All too often, engineers focus their energies on features and functionality to the detriment of user experience, resulting in the proliferation of products that nobody can use. Drivel buzzwords such as "user-friendly" are applied to systems that are anything but. In contrast, our efforts to support high quality interaction, suitable for the stringent demands of education, have been concerned directly with the user experience above all else. With such a design goal, marketing-driven priorities give way to user-centered concerns of quality, interaction, and engagement. With respect to the latter, this is successful only to the degree to which the technology avoids distracting, and instead, allows users to focus their attention on the task at hand.
The technologies we describe all adhere to this key principle, albeit for very different applications. Ultra-Videoconferencing engenders geographically distributed participants with a powerful sense of co-presence through very low-delay and high-fidelity audio and video. Shared Reality synthesizes a rich, immersive space in which the participants perceive themselves to be in the same room, collaboratively viewing and manipulating the same virtual objects. Finally, the Intelligent Classroom enables instructors to make effective use of a diverse range of presentation technology without having to concern themselves with control of the user interface. Like Weiser's paradigm of Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp), we believe that "the most effective technology is that which is essentially invisible to the user." Thus, only when we observe users working with these systems, seemingly oblivious to the underlying technology, have we truly succeeded.
Jeremy Cooperstock (Ph.D. Toronto, 1996) is an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, an associate member of the Faculty of Music, a member of the Centre for Intelligent Machines (CIM) and a founding member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) at McGill University. He was a visiting researcher at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Tokyo, Japan and worked with IBM at the T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York and the Haifa Research Center, Israel. His expertise lies in human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and network communication protocols.
Cooperstock is the recipient of the Information Technology Council of Ontario's Innovation Award (1995) and the Audio Engineering Society's Distinction Award (2001). His recent achievements include the development of the Automated Door Attendant (1998), McGill's "Intelligent Classroom" (1999), leading the software development for the world's first demonstrations of Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel audio streaming over the Internet (1999) and its successor, the McGill Ultra-Videoconferencing system. He is presently developing the Shared Reality Environment, a space that provides distributed individuals the experience of being in the same room at the same time.