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J. van den Berg
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  Chair Electronic Document Technology
  Chair Cognition and Communication

The area of Cognitive and Communicative Aspects of Information Technology and Information Systems

This fulltime chair (vacant, the group is currently lead by Dr H. van Oostendorp) is focused on the cognitive and communicative processes of users during interaction with information systems. Furthermore attention is paid to the role of knowledge management and the sharing of knowledge in organizations. This knowledge engineering aspect is studied particularly with the use of intelligent agent technology. The goal of all these activities is to advance scientific knowledge about these processess, particularly in the context of games and simulated environments, with the aim to improve individual quality of daily and work life and organizational performance.

Many technological products and information systems that require users to interact with them so they can carry out their tasks, have not (necessarily) been designed with theses users in mind. The aim of our interaction design perspective is to contribute to the development of products and systems that are easy, effective and enjoyable to use, from the users' perspective. Our research is organized around three interrelated aspects: I. the cognition aspect, II. the communication aspect and III. the knowledge engineering aspect.

I.       The cognition aspect focuses on the cognitive (and perceptual) processes involved with the interaction between users and systems. An effective use of information systems requires an adequate interaction between users and those systems, e.g. games. The aim is to contribute to the creation of better and more valid knowledge on making the interaction between the user and a system more effective and flexible. This way, users can spend their attention and effort maximally on the primary task and not be distracted or hindered by a secondary task - operating the system. It has become clear that the fit between how the user represents the system (mental model), how the interaction with the system is represented on the interface, and the characteristics of the system as intended by the designer is an important issue for optimal human-computer interaction. ‘How to optimize the interaction principles behind interface design so that this fit will improve’ is focus of research. One of the concerns is for the system to supply the correct information to carry out the task while taking account of aspects like the task at hand, knowledge and skills of the user, and the communicative situation. Visualizing information on-screen that is relevant to the underlying rules of a problem or a task can, under certain conditions, have a facilitating effect on this. On the other hand, in other circumstances visualizing information can prevent learning.  Insight into those conditions and underlying (learning) mechanisms is important to deduce valid statements about the role of externalization of information, using visualization, in executing tasks using a computer screen. Furthermore, usability evaluation constitutes an important part of the interaction theme: usability and user friendliness of systems form an ever more important aspect of systems, especially since an ever broader set of users has to be able to interact with them. We pay attention to this issue especially in the context of studying (mobile) web navigation tasks and modeling the cognitive mechanisms involved in (mobile) web use.

II.   The communication aspect involves particularly the linguistic aspect of the interaction between users and systems. Underlying our model of communication is the recognition that humans interact naturally with their environment in two ways: symbolically and physically. On the one hand, if there is an intermediary interpreter, humans can interact symbolically and use linguistic means; on the other hand, physically, humans manipulate objects or observe them by physical actions. In our research we focus on the first type of interaction, i.e. linguistic communication. A computer system is, therefore, considered as an electronic assistant that has beliefs and intentions and is able to provide relevant linguistic feedback given the input of the user and the circumstances of the interaction. In the projects three aspects of the conversational process are investigated. First, we investigate how conceptual discrepancies between a user and a system can be detected by the system and possibly be solved by the generation of linguistic feedback. Second, we develop dialogue protocols for construction of a shared communication vocabulary and test these in a multi-agent system. Third, we research the effects of embodiment of the electronic agent on the interaction process.

III.   The knowledge engineering aspect concerns the way in which knowledge is –or can be- shared with the aid of information technology. This aspect is central to the area of knowledge engineering. We focus on: (1) experimental study and simulation research of how knowledge sharing between individuals and groups of users in virtual environments, such as online communities or communities of practice, can be understood and facilitated; and, (2) the use of intelligent agent technology to develop conceptual models and build more intelligent, adaptive, distributed, and intelligent information systems.  Using the agent metaphor can allow system developers to adopt a level of abstraction in design that is useful for modeling complex tasks and environments, and in building software systems that are robust in the face of change and unexpected events.