John M. Carroll

Career Narrative

My educational background, and my research and teaching interests and experience are strongly interdisciplinary. My primary undergraduate studies were in mathematics; I earned a second B.A. degree in information science. My graduate work was in experimental psychology; I specialized in studies of language perception, and many of my early papers were in theoretical linguistics. My post doc – at MIT with Noam Chomsky – was in linguistics. I was a visiting professor in computer science (at Yale), in education (at Columbia), in ergonomics (at Twente University in the Netherlands), and in management (at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris). I was a visiting scientist at the Xerox Research Centre Europe (in Cambridge, England) when that laboratory was a hub for workplace ethnography.

Upon finishing my Ph.D., I became a researcher at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center for 17 years. I was founding manager of the IBM User Interface Institute, a corporate research department created to provide long-range guidance in software usability, and manager of other projects in user interface theory and design. In 1994, I moved to Virginia Tech, where I became department head of computer science, and held a College of Arts and Science Professorship. I had secondary faculty appointments in education and in psychology. In 2003, I moved to Penn State, where I am Edward M. Frymoyer Chair Professor of Information Sciences and Technology. I have secondary appointments in computer science and engineering, in instructional systems, and in psychology. At both Virginia Tech and Penn State I was founding director of each university’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction. Both of these centers incorporated faculty members from a dozen disciplines, ranging from English to Industrial Engineering.

My research has addressed information design, design rationale, training and instructional design, methods and theories in human-computer interaction and usability engineering, and most recently, collaborative systems and community informatics. I have primarily affiliated professionally with the human-computer interaction research community, through the Cognitive Science Society, the Psychonomics Society, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). I was elected Fellow of the ACM (2004), of the IEEE (2005), and of the HFES (2005).

I believe my research reputation derives chiefly from two contributions. In the early 1980s, I developed the minimalist model for designing instruction and information, based on ideas from Dewey, Vygotsky, and Bruner. We discovered that users often suffer not from too little information support but from too much of the wrong kind of support. This analysis and the several example designs we created to illustrate it helped to change development practices for the design of information and information systems. The early phase of this project was summarized in my 1990 book The Nurnberg Funnel. For this work, I received the Joseph Rigo Award from ACM in 1994, and the Alfred N. Goldsmith Award from IEEE in 2004.

In late 1980s, I developed scenario-based design, building upon work by Herman Kahn and others in strategic planning and management. During the late 1970s, I had extensively studied iterative, opportunistic, and analogical reasoning in system and software design, and had identified the need for new tools and techniques to support a fluid problem-solving process in which design, prototyping and evaluation were interleaved. One conclusion I reached was that patterns of human activity should be a primary representation in the design of interactive systems. During the past 20 years, I have investigated implications of scenario-based design for design rationale and for theories of human-computer interaction, and have contributed methods, case studies, tutorials, and several books (especially, my 1995 book Scenario-Based Design, and my 2000 book Making Use). Our work helped to define the task-artifact framework for conceptualizing and managing the system development process by identifying and managing specific consequences for users in key scenarios of interaction. This work was called out in my election to the ACM CHI Academy in 2001 and when I received the ACM CHI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. (I was the fourth recipient of this lifetime achievement award; the quality of the other recipients definitely makes this the highest distinction I have ever received

The minimalist model and scenario-based design are my most singular and abiding research achievements, but I have contributed to other areas in human-computer interaction, including the design and consequences of user interface metaphors (interface designs that exploit specific analogies and disanalogies with embodied tools and practices to ease learning about software systems), learning and reuse issues with respect to object-oriented software, approaches to intelligent help systems, usability management and evaluation methods (in this area, I contributed the concept of usability specification — explicit and measurable user objectives for a system in development), the use of Internet tools and resources in supporting middle and high school science education, integrated synchronous/asynchronous collaboration through the World Wide Web, multiple view information visualizations to support learning, problem-solving and collaboration, activity awareness in computer-supported collaborative work of significant duration and complexity, computer support for creativity, the role of fun and other affect in designing for user experience, mobile community networks, the application of virtual reality techniques to community networks, participatory design methods for community computing, and intergenerational collaboration.

I am particularly focusing on helping to establish two new areas of information science research: (1) the science of design of interactive systems, a specialization of the HCI area focused on conceptual foundations of design methods and tools (I was a founder of the ACM Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference series in 1995, and general chair/program chair for ACM DIS 2006), and (2) community informatics, which investigates the development, deployment and evaluation of novel information infrastructures in various sorts of community contexts, and also facilitates education and the adoption of innovative methods, applications and technology (I will be general chair of the 2009 Communities and Technologies Conference).

During the first 17 years of my career, IBM directly funded all of my research. This support was internally budgeted, and I am unable to report what funds were directed to which of my research projects. Since 1994, I have primarily been a professor in two research universities, and have won research awards from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for the State of Virginia, the Society for Technical Communication, the Hitachi Foundation, the Knight Foundation, Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, Apple Computer, and IBM. In the next five paragraphs, I summarize my research awards, as requested of science-oriented applicants – listing the grantor and the amount, and briefly indicating what the award was for.

Many of my research awards have been in the area of community informatics. My first NSF award supported the creation and assessment of a collaborative online history of the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV), created by “ordinary” residents. I subsequently won a more major award to create and assess a virtual physics laboratory infrastructure to allow students from several rural schools to collaborate using the Internet and the BEV. This in turn led to a project with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to help other Virginia public school teachers make use of the infrastructure we created. The Hitachi Foundation funded development of “advanced” community network interactions, adapting techniques from graphical multi-user domains. We won an NSF award to create and study cross-generational learning teams in which middle school students were the “technological” partners and senior citizens were the “domain experts”. I was Principal Investigator on an NSF award to investigate knowledge management strategies in the faculties of rural regional schools. I led an NSF award to carry out a multidisciplinary evaluation of the BEV as a model infrastructure for community networks.

Community informatics is also a strong theme in my more recent and on-going sponsored research activities. I was PI for a project investigating sustainable models for information technology learning among members of local, community-based non-profit groups. I led an NSF-sponsored workshop in models and approaches to learning in communities; three journal special issues were derived from this workshop, and a comprehensive book, Interdisciplinary perspectives on information technology and human development. I am co-PI of a project studying informal learning about computational concepts by pre-college women who are provided with online community support from female role-models and peers. I am PI for a project investigating the feasibility and utility of mobile community networks, directed at so-called smart phone devices.

Much of my other funded research awards have focused more generally on collaboration and learning. For example, I was PI on an small project sponsored by the Society for Technical Communication. This grant supported development of my book Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel, which collected report of research by other investigators developing the minimalist information model. I was PI for an NSF award to investigate the construct of activity awareness (awareness of collaborators’ intentionality in extended and complex projects. I am currently PI for an award to study computational support for collaborative, case-based learning, and I am co-PI for an NSF project enhancing the online digital repository CiteSeer – my focus in this project is to enhance the capabilities of CiteSeer for supporting scientific collaboration and formation of scientific communities. I am just completing a project for the Office of Naval Research investigating the role of activity awareness in coordinating map-based operating planning tasks.

I have also participated in a variety of general HCI applications research. For example, I was co-PI of a proposal to develop a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (oddly acronymized as CAVE) at Virginia Tech to support a wide variety of scientific investigations. That team subsequently won a very large award from the Office of Naval Research; my part of this project was to develop and evaluate a computer infrastructure for collaboration in the Internet that seamlessly integrated synchronous and asynchronous interaction. This resulted in the development of CORK (Content Object Replication Kit) and BRIDGE (Basic Resources for Integrated Distributed Group Environments). A subgroup of that team of investigators, including me, also carried out a subcontract for the NSF National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) “Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure” (PACI) program involving various information visualization projects using the CAVE.

Recently, I have become interested in social and collaborative sources for creativity, particularly, scientific creativity; I won a small NSF award to start investigating this area, as well as support for an international workshop to facilitate investigation of the interactions between design rationale and creativity in design. I am also working as a co-PI on a small NSF awards to advance research on perceptions of privacy, and to advance research on what sort of explanations are useful and in fact used in design research.

I take service to the scientific community very seriously. During the 32 years since my Ph.D., I have been a member of 21 conference boards/organizing committees/conference committees, a member of 77 conference program committees, and organizer of 13 workshops. I have served as a member of 56 tenure and promotion committees and 11 dissertation committees at institutions other than my own university.

I am currently Editor-in-Chief of the premier journal in the interdisciplinary field of human-computer interaction, the ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. I am co-Editor-in-Chief for two new journals, the International Journal of Social and Humanistic Computing and the Open Information Systems Journal.

I have served on the editorial boards of every major HCI journal; I am currently serving on 10 editorial boards: Behaviour and Information Technology, Association for Information Systems (AIS) Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction; Interacting With Computers, International Journal of Human Computer Interaction, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, International Journal of Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Human-Computer Interaction, Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, Journal of Computer Science and Technology, and Terrorism Research. I serve on the editorial board of one book series (Kluwer Series in Human-Computer Interaction), and I am Editor-in-Chief of the online Morgan-Claypool Synthesis Series on Human-Centered Informatics (developing a model of scholarly publication for a post-book world). I served on the editorial board for all four editions of the Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction, and was associate editor for the human-computer interaction section in the first edition of the Handbook of Computer Science and Engineering.

I served two terms on the National Research Council’s Committee on Human Factors. I served on the American Association for the Advancement of Science Advisory Panel (in cognitive and computer science). I served two terms as the Vice Chair of IFIP Working Group 13.2 “Methodology for User Centered System Design”. I was a member of the international assessment team for the British Joint Councils Initiative in Cognitive Science and Human-Computer Interaction, a site visitor for the NSF Science and Technology Centers program, and for the governments/national science agencies of Australia, Canada, Singapore, and Sweden, and twice served as a site visitor for the AAAS/NSF EPSCoR Project (the cooperative project between the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation to enhance research capabilities in states with below-average capabilities).

I have given more than 60 plenary or distinguished lectures, including keynote addresses at international HCI conferences in Australia (twice), Brazil, Canada (twice), China, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (twice), as well as at other international conferences in related areas including advanced learning technologies, interactive system design, user interface design, requirements engineering, and home-oriented informatics.

One particular highpoint of my professional service was the opportunity to serve as a member of the 1994 NSF panel that helped to define strategic directions for NSF with respect to supporting research on the World Wide Web. The report of this panel also encouraged many of the subsequent innovations NSF made in using the World Wide Web (such as Fastlane;

Because I work in a new proto-disciplinary area, the opportunity and the need for curricular development are great. At the start of my tenure as department head of computer science at Virginia Tech, our department won an NSF Educational Infrastructure award to support use of online digital repositories throughout our curriculum and an NSF Research Infrastructure award to support the creation of a strongly empirically based graduate curriculum in human-computer interaction. I was very involved with the execution of these projects, and I subsequently led a Graduate Research Traineeship project. These largely-concurrent programs made Virginia Tech an incredibly exciting place to be in the 1990s with respect to educational programs.

During 1994-1996, I led the design of a six-course package of undergraduate and graduate HCI courses in computer science that were extremely successful, not only among computer science students but among students throughout Virginia Tech. These courses transformed our department and allowed us to produce computer scientists at every degree level that were better prepared to contribute broadly to information technology. In 1999, I led the establishment of an interdisciplinary graduate minor and certificate program in HCI.

I have been most deeply involved in three specific course development projects. In one project, I was part of team that used interactive Web software to create a series of tutorials for undergraduate statistics courses for use throughout the social and behavioral sciences, with funding from the US Department of Education.

In the second project, I developed a graduate computer science course that surveys theory in HCI. I have refined this course through the past decade. During 2000-2003, I led the development of a multi-author textbook for this course, including 12 international leaders in the scientific foundations of HCI, and have distributed many syllabi for this course. A second edition is now in preparation.

In the third project (1999-present), I worked with Mary Beth Rosson to document a set of case studies of actual system development that employed a lifecycle approach to usability engineering. We originally created these case studies – and a case-based textbook (Rosson & Carroll, 2002) – for a junior-level undergraduate course in computer science, with support of three successive awards from NSF. We implemented a Web-based repository, and the cases have been widely used. Usability engineering, and HCI more broadly, is starting to be taught in many neighbor disciplines to computer science, such as cognitive science, educational technology, geographical science, information science, information systems, and library science.

In 2003, I joined the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State. IST is an example of what is sometimes called an “i-school”, a faculty that incorporates computer science, information science, information systems, and aspects of cognitive science, communications, design, economics, law, and sociology in a single multidisciplinary campus unit. Prior to my joining, the IST faculty had already adopted a problem-based learning curriculum – directly based on my own minimalist instructional model (through the energy and inspiration of my colleague Dr. Larry Spence). Since I joined, this model has been even more widely used throughout our College. In 2006, in collaboration with five other i-schools (Indiana University, University of California at Irvine, University of Michigan, University of Texas, University of Washington), I led the development of an NSF Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) proposal to create a national model for an undergraduate i-school curriculum.


    I am a faculty member in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology studying HCI and Collaboration