My research explores user engagement (UE) with technology. Specifically, I investigate the conceptual nature of UE (What is it? What attributes of individuals, systems, and contexts facilitate or detract from engagement?), and how to measure it in the context of computer mediated environments. Over the past several years I have focused on two streams of research: theory and measurement. To this end, I have a) developed a conceptual Process Model of User Engagement and tested/refined it in different computer-mediated environments, and b) created and evaluated the reliability and validity of a 31-item experiential questionnaire, the User Engagement Scale (UES) to measure user engagement with technology. The UES has been adapted by over 50 international research teams, who have used it to examine UE with educational technologies, search systems, haptic technologies, health and consumer applications, and other media. This work has led to productive collaborations with academic and industry researchers.

Emerging research is focusing on antecedents and outcomes of user engagement in exploratory search contents. I am exploring the ways in which user characteristics, design features, and content predict or facilitate engaging exploratory search experiences; I am also examining the personal and social outcomes of UE in this context, namely learning. This work will inform the design of exploratory search systems and contribute further to the understanding and measurement of user experience.

What Engages Information Seekers? Predicting User Engagement with Digital Libraries [2015-2017]

The goal of digital libraries is to convey information for the purposes of enlightening, entertaining, and educating users. Achieving these goals is imperative for satisfying and re-engaging end users. Cultural organizations need to ensure that they are delivering content in a compelling manner that maximizes the investment of time, staff and other resources. This work seeks to evaluate the design qualities of select digital libraries and to conduct two user studies to address two important questions: 1. How do we know whether a digital library is engaging? and 2. What, in terms of content and design features, contributes to user engagement or disengagement with digital libraries. This research has practical outcomes for digital library research and application, and aims to benefit not only end-users but the organizations that host these information-rich resources.

This work is supported by a University of British Columbia Faculty of Arts Hampton Research Grant.

User Engagement with Digital Media [2009-2014]

The objectives of my research are:

  • To explore the nature of and to model user engagement in various digital contexts, including online news, web search and mobile search.
  • To investigate how to measure user engagement, including self-report, performance, and physiological metrics, and to look at how these various measures triangulate.
  • To examine the generalizability of the User Engagement Scale. The User Engagement Scale (UES) is a 31-item questionnaire designed to evaluate system (usability, aesthetic appeal, novelty) and user (focused atttention, felt involvement) attributes of user engagement.

This work is supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Graphics, Animation and New Media Project, Network Centre of Excellent (GRAND NCE).

Designing Digital Use Environments to Support Academic Work [2009-2012]

Co-investigators: Dr. Luanne Freund and Dr. Rick Kopak
The purpose of this research is to enhance the interactivity and scholarly utility of digital information environments, specifically the Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal System (OJS), developed at UBC. Current online academic environments support the finding of information; our goal is to create tools and interfaces that enable students and scholars to engage with material through focused reading, linking and connection building, and annotating for personal use and public view, all of which will create a more dynamic learning environment.

This work is supported by a University of British Columbia Faculty of Arts Hampton Research Grant.

Antecedents and Learning Outcomes of Exploratory Search Engagement

The need to engage people with and through technology has never been more paramount: failure to do so results in lost revenue for e-commerce and search engine companies, but there are individual and societal costs. Access to and engagement with technology impacts social relationships, civic engagement, health, learning, and so forth. However, engagement is a complex phenomenon and there are myriad user, system, and contextual factors that determine whether and to what extent it occurs.
These complexities are amplified when we consider engagement in the context of information search where information needs and resources are multifaceted and dynamic. In essence, users “search to learn”: they embark on an iterative process of understanding their topic and the information resources. Searchers continuously clarify their goals; interpret, evaluate and analyze information; and incorporate new insights into their existing knowledge base. This type of searching, known as exploratory search, is hard work (much like all learning). The ability to engage searchers and to maintain their interest and attention during the search process, may enable learning to occur by preventing premature disengagement out of frustration, lack of interest, or cognitive overload.

The proposed research brings together UE and exploratory search research to explore the intersection of user characteristics (interest, cognitive load, affect, topical and technological expertise), tasks, and learning within exploratory search environments, specifically digital libraries. The proposed research also seeks to use and evaluate various subjective and objective measures of UE and learning, contributing to the robustness of measurement approaches for exploratory search engagement. More broadly, however, this research frames exploratory search as an educational and societal investment. It recognizes that information needs cannot always be reduced to a simple query and multiple sources may be needed to piece together evidence, solve a problem, or make a decision. Given the abundance and richness of digital information we must help people to do the hard work of learning.

This work is supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant [2016-2019]

Engagement Lab