REUL Lab will change the way companies impose terms of service and end-user license agreements (EULAs), helping them to meet some of the ethical and practical standards suggested by humanities-informed theories; and encourage consumers to engage with these texts to make their consent/assent to them more meaningful.
Addressing the issues EULAs raise is a form of service to the global digital communities governed by them. Students in REUL Lab will engage in this service learning through “distributed knowledge production,” which acknowledges that “a single person cannot possibly conceive of and carry out all facets of a project” (Burdick et al., 2012, p. 50). At the same time, students must still satisfy the learning objectives of the standard Technical Communication syllabus, which emphasizes rhetorical skill in analyzing and reaching out, and designing artifacts to audiences in technical and professional contexts.
This undergraduate research lab consists of consecutive sections of LMC 3403/3431/3432 —Technical Communication, Theory & Practice. Each semester, around two dozen students will work on research projects that students in the previous semester began and students in the next semester will continue.
The goals for the REUL Lab in its first year are to:
- Produce and maintain a digital repository of EULA resources, criticism, and argumentative artifacts to support the discussion of this topic not just at Tech but at other institutions, within the legal, technical communication, and digital humanities fields, and in industry; it will include artifacts the students create and others that they curate, summarize, and annotate, representing multidisciplinary perspectives on EULAs—a first-of-its-kind resource globally.
- Generate at least one publication in a peer-reviewed journal or law review or one paper in a competitive conference proceeding, with multiple student co-authors. This metric acknowledges that broader academic communities (legal, technical communication, and digital humanities)—as well as business and legal communities in industry—value these particular modes of argumentation.
- Forge links between Tech, its students, and decision makers responsible for end-user licensing at leading companies (using resources inside and outside Tech) to implement the ideas of the research lab.
The Lab was established by Brian Larson in 2016 and in Summer 2017, Halcyon Lawrence and Sarah Lozier assumed duties as the Lab’s directors. Beginning as a continuous course lab in Brian Larson’s (Spring 2016-Spring 2017) and Halcyon Lawrence’s (Summer 2017) technical and professional communication courses (LMC 3403), the lab’s has recently expanded to include sections of LMC 3432/CS3311 and LMC 3431/CS3312, Georgia Tech’s Junior Design capstone course for computer science and computational media students.
Through this class, we are currently prototyping three software-based tools that will allow us to further test solutions to problems posed by communicating EULAs to end-users. The first tool, the “Automated Heuristics Analysis Tool,” will allow for an automatic assessment of a EULA according to a set of usability heuristics developed in Halcyon Lawrence’s Summer 2017 LMC 3403 class. The second tool, the “Iconographic Presentation Tool,” will display a EULA’s contents as a form of icons, testing the hypothesis that users will be able to respond to and understand a EULA more effectively through media other than text. The third tool, the “Bite-Sized EULA Tool” is a google Chrome plug-in that, when running, will break up a EULA’s contents and show, as a series of pop-ups, that portion of the EULAs that is relevant to the user in the moment of use. (EG: when a Facebook user uploads an image, they will be presented with the section of the EULA regarding Facebook’s use of images and user-generated content). This tool allows us to test the hypothesis that users will more easily understand and access a EULA’s content if presented with that content in smaller doses that are immediately relevant to their use. These tools will be presented at the Junior Design Symposium in May 2018.
We’re currently fine-tuning our topic model for video game EULAs and brainstorming classification algorithms to best make use of them. From there, we will user test several ideas for presenting the classified information to end-users. These approaches build from previous iterations of the lab’s ideas (e.g. iconography, truncated content, completion data percentage visualization, etc.) This testing and evaluation will make up the majority of the spring semester.
We should complete our prototype application before the conclusion of the spring 2020 semester.
We’ve been accepted to the Symposium for Communicating Complex Information (SCCI), which should include conference proceedings.
Scott, A. “The Continuous Course Lab” in the Tech Comm Classroom.” Poster Presentation. Special Interest Group in the Design of Communication (SIGDOC). August 8-10, 2017. Halifax, Nova Scotia
Larson, B., Lawrence, H.M. & Whitcomb Laiola, S. “By Reading This Title, You Have Agreed To Our Terms of Service”. 7th Annual Symposium on Communicating Complex Information (SCCI). February 26-27, 2018, Greenville, NC
Lawrence, H.M. & Witcomb Laiola, S. “Facilitating Undergraduate Research in the Humanities through the “Continuous Course Lab”. Conference workshop. Computers and Writing. May 24-27, 2018, Fairfax, VA.
Scott, A. “Changing the Rules of the Game: Reevaluating Terms of Service for Online Gaming” Poster Presentation. Computers and Writing. May 24-27, 2018. Fairfax, VA. (Under Review)