UMSI students compete at CHI

 Five UMSI students are competing this week against peers in the international arena at the ACM SIGCHI (CHI) conference in Paris.  Master’s students Min-Chih Liu, Surong Ruan, Shih-Hsuan Chou, Lezhong Li and doctoral student Stanley Chang collaborated on a design project that was named a semi-finalist in the Student Design Competition at CHI. Their project, Xpress: Crowdsourcing Native Speakers to Learn Colloquial Expressions in a Second Language, is a mobile app that helps language learners acquire colloquial vocabulary.

Chang said the idea for the app came to him through participating in a program that partners native speakers with second language learners. He is learning English, while his partner is studying Chinese. “I found the way you learn English when you are chatting is very different than learning in a formal, academic setting,” said Stanley. “For instance, one time I said to her, ‘The street is really crowded.’ She said, ‘No, you would say the street is packed.’ I was thinking, how would I know that?”

The group decided to focus on collecting colloquial expressions which users can search by key word or by submitting a question. They wanted a simple app that could help second language learners speak more fluently in daily life. “It’s not always easy to make a native-speaking friend. Some of us may be shy to ask questions,” said Lezhong.

A unique feature of the app is the ability to submit a photograph or image along with the question. “We found it’s not always easy to describe the context of a question,” Lezhong said. “That’s how we came up with the multi-media function of the app.”

The Xpress team collaborated on every aspect of the project, first completing a contextual inquiry by interviewing eight learners and five instructors and observing a Chinese learning group.

Xpress was initially presented to the public during the annual UMSI student showcase, expoSItion, in late March, where it won first place in the Technology/Design division.  The student design competition will be held Wednesday, May 1 at 2 p.m. at the CHI 2013 conference.

POsted on Monday, April 29, 2013