PhD student profile: Sean Munson

Sean Munson

Sean Munson

Sean Munson, a PhD student at UMSI since 2007, designs, builds, and evaluates systems designed to promote socially desirable outcomes while respecting individual autonomy.

His focus is on applications that help people make behavior changes that enhance their health and wellness and applications and features to nudge people to consider more diverse political news and opinions.

Through a Yahoo! Key Technical Challenge grant and an award from the National Science Foundation, Sean is working with advisor Paul Resnick and fellow doctoral students Daniel Zhou and Sidharth Chhabra on “BALANCE: Enhancing Diversity in News and Opinion Aggregators.” Political theorists argue that when political discussion includes diverse points of view, societies make better collective decisions and these choices have greater public legitimacy. Some scholars and pundits have raised concerns that the Internet’s affordances for personalization, combined with individual preferences for “agreeable” news and opinion, make fragmentation and polarization more likely, and reduce diversity on political discussions. The team has been studying ways to select and present diverse news, as well as examining online spaces where diverse discussion may already occur.

Sean’s current research focuses on how social networking sites can support health and wellness. One application that has come out of this work is the Facebook application “Steps.” designed with Resnick and others. Users can upload or enter pedometer data, set goals, make and share commitments and compare with friends. Sean is following up on exploratory work by experimenting with different design choices for a few common features in social, persuasive systems to address some of the challenges and issues identified with how current social network sites and health and wellness applications support sharing and goal achievement.

In 2009 Sean received the Yahoo! Innovative Teaching with Technology Award and in 2010 the Gary M. Olson Outstanding PhD Student Award. In 2010, he worked as a visiting researcher at Intel Labs Seattle.

At UMSI, Sean co-founded the Michigan Interactive and Social Computing group to help bring together researchers in HCI and social computing from across different departments on campus.

Sean will be joining the University of Washington as an assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering in the fall, and expects to finish his PhD by the end of this summer.

Sean has a B.S. in engineering with a concentration in systems design from the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. He was a student in the MSI program at UMSI from 2006-07, studying human-computer interaction.

For more on Sean’s research, teaching, and future projects visit:

Previous student profiles:

Ricardo Punzalan

Shelle Hyde

Lydia Muwanga

Alissa Talley-Pixley

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