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BBL Speaker Series: Decoding Teenagers’ Implicit Struggles with Accessibility and Safety in Computing Technologies


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Speaker: Alex Wen, Postdoctoral researcher, Computer Science Department, Virginia Tech

Location: HBK 2105 and Zoom
Abstract: This talk will explore the implicit struggles teenagers face in using computing technologies, focusing on the challenges presented by e-learning tools and social virtual reality (VR) applications. It uncovers that teenagers frequently conceal their emotional distress arising from learning challenges, exacerbated by the accessibility issues of e-learning tool designs. Furthermore, within social VR settings, teenagers demonstrate overconfidence in their protective strategies and a misplaced sense of safety, issues arising from inadequate design of interaction safety measures. These findings highlight the unique needs of teenagers, distinct from those of adults, shaped by their specific social situations and evolving mental models. Through a sociological lens, I aim to deepen the understanding of these needs and identify solutions that truly meet the teenagers. My goal is to design digital environments that are both accessible and safe for all young users, catering specifically to the nuanced demands of teenagers.

Bio: Dr. Zikai Alex Wen is a researcher in human-centered computing committed to improving how young users (i.e., children, teenagers, and special education students) engage with AI agents. His research hones in on two critical challenges: (1) safeguarding usable privacy and security in AI interactions, and (2) dismantling barriers to AI accessibility for learners with neurodevelopmental disabilities. By focusing on these pivotal areas, he aims to create more engaging, inclusive, and safe AI agents that cater to the unique needs of our younger generation. His research has been published at prestigious CS conferences such as ACM CHI, ACM ASSETS, ACM CCS, and IEEE S&P.

He is a postdoctoral researcher in the Computer Science Department at Virginia Tech, working with Prof. Yaxing Yao. He is fortunate to have worked as a postdoc at the HKUST Visualization Lab. He received his Ph.D. degree in computer science from Cornell University. Before that, he received his joint First-class Honours bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, U.K., and BUCT, Beijing, China.