mamamusings: academia

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

skewed sociological perspectives

I’m re-reading Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place tonight for class tomorrow. I find his discussion of “third places” useful for my online identity class, and there’s lots of juicy stuff there.

But I found myself really taken aback by this passage, which I guess I never really paid attention to in past readings:

At home and work, topics of conversation have little novelty and points of view vary hardly at all. To have a good talk at home usually means a serious discussion, not an entertaining one; it is a conversation that resolves some marital or financial problem. Indeed, to have an entertaining conversation at home usually requires the addition of outsiders. Good conversation becomes the host and hostess’s reward for the effort and expense put into drinks and dinner.(p. 46)

Wow. That makes me wonder what Oldenburg’s home life is like. Not like mine, that’s for sure. I’m very grateful that conversations in our house aren’t only to resolve “some marital or financial problem.” In fact, in our house, we even have conversations with our kids! :)

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categories: academia

Friday, 19 December 2008

big news for the lab for social computing

My Lab for Social Computing has just been given the official green light for something we’re really excited about—we’re going to become part of the RIT Libraries!

Rather than being a somewhat orphaned group with no formal home, we’re going to become a full-fledged separate organizational unit of the library system, which will give us access to their extraordinary team of administrative staff, a wonderful office location in the library itself, and a college/department-neutral space that doesn’t leave any of the many faculty working with us feeling like they’re second-class citizens.

Anyone who knows me knows that libraries have always been a big part of my professional life, and this move feels like it’s perfect for both the lab and the library.

We’ll be having a “grand re-opening” on Friday, February 13th, and we’ve managed to convince the amazing David Weinberger, philosophy PhD, Berkman fellow, marketing guru, author of Everything is Miscellaneous, and all-around wonderful guy, to be our featured speaker.

So…make sure to block out some time on that Friday the 13th to hear David talk, and to check out our new digs!

(Why no link to the Lab website? Well, it’s under grand re-construction itself! We should have a new site (Drupal-based, yay!) up at the beginning of January, and all the information about our grand re-opening will show up there. I promise I will blog and twitter and email that information around as soon as it’s live!)

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categories: Rochester | academia | events | research

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

one big happy family

There’s an oft-quoted saying that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low. (I’ve most often heard it attributed to Kissinger, but this response on Ask Metafilter provides a much better history of the aphorism.)

This morning in the shower, as I was pondering my election to RIT’s senate for a third three-year term (not consecutive, thank goodness…I had a several-year respite), I came up with a very different assessment of why the politics on university campuses can be so bitter and personal. It’s not, I think that the stakes are so small. It’s more that the faculty at a university are, more often than not, in it for life. Tenure gives us job security, yes, but it also turns the university into a very large and often dysfunctional family.

We worry about the small details of day to day life in the university because most of us know this is where we’ll be until the end of our professional lives. We’ve seen how supposedly minute changes in policies can result in long-term and significant impact to our day-to-day lives. Do we overreact to many of these small issues? Absolutely. The same way that many of us overreact to things that our family members do.

The reason I’m willing to go back to the senate for another three years of (often hellish) bi-weekly meetings is that this is my home, and much as I may not enjoy the maintenance of these academic family ties, I know that I’m worse off if we as a faculty neglect them.

So, no, I don’t think I’m crazy for going back for more. And I continue to believe that shared governance is only as useful as the energy that all the participants are willing to put into it.

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categories: academia

Tuesday, 29 May 2007


Ghost Campus I stopped by campus this morning to move a monitor from my office to Weez’s, and as I left the building I was struck by how empty the atrium was. The balloons were still attached to the ficus trees, the “congratulations” banner was still strung across the wall, but the building was close to deserted. Staff were working quietly inside their offices, but the bustle of students and faculty—which reaches near fever-pitch during the last weeks of the quarter—was absent.

It reminded me of how it used to feel when I was an undergraduate student in Ann Arbor, where I often chose to spend the summers working and playing with friends. There’s something almost magical about what happens in the spring when the swarm of students leaves for the summer. The strikingly quiet buildings and walkways invite you to slow down, to look around at how beautiful a campus can be, and to notice that while you were cloistered in classrooms and offices spring had arrived in all its glory.

For professors who are also parents, late May and June are particularly precious—because the kids are still in school, but we aren’t. So today I’m soaking up this brief, peaceful interlude between the just-finished chaos of exams and paper grading, and the impending excitement of heading to Seattle on Saturday.

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categories: academia | seattle | teaching | travel

Saturday, 27 May 2006

choosing to give

A lot of people have asked me recently if I’m planning on going back to RIT at the end of my sabbatical—or if, having tasted the sweet nectar of well-funded industry research, I might be tempted to stay in Seattle. I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to return to Rochester, but I had some lingering doubts and fears in my mind about whether I was making the right choice.

This weekend I flew back to Rochester for a few days, primarily to attend RIT’s commencement ceremonies. For the first day or two, I did have some second thoughts about my decision. Departmental politics were running rampant, colleagues were stressed with last-minute grading, and the overcast skies were more oppressive than I remembered.

Last night, though, I heard two wonderful addresses at the university-wide convocation ceremony. The first was by Dean Kamen, which I really hope will be posted in its entirety on the RIT web site (as they’ve done with past speakers). Elouise covered some high points, but you had to be there to appreciate the warmth, wit, and charm of Kamen’s delivery. It was lovely. (And yes, he did in fact ride a Segway up to and back from the platform, wearing his academic robes.) The second was by Erhardt Graeff, a student whom I first had in freshman seminar, and whose progress I’ve watched closely over the past four years. Erhardt’s a wonderful young man—intellectually curious, adventurous, articulate, creative, and genuinely goodhearted. He was selected as our college’s delegate for the university-wide ceremony, and then chosen as the one delegate to give the student address for all of RIT—and he did a spectacular job. Both of the speakers (without knowing the other’s theme) chose to speak about graduation as a passage not from learning to doing, but rather as one from taking to giving…something that hit a resonant note for me.

This morning I woke up at 6:15am so that I could be at RIT by 7:15, and in my robes ready to line up for our college’s commencement ceremonies at 7:30. Even after nearly ten years of doing this, I still love marching into the field house with pomp and circumstance playing, watching the parents and grandparents and spouses and partners and children craning their necks for a view of the processional, snapping photographs and clapping. And my favorite part of the school year is when our undergraduate students walk across the stage as their name is called. As they come down the steps, there are always a group of faculty waiting to shake their hands, and I’m always part of that group. I love watching the faces of these young men and women, many of whom I taught during their first quarter of freshman year, as they grapple with the realization that they’re really, truly, graduating. More than one of them gets a hug from me rather than a handshake.

After the ceremony, our department hosts a brunch for the students and their families. It’s hard to explain how much it means to me when a student pulls his or her parents over to meet me, telling them “This is Professor Lawley! Remember me telling you about her?” When I met Erhardt’s mother today, however, I got something new…she told me she reads my blog. (Hi, Mrs. Graeff!)

I nearly cried a couple of times today. One of those times was meeting the family of Katie Giebel, a delightful young woman who took my introductory web/multimedia class the fall of her first year at RIT. She came close to leaving IT, but stayed after I (and others) convinced her that it was only a short term rough spot she’d run into. When she was invited into the RIT honors program, she told me she was worried she couldn’t handle that and her ROTC responsibilities, and wanted to decline. I helped convince her to give it a shot, and she didn’t just survive—she thrived. Katie graduated with honors today, and the Navy is sending her to Monterey to pursue a master’s degree. (I’m wiping away a little tear right now, just typing all that.)

This year at MSR I’ve gotten an enormous amount from the amazing people around me, and I’m beyond grateful for that. But I don’t have the opportunity to change lives that being a professor provides to me, to give what I can of myself to my students. I left the reception today 100% sure that coming back to RIT was the right choice. And as I pulled into the driveway of my mother’s house, the sun finally came out…as if to welcome me home.

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categories: Rochester | academia | sabbatical | teaching

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

milken conference: "changing post-secondary education to meet the needs of a global economy"

I had breakfast this morning with the other members of our panel, and if our conversation was any indication, our panel this afternoon is likely to be quite lively.

This first panel of the day includes the followingg participants:

(This room is full of people in black suits. Good thing I’ve got one on now…)

Driving question is “whether the pre-eminence of the American educational system is destined to maintain itsel.”

Cappelli starts with Powerpoint charts (sigh) to compare GDP among countries, focusing on China. China’s is currently 6th in the world, but is predicted to be 3rd in a few years. Foreign direct investment into China is huge. 110 million Chinese are between 18-22 years of age. Lots of private investment in education in China. More facts and figures, but am waiting for implications…

Guiliano says that China is swallowing the American model of higher education—he says that in 5-20 years we won’t call it the American model anymore, we’ll call it the “world model.” He talks about “international education” (education that takes place outside your home country) is growing quickly. The biggest challenges and opportunities in higher ed will not take place here in the US. What/how/where we teach will be transformed by this huge global need, and a paradigm shift will result. (The focus is here on external pressures creating changes; not much discussion about internal pressures from a new generation of students with different expectations…) He notes that the ruling classes in China—the government and educational leaders don’t speak English, but the younger generation does.

Ah, now they’re shifting to the “world of the student.” Sanders talks about challenges to global economic success. 1 in 5 Americans have passports. 87% of college-educated Americans can’t find Iraq on a map. 65% of college-educated Americans can’t find France on a map. Notes that in one generation, China has become the largest English-speaking nation in the world—all because they made a commitment to teach English to every single college student. More discussion of how poorly we communicate information about the world around us—not enough in our news, not enough to prepare us for living in a global economy. He says we also need real, person-to-person connections with people from other countries and cultures.

This room is full, and I find myself wondering who the audience is, and why they’re here (in this room, as well as at the conference). Typically when I speak at a conference I have a pretty good sense of the audience, and what their information needs are. In this case, I feel as though I’m flying blind. Why are there so many people at this panel? What is it about global education that they’re interested in? Do they want to understand education? Critique it? Influence it? Because this panel is entirely lecture-driven—with no participation from the audience—it’s hard to get a sense of the audience needs and interests.

An audience member says that Europe is moving towards a 3-year baccalaureate; is that something we should be doing here? Sanders says yes. It’s less expensive. And here we got…they move on to how the real problem is obstructionist faculty. I’m doing deep breathing exercises and trying not to say anything at all. I know it’s futile. Faculty are such an easy scapegoat, particularly when they’re not around to defend themselves.

Another audience member, a former university president, talks about (Qatar’s? China’s? Dubai’s? I missed which country) “education city.” (I’ve been to Dubai’s version of this, it’s quite amazing.)

A discussion about language learning resources points us to Chengo, a Chinese language learning resource geared towards middle-school ages that was a US-China collaboration.

An audience member asks where the next generation of faculty members will come from. The panel looks discomfited. “It’s hard to find faculty,” says the university president. The answer is to recruit on a global scale. (That’s not an answer.)

Another question: a woman says young people are not being taught the critical skills they need to succeed in the real world. Kids are dropping out of school due to lack of relevancy. Young people are job hopping. How are schools preparing students to network and communicate? Panelist responds that very little is being done with K-12, because we’re concerned with “grinding through literacy and numeracy.” Totally sidesteps the question by saying “we ought to be doing that stuff in undergraduate education.”

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categories: academia | conferences

Thursday, 6 April 2006

uc irvine "informatics" degree

This degree program was mentioned today in the NCWIT meeting, and while I think the program looks great, I’m frankly appalled by this snippet from their web site:

6. How is Informatics different from a major in Information Technology (IT)?

The Informatics program at UCI is a Bachelor of Science degree. It has many courses in common with UCI’s other computer science degree programs. Informatics is a resolutely technical degree, paying attention to the context in which the technology is deployed. There is no IT program at UCI; other programs in IT vary, but most are much less technical than Informatics, de-emphasizing the concepts and techniques necessary for actually building systems.

WTF?! This characterization of IT as “less technical” is infuriating, and inaccurate. Have they even looked at ACM’s draft curriculum for IT? Or the new ABET computing accreditation guidelines, which include IT?

Oooooooo, this makes me mad. :(

(However, I just brought this to the attention of their dean, who promises to address this immediately. So this rant will hopefully be irrelevant sooner rather than later. I should also add that I think that the program looks fabulous and is a model that I’d love to see other emulate. I just bristle at what feels like an unwarranted attack on programs that really ought to be allies.)

Update, 2:56pm MDT: Wow, that was fast. The section question has been changed to read as follows:

The Informatics program at UCI is a Bachelor of Science degree. It has many courses in common with UCI’s other computer science degree programs. Informatics is a resolutely technical degree, paying attention to the context in which the technology is deployed. There is no IT program at UCI; programs in IT at other institutions vary in their content.

I’m very impressed, and delighted. Thanks!

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categories: academia

Monday, 3 April 2006

itwf 06: diana oblinger on "educating the net generation"

Diana Oblinger, the keynote speaker today, is the VP of Educause—which has recently put out an e-book on this topic of “Educating the Net Generation,” which I downloaded last week but haven’t read yet… She’s got quite an impressive vita, including a stint at Microsoft. And she seems like a dynamic speaker, which is great.

She says she’s not going to talk about IT directly. She wants to help us understand more about the differences in today’s learners. We’re all products of our environment, she points out, and there are very different factors influencing the “Net Gen” (web, cell phone, IM, MP3s, online communities) than those influencing Baby Boomers and Gen X. She shows a chart shwoing the average amount of media exposure the “average person” will have by age 21. (Average starting where, I’m not sure…)

Talks about “neuroplasticity”—the brain reorganizes itself throught life. Stimulation changes brain structures, the brain changes and organizes itself based on the inputs it receives.

Who are these learners? (She notes these are generalizations, broad-brush portraits, and of course there are exceptions.) Five characteristics: digital, connected, experiential, immediate, social. (Her definitions of “connected” and “social” seem quite similar…)

Educationally, what does this mean for learning preferences? Peer-to-peer learning. Interaction and engagement (this doesn’t mean “entertainment,” or “easy,” which seems to be how Baby Boomers perceive it). Visual and kinesthetic—images, movement, and spatial relationships are important. “Things that matter”—they want socially relevant, problem-solving contexts for learning.

(Five-minute assessment: she’s great! and her slides aren’t awful! Also, it appears that I’m a NetGen mind in a Baby Boomer body!)

These are also time-constrained learners. 87% of college students commute, 80% work, 35% are adult learners, 31% of enrollment increases will be in adult learners. (Wow. These are stats I hadn’t heard before.) But much of what we do in education is not designed for people who are time-constrained.

She shows figure about children 6 and under consuming media. Interesting that “screen media” (which combines both TV and computers, things I see as very different) is one category, and “reading” is another. Much of what my kids do on the screen involves reading. Does reading only count if it’s books? If so, I don’t do much “reading” anymore.

“Interpretive flexibility”—meaning is shaped by culture, technology, our understanding of education.

Students are harbingers of social and cultural change. Back to the “connected” issue—the Internet is their primary communication tool. “Peer-to-peer”—she talks about social bookmarking! She mentions and CiteULike!! In my head, I do a happy dance!!! Wikipedia as an example of “distributed cognition.” Talks about the culture clash between traditional academia and “amateur culture.” (Implicit “wisdom of crowds” references—I’m currently reading that book, and have a post or two brewing on it.)

Another characteristic that’s emerging is “self-service”—people are doing more for themselves, like online banking, shopping, travel arrangements. It’s an obvious segue to self-service learning, as well as informal, organic, activity-based, self-activated, open-ended learning.

(Yow. I can’t keep up with her.)

She talks about Flickr, and shows screen shots. (!!!) She talks about how hard it is for her to go from her inherent preference for text to multiple media. (This is forcing me to rethink my current development project, which is good but also daunting.)

Time-shifting—from TV it’s a short hop to controlling other kinds of content delivery.

This is a move away from the traditional hierarchical higher ed model.

Now she’s talking about MMORPGS (she calls them “alternate realities,” which I find somewhat problematic). She shows numbers on amount of time spent on games, number of players, revenue for the industry. Points out the average age of an online gamer is 37.

Now she’s on to participatory media and culture. Cites estimates of number of blogs, blog readers, posts per day and hour (Lark, 2005 — don’t recognize the reference).

[I am beside myself with delight that the topics I’m most passionate about are being inserted into this event, and being done so by someone who’s so engaging and articulate.]

The cultural shift is towards networked, mobile, participatory. There are also different perceptions. Today’s students were born after the change curve had started its dramatic upwards curve, and as a result their expectations are different—they don’t expect to have 3-5 years to master a technology before a new one supplants it. (That’s an important point, one I’ve not heard made before. Academia has so not kept up with new technology, and the idea that we can or should spend 5+ years studying the use of a technology is becoming increasingly problematic.)

These interfaces are shaping learning. She talks about Alice in Wonderland—new technologies are offering that model, the ability to “fall into” these immersive virtual environments. Cites JSB’s “learning to be.” Points out that we need not just immersion, but also reflection. Need to be able to take a step back and think about how it worked. That combination is very powerful.

Shows some sobering figures on US higher ed generally, challenging the “we’re number one!” perception.

New critical skills for the workforce: expert thinking (identifying and solving problems for which there is no routine solution—pattern matching, metacognition), and complex communication (persuading, explaining, interpreting information; negotiating, managing, gaining trust, teaching, etc).

Key point: education is not equivalent to content. Lots of good points she’s making, but I can’t keep up.

If you sum up everything we know about educational research, you find that we get educational value from:
* challenging ideas and people
* active engagement with challenges
* supportive environment
* real-world activities
* social activity
* unbounded by time or place

Provides some interesting examples:

Games are fundamentally immersive (she points out it’s not just the graphics, it’s the gameplay that makes them immersive and engaging).

Shows a classroom just like ours—everybody stuck behind a big monitor. Contrasts to room (apparently at NCSU) with circular tables and laptops, designed for “built pedagogy.” A single focal point at the front of the room with chairs bolted facing forward—this forces a mode of teaching. Putting people at round tables says “we want you interact.” (Which is why we’re doing the symposium setup in rounds of 10, rather than classroom/lecture layout.)

Talks about NCSU’s SCALE-UP program (“student centered activities for large enrollment undergratudate programs”). This looks fabulous! Need to read more about it.

Emphasizes the need for more informal learning spaces. NCSU again—“fly spaces” in the student center, easily configurable for small group work. Glass matters—seeing people practice their profession is fundamentally engaging (I love this about the Golisano building at RIT).

Moves on to information literacy—cognitive, ethical, and technical aspects (gives props to librarians, who’ve been talking about this for decades).

What do employers really want from students, in terms of learning outcomes? It’s not being able to program in C++. It’s the more abstract skills like communication and problem solving (how many times have we heard this from our advisory board? but this isn’t completely true—often the technical skills are the baseline, and what differentiates two students with the same skills are those higher-level cognitive abilities).

Shows figures on satisfaction with web-based learning (study done at UCF); younger students are least pleased by the web-based environment. (She translates that to the young people wanting to have more social interaction, but it seems to me there’s more going on there. I suspect that some of it is that the majority of the web-based course management tools are horrendously awful, and younger people have higher expectations.)

She’s done. (Phew. That was an amazingly content-packed hour. I wonder how much, if any, got absorbed by the audience.)

First question—how do we convince our administrators to put in the kinds of collaborative spaces that she described? She answers that Educause is doing a lot more executive outreach to help facilitate this. They’re trying hard to raise awareness of the importance, but they need face time. They’ve got a book coming out in August on learning space design—will have to look for that. Like the NetGen book, it will be a free e-book.


itwf 06: "disseminating your good results"

The first panel here is focused on disseminating research, and includes Andrew Bernat, the executive director of the Computing Research Association, Kathryn Bartol of UMCP, Bobby Schnabel of the National Center for Women & IT at UC Boulder, Eileen Trauth of Penn State, and Catherine Weinberger of UC Santa Barbara.

Bernat talks about “what goes wrong?” with getting women involved with computing research. He points out that finding a woman or minority takes more time (because they’re scarce resources), and faculty are often under the gun on producing research results. What do we do? “Make it easy.” Need to find the people who want to make a difference, and provide them with support—facilities, workshops, reinforcers. And if none of that works, bribe them. (Depressing note: He talks about a program where they did this, and it was really successful, but…only about half of the people participating got tenure. Ouch. What does that say about institutional commitment to these kinds of efforts to broaden participation?!)

Bartol discusses management-related publications and conferences where researchers can disseminate their work, the idea being that the ideas need to get out to business and management faculty who consult with industry. (Why not go straight to the trade press so people industry will see it themselves, though? Probably because there’s no reward in academia for publishing that way…)

(I think I’m going to come down with a serious case of powerpoint poisoning before this workshop is over…)

Trauth differentiates between direct interventions (contributing to practice), and indirect interventions (contribution to future research). When we publish in academic channels, we’re doing indirect interventions, helping to foster research by others that can build on what we’ve done. When we work directly with schools and businesses to implement the kinds of changes that our research results suggest would be useful, that’s a direct intervention. She tosses out a great line—“What good is power if you can’t use it?” So, for example, when asked to chair the SIGMIS conference in 2003, she did so under the condition that the topic be diversity. She also discusses ways she contributes to practice—teaching a human diversity course, giving lectures and presentations. For the lectures, she’s not always asked to speak about gender issues, but she brings those issues in by using her gender research as a case study in her discussions of qualitative research methods, etc.

Weinberger shares a striking factoid: women with college degrees in computer science earn 30-50% more than women with degrees in other fields, regardless of age. (Wow. She says her article will be in Eileen Trauth’s upcoming Encyclopedia of Gender and IT—would really like to see how that figure was generated. And yes, the encyclopedia is outrageously priced. :P On the one hand, I’d like to say you should ask your local library to consider buying it. On the other, I’m appalled by the price, even for a library, and wonder why this work couldn’t have been done as an open online publication…) Another interesting factoid from her article—women are more likely to see themselves as unable to complete CS work than any other field (including medicine).

She offers the suggestion that dissemination should start with teaching undergraduates, and also with teaching faculty. And she suggests that we put together a short guide to the research we’ve been doing in this field, geared towards busy faculty who don’t have the time or inclination to read through this body of work. A short, focused publication that could be easily and inexpensively disseminated. (What a great idea!) She asks “what if new NSF grant recipients were required to spend time online learning about our most compelling research results?”

Last up is Schnabel, talking about “Effective Practices and Dissemination.” One of the key areas of focus for NCWIT is “creating a national community of practitioners with a sustaining infrastructure,” which has involved creating alliances with academic institutions, K-12 schools, and industry/workforce. They’re still trying to learn how to make this an effective organization for social change. Becoming a partner in the alliance carries with it a responsibility to do more than just attend meetings and be “part of the club.” It looks like they’re doing some interesting things, and they’ve definitely got some great people working with them.

They’re doing a weird thing with questions—people have to write them down on index cards and pass them up, where they’ll be read by the moderator. There are fewer than 75 people in the room, so I’m not sure why they aren’t letting people voice their own questions.

(I stepped out to get some coffee, and apparently a heated discussion about how research proposals are evaluated, and how faculty are evaluated on research…trying to pick up the pieces of the conversational thread to see if I can figure out what’s going on.)

Ah…apparently one of the panel members (who shall remain nameless, as I didn’t hear the whole context and don’t want to implicate improperly) implied that research into underrepresentation isn’t “really research,” and that this kind of research doesn’t get faculty “fame and fortune” the way other kinds of research do. There’s clearly a cultural divide here between the technologists and social scientists. For the social scientists, obviously this is the “real research.” For computer scientists, it’s harder to make the case for this focus.

This issue has troubled me since my first interactions with the ITWF research community. So much of the research comes from the “outside”—people studying computer science/computer scientists without being a part of that world. I’m often struck by how non-conversant in basic CS concepts and terminology many of the social scientists studying underrepresentation are. But I think it’s true that it’s very hard for those of us in technology to justify taking time away from our applied research to focus on this topic. In many research universities, it’s far more important for junior faculty in technology fields to be doing research in their areas of specialty. The model at CMU, where Margolis and Fisher worked together, is one I’d like to see more often. (In that case, the CS representative was someone with sufficient seniority that they didn’t need to worry about things like tenure and promotion—but if that model becomes more widespread, it may become easier for less senior faculty to do similar work.)

There’s an interesting side discussion about the CS/IT divide, and the extent to which a faction of CS doesn’t see a value in IT. But when CRA goes to the hill, they talk about IT, not CS, because that’s where the money goes.

…and that’s a wrap. break time. back later. (today’s keynote on the “net gen” looks interesting, and I’ll definitely blog it)

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categories: academia | conferences | gender | research

nsf principal investigators' meeting - it workforce

For the next two days, I’ll be listening to (and participating in) a series of discussions on research into women’s participation in computing. The ITWF program, which funded my grant research into gendered attrition in IT, has funded a number of really interesting research and implementation programs, and many of the researchers will be talking today and tomorrow about their work.

Two years ago, I attended a similar meeting and didn’t blog it, because people seemed quite edgy about preliminary results being reported out. This year, however, I intend to blog the interesting things I hear—this is, after all, government-funded research, and the proceedings I received have no disclaimers limiting my ability to share the information. I promise to clearly indicate where results are tentative or preliminary, and to point you to the people you need to contact if you want more information.

Posts related to this workshop will have itwf 06 in the title, so you (and I) can keep track of them.

(It’s odd—I’m surrounded by a bunch of really talented, intelligent, accomplished researchers, but I keep getting this feeling that “this is not my tribe.” Very different from attending events more focused on social and collaborative computing. Nobody I’ve talked to here seems to have any idea what I’m talking about when I say “social bookmarking systems,” for instance—I keep wishing I’d brought a giant stack of this week’s Newsweek cover story so I could just hand it to them and say “I study this stuff.”)

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categories: academia | conferences | gender | research

Sunday, 2 April 2006

2006 msr social computing symposium

Two years ago, I was thrilled when I received an invitation to Microsoft Research’s first social computing symposium. I had a wonderful time at the event, and found a lot of kindred spirits in the world of social computing research and development. I also made my first contacts with Lili Cheng and Linda Stone, who’ve gone on to be the best mentors anyone could ask for. Lili, who managed the social computing group at MSR (until she left to direct the user experience team for Windows Vista), was responsible for my sabbatical invitation.

Last year, with my plans to join the group over the summer well underway, I combined attendance at the second symposium with a househunting trip, and once again connected with people who amazed and inspired me.

This year, I find myself not just attending the symposium, but running it. Upon Lili’s departure from MSR, followed quickly by the departure of Shelly Farnham (who’d masterfully managed the event for the past two years), Marc Smith inherited the event and asked me to run it. The event takes place May 7-9 this year, and we’ve narrowed the focus a bit from past years. The two areas of emphasis for this year’s symposium are online “third places” and/or mobile social software. As in past years, we’ve split the group approximately into thirds—Microsoft & MSR, industry experts, and academics. We’ve also made a significant effort to bring in new names and faces; the repeat rate from past symposia is quite low (38/90 who have been to at least one of the events, only 19 who’ve attended both; those numbers are 23 and 9 if you look only at non-Microsoft attendees).

First, the bad news—the symposium is totally full. We keep the event small, both to foster community and to keep the cost manageable. Microsoft covers the entire cost of the event—facilities, meals, and transportation/housing costs for those presenting (and for doctoral students). Now the good news—if you weren’t invited, you’ll still have a chance to participate. We’ll be webcasting the event live (the panels and the closing keynotes, though not the “open space” discussions.) We’ll also have a live backchannel, probably IRC. (I was thinking about trying Campfire, but they’ve got a limit of 60 concurrent users, and with 90 participants onsite and an unknown number of external visitors, that’s probably too low a cap.)

I’m working on getting a public web page up with information about the event, including the schedule and participant list—with any luck, that will be available by the end of this week, at which point I’ll update this post to point to it.

This year’s event wouldn’t be happening if Microsoft Research wasn’t maintaining its commitment to social computing and open dialogs, and if MSN/Windows Live hadn’t stepped in to help support the cost of the event. Also providing some support were Channel 9 (and its new sister, on10), and MSCOM. (So you understand why the number of invitations had to be constrained, the cost of the event will end up being over $60K. Seattle’s not a cheap place to throw a party.)

It’s easy to hate Microsoft—there have been many reasons over the years (from business practices to blue screens of death) to do so. But it’s worth giving them credit for activities like this one, which benefit the community as a whole through fostering community and collaboration. Anyone who’s attended the past events will tell you this is not a marketing ploy, and that they got something of value of out of the experience.

Currently playing in iTunes: Nobody Else from the album “Los Lonely Boys” by Los Lonely Boys

Monday, 5 December 2005

best laid plans

World of Warcraft is taking a back seat today, because my 93-year-old grandmother’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and she had to be moved to the hospital last night (she lives in an assisted living facility here in Rochester, but had taken a fall two weeks ago and was in the rehab unit at the affiliated nursing home).

As a result, I’m actually teaching a class today to cover for my mom, who’s over at the hospital—it’s an experimental writing class, so I’ll be talking about online narrative forms. God bless you, Jill, for putting so much great stuff online!

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categories: academia | family

Saturday, 29 October 2005

collin brooke on blogging practices

I’m posting this as much for myself as for anyone reading the blog. Lately I keep coming across things that really force me to stop and think, and then they slip away and out of my attention radius. When they’re here in the blog, they’re less “out of sight, out of mind.”

Collin Brooke posted a nice piece tonight on “Blogging Practices, and I found his criticisms of academia to be right on target:

I’m constantly struck by how little we seem to understand or even talk about what it takes to publish, what publishing our work accomplishes (and in some cases, how little it can accomplish), what the real costs and rewards for our work are, etc. As I was preparing that talk a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the height of obviousness to me to describe humanities scholarship as Long Tail work, and yet, I see indications all around me that we don’t want to think of our work in that way: our aversion to collaboration, our inability to aggregate, our obsession with celebrity, etc. Hell, I have to fight every day to keep those things at bay—I love to imagine being paid lots of money to keynote conferences, to have my work read and discussed far and wide, to be semi-famous. But that’s a Head reward system that disguises the more modest (but potentially longer lasting) rewards at the Tail end of things.

So, I’m in a strange place as an academic. I was recently paid money (“lots” is a relative term, I suppose) to keynote a conference. Unlike many academics, I have little aversion to collaboration or aggregation. But I am a tenured associate professor with a lab of my own, and I often feel like a stranger in a strange land no matter where I am.

Early on in my blogging, I wrote about aspects of synchronicity and collaboration in blogging, as well as my frustration with the fact that I seemed unable to produce original thoughts—that my skill was in synthesis rather than creation.

As time has passed (and I’ve gotten tenure, and some modicum of readership—though that’s been dropping lately with my relative paucity of posts), I’ve started to be able to forgive myself for my lack of traditional scholarly output, and to be able to value my role as more of a human aggregator.

I wish academia did a better job of valuing the kinds of skills I’ve got—sifting and sorting, connecting the dots and seeing the big picture, intuiting and forecasting. It’s not that traditional research isn’t valuable—it’s just that it’s not the only way to put education and knowledge to work. RIT is better than most schools in recognizing a diversity of scholarship approaches (basing its recent scholarship policy on Boyer’s reasonably broad definitions. But they’re the exception rather than the rule.

To the extent that I’m part of the “head,” the best thing I think I can do with that visibility is connect up more people in the tail. I don’t want to get stuck in an incestuous echo chamber of digerati blogs and conferences—which is perhaps why I took such pleasure in being at Internet Librarian, where I was learning every bit as much as I was teaching.

(Collin tagged his post with academy2.0, which made me smile.)

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categories: academia | conferences | research
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna