Preece, Jennifer

Preece at the Hawaii International Conference on System Science in Wailea, HI in January 2000.
Preece at the Hawaii International Conference on System Science in Wailea, HI in January 2000.

Jennifer “Jenny” Preece (1949 – ) is a professor and former Dean of the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She researches online communities, specifically identifying what makes such communities successful and how usability factors impact social behaviors online.

In the early 1990s, Preece began to focus on the design and management of digital social media. She became fascinated with determining the motives behind participation in social media and examining the relationship between usability and sociability. During her research, Preece observed a high level of empathy in some online communities – particularly patient support spaces – for which she coined the term “empathic communities.”

This led to the publication of one of the first books on online communities in 2000, entitled Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability published by John Wiley & Sons.

Yvonne Rogers (left), Helen Sharp (center), and Preece at their book party at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2011.
Yvonne Rogers (left), Helen Sharp (center), and Preece at their book party at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2011.

Beginning in 2009, her focus shifted to the study of how technology could foster citizen science. She studied the collecting, documenting, and archiving of biodiversity data using technology to leverage the efforts of the public. Preece aims to understand and harness various motives for long-term citizen engagement and to support diversity in public participation in science. This research meshes well with her life-long interest in ecology and environmental issues.

Preece joined the University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Information Studies as a professor in 2005 and soon became the College’s Dean. In June 2015, after serving as Dean for 10 years, Preece returned to research. Currently, she serves as principal investigator of a citizen science environmental education project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Preece began a 30-year collaboration with Yvonne Rogers and Helen Sharp, when they worked together on the first distance education course in HCI at the British Open University.  This led to their first successful book entitled Human-Computer Interaction, published in 1994.  Preece continues to work with her co-authors on the successive editions of Interaction Design: Beyond HCI, which will be launched in its fifth edition in 2019.

I first met Jenny in 1991, when she sought to interview me at a conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia for her influential HCI book.  Then, when I saw her again at the CHI 1993 Conference in Amsterdam and told her about my sad divorce story, she replied that she was in the same situation.  That led to longer discussions and a deepening relationship.  She moved to the US in December 1996, and we were happily married in 2001.  She’s continued writing her HCI books, plus her pioneering book on Online Communities, so we have common ground for discussions, but we mostly work to help each other, rather than to collaborate.  She was Dean of the iSchool at the University of Maryland (2005-2015, the Provost called her an “Outstanding Dean”) and her current research is breaking new ground in HCI for citizen science.  It’s been a wonderful time together. – Ben Shneiderman


Education:

  • Ph.D., Open University, Institute of Educational Technology, Milton Keynes, UK (1985)
  • Honors Degree in Biology, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland (1971)

Affiliations:

  • Professor, University of Maryland, College Park, College of Information Studies (2015 – current)
  • Professor and Dean, University of Maryland, College Park, College of Information Studies (2004 – 2015)
  • Professor and Department Chair, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Information Systems Department (1997 – 2004)
  • Professor of Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction and Director of the Research Center for People and Systems Interactions, Southbank University, London (1994 – 1996)
  • Faculty Member, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK (1979 – 1993)

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