2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Margaret Chan

The career of Margaret Chan, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Cognitive Studies program in the department of Human Development, includes stints at the University of Sydney, the Sesame Workshop, and IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. Currently Chan is finishing her doctorate while integrating her dissertation research with her work at IBM Research. She works for IBM's department of Next Generation Interfaces, exploring ways in which novel technologies could facilitate people using mobile devices to collaborate and access information at all times in all places.

Chan's research interests are knowledge representation, user modeling, and intelligent learning environments. At TC, under the guidance of Professor John Black, Chan focuses on how to integrate cognitive theories and human information processing theories into the design of interactive environments and pervasive devices. At IBM Research, Chan has been involved in a series of projects relating to e-commerce, speech recognition, and data mining. In summer 2002, Chan completed a project that shed light on how people interact with a multimodal environment that integrates voice recognition, gesture sensing, online databases, and tangible interfaces. As part of her dissertation, Chan is working on a project called the MapWeb®. Her dissertation focuses on users' cognitive processes while interacting with visualization tools and how the design of the dynamic MapWeb® may facilitate visual thinking and mental model formation-revision.

Though a native Australian, Chan started her academic journey at UCLA, and went on to postgraduate studies in Oxford. She also attained a Master in Education from TC. "I will always call America my academic home. This is the place I grew up academically; I learned to be a person." Chan says she has learned considerably from the experience of living in New York, living through September 11th and the current uncertainty over war with Iraq. "I challenge myself in thinking, how can we use technology to do things we couldn't have done before? How does technology in general, digital learning environments in particular, impact the way we reason and learn with technology?…Technology can be a partnership for us to benefit our current generation and advance future generations, if we know how to do it properly," Chan says.

Prior to returning to TC, Chan was a faculty member at the University of Sydney in Australia. She also served as the acting head of academic computing administration. She specialized in computing studies and science, working with both pre-service and in-service teachers to train them how to integrate computers and emerging technologies in teaching and learning.

During her early years of the doctoral program, she interned for the Sesame Workshop doing program research.

She helped design research instruments, and collected data by going to schools to show children new shows and solicit their feedback. She has also contributed to data analyses and report writing.

Chan began working at IBM after finishing her coursework at TC. Another of her achievements at IBM is the Glass Engine, a web site devoted to the work of avant-garde composer Philip Glass. Chan was part of the team that worked with Glass to create the site. The team designed an innovative online environment that allows users to either perform a target search or browse randomly through the entire collection of Glass' works. Users can search by the title of the work, the year it was written, the length of the work, and/or emotional dimensions of the work. Yahoo! chose the Glass Engine as one of its top five cool web sites of 2002. The Glass Engine can be found at www.philipglass.com. Chan says of the Glass Engine, "the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. We present an open architecture…It's an interactive experience. We want to provide a personalized navigation tool for online music browsing ... Users can browse music according to their own affinity, at their own time and pace." Her paper documenting the design and user study of the Glass Engine won an outstanding paper award in Ed-Media Conference 2002.

The overall theme of Chan's work is connecting people and technology, and applying cognitive theories to improve human-computer interactions in teaching and learning. Chan began at TC as a Ben Wood fellow, which funded her studies for three years. Her love is problem-solving, always learning and tackling new problems. "The challenge [of human-computer interaction] is not only technological; it's also a human learning issue. I'm very fascinated with the issues of human-computer interaction. On one hand, it is how to design intelligent interfaces or learning environments that facilitate people doing their job, make it useful and usable…The other major, very crucial aspect is how we communicate with the learner, how we communicate with the user…how we leverage our understanding of human information processing to prepare the mind of the people so they will have a better understanding of how to achieve a fruitful partnership with the current and emerging technology."

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