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Professor Bias Receives Research Grants

In June, iSchool associate professor and Information eXperience Lab co-director Randolph Bias received funding for two research threads.  He earned a $34,000 research grant from the UT-Austin Center for Identity to fulfill his research program “An Empirical Study of the Level of Agreement between Social Media Users’ Perceived and Actual Privacy Settings.” The CID serves as a center of excellence for identity management, privacy and security. 

Doctoral candidate Ramona Broussard is serving as Bias’ research assistant for the program, which will entail two studies: a crowd-sourced survey of how confident people are in understanding which items they share on social media applications can be seen and by whom. Interviews with 40 Austinites will also ask questions about their confidence in understanding of their privacy settings and what they think their current settings allow. Afterward, Bias and Broussard will review settings with the participants to see the extent to which the settings match users’ understanding.

Also in June, Bias teamed with iSchool Dean Andrew Dillon to win a $54,000 gift from Microsoft.  The iSchool researchers, assisted by MSIS student Kate Barrett, plan a series of studies to identify variables’ impact on how skimmable text is.  The research goal is to render online text in ways that maximize our ability to skim. Other researchers have found that certain presentations of text lead to better or poorer skimming performance.  Variables previously studied include semantic, syntactic, and word structures (highlighting low-frequency words.) They  plan a systematic study of these variables, plus one more – “mid-word graying.”  

In a 1980s study, Bias and colleagues found the outside letters of a word more important in quick reading than the inside letters.  Next studies will “gray out” the inside letters of words and examine the effects on skimming.  Long term, they hope to derive a measure of skimmability,” to help Microsoft design a “skim mode” that reconfigures online text for optimal skimmability.