A Roundtable for Practitioners and End-Users
The Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at the University of Washington (UW), focuses on health-science engineering. Interactions with people who will be intimately involved in prescribing or using various types of assistive devices on a day-to-day basis are critical to the education of students at the center. But engineering researchers and students often have no contact with users of the products they design, and thus end up designing in a vacuum. To help address this knowledge gap, the CSNE is providing a vital forum for its students and faculty to converse directly with, and learn from, health-care practitioners and end-users of neurotechnology. The Practitioner and End-User Roundtable, hosted by the Center, creates a space in which these important conversations can occur.
Neural engineers sometimes find themselves working on problems that they know need solving, such as developing better implants for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), but they may not fully understand the downstream effects of the solutions they come up with. Specifically, what will the impacts of the assistive devices they develop be on end-users of those devices and their families? The discussions at this monthly roundtable are designed to be informal in order to encourage conversation and brainstorming. Guest speakers are asked to give a 10-minute background talk about themselves, the unmet needs that they see within the field and the barriers they perceive to the adoption of new technologies. Students are then free to ask questions and engage in a dialogue about these topic areas.
As Dr. Lise Johnson, CSNE’s University Education Manager and the facilitator of the Roundtable, says, "The Roundtable is one of the things I'm happiest with as part of the education programming we’ve done at the CSNE, because I've heard that it makes a big difference for students who come to them. I just think that opportunities to talk with people who have the disability that you're trying to help are rare...surprisingly rare. I'm very happy that we're able to provide this opportunity for students."
Featured speakers at Roundtables rotate between a diverse set of health-care practitioners and technology end-users, helping to expose students to a range of points-of-view. According to student feedback, the conversations, especially with technology end-users, can be quite impactful.
As a research intern at a previous Roundtable commented, "Seeing the end-user and hearing the other side of the story makes you think how you can contribute to it...and advance it in some sort of a way. It was nice to hear his perspectives and hear what his daily challenges are and anyone who is paralyzed—what their challenges are—so when you have a research project it is geared to what they want and not what you think they want."