant 
Sixty percent of Michigan Technological University (MTU) students are enrolled in an engineering program. Identity within one’s career has been a researched topic for many years and it shows that there is a high correlation between one’s success in their career and how much one identifies with their career choice. Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) theorizes that an individual’s interests, choices, achievement, and satisfaction all interact with each other (Lent et al., 1994). To test and further understand this research two studies were conducted involving engineering students at MTU. These studies’ main goal was to understand and conceptualize how much identifying as an engineer can impact one’s success throughout their time at MTU as well as their success after graduating when thrust into the professional engineering world. Throughout this research, I take a look into the opinions and feelings of MTU engineering students to discover what it is that led them to pursue a degree in engineering. Using the Critical Decision Method (CDM) interview process involving 6 participants which preceded a survey/questionnaire that expands the sample size to 94 engineering students, I’ve Developed a qualitative model of students perceive themselves as engineers, whether any role models led them to this point, and finally, a sense of how MTU either supports or neglects the needs for engineering students to succeed and create a strong identity with their chosen field of engineering.

To learn about the latest in our undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research – follow us on Instagram and Facebook @clsmtu!

ACSHF Forum: Grad Student Presentations

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host ACSHF PhD Students Tauseef Ibne Mamun and Brittany Nelson at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. Their presentations will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (April 18) in Meese 109 and via Zoom.

Tauseef Ibne Mamun
Connected Vehicle Field Study: Outcomes and Challenges
Abstract: 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.

Brittany Nelson
Identifying Healthy Lifestyle Knowledge Gaps Among Medical and Non-medical Students
Abstract: Across the US, chronic illnesses including cancer and cardiovascular disease are a result of poor lifestyle decisions such as diet, tobacco/alcohol use, and physical inactivity. Data suggests that previous interventions lack effectiveness for impacting lifestyle decisions, particularly long term. One reason why individuals continue to engage in unhealthy behaviors may be due to gaps in understanding that are not currently filled by previously developed interventions. To the extent individuals are informed of the risks/benefits of key health behaviors and the tools valuable for overcoming challenges associated with engaging/quitting those behaviors then people are more equipped to make decisions that are in-line with their goals and values. Little information exists on what informational gaps people hold. Therefore, the objective of this study was two-fold. First, it was designed to measure how calibrated medical and non-medical students are on the relation between lifestyle behaviors and their risk of major diseases. Second, this study was designed to identify informational gaps that impact perceived challenges of engaging in healthier lifestyle behaviors. Data from medical (N = 128) and non-medical (N = 24) students suggests they hold insufficient knowledge regarding the relation between lifestyle behaviors and risk of health outcomes. The most commonly reported barriers across non-dietary behaviors were time 39%, lack of motivation 15%, and weather 9%. The most commonly reported barriers specific to eating behaviors were cost 26%, taste 21%, and food spoiling too quickly 10%. The results from this study have implications for future intervention design.

Shruti Amre receives “Best Poster” in first Computing[MTU] Showcase

Michigan Tech’s College of Computing and the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) co-hosted the first Computing[MTU] Showcase on April 4-6, 2022. Organizers say the showcase was intended to be a connection-maker on many levels, including undergraduate and graduate students presenting their most exciting innovations and current research.

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS) was proud to have nine of the 40 entries in the Showcase’s research poster competition come from CLS students. With “Best Poster” going to Shruti Amre, ACSHF PhD student, for “Keep your hands on the wheel: the effect of driver engagement strategy on change detection, mind wandering, and gaze behavior”. Shruti is advised by Dr. Kelly Steelman.

Amre’s winning research poster

A few details on the research

Advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) have revolutionized traditional driving by enabling drivers to relinquish operational control of the vehicle to automation for part of the total drive. These features only work under certain pre-defined conditions and require drivers to be attentive of their surroundings. While the features are engaged, there is an increased risk associated with drivers losing awareness of their environment. Popular manufacturers like Tesla requires drivers to have their hands-on-the-wheel while Cadillac’s ADAS requires drivers to keep their eyes-on-the road. We utilized a low-fidelity simulation and eye tracking to examine the effects of hands-on-the wheel and eyes-on-the road driver engagement strategies on change detection, mind wandering, and gaze behavior in a semi-autonomous driving task.


The showcase also hosted more than 20 speakers, including counterterrorism, health informatics, machine learning and security experts from companies and institutions ranging from Adobe, Amazon and Microsoft to the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.

ACSHF Forum: Grad Student Presentation

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host ACSHF PhD Student Shruti Amre at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Keep Your Hands on the Wheel: The Effect of Driver Engagement Strategies on Change Detection, Mind Wandering, and Gaze Behavior”, will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (April 4) in Meese 109.

Abstract: Advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) have revolutionized traditional driving by enabling drivers to relinquish operational control of the vehicle to automation for part of the total drive. These features only work under certain pre-defined conditions and require drivers to be attentive to their surroundings. While the features are engaged, there is an increased risk associated with drivers losing awareness of their environment. Popular manufacturers like Tesla requires drivers to have their hands-on-the-wheel while Cadillac’s ADAS requires drivers to keep their eyes-on-the road. We utilized a low-fidelity simulation and eye-tracking to examine the effects of hands-on-the-wheel and eyes-on-the-road driver engagement strategies on change detection, mind wandering, and gaze behavior in a semi-autonomous driving task.

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: https://www.mtu.edu/cls/research/

Human Factors in Healthcare Keynote: Dr. Rupa Valdez presents “Creating Systems That Promote Equity: A Journey Across Disciplines”

Please join us Friday (Mar 25) in ATDC conference room 101 (and via Zoom); talk from 3:30-4:30, with interactive discussion to follow from 4:30-5:00.

Dr. Rupa Valdez is an associate professor at the University of Virginia with joint appointments in the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She is also a core faculty member of Global Studies and the Disability Studies Initiative. Dr. Valdez merges the disciplines of human factors engineering, health informatics, and cultural anthropology to understand and support the ways in which people manage health at home and in the community.

We encourage faculty and graduate students with any overlap in research, interest in collaboration, or just interest in learning more about Dr. Valdez’s work/journey/activism to join us!

This event is co-sponsored by CLS, KIP, and CSA, and is sponsored in part by the Michigan Tech Visiting Professor Program, which is funded by a grant to the Office of the Provost from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative. Michigan Technological University is an Equal Opportunity Educational Institution/Equal Opportunity Employer that provides equal opportunity for all, including protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.

Abstract:
Catalyzed by the pandemic and by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many
others, there is rapidly growing interest in determining how we can create sociotechnical
systems that promote equity rather than perpetuate disparity and injustice. In this talk, I share
and critically reflect on my journey toward this goal over the last decade. I begin with earlier
efforts to merge approaches from cultural anthropology and engineering to inform the design
of patient-facing health information technologies. I end with more recent community-based
participatory research and policy-based efforts to reimagine public health education, accessible
healthcare, and the role of community in shaping the research process.  My engagement with
historically marginalized communities has pushed my efforts from a primary focus on creating
technologies aligned with the contexts in which such communities are embedded to a broader
focus on working with communities to shift these contexts. In concluding remarks, I reflect on
how encouraging such work requires, at minimum, embracing a broader conceptualization of
engineering and, more ambitiously, work that may be considered a-disciplinary.

BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Rupa Valdez is an associate professor at the University of Virginia with
joint appointments in the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering
and Applied Sciences. She is also a core faculty member of Global Studies and the Disability
Studies Initiative. Dr. Valdez merges the disciplines of human factors engineering, health
informatics, and cultural anthropology to understand and support the ways in which people
manage health at home and in the community. Her research and teaching focuses on
underserved populations, including populations that are racial/ethnic minorities, are of low
socioeconomic status, or are living with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. Her work
draws heavily on community engagement and has been supported by the National Institutes of
Health (NIH), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Science
Foundation (NSF), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), among others. She recently
testified before Congress on the topic of health equity for the disability community and
received the Jack A. Kraft Innovator Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
(HFES) for her pioneering work in creating and developing the subdiscipline of patient
ergonomics.
Dr. Valdez currently serves as an Associate Editor for Ergonomics, the Journal of American
Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) Open, and Human Factors in Healthcare. Among other
appointments, she serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association of People with
Disabilities and on PCORI’s Patient Engagement Advisory Panel. She is further the
founder and president of Blue Trunk Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to
making it easier for people with chronic health conditions, disabilities, and
age-related conditions to travel. Dr. Valdez herself lives with multiple chronic health
conditions and disabilities, which have and continue to influence her work and advocacy.

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.

ACSHF Forum: Kyle Wilson, Seeing Machines

The Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) Forum will be held from 2-3 p.m. Monday (Feb 21) virtually via Zoom. Our speaker is Kyle Wilson, Ph.D. Kyle is a Human Factors Senior Scientist and Team Lead at the company Seeing Machines in Canberra, Australia.

Title: Driver behaviors and safety risks surrounding new in-cabin technology: Three case studies from human factors research in automotive and rail environments. 
Brief Description: Dr. Wilson will discuss three human factors studies he was involved with in the transport space – each with a focus on how people experience new technology and related implications on safety and performance. He’ll cover:

  • One of the world’s first on-road automated vehicle studies with a primary focus on driver behaviour
  • Field research involving 10+ hour night shifts in the cramped cabin of a coal train
  • An on-road study evaluating safety and usability of an app that tells drivers when the traffic light is going to change

For each study he’ll discuss the goals, approach taken, findings and outcomes. Throughout, he also intends to highlight challenges and lessons learned, in what was sometimes ‘messy’ applied research.