Newly appointed SICSA Events Coordinator

6 October 2021

by Jamie Ferguson, University of Glasgow

It is a pleasure to write what I hope will be the first of many SICSA blog posts. This post will give you a brief introduction to myself and what I’ll be involved in doing as SICSA’s events coordinator.

I studied HNC/HND computing in Aberdeen before going onto study for a degree in CS at the University of Aberdeen. When I graduated, I had a brief stint working as a developer for a spin-out company in medical technology, before moving to Glasgow to work in R&D for Pulsion Technology. After a year at Pulsion I completed my PhD in the Multimodal Interaction Group at Glasgow where I was researching auditory and vibration displays.

After finishing my PhD, I worked on a project that was developing improved hearing aid technologies at Nottingham University’s Hearing Sciences department (where I was, rather confusingly, based at Glasgow Royal Infirmary). Finally, before starting with SICSA, I worked as a lecturer in my old department at Glasgow where I taught Human-Centred Security.

I have been attending SICSA events since I started my PhD in 2017 and they have been an excellent opportunity to: meet other like-minded people, show-off my own work and serve as a regular reminder of how much Scottish universities and companies punch above their weight in the computing world. I think the situation we have in Scotland where we have SICSA acting almost as a point-of-entry for any academic or industrial party interested in getting involved or finding particular expertise, is a very rare and fortunate position to be in. It allows for much easier communication and collaboration across the country and beyond, which I believe is something many other fields struggle with.

As the events coordinator for SICSA, my priority is to continue to grow the flagship events that are key dates in the SICSA calendar such as: the SICSA conference and DemoFest, as well as working to develop some new events to broaden the scope of events that SICSA can offer the community. Furthermore, I am interested in working with all SICSA institutions to establish new opportunities for collaboration, events and development that will increase our institutions and SICSA’s visibility nationally and beyond.

Cyber Security Research Theme has a new Co-Leader

We are pleased to confirm that Dr Jacques Ophoff, University of Abertay will be taking over as the SICSA Cyber Security Research Theme Co-Leader as Dr Deepayan Bhowmik is stepping down from the role.  Dr Ophoff will work alongside Professor Karen Renaud and continue to steer the Cyber Security Research Theme forward.

A huge thank you to Dr Deepayan for his commitment, input and time dedicated in the last couple of years as the Cyber Security Theme Co-Lead.

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Virtual Conference Registration Funding: Just another episode of support by SICSA

Every success is the result of numerous efforts. In my successful presentation of my 1st PhD research paper titled “The Interplay between Personal Relationships & Shoulder Surfing Mitigation” at the Mensch und Computer’21 conference, SICSA played a significant role by sponsoring the virtual conference registration. Having sponsored for the registration, not only made my paper presentation feasible but also gave me the opportunity to connect with fellow researchers across the globe.

Mensch und Computer is a German-based Human-Computer Interaction conference that put forwards a platform for discussion and sharing of contributions around innovative ways of interaction between humans and technology. The proceedings of the conference are published in ACM digital library.

The conference kickstarted on 5th September and lasted until 8th Sept 2021. The conference offered a wide variety of workshops, tutorials, demos and paper sessions covering a range of topics such as Mobile & Ubiquity, Work Assistance, Assistance Systems & Users with Special Needs, Mixed Reality, Privacy, Security & Trust, Virtual Reality, UX and the Crowd, and Recommender Systems and Machine Learning. The organizers made use of online tools such as Zoom, Discord, and live website to facilitate discussions and presentations.

The most fascinating session among all for me was the “Privacy Security & Trust” as my paper belonged to this domain. My paper investigated a commonly occurring privacy invasion called “shoulder surfing”. Shoulder surfing refers to observing a user’s device screen without consent and without being noticed. Shoulder surfing can occur anywhere and anyone can be the observer eg friend, family member, or stranger etc. The paper reflects on if the user’s reaction to shoulder surfing is impacted by the relationship with the observer. This is important to know as unfavourable effects on relationships could reduce the acquisition of shoulder surfing mitigation methods which could, in turn, put user’s privacy at risk. To uncover more about the interplay between personal relationships and shoulder surfing mitigation, I along with my co-authors conducted this study. If you would like to know more about the paper, please follow the QR code given at the bottom of the page.

The most exciting part of the conference was when my paper was announced as the winner of the “Honourable Mention Award”. It was a moment of immense gratitude and happiness. This marked my first award on my first paper of PhD as the first author.

Overall, the conference proved to be an engaging and exciting event despite having to move from being physical to virtual. My participation at the conference would not have been successful without SICSA sponsorship. I’m grateful to SICSA for offering to support for attending the conference. Presenting my work and connecting with fellow researchers was an enthralling experience.

To access my paper titled “The Interplay between Personal Relationships & Shoulder

Surfing Mitigation”, scan the QR code:

3rd Scottish Programming Languages and Verification Summer School (SPLV)

23 August 2021

by Jeremy Singer, University of Glasgow


The 3rd Scottish Programming Languages and Verification Summer School (SPLV) took place online 9-17 Aug. Speakers included Guy Katz on verifying neural networks, Simon Peyton Jones on hashing syntax with alpha equivalence and Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas on programming for animals.


This varied line-up attracted lots of engagement from PhD students in Scotland and further afield. We also enjoyed a poster session where participants shared overviews of their research projects. Thanks to SICSA for sponsoring the UberEats vouchers for our virtual expedition.

Archived conference materials including some recorded talks are up at

Watch this space for news about SPLV 22!


Remote User Experience Laboratory (RUSL) Project

4 August 2021

by Tim Storer, University of Glasgow

The original objectives of the project were to construct a facility in which user experience experiments could be deployed in a remote setting. It was envisaged that the facility would utilise remote desktop technology deployed in virtualised cloud infrastructures, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon EC3. A virtualised desktop image would be created that would be preconfigured with user data gathering tools, such as keystrokes, mouse movement, video and audio recording. The image would then be deployed by researchers as a remote desktop virtual machine instance that could be additionally configured to support specific experimental requirements.

The funding awarded by SICSA, was used to hire a student software developer within the Glasgow University Software Service (GUSS), supporting 20 weeks of development work, at 10 hours per week. The work by the student was supervised by the Service Software Engineering Manager.

The following objectives of the facility were met:

  • Creation of a SICSA resource group on the Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure.
  • Review and selection of tools for capturing user behaviour on a virtualised desktop.
  • Creation of a Microsoft Windows virtual desktop with administrator and user accounts.
  • Configuration of the virtual desktop with software for keystroke tracking.
  • Configuration of the virtual desktop with screen, webcam and audio recording during experimental settings.
  • Capture of the virtual desktop as a re-deployable virtual machine image for sharing with project partners.

The procedure for deploying the virtual desktop was captured in documentation for sharing with researchers wishing to conduct virtual experiments.

The developer and service manager completed three evaluations of the virtual desktop with researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Abertay and Robert Gordon Universities.

The end result of the project is a complete image suitable for use in remote experience laboratory work. The next steps will involve further development of the facility. The strong basis provided by the SICSA RUSL provides the basis for further work.

SICSA-support workshop on Graduate Apprenticeship funding

30 July 2021

by Matthew Barr, Programme Director Graduate Apprenticeship in Software Engineering, University of Glasgow

The way in which Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs) in Scotland are funded is changing.  Previously administered solely by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), monies will now be allocated by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), with SDS retaining oversight of the frameworks on which the GA programmes are based.

In light of these changes, the GA team at the University of Glasgow hosted a SICSA-supported workshop on 29 June 2021 to discuss the issues associated with GA funding.

Most of the institutions involved in delivering software-related GA frameworks in Scotland were represented. We were also pleased to welcome Graeme Hendry, Senior Partnership and Delivery Manager for Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships at SDS, who provided an overview of the current arrangements, insofar as they are known.

The issues discussed predominantly concerned ongoing uncertainty about the fine detail; for example, the relationship between GA funding and the funding for places that universities already receive via their SFC block grants.

While much of the discussion was concerned with how institutions are dealing with this uncertainty, it was acknowledged that a degree of disruption was unavoidable during the transition from one system to another.

Being able to compare notes with other institutions was, as ever, very helpful, and we greatly appreciated Graeme taking the time to come and talk to us. The particulars of the discussion are not documented in detail here, but a comprehensive summary of the issues raised has been shared with Scottish Government.

As a sector, we remain extremely positive about the continued success of software-related Graduate Apprenticeships, and we know that the Scottish Government, SDS and the SFC also see the huge potential in work-based degree programmes.

Hopefully our feedback will be useful in ensuring that funding for these critical programmes is delivered as effectively as possible.

3rd International Summer School on Artificial Intelligence and Video Games

27 July 2021

by Christopher Acornley, Abertay University

I attended the 3rd International Summer School on Artificial Intelligence and Video Games, organised by between the 5th and 9th of July 2021. The summer school focused on three key areas, AI playing games, AI for generating games content and modelling players with AI. The event had over 250 registered participants from all over the world.

Due to COVID restrictions, the summer school was online only, hosted in Copenhagen. Talks were from many companies and academics, including Creative Assembly, DeepMind, Zynga, King, Microsoft, Unity, AWS Game Tech, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Locomotion, Latitude, and researchers from themselves. The week consisted of several talks and some workshops wherever possible, with a great focus on current AI trends being used in the three key areas of the conference. A Game Jam ran throughout the week, organised by Antionios Liapis which encouraged engagement by the school’s participants and each evening a live stream was done on the YouTube channel ‘Summer School on AI and Games TV’.

The summer school was an excellent learning experience, with both the two head lecturers, Julian Togelius and Georgios N. Yannakakis, giving background talks about the days general topic followed by more in-depth examples by the guest speakers. Each talk gave a fascinating perspective of different AI’s being used in various fields and how they are generally implemented within the industry. This approach was particularly useful to me as I have only considered these types of AI’s in an academic sense. The talks were very informative on the practical methods used, with the speakers and other participants being very well versed in the topics which lead to very interesting discussions.

I would like to thank SICSA for providing me with the opportunity to attend this school, where I got to share my current PhD research with industry members and academics. I received some very positive feedback when discussing my own approaches to my research and I hope to be able to put their recommendations into practice.

SICSA XAI Workshop 2021

15 July 2021

by Kyle Martin, Robert Gordon University

The use of AI and ML systems is increasingly becoming more commonplace in everyday life. In everything from recommender systems for media streaming services to machine vision for clinical decision support, intelligent systems are supporting both the personal and professional spheres of our society. However explaining the outcomes and decision-making of these systems remains a challenge. As the prevalence of AI grows in our society, so too does the complexity and expectation surrounding the ability of autonomous models to explain their actions.

Regulations increasingly support users rights to fair and transparent processing in automated decision-making systems. This can be difficult when the latest trends in data-driven ML systems, such as deep learning architectures, tend to be black-boxes with opaque decision-making processes. Furthermore, the need for accountability means that pipeline, ensemble and multi-agent systems may require complex combinations of explanations before being understandable to their target audience. Beyond the models themselves, designing explainer algorithms for users remains a challenge due to the highly subjective nature of the explanation itself.

The SICSA Workshop 2021 was designed to present a forum for the dissemination of ideas on domains relating to the explainability of AI and ML methods. The event was organised into several themed sessions.

  • Session 1 – Applying and Evaluating Explanations
  • Session 2 – Roles within an XAI System and Accountability
  • Session 3 – Searching for Explanations

The SICSA XAI Workshop 2021 was an incredible success. We were proud to welcome 49 attendees from a mix of industrial organisations and academic institutions across Europe. A total of 13 papers were submitted for peer review by the programme committee, of which 12 were accepted and presented during the workshop (10 short papers and 2 position papers). The workshop featured an invited talk from Professor Belén Díaz-Agudo of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She presented an examination of the relationship between Case-Based Reasoning and XAI and discussed how this had lead to the formation of the iSee project to share explanation experiences.

For interested readers, the proceedings of the workshop are available online through CEUR. Recorded presentations presented at the workshop are also available on YouTube.

SICSA Remote Collaboration Activities Funding – Interaction Design

21 June 2021

by Poopak Azhand, Glasgow School of Art

In order to explore the research question _ how can Interaction Design be used to investigate the young adults’ (18-24 years old) understanding of respect in the context of cyberbullying in Scotland? User-centred approach has been placed at the core of this project through the collaboration of the key stakeholders and young adults (18-24 years old). It adopted Interaction Design and co-design approaches to play a role in the direct participation of both key stakeholders and young adults living in Scotland. The Interaction Design approach offered a unique chance to create interventions by taking into account the social, environmental, cultural and technological aspect of the online environment and online ethics. This enabled an understanding of respect in the online environment, ways to minimise cyberbullying by promoting respect in an online environment and its relation to the physical environment through creative asynchronous and synchronous activities, group workshop sessions, semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis.

Throughout my practice, I collected data/ info through online workshops, online interviews and asynchronous activities (starter kit). Five key stakeholders and one young adult participated in interviews, online workshops, and asynchronous activities. After the online interviews, they have received starter kits containing booklets.

The booklets enabled me to engage with participants in the physical and online environment and collect meaningful data. The starter kit intended to provide a further opportunity for participants to rethink and reflect on the project scopes and questions. It was designed to simulate a mini mobile workshop and create a real workshop experience at participants’ homes. Similar to a workshop, a starter kit had all the materials they needed to complete the activities. The starter kit contained pens, markers, post-it notes, glues, prepaid envelopes, snacks, and a booklet. The booklet held all the activities, where participants could elaborate on their thoughts, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, and ideas.

After asynchronous activities, they attended group-online workshops where two activities enabled participants to elaborate their experience, knowledge, ideas and thoughts on reducing cyberbullying. And, we concluded the sessions with a shared idea and intervention to reduce cyberbullying. Next, I analysed all the findings and data using thematic analysis, and then I planned the evaluation session. Evaluation sessions designed to allow participants to choose collectively the ideas that promote respect and reduce cyberbullying.

With the support of SICSA, I was able to design and prepare asynchronous activities (booklet) and starter-kit in a short period of time. Besides, the fund allowed me to appreciate participants’ engagement with offering voucher gifts.

SICSA Remote Collaboration Activities Funding – Online Collaborative Learning

14 June 2021

by Kobi Gal, University of Edinburgh

The remote collaborative activities culminated this month with the submission for the undergraduate thesis by Stefi Tirkovi on Massive Online Learning Courses (MOOCs).

The shift from traditional face-to face learning to online activities forced by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown an immense increase in enrolment rates in MOOC platforms. This underpins the importance of open online courses and how crucial research in that realm is in order to gain deeper understanding about users, their needs and behaviours to aid the future development of distance education.

Her research project makes the following contributions:

  • Formulation of two different computational tasks concerning student performance. The first aimed to output a predicted grade, and the second one presents a binary prediction problem of whether an assignment submission will take place.
  • Feature design based on multitude of data sources. Different features clustered in “feature families” were identified in order to perform the tasks above. Each of them includes data from one of the three different sources – clickstream logs, discussion forum and previous assessment.
  • Design of predictive models using the identified feature sets for each of the formulated tasks. After extracting the defined features from the raw data, linear and logistic regression algorithms were utilised to predict performance for each of the two respective problems.
  • Evaluation of the designed models and the predictive power of the feature sets. An extensive evaluation and comparison between all models is presented using data from two Edinburgh MOOCs. The models are compared with respect to predefined baselines and between each other. Moreover, the best feature combinations are further explored and optimised using other ML algorithms. Stefi’s results demonstrated the benefit of using predictive models for all of these tasks.