SICSA Education Director

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In February, I took over as the SICSA Director of Education, a post which had been vacant since Dr Karen Petrie stepped down last year. Already I’ve been really busy, sitting on a number of advisory boards so far, and I’m only two weeks in! I’m currently a lecturer at the University of Dundee and have been a member of SICSA since 2008 in both Education and HCI. Most recently, I was the SICSA PhD Conference Academic Chair for 2017 in Dundee. This was a brilliant event sharing the future of SICSA and Computing Science in Scotland. This year the conference will be held at RGU – make sure you are signed up, it’s shaping up to be a great few days!

Personally, I have an interest in how social media can be used in education and how we can support our students to take part in group work. However, this is just a very small part of the excellent work being done within SICSA, including links with the SQA on curriculum development, flipped classroom methodologies, early-years computational thinking and involvement in outreach events such as The First Lego League. We have a great base of knowledge, enthusiasm and resources in Scotland to make sure that we are creating technologists of the future, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.

Like many of us, I have been supported by SICSA in many ways over my career, through funding for workshops, away days, all-hands meetings and travel costs. Now I can continue this support for others. I’m planning a great programme that will help us gather momentum as a community to share our ideas and experiences and collectively influence national policies on computing education. This includes a new lecturer induction, a call for workshops, schools engagement and an all-hands education event to showcase what we can do.

If you have any ideas of things that can be done to build the education community, then let me know. I am particularly keen to reach out to universities who may not have been able to engage with SICSA Education in the past, for whatever reasons. Contact me on to get the ball rolling in your ideas. A call for workshop funding will follow in the next few weeks.

PhD Conference 2017

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Planning for the SICSA PhD Conference 2017 is now underway! The Conference is organised by PhD students for PhD students and this year is no exception with 15 students on the organising committee, representing institutions from across Scotland. It is a brilliant opportunity for students to network with industry, through sponsorship by companies such as Google, JP Morgan and Think Analytics, all of whom sponsored our event last year. Students also have the chance to discuss their own individual research during poster sessions with students in related disciplines. This collaborative environment is something that delegates love about the conference, providing opportunities for you to seek out different perspectives on your own research. Delegates also have the chance to hone skills such as presenting, reviewing and collaborative skills. With all of these benefits, I am hoping that next year we can encourage even more students to submit posters and attend the conference. Tickets are snapped up quickly, so watch out for communications in the New Year announcing that they are available!

The 2017 PhD Conference will be held in sunny Dundee, the city of Jute, Jam and Journalism. The event will be held over two days (27-28 June 2017) and I am delighted to announce that this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Chris van der Kuyl. Chris is a graduate of the University of Dundee, one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs and chairman of 4J Studios, leading the creation of Minecraft for Microsoft Xbox 360. Those who have seen Chris speak before will know that this is not to be missed. His insightful reflections on the state of Computing Science in Scotland and across the world are inspiring and thought-provoking. Further announcement on keynotes and workshops are still to come, but the committee is working on some very interesting options at the moment in order to make this a conference to remember.

On a personal note, I have long supported the event and have encouraged PhD students from across Scotland to attend. I was co-chair of the student organising committee in 2010 and have attended whenever I can ever since. My involvement in this event was my first exposure into the complex world of event planning for academic conferences, and it was a great experience, albeit exhausting and stressful. Now, seven years on, I am involved once again as the Conference Academic Chair and am eager to find out once again what is happening in PhD research across Scotland, and to see how these can link with my own research interests.

The conference itself has changed over the years since it’s inaugural event in 2009. It now has an improved format over two days in order to better facilitate travel.  The organisation seems to get slicker every year and all organisational decisions are based on delegate feedback from the previous years, so everyone has a say in shaping the conference.    One big change I’ve noticed since 2009 is the the inclusion of academic reviews for poster submissions, which ensures that students receive worthwhile written feedback on their submissions.

I am excited to see what the next few months hold in store for myself and the rest of the organising committee. Keep an eye on the SICSA Twitter feed and regular SICSA emails to keep up to date with our progress and be ready to book your ticket in the New Year.

Data Exploration on Smart Watches

This week I visited the St Andrews HCI Research Group (@sachi) to talk about the potential of smart watches as a vehicle for data visualisation.  For some time I’ve been thinking about the expansion of data visualisation into larger and larger screens and how this seems incongruous with the latest mobile wearables.

The discussions after the talk were very useful. In particular the blurred boundary being tablet to mobile and mobile to wearable. This division of labour is a personal preference and in many cases is situational and context specific. If we can somehow understand the motivation behind device switching, we can go some way towards understanding the need for visualisation. This is turn will help to focus research on the types of visualisation and the uses that users might have for it. There’s no need in designing without context, after all.

CAS Scotland Conference 2015

On 7th November, I attended the CAS Scotland Conference. Below is the links to presentations I gave during the conference.



Introductory materials can be found at Permission is given to use any or all materials. I have provided a Microsoft Word version of the introduction booklet so that you can make changes if you wish.

Etch-a-sketch using Arduino & Processing

Did you spend hours carefully creating your own work of art on Etch-a-sketch as a child? Or maybe you still do as an adult? Read on to see how you can create your own etch a sketch controller using Arduino and create images using Processing.

You will need:

To create the controller, wire up the components as per the wiring diagram below.


This sketch has two potentiometers, one to move up and down and one to move left and right, plus three buttons which will be used to change the colour of the lines being drawn. The main sections of code are:

1.Read in values for left and right potentiometer

// left and right values
left = analogRead(leftPot);
right = analogRead(rightPot);

2. Check if the buttons have been pressed. Do this for red, then green, then blue. If the button has been pressed change the colour code. 0 = red, 1 = blue, 2 = green.

// check if the “red” button has been pressed
// if yes, then set the colour code to “0”
red_prev = red_current; red_current = digitalRead(redButton);
if(red_prev == LOW && red_current == HIGH){changeRedButtonState();}
colourCode = 0;

3.Output three values to the serial port, which can then be picked up by Processing. These are left potentiometer, right potentiometer and current colour selected.

// Output the values to the serial port
Serial.print(left, DEC);
Serial.print(right, DEC);

The processing file receives the three values from the serial port.

1.Map the values from the potentiometer to the width and height of the screen. In this example, the width and height is 600 x 600.

xCurrent = float(a[0]);
xCurrent = map(xCurrent,0,1023,0,600);

2. Set the colour as red, green or blue using the setColour function.

void setColour(String temp){
if(temp == “red”){
col = color(240,85,85);
if(temp == “green”){
col = color(60,237,99);
if(temp == “blue”){
col = color(56,104,198);

3.Use the previous x and y values, along with the current x and y values to draw a line


Like all projects, time run out, and I have other ideas that I haven’t had time to implement. Some things I still have to add are:

  • A clear button or add an accelerometer for “shake to clear”
  • An option to save your creation
  • A colour mixer so that you can create using any colours

Sewing Bee for the Digital Age


  • Processing (free download from
  • Instruction sheet (pdf)
  • Code (see below)

As part of Dundee Science Festival 2013, I was involved in a sewing bee with a difference, an idea developed by Dr Karen Petrie. Participants were invited to create a computational image using Processing in a morning, before spending the afternoon embroidering their image. 16 participants attended, aged from 6 to 67 years old.

Processing is an open source language based on Java and is free to download. A massive online community means that this development environment is perfect for beginners and more advanced programmers alike. The visual nature of the program means that beginners can see their programs take shape very quickly, making it perfect for an event such as this, where many participants may have never coded before.

The shift from the digital image creation to the tactile embroidery phase of the workshop feeds into the Maker community, allowing people to use technology to create lots of things that are engaging and creative.

In the instruction sheet, you are told to open ‘Digital_Sewing_Bee.pde’. The code for this file is shown below:

PImage img; // declaration of image to be used

void setup(){
size(400, 400); // size(width, height) – use these later to determine lengths of shapes
// image is saved to be 800 x 800 pixels in size

background(255); // start background as white


save(“img.png”); // save the created image
//mirrorImage(); // flip the image
save(“mirrorImg.png”); // save the mirrored image


void mirrorImage(){
img = loadImage(“img.png”); // load the image
imageFlip(img,300,600); // rearrange the pixels to flip image
image(img,0,0,width,height); // display the new image

void imageFlip(PImage image, int xPos, int yPos){
image.loadPixels(); // array of pixels in the image

// width * height is total no of pixels
int tempImage[] = new int[image.width*image.height];

// temp array to hold the image, pixel by pixel
for(int i = 0; i < image.width*image.height; i++){ tempImage[i] = image.pixels[i]; } // rearrange the pixels back into the original array for(int i = 0; i < image.height; i++){ for(int j = 1; j < image.width; j++){ image.pixels[(i+1)*(image.width) - j] = tempImage[i*image.width + j]; } } // update the pixels using the image array image.updatePixels(); }

The image below shows an example of an embroidered image, created using processing.

Tree created using processingEmbroidered tree



New degree – MSc AAC

The School of Psychology and School of Computing at the University of Dundee are proud to announce a new MSc course, due to begin in September 2013. The aims of this interdisciplinary course are to provide individuals with a psychology, computing, industry or clinical care background with a better understanding of the latest developments in: 1) the psychology of the development of language and communication; 2) the design ethnography of AAC solutions; 3) the engineering of AAC solutions; and 4) the effective evaluation of AAC solutions on an individual and group basis. However, the over-arching aim of the course is to provide individuals with sufficient research training to allow them to become effective scientist-practitioners.

For more information on the 12 month full-time course, check the course information page at

Scholarships are available for this course.

I am now a stand-up comedian

That’s something I never thought I would say – “I am a stand-up comedian”. Well, as of the evening of December 18th 2012, it’s true!

As an outreach veteran, I was convinced (rather easily) to take part in Bright Club Dundee. This was outreach like I have never experienced before. Not to worry though, training was provided beforehand, rehearsals were had, and despite my nerves on the night, I was happy with the results. Watch my debut performance below.

Bright Club Dundee is a public engagement opportunity like no other! Researchers are given training in the art of stand-up before being let loose on the public at regular stand-up shows. You need no previous experience to give it a go. You might be surprised by just how much fun it is.

Anyone interested in joining the exclusive list of Bright Club performers should contact Jon Urch ( Alternatively, I am happy to put you in touch with the right people to make it happen. You could also go along to a performance to see what it’s all about. Check out, or http// for information on tickets.

Fellows Scheme for Early Career Researchers

The University of Dundee has just announced a Fellows Scheme for early career researchers,  There is specific interest is several research themes, including social inclusion:

Informatics for Social Inclusion encompasses diverse themes in Computing, all of which are united by the common thread that being human provides everyone with a special bond – a bond that technology can facilitate. We take social inclusion seriously, emphasizing that technology design should consider not just those who are early adopters of technology, but also those who through age or disability may have difficulty using technology. In addition, we consider the important role that technology can play in enabling enhanced quality of life through the use of technology supports.  For more information, see

If you have additional questions, you can write either to Vicki Hanson,, or Annalu Waller,