About Me

My name is Alan Clark. I’m a Ph.D. Student in the Media, Technology & Society program in the School of Communication at Northwestern University. I am advised by Dr. Darren Gergle, and am a member of the CollabLab. Broadly speaking, I study collaboration and technology use, with a focus on how the design and implementation of communication technologies shape, support, or undermine effective coordination between users. In my research, I draw on theory and methods from linguistics, organizational communication, psychology and human-computer interaction.

I’m currently in the planning stages of my dissertation, which will investigate the role of transparency of technology – the extent to which a technology allows traces of a user’s actions and interactions in a system to be visible to other users – in supporting collaboration on a range of tasks in different spatial and temporal contexts. I plan to explore how transparent traces of a user’s actions can support (or undermine) coordination on collaborative computer-mediated tasks by providing evidence for grounding, social learning, and behavioral emulation. I plan to use experimental methods and an analytical approach that explores differences in both process and outcomes of tasks to identify how – and when – transparency might improve task-technology fit.

With my advisor Darren Gergle in the CollabLab and as part of my NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, I have used a dual mobile eye-tracking system to study how gaze coordination, positioning, and other conversational dynamics affect and how they coordinate their attention and language use – specifically, how they refer to objects in their shared space. Importantly, we’ve found that the language use and gaze coordination of mobile pairs is quite different than that of stationary/seated pairs, and that collaborative systems or AI that take language into account needs to treat these spatial interaction contexts differently. Recently, I have explored using lightweight machine learning methods incorporating gaze metrics for identifying references to particular objects in naturalistic and vague speech.

With my Northwestern colleagues William Barley and Paul Leonardi, I’m exploring why individuals adopting a new technology might end up with highly varied ways of using it. I’ve explored how communication processes can explain why initially divergent communication processes might converge toward common understanding and practices over time and repeated use. I’ve also used agent-based modeling techniques to simulate this process and develop testable propositions about convergence in technology use. Going forward, I hope to do both field observations and “live lab” experiments to look at how communication processes that can lead to shared patterns of technology use are affected by the affordances and design of a newly introduced technology.

My other research interests include social dimensions and communicative uses of augmented reality, developing experimental methods for studying collaboration and language use in naturalistic contexts, and studying the role of shared visual contexts in communication. Personally, I’m an obsessive soccer (futbol) fan whose other interests include sports tourism, keeping tropical fish, strategy games, and gadgets.