An illustration of a grey slanted tower with a stick figure working in front of a screen in the top. The background fades from blue on the top to red on the bottom; the grass at the foot of the tower fades from green to yellow to brown, to black.
An illustration of a grey slanted tower with a stick figure working in front of a screen in the top. The background fades from blue on the top to red on the bottom; the grass at the foot of the tower fades from green to yellow to brown, to black.
This tower is cozy. Credit: Amy J. Ko

It’s academic promotion season, which means many junior scholars are earning tenure, a form of lifetime security of employment in academic. (Congratulations to my former Ph.D student Mike, I’m so proud of you!)

With this security comes immense privileges and power: a freedom to share ideas without the chilling threat of employment consequences, a new level of respect and responsibility that comes from being senior faculty, and participation in tenuring and promoting other people.

But tenure has never been under greater assault. Many U.S. states regularly seek to dismantle the system in public universities, many are refused it on political…

A screenshot of an Ohyay room showing several circular video feeds of student faces, several doodles, and a chat full of banter.
A screenshot of an Ohyay room showing several circular video feeds of student faces, several doodles, and a chat full of banter.
Our lab space in Ohyay, recording a congratulations video for one of our undergrad research assistants. Credit: Amy J. Ko

My first year of doctoral advising in 2008 wasn’t exactly a triumph. I’d just moved across the country. I’d just separated from my wife and was in the middle of a divorce, deep in arguments about child support and joint custody. I was broke after 6 years on a doctoral student stipend and didn’t get paid for a long four month summer. I was incredibly alone, with no friends or support system. I had recently tried to share my gender dysphoria with my therapist and ex, and both responded hostility, so I was putting immense effort into locking away my…

An illustration of a stick figure woman struggling to carry a large glowing ball of red haze.
An illustration of a stick figure woman struggling to carry a large glowing ball of red haze.
Power is really heavy, really red, and really watercolory. Credit: Amy J. Ko

I am, by my nature, a passive person. I’ve always been happy to sit back and let someone else decide, especially when decisions are complicated, socially fraught, or consequential. There’s really nothing about me that seeks to carry that responsibility any further than I have to. It’s heavy, and exhausting, and often thankless.

And yet, somehow in life, I keep finding myself with power. I remember back in my first year of college, for example, joining a meeting of the student chapter of the ACM, the Computer Science club on my campus. There were a few seniors and a few…

A screenshot of the RESPECT Whova landing page, showing navigation and overview text.
A screenshot of the RESPECT Whova landing page, showing navigation and overview text.
The Whova landing page, which kept things simple.

There are a lot of computing education conferences—far more than I’m used to in other academic fields. There’s the (big) SIGCSE Technical Symposium, the (rigorous) International Computing Education Research conference, the (European) Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE), the (Finnish) Koli Calling, the (originally German) Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, the Australasian Computing Education Conference, the (Asian) CompEd, the (North American) CSTA Conference, and I’m sure many others I’ve forgotten. …

A dark grey human fotm on a light grey watercolor backdrop.
A dark grey human fotm on a light grey watercolor backdrop.
What it feels like to not feel. Credit: Amy J. Ko.

Content warning: this reflection discusses binge drinking and suicidal ideation. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Trans Lifeline for support. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

I’m quite an introverted person. I get along fine in social settings and can manage fine with chit chat. I can meet new people and usually build a connection without much social anxiety. I know some tricks for making people feel welcome. But all of these things are effortful and exhausting. My natural preferred state is quiet; my preferred form for…

“Making Waves, Combining Strengths”, with several links to program, sessions, accessibility, sponsors, posters, and more.
“Making Waves, Combining Strengths”, with several links to program, sessions, accessibility, sponsors, posters, and more.
tThe Delegate Connect landing page for CHI 2021.

Eighteen years ago, I remember sitting on a couch in front of a whiteboard arguing about the boundaries of human-computer interaction (HCI) research with two of fellow Ph.D. students. We were all in our first year at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and the question felt urgent: this is what we were getting our PhDs in. How could we not know what was and wasn’t HCI? We argued about the nature of interaction, the essential nature of humanity as tool builders, the duality and friction of human cognition and computation. I knew I was in the right place.

A…

An illustration depicting an instructor in the center of a circular room with glowing red displays, several circular tables with students with glowing red laptops, and several floating faces at the periphery, also glowing red.
An illustration depicting an instructor in the center of a circular room with glowing red displays, several circular tables with students with glowing red laptops, and several floating faces at the periphery, also glowing red.
The learning is in the ether. Credit: Amy J. Ko

As global vaccination efforts begin to offer glimpses of a return to social spaces, talk of hybrid abounds. I shared some ideas about hybrid conferences recently, Google’s writing about their hybrid work plans, and I’ve been talking endlessly with colleagues about the intrinsically hybrid nature of pre-pandemic academic work, which has long stretched across classrooms, offices, labs, coffee shops, airports, and conferences.

But what about hybrid teaching? In some ways, since the early embrace of the internet by universities in the 1990’s, higher education has always been hybrid in some form. Students submitted assignments online; faculty posted syllabi online; faculty…

A screenshot of Ohyay showing Amy, a slide that says “What did you think of that activity? (Use emoji reactions)”, and several floating emoji reactions.
A screenshot of Ohyay showing Amy, a slide that says “What did you think of that activity? (Use emoji reactions)”, and several floating emoji reactions.
Students giving me some feedback about the activity we just did. Credit: Amy J. Ko

Last month, I ranted about how much I hate Zoom for teaching. It’s missing all of the key things necessary for great synchronous teaching—student gaze to convey attention, indicators of student confusion, conversation, social grouping, and freedom to configure a classroom for learning—while adding new problems, like latency and disembodiment. Many of these things are more generally problems of video chat, but some are also specific to Zoom itself and it’s sterile, featureless design.

When I posted my rant, Arvind Satyanarayan reminded me of Ohyay, and pointed me to Kayvon Fatahalian’s blog post about using it for teaching. I’d heard…

A four panel strip. Top left: stick figures and virtual attendees all on computers. Top right: Collaboration at a table. Bottom left: independent activities. Bottom right: Out in the world as seen through the window.
A four panel strip. Top left: stick figures and virtual attendees all on computers. Top right: Collaboration at a table. Bottom left: independent activities. Bottom right: Out in the world as seen through the window.
Conferences can be so much more than they have been. Credit: Amy J. Ko

My first conference was the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages in September, year 2000. It was a first in many ways: it was my first academic conference, the first time I’d given a conference presentation, and the first time I’d been to Seattle for professional reasons rather than play. I was just a sophomore in college and I was simply terrified. I had to buy a new outfit to look “professional” (but I don’t know what that meant), I had to prepare a presentation on print transparencies for an overhead projector (because digital projectors didn’t work reliably back then, nor…

9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 months old and zippy. Credit: Judy Jensen.

I often have vidid memories of my childhood. I remember when I was 8 or 9, playing with the newly born surprise kittens of our aging, unexpectedly fertile cat Snickers. My mom had told us that we could only keep one, and so my brother and I erected an elaborate obstacle course to see which one was the most cunning, smart, and strong. Donatello, the runt, lost all of the contests; Leonardo won the sprint and Raphael won the maze, but Michelangelo, he won both the climbing test and the endurance challenge, which involved hanging from a cliff molded from…

Amy J. Ko

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.

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