Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
A color photo of a woman, Gilly Leshed, smiling

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Gilly Leshed receives the inaugural 2022 Trevor Pinch QuIRI Innovation Award

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September 15, 2022

Cornell’s Qualitative and Interpretive Research Institute has selected Gilly Leshed as the winner of the 2022 Trevor Pinch QuIRI Innovation Award, in recognition of her innovative approach to teaching qualitative methods for designing digital products.

Leshed, a senior lecturer and director of the MPS program in the Department of Information Science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, will present a seminar on her innovative teaching methods Sept. 16, 1-2 p.m. In the talk, she will discuss her course, Qualitative User Research and Design Methods (INFO/COMM 4400/5400), an advanced research methods class for students learning digital product design.

“I teach this by trying to make these research methods as practical as possible,” Leshed said. “Why do I do this? Because a lot of the students in this class are going to go on to industry jobs. For people going into industry, they need tools.”

Leshed’s course covers qualitative ways to gather information during the design process that help designers understand the needs, goals, and environment of the individuals who will ultimately use the product. These approaches include “diary studies,” where users send text messages or complete short surveys throughout their day, and “participatory design” studies, where users collaborate with researchers on the design process.

After giving the background, history and theoretical aspects of each research method in class, Leshed runs a workshop where students get hands-on experience. For example, they design their own Google forms to collect diary entries from users (i.e., their classmates), and take on roles ranging from user to designer to business manager, to engage in a participatory design process for a lemonade-making device. Ultimately, they construct their design using pipe cleaners, playdough, and other craft supplies.   

While Leshed devotes most of her time to her teaching, she also advises graduate students in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW).

“I’m mostly interested in how people interact with each other and how we can better design these digital tools so that people have a more meaningful interaction with each other,” she said.

Leshed is the first person to receive the Trevor Pinch Innovation Award. QuIRI, a program within the Cornell Center for Social Sciences that brings together diverse Cornell faculty to collaborate in the area of interpretive social science research, renamed the award this year to honor Trevor Pinch, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Science and Technology Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, who died in December 2021. He was a member of the Information Science graduate field, and his work contributed substantially to science and technology studies (STS) and sound studies. Within STS, he conceptualized the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), the idea that technology is embedded in a social context and is shaped by how people use it. Pinch was a founding member of the QuIRI leadership team and an enthusiastic teacher of qualitative methods. 

“This award that recognizes his name is very meaningful to me because I appreciate his research very much,” said Leshed. “I didn't directly take classes with him when I was a Ph.D. student here at Cornell, but I knew of his work, I attended his talks, I read his book and other publications, and I was influenced by his work. We also worked together on research in the recent few years.”

Interested individuals can register here to attend Leshed’s seminar by Zoom.

By Patricia Waldron, a science writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.