Course Overview

Course Description

Personal informatics systems are those that help people collect personally relevant information for the purpose of self-reflection and gaining self-knowledge. These systems are increasingly prevalent, across diverse goals that include behavior change support (e.g., weight loss, increased exercise, improved productivity), better knowing oneself or satisfying curiosity (e.g., seeing spending patterns or places visited visualized), discovering new content (e.g., music or movie tracking to feed a recommender system), connecting with friends, or simply keeping a record for documentary purposes.

These advances create new challenges for collecting, integrating, sharing, reflecting, and acting on large amounts of personal data. The tools for these activities must also fit into the everyday lives and routines of the people that use them. This seminar will review progress and discuss current frontiers in each of these challenges.

Each week will consistent of paper reading, presentation, and discussion. In contrast to the highly-curated presentation of content in a more introductory course, students will be expected to contribute to all aspects of the definition and content of this course. This will include identifying relevant content and contributing to discussion of that content.

Over the quarter, students will develop an group research project in the area of personal informatics.

We will emphasize open discussion and feedback in all aspects of the course.

Basic Information

Contact: Include both instructors on all course-related email.

Class Time & Location: As noted on calendar, but most typically:

See the course calendar to know when we deviate from this pattern.

Office Hours: By appointment, and as scheduled for project meetings.

Course Staff:

Assigned Readings, Additional Resources, and Participation

Assigned readings will explore several dimensions of personal informatics. In-class discussion is a critical component of this course. To maximize the quality and effectiveness of that discussion, every participant is expected to read the assigned readings before class. This will typically mean two full-length research papers per class.

Any set of readings is inherently incomplete, and part of the value of this course is assembling diverse perspectives on personal informatics. We will therefore encourage posting of additional resources, including additional resources that participants surface in the course of discussion.

Advance Posting of Potential Discussion Topics

To help prepare for an engaging and meaningful discussion, we require participants post potential discussion topics to Canvas discussion threads. We will create Canvas discussion threads for each paper. If you have a potential discussion topic that relates to multiple papers, post it wherever seems more appropriate.

Simply criticizing the details of research often leads to an underwhelming discussion. We encourage participants to draw upon their backgrounds to surface more interesting potential discussions. Potential topics for discussion might be inspired by considering:

Importantly, we do not want to have the discussion on Canvas. The goal of surfacing potential discussion topics is to then have the actual discussion in-class.

All of your classmates will have read the paper, so do not simply post a summary of the paper.

Participants are expected to post one potential discussion topic per day, not necessarily one per paper. Participants are welcome and encourage to submit multiple potential topics, but this is not expected.

Participation in the posting potential discussion topics for each day will be graded on a scale from 0 to 3.

Potential discussion topics must be posted by the night before each class. This ensures time to review discussion before class the next morning.

Presentation of Assigned Readings

Each participant will sign up to present one of the assigned readings. Discussion of each reading will begin with this presentation.

Unless advised otherwise, presentation should focus on the context of an assigned reading. This might include:

All of your classmates will have read the paper, so do not simply present a summary of the paper.

We welcome and encourage you to seek guidance or feedback on your overall approach to the presentation. It is probably not time effective to seek feedback on detailed minutia of your presentation. For calibration, we expect students to spend 60 to 90 minutes researching the context of a paper. We then expect presentations will be 5 to 10 minutes.

As part of preparation, the presenter should share any additional resources that will be presented with the scribes.

Scribing of In-Class Discussion and Additional Resources

Each participant will sign up to scribe one day’s discussion. Given the enrollment, this means there will be two scribes for each day.

In contrast to the highly-curated presentation of content in a more introductory course, we expect the participants in this course to raise a variety of background and perspectives in the course of discussion. We expect this will include additional resources that are unfamiliar to some or many of the other participants.

Scribes will capture key aspects of in-class discussion and additional resources that surface in that discussion. The expected process is:

Scribes are not expected to capture every detail of the discussion. That goal is that explicit scribing allows participants to focus on the discussion, while knowing that key themes any additional resources can be accessed later. The class-internal Canvas is intended to promote candor, while the public website ensures ready availability of additional resources.


A course project will be a major component of your work, and the course will begin with rapid brainstorming of potential projects.

Details of the project structure are here:

Dates are also linked from the course calendar.

Many of the students in this course are actively conducting research in personal informatics, so we welcome and even encourage projects that align with research goals beyond this course. However, it is critical that projects define what they will specifically accomplish in the scope of the course. The course project must stand on its own, not merely be a snapshot of an outside research process.

For similar reasons, projects will be collaborative, with students working in groups of three to four. A major goal in this course is to facilitate connections among students conducting research in personal informatics. Larger groups also allow greater progress within the course and deeper engagement from the course staff.


Grading will roughly correspond to:

Much of the grading in this course is necessarily subjective. We will attempt to communicate expectations and feedback throughout the course, but it is your responsibility to communicate with us if you feel you would like guidance in this regard.


Submissions will be coordinated using Canvas:

Many assignments are due “the night before class”. We will implement this in Canvas as 4:00am the day of class.

This gives staff time to review submissions before class. Submitting the day of class, just before class, or in class is therefore unacceptable, risking zero credit.


This course website lives on GitHub:

You can submit pull requests to update the website. Instructions for building the site are available here: