Building an Argument for the Use of
Science Fiction in HCI Education?
Philipp Jordan1and Paula Alexandra Silva2
1University of Hawai‘i at M¯anoa, Honolulu, USA
2DigiMedia Research Center, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
Abstract. Science ﬁction literature, comics, cartoons and, in particu-
lar, audio-visual materials, such as science ﬁction movies and shows, can
be a valuable addition in Human-computer interaction (HCI) Education.
In this paper, we present an overview of research relative to future di-
rections in HCI Education, distinct crossings of science ﬁction in HCI
and Computer Science teaching and the Framework for 21st Century
Learning. Next, we provide examples where science ﬁction can add to
the future of HCI Education. In particular, we argue herein ﬁrst that
science ﬁction, as tangible and intangible cultural artifact, can serve as a
trigger for creativity and innovation and thus, support us in exploring the
design space. Second, science ﬁction, as a means to analyze yet-to-come
HCI technologies, can assist us in developing an open-minded and reﬂec-
tive dialogue about technological futures, thus creating a singular base
for critical thinking and problem solving. Provided that one is cognizant
of its potential and limitations, we reason that science ﬁction can be a
meaningful extension of selected aspects of HCI curricula and research.
Keywords: HCI Education, Popular culture in science, Science ﬁction
1 The Future of HCI Education
In a 2016 summary article, Churchill, Bowser and Preece  outline current
priorities in Human-computer interaction (HCI) Education. Among others, the
article discusses a four-year long initiative  by the Special Interest Group on
Computer–Human Interaction (SIGCHI), which assessed the needs and require-
ments of the current and future HCI curriculum subjects.
Using cross-cultural survey data from a broad, international sample, inter-
view studies, results from discussions at CHI workshops and town-hall confer-
ences, the SIGCHI HCI Education project elicited a total of 114 discrete topics
in HCI instruction. In addition, the project created a repository of contemporary
HCI courses and curricula , across a variety of universities and departments.
The survey respondents – a mix of international HCI professors, practitioners
and students [32, pages 7-8] – named design research in addition to qualitative
?Accepted for publication at IHSI 2019.
arXiv:1811.01033v1 [cs.HC] 2 Nov 2018
2 Philipp Jordan and Paula Alexandra Silva
evaluation methods, as some of the top priorities in HCI research. The SIGCHI
HCI Education project also created an organized and representative overview of
relevant HCI classes and syllabi , including i) Introductory HCI classes, as
well as courses on ii) Design, Values & Ethics or iii) Artiﬁcial Intelligence (AI).
2 Science Fiction, 21st Century Skills and HCI Education
Science Fiction Science ﬁction, including Design Fiction1, in its diverse vari-
ations and media forms – written, illustrated, audio-visual or interactive; short
story, cartoon or illustrated comic; video clip, show or movie; board or video-
game – can be a valuable addition in the future of HCI Education. In Michalsky’s
essay [19, page 248] from 1979, the author concludes that ‘speculative ﬁction’ is:
“[...] a tool in coping with the onrushing future. Studying speculative ﬁc-
tion oﬀers the student the opportunity to be more creative in his thinking
about the future and thus augment the options for possible tomorrow.”
The use of science ﬁction in educational contexts and classrooms has been
both, a subject of debate and research in Computer Science and a diversity of
other related Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) ﬁelds
. While the thought of a ‘science ﬁction-inspired HCI curriculum and research
agenda’  is still a pipe dream, noteworthy eﬀorts2have been made to integrate
science ﬁction into HCI-relevant classes across universities in the United States
(see Table 1); thus acknowledging the educational potential of science ﬁction.
Table 1. HCI-relevant classes which use aspects of science ﬁction.
Course Alpha Course Title Institution
CS 190  Robotics Freshman Seminar Emory University
CS 201  AI and Science Fiction Minnesota State University
CS 463  Introduction to AI and Science Fiction University of Kentucky
CS 585  Science Fiction and Computer Ethics University of Kentucky
STS 1500 Science, Technology and Contemporary Issues:
Considering the Future through Fiction University of Virginia
STS 2500 Science Fiction and the Future:
The Frankenstein Myth in Emerging Biotechnology University of Virginia
MAS S64  Sci Fab: Science Fiction-Inspired Prototyping Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MAS S65  Science Fiction to Science Fabrication Massachusetts Institute of Technology
21st Century Skills The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)  is widely
recognized as the crucial and visionary framework in teaching and development of
knowledge for the next-generation of students and teachers. In a nutshell, the P21
framework  contains of twelve skills, categorized into three larger domains:
1Design Fiction is an emerging method in Design Research, see for example .
2E.g. the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination  or the ‘Exchange’ .
Science Fiction in HCI Education 3
i) Learning and Innovation, ii) Digital Literacy, and iii) Career and
Life Skills. In particular, the ‘4C skills’ in the Learning and Innovation
domain, are considered as the profound future learning competencies by the
National Education Association and former President Obama [24, page 5].
Creativity & Innovation vs. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving In
this paper, we argue that two of those four competences – Creativity & Innova-
tion and Critical Thinking & Problem Solving – can be nurtured by resorting to
science ﬁction in the context of HCI Education. While both skills, Creativity &
Innovation and Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, are viewed independently
in the P21 framework, they are naturally interrelated, with the former usually
being the preceding cognitive process to the latter. Lin, Tsai, Chien and Chang
[15, pages 198-199] provide an example of the co-occurrence of both plus the
ﬁnding, that science ﬁction ﬁlms in the context of:
“[...] practical educational activities can stimulate students’ imaginations
and enhance their ability to design product improvements.”
While the ﬁrst part of above quote highlights how science ﬁction clearly
sparks Creativity & Innovation, the remainder underlines how one needs to en-
gage in a critical reﬂection process – Critical Thinking & Problem Solving – in
order to be able to eﬀectively achieve product improvements. Thus, according
to the P21 framework, Creativity & Innovation can be seen as [26, page 1]:
“the ability to produce and implement new, useful ideas [...].”
Due to it’s strong – in the case of science ﬁction movie and shows, audio-visual –
context, embedded in a rich narrative, science ﬁction has the potential to allow
students and educators to explore the full bandwidth of the design space; from
positive (utopian) to negative (dystopian) future visions.
Despite of frequently representing ‘unrealistic’ and ‘technologically implau-
sible’ futures, science ﬁction materials can serve as creativity triggers and be
pivotal to uncover new design possibilities. For example, a ﬁctional robot from
the Disney movie Big Hero 6 , called BayMax, has inspired researchers to
create (and evaluate) a real-world care robot called ‘Puﬀy’ – an innovative com-
panion for children with neurodevelopmental disorder .
Critical thinking & Problem Solving can concisely be deﬁned as [27, page 1]:
“strategies we use to think in organized ways to analyze and solve prob-
Again, due to its rich context and narrative, but also as a cultural artifact,
science ﬁction can be useful in outlining ethical concerns, and to spark dialogue,
analysis and reﬂection about yet-to-come interfaces, interactions, devices and
technological outcomes. Uncovering potential moral and societal implications can
be particularly interesting when the discussion is led by questions on the how,
when, whys and why nots a given Human-Technology interaction is acceptable,
plausible, etc. By coupling science ﬁction examples with prompt questions which
4 Philipp Jordan and Paula Alexandra Silva
lead to reﬂection, we can make our knowledge and concerns explicit and thus,
adjust to future design endeavors. A similar strategy has been previously applied
in educational and creativity contexts .
Science ﬁction has been used in teaching computer ethics  and computer
security  classes, therefore encouraging alternative viewpoints and extending
traditional technical foci in HCI Education. Rogers [28, page 679] refers to sci-
ence ﬁction movies and shows as “culturally current media”, which can not only
illustrate good and bad user interface design, but also support the development
of “design strategies, application and evaluation” for innovation in HCI curricula.
3 Discussion and Concluding Remarks
Science ﬁction in HCI research has been discussed prior [12,13]. The value of
ﬁctional visions of the future was introduced as early as 1992 in a CHI panel 
– about 25 years ago. Science ﬁction can be used to imagine the tomorrow ,
to inspire HCI research  and user interface design [31,7]. Furthermore, science
ﬁction can showcase future technologies  well ahead of time and reportedly
stimulated research and development in medical device-  or robot-design .
However, science ﬁction is by no means a ‘cure-all’ for HCI Education. For
example, Lin et al.  and Barnett et al.  found that science ﬁction movies
do have an impact on the understanding and perception of students on scientiﬁc
mechanisms and concepts – positively or negatively. In addition, Myers and Abd-
El-Khalick  provide a classroom example, where the assumptions in a science
ﬁction ﬁlm eventually lead students towards detrimental learning outcomes.
In this paper, we endeavored to highlight intersections of science ﬁction and
HCI Education, in view of two crucial skills of the P21 framework. Although, past
research concerning science ﬁction materials in educational contexts has shown
mixed results, we reason that science ﬁction can be of high-value in classroom
settings and the future of HCI Education; when utilized with fore-thought and
due care. Through such a ‘conscientious’ integration of science ﬁction in HCI
activities and syllabi, we reason that the beneﬁts will outweigh the drawbacks
and possibly pave the way toward a science ﬁction-inspired HCI curriculum.
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