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Rodwell traveling to Japan as Fulbright scholar
Alex Keimig
Elizabeth Rodwell, Assistant Professor of Digital Media.
Elizabeth Rodwell, Assistant Professor of Digital Media.

In the Fall, the Technology Division was proud to host three Fulbright scholars from the kingdom of Morocco. This coming academic year, Technology Division assistant professor of digital media Elizabeth Rodwell, Ph.D., will begin traveling to Japan as a Fulbright Scholar to further her user experience (UX) research on the development of conversational artificial intelligence tools. 

She'll be returning to undertake further field work at a Japanese company that she started working with last year. The company is developing avatar-based conversational AI tools based on GPT, which are intended to be used for language-learning. That type of human-computer interaction is exactly the topic that piques Rodwell's interest.

"I say that I'm somebody who works on technology, but not as a person who is as interested in technology as I am in people,” she said. “I'm really only interested in the technology and all the different things that have changed over the years I've been studying it insofar as I can get down into how people interact with it, their experiences of it, and what it's like to be one of the creators or makers of it.” 

"I stare at people while they do things, and then I try to build theories around that," she added, laughing. "That's really the core of what I do, because at the end of the day, I'm an anthropologist."

"I'm particularly interested in the differences in the way that this technology has been adopted in the US versus Japan because of their reputation for robotics," Rodwell continued. "They're known for their robotics, but tools like Siri or Alexa or Google Home are not well-liked or much used there, so I was curious as to why that is. I found a startup to embed myself with wherein I can watch people work and learn more about what they're doing. With this Fulbright award, I'm going to be able to really get back into that."

Rodwell is interested not only in the theoretical research, but in the potential for other applied use cases of this technology. One of these potential uses is as a tool for children in the US who are participating in speech therapy. 

"I wanted to follow up on this because it's an area that hasn't been studied much: the way kids on the autism spectrum can benefit from talking to conversational artificial intelligence as part of their overall speech therapy. I'm working with them as a partner for that project as well," she said. 

This particular avenue of investigation did not simply appear to Rodwell out of the blue. It's part and parcel with the unique division of time that she will be spending abroad.

"My Fulbright is unusual," she said. "I broke it into little chunks during summers instead of one full academic year because one of my kids has special needs, so I can't keep him abroad during the school year because he has a lot of services that have been very carefully scheduled and aligned here at home. I'm glad that organizations like the Fulbright are maturing to realize that complicated family situations like this do exist."

Undertaking her Fulbright research over the course of several summers also allows Rodwell to continue teaching UX courses for the Technology Division's Digital Media program, maintaining the UH UX Research Lab and supporting UX Coogs during the academic year.

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