mamamusings: research

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

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

Thursday, 12 June 2008

selective sharing and access

I’m narrowing in on my MSR research topic for this summer. It looks as though I’m going to focus on assessing issues of selective sharing and access in social software systems. This would focus on boundary issues in many ways…who has access to what, and when? From LiveJournal friend groups used to limit access to specific blog posts to the way that changing relationships (from leaving a job to graduating from a college to breaking up in a relationship).

If you know of any interesting research or analysis already done on these issues of shifting boundaries for sharing and access, I’d love to hear about them!

I’m trying to figure out what to use for managing the citations I collect. del.icio.us isn’t ideal for citation management for research. It’s been a while since I looked at the features of CiteULike and Connotea…is one significantly better than another for this?

I’m also considering Zotero, which I love for a personal research tool, but I’m not sure how well I can share my collected references with others using it. Similarly, our library gives us access to EndNoteWeb, but I don’t think there’s any way to share a set of citations with anyone not using the system.

Suggestions for balancing these needs are welcome :)

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categories: research

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

summertime, worktime

What started out as a wide-open, unplanned summer is filling up quite quickly.

Turns out I will be working for MSR again this summer, but as a contractor rather than a visiting researcher—which means for the first time in three years I get to spend summer in my own house! I will, however, be taking two trips out to Seattle. The first will be next week, from 6/16-23. While I’m there, I’ll also be giving two talks at the annual Special Libraries Association conference—one on trends in social computing, and another on gaming in libraries.

The day after I return from Seattle, I’m headed to the Boston area for a quick two-day trip where I’ll be doing training for HR folks at Hanscom AFB.

Then I’ll spend a few weeks at home, working on a variety of research projects—some for MSR, some on my own. That includes starting the planning for this year’s social computing symposium, doing some analysis of Twitter uses and users, and working with a local organization and a high-profile expert to start development of a very cool ARG project.

On July 10-11 Lane and I will be in Madison for the 4th annual Games, Learning & Society conference. He and I will be doing a “frag ‘n’ chat” session entitled “Games as Gateway Drugs.”

After that I head back to Seattle July 20-30 for the MSR Faculty Summit and week of working with Lili Cheng and Jonathan Grudin at MSR.

So far, that’s all I’ve got (which is plenty). I suspect there will be some travel in August, but so far that month is looking blissfully clear :)

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categories: research

Sunday, 12 August 2007

summer's end approaches

I can’t believe how fast this summer has gone. It’s slipped through my fingers, leaving me feeling a bit at a loss. I had hoped to have accomplished more…certainly to have written more. But for some reason, this summer I’ve found myself not at my most articulate. Words haven’t come easily…and thus the relative lack of blogging.

Last week I had occasion to go back through some of my older posts, looking for something I wanted to send to a colleague, and I was disheartened by how much more interesting my writing used to be, compared to what I’ve generated recently.

I think the biggest problem this summer has been the limited amount of interaction I’ve had with others at MSR. With Lili away for the past month, I’ve spent too much time sitting by myself in my office, writing code (which, I must admit, has been fun—it’s been a while since I’ve actually built something, even if it’s just an internal site for tracking all the information associated with the social computing symposium) and dealing with email. The real work of putting on a good event is inviting the right mix of people—it’s like holding a dinner party, but exponentially harder. So that’s taken up more time than I really had intended.

There are a lot of things bubbling around in my head, though—having to do with two main themes. The first is the kind of semi-synchronous presence that tools like Twitter and Facebook have made so prevalent. The other is the extent to which work and play are (or could be, or should be) intertwingled.

In a week, I’ll be aboard the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship, en route to Alaska. I’ll be cut off from email and Internet and phone calls…and I can hardly wait. I’m hoping that the break with communication technology, combined with the grandeur of the Alaskan landscape, will help me focus my mind a bit, and knock loose whatever it is that’s gumming up the works in my head.

After that, it’s back to Rochester—we arrive home on August 27th, whereupon I’ll be immediately caught up in start-of-year meetings (ack) and course prep. I’m teaching a course I love this fall—two sections of the introduction to multimedia and the web course—so prep won’t be onerous and neither will teaching.

So there won’t be much blogging ‘til then…and after that, my hope is that quality and quantity of writing output will increase significantly.

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categories: research | sabbatical | travel

Sunday, 18 February 2007

sirsi dynix executive conference: lee rainie

I always have mixed feelings about being on the same program as Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. He’s totally amazing, and I love listening to him. But I hate having to talk after him, since he’s such a difficult act to follow…

Starts with a confession (‘because it’s Sunday’) that his initial proposal to Pew didn’t even mention libraries as potential users of the data—but they turned out to be the biggest consumer of their data. “The library-industrial complex is amazing to behold.”

Talks about how Internet use changes communities of learners. Cites McLuhan, and every technology having its own “grammar.” If that’s the case, their research indicates that the grammar of the Internet seems to be to create and foster communities.

93% of American teenagers use the internet!

Most notable gaps are age (young people use it more), education (increases use), disabilities (lower use), and language preference (new surveys on Spanish-speaking people indicate much lower adoption). Race is becoming less of an issue, at least from a cultural standpoint—it’s economic class that’s more important.

A growing number of broadband users see the Internet as a place to “hang out.” They also see the Internet as their most important source of news.

People have phones, but (surprise, surprise) the majority don’t use all the features they have access to. Partly they’re frustrated by the interface, but more often they just want phones to be phones. They have “feature fatigue.” (from an HBR article)

Women want maps on their phones.

Pictures are becoming a critical part of conversation and communication. (Yes! I”ll be talking about this.)

Wirelessness is more important as a predictor of active use of the internet than even broadband access.

55% of 12-17yos have profiles on social networking sites. 55% are users. These are not exactly the same 55%! Some lurk but don’t have profiles; some have profiles but don’t spend much time using the sites.

Girls use the sites to support and reinforce existing social networks. Boys use it to “meet new friends.” 2/3 of profile creators limit access to their profiles. They’re not indifferent to privacy.

Five New Realities

1) There are more people in more communities thanks to the Internet. 84% of internet users belong to an online community, including communities that pre-dated the internet presence. You can find the groups more easily online. Internet use is a predictor of whether people have joined any kind of social group!

2) Many communities with heavy online communities are highly socially meaningful. They often have a “real life” component. Online communities are tremendous places to build online capital.

3) New kinds of communities afforded by the Internet. The newer breed is built around individuals themselves. For example, communities that emerge when someone falls ill. (Or, perhaps another example, the community that arose around Jim Gray’s disappearance.) Communities around user-generated content. Around a blog post, aYouTube video, for example. We’re not bowling alone.

4) Communities behave in different ways. Groups are much more on “high alert” status, responding more rapidly to new inputs. Quotes Gillmor “If someone knows something in one place, everyone who cares about that will know it soon enough.” (I may have that quote wrong.) Talks about Howard’s idea of “Smart Mobs.” (Tells a compelling story about 30 kids being notified and arriving at the scene of an accident involving their friends—before the police got there. People customize information not just for a daily “me,” but also for a daily “us”. (Yes! Facebook news feeds, for example.) Librarians should think of themselves as nodes in these information networks.

5) People in groups tend to need other people. (“Who knew Barbra Streisand would be right?”) People who said the internet was useful in major life changes—34% said the net put them in touch with people who offered information and advice, and 28% said it helped them find professional sources. The internet, for most people, was tool to find other people. IN a world of information abundance, social networks and other people matter more and more and more. So, action item for librarians—you need to be a visible node in the network.

In conclusion…the people libraries want to serve are changing the way they interact with each other, and the way they learn. They’re more self-organizing and self-directed. They’re better equipped to capture and disseminate information. They’re more tied to group outreach and knowledge. They’re more tied to group insight. More attuned to friend and foe, competitors and allies, through scanning their networks.

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categories: conferences | librarianship | research

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

what i've been working on

I’ve been somewhat vague about the work I’ve been doing at Microsoft this year, for a couple of reasons. First, much of the work was vague…I spent a lot of time talking to people, acting as consultant and catalyst, rather than creating things. Second, some of the projects I worked on were (and mostly still are) still not public knowledge.

There’s one project, though, that’s really my baby. I conceived it, spec’ed it, and am in the process of seeing it get built. And I’ve reached an agreement with MIcrosoft about the IP for this project that means I can now blog about it unfettered. So, for those wondering what I’ve really been working on, here it is.

It’s called PULP…for “personal ubiquitous library project.” (It was originally just “personal library project,” but I added the “ubiquitous” so it would have an easy to remember name.) And it’s the result of mashing up features from social bookmarking tools like del.icio.us and CiteULike and LibraryThing, personal library tools like Delicious Library and MediaMan, and mobile scanning and annotation tools like Aura.

So, why does the world need another social bookmarking/library tool? I’m not sure it does. But this one is intended to address some problems I’ve had with the tools listed above.

First, it’s going to be an enterprise-based tool, that will be installed and managed on your own server. That’s because centrally-owned and managed social bookmarking tools present a problem for people working on non-public projects. I was made aware of how much of a public trail I can leave in my bookmarks when one of my students knew about my plans to come to Seattle before my department chair did—all because he’d noticed what I was bookmarking and how I was tagging it. When I started working here at Microsoft on competitive projects, I cut way back on my use of del.icio.us, because I was concerned that I might give away too much of what I was working on to competitors.

Second, it’s going the leverage the extreme coolness of Marc Smith’s AURA project to enable SmartPhone and PocketPC-based data entry. I love that Delicious Library and MediaMan let me use a webcam to scan barcodes. But that’s not useful when I’m walking through a bookstore, or visiting a friend’s house. I want to be able to scan in the barcode of a book with my mobile device and add it to my collection.

Third, it will distinguish between items that I have (or have access to), and items that I’d like to have but don’t. I love the idea of being able to browse a colleague’s virtual bookshelf…but it’s much more helpful to me if I know that these are items that s/he actually has and that I can therefore look at or borrow. That’s even more helpful when I’m in a bookstore, since I’ll be able to find out immediately if the book I’m considering purchasing is one that someone I work with already has a copy of.

That’s all planned for the first version of the system, which I’m hoping we’ll be able to deploy at RIT and MSR this fall so that we can do some research into how people use the system.

In the second version, I have a more ambitious plan. I want to develop a rich desktop client for the data that will incorporate p2p sharing, much like iTunes does for music. That way, even if my server is at RIT, and yours is at, say Yahoo, we can meet up at a conference and share items with each other. I can browse the stuff that people near me have marked as public, and I can share out items tagged for a talk I’ve given or a topic I’m studying. (I was delighted today when I came across this post describing how someone essentially turned iTunes into a paper-sharing tool.)

The way this is going to work from an IP and development resources standpoint is that MSR is developing the backend database for the service, and the mobile client will be based directly on the AURA client that will be made widely available in the foreseeable future. Everything that my students and I create—the UI, the web pages, the code to make the interface talk to the database—will be in the public domain. MSR is quite generously funding my students for this work, with sufficient funds for me to be able to get some great RIT students working hard on it all next year. So really, everybody wins. And I’m very grateful to Marc Smith and Turner Whitted at MSR for supporting this project, and making it possible for me and my students to continue working on it even after I return to RIT.

As we get further along in development, I’ll be posting more information about the project.

Monday, 24 April 2006

what was i thinking?

It’s not like I don’t have enough on my plate these days. Despite that, I’ve been made an offer I couldn’t refuse—to join the august list of contributors on TerraNova, the world-class blog on virtual worlds and gaming.

When my colleague Andy Phelps started working on a game design and development program at RIT several years ago, I said I had no interest in being involved. “Games really aren’t my thing,” I said. And from a professional standpoint, that was mostly true. From a personal standpoint, it wasn’t true at all. I’ve always loved computer and video games—from Hunt the Wumpus and Zork in high school through Pikmin and Katmari and World of Warcraft today.

As games have become more social and less solitary, however, they’ve forced my personal and professional interests into a point of intersection. And I can’t pretend any longer that I’m not interested in studying the social aspects of gaming and game development. So the invitation from TerraNova came at a perfect time.

I can’t begin to say how honored and delighted I am that they’re willing to welcome me—a relative neophyte in this field of study—into their ranks. And I’ll do what I can to carve out the time to post there on at least an occasional basis. I’m rather hoping that this will help me to get my blogging groove back, since I’ve not been posting much lately to any of the group blogs I’m associated with.

At any rate, my introduction and inaugural post are up and ready for your perusal.

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categories: on blogging | research

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

itwf 06: tuesday afternoon panel

This afternoon is a series of presentations by selected past grantees—including yours truly, so I can’t blog much. It’s worth calling attention, however, to the Girl Scout Girls are IT web site, which is really well done. I can’t find (right now) information online about their “big purple bus,” a technology-outfitted super-cool bus that they bring to various venues as part of their outreach. Great stuff!

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categories: gender | research

itwf 06: dissemination to and priorities of industry

This panel starts with Juan Gilbert from Auburn, whom I wrote about yesterday. He’s editing a new IEEE computer society “Broadening Participation in Computing” series. The inaugural issue will be in March 2006. This helps to bridge the “real research” gap. (The article announcing the series, linked above, is excellent.)

He also recommends a number of other publications, starting Communications of the ACM (ITWF PI Roli Varma has an article in the February 2006 issue on making computer science minority friendly). Other journals he mentions are Jorunal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, Int’l Journal of Eng Ed, IEEE Transactions on Education. Most journals ask for suggested reviewers—and he strongly suggests that we use other people from this research cohort.

How do you make your research “count” for promotion and tenure? Funding helps enormously. (Amen.) As a faculty member, you have to do research, service, and teaching. Leverage your graduate students. (“Am I overworking my graduate students? No! I’m introducing them to reality!” :D )

Shows a Flash-based game he built to teach algebra with rap, hip-hop. The game is absolutely fabulous. I want this for my kids!!

Next up is Margaret Ashida from IBM, talking about increasing diversity in industry. Discusses an article by David Thomas on “Diversity as Strategy” in the September 2004 Harvard Business Review. It costs $6 to buy the reprint from HBR, or you can read the free interview with Thomas on the IBM web site.

Last speaker is Revi Sterling, whom I first met at MSR. She left Redmond for Boulder last summer, though, to become a PhD student at UC, and it’s great to see (and hear) her again. She talks about some of Microsoft’s initiatives, both internal and external. Getting businesses to look beyond the ROI-driven, quarterly mindset to longer-term intiatives with slow payoffs is a challenge. Focusing on concepts like “infrastructure” and “end-to-end solutions” gets more positive response from technology organizations. It’s about contextualizing properly. She encourages more creative thinking and bolder partnerships. (She’s amazingly articulate and poised, even in the face of often inaccurate criticism of “industry” generally. Makes me sad that she left Microsoft before we had a chance to work together more closely…)

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categories: conferences | gender | research

Monday, 3 April 2006

itwf 06: afternoon presentations by 2004 grant recipients

I’m not blogging most of this, but I’m super-impressed by what’s happening with Auburn University’s Scholars of the Future program. Going beyond understanding why to fixing the problem is refreshing to see. And I really enjoyed the presentation by the PI, Juan Gilbert (despite his obviously inaccurate assertion that Auburn is the “flagship” institution of the state. ;).

One important takeaway was the value of supporting students’ attendance at Tapia, a conference on minority involvement in computing that alternates years with the Grace Hopper Conference on women in computing. (I’m going to Grace Hopper this year, and will be looking for ways to take as many RIT students as I can…)

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categories: conferences | gender | research

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 del.icio.us 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.

(lunchtime!)

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

april is the cruellest month

As noted in the earlier entry, I’m on my way to Durham, NC, for an NSF PI meeting. (No, the grant research isn’t done yet. Yes, it was supposed to be done a year ago. No, I don’t really want to talk about it.) I was up painfully early this morning. Note to self: never to book a 6:30am flight on the first day of daylight savings time; the clock woke me up at what it claimed was 4am, but my body believed it was 3, and I’ll end up with an extra hour of jet lag.

I only got back from Rochester on Tuesday night (edging towards Wednesday morning), so it wasn’t much of a respite. Barely time to empty the suitcase, run the clothes through the laundry, and repack. The PI meeting lasts through Tuesday night, but I’m not headed home from there. Instead, I fly from Durham to Boulder (well, to Denver, where I’ll take a shuttle to Boulder), to participate in an NSF site visit of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). I arrive in Boulder Wednesday afternoon, the site visit is Thursday, and then I head back to Seattle that night.

At that point I get to stay home for over a week, after which I take a two-day trip to DC to speak about social information tools at a Knowledge Management conference, the details of which escape me at the moment.

Then I’m home, and in full-on crunch mode preparing for this year’s MSR Social Computing Symposium (more on that in the next post). Yikes!

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categories: conferences | research | travel

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

spring travel plans

Every year I seem to have two “crunch” times for back-to-back travel commitments—early spring, and late fall. This year is shaping up to be no exception. On the books for the next two months:

I was also supposed to attend an event in Santa Barbara, but it conflicts with the PI meeting. :( And I’m cancelling a commitment to speak at a KM conference in DC in April, because the travel is just too hard on all of us here in the Lawley household. And because I’m hosting this year’s Social Computing symposium here at MSR, and the planning will probably be taking up a good bit of time at that point.

Not as bad as some spring travel stints I’ve had, but busy enough that I’ll be glad when it’s over.

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categories: conferences | research | travel

Monday, 6 March 2006

from catalysis to creation

Last week, MSR put on its annual TechFest, which is basically a giant science fair that lets researchers show off their cool projects to the rest of the company. (Most of it is Microsoft-confidential, but a few projects get shown to the press—including two that my colleague here in the Community Technologies Group, AJ Brush, worked on.)

Though a stomach bug knocked me out on Thursday, I got a chance to check out some of the exhibits on Wednesday, and was overwhelmed by the brilliance and creativity of my colleagues here. Which was followed quickly by overwhelming self-doubt. “What the f*ck am I doing here?!” Seven months down (hard to believe), and not a paper to show for it.

That resulted in some deep consideration of what exactly I’ve been doing here, and I found myself thinking about all the connections I’ve sparked—between people in research and those in product groups, between people in different product groups, between people outside of Microsoft and those within. About the events I’ve worked to help make successful, about the meetings I’ve sat in and provided feedback and suggestions. I told Gerald a month or two ago—probably about when search champs happened—that I was finding myself to be most useful as a catalyst, rather than an creator.

Of course, that’s not what researchers are typically rewarded for. Being a catalyst is great fun, and it’s something I’m really good at. But quite frankly, it’s not enough.

[Ha! As I was writing this, I got a visit from another MSR researcher who’s working on a very cool imaging project and wanted to show it to me and get feedback. After seeing it, I realized there was a great possible connection with a not-yet-announced product over in MSN/Windows Live, and gave him the contacts for that group. That’s the kind of thing that I know adds value, but that you just can’t put on your CV! It’s also an example of yet another thing I can’t really blog, because the details of both the research project and the new product are still considered confidential. :P ]

The good news is, I’m about to embark on a project here at MSR that involves creation rather than catalysis. I’m going to be building (well, specifying and helping to build) something that I’m deeply interested in, and will then (if all goes as I hope) turn into an interesting ongoing research project as I study the use of the system in multiple environments. I hate, hate, hate that I can’t be any more specific than that, but I’ve promised the lawyers that I’ll keep my mouth shut about it until we at least file some predisclosure forms. (Please don’t go ballistic on me about the evils of software patents. The reality is that the patent system is broken, and all companies are doing what they need to do to survive in this climate. If I don’t file on this idea, it’s all too likely that someone else will, and will then prevent me from working on it. I agree that it all sucks, but it’s the reality of the current world of software development. Plus from a selfish CV standpoint, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a patent or two listed…)

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categories: microsoft | research | sabbatical

Friday, 27 January 2006

edge cases and early adopters

This week was the fourth version of Microsoft’ “search champ” program, and the first one where I’ve been heavily involved in the planning (rather than simply being an attendee). It was a great meeting, with some amazing people providing input into new product development in MSN/WindowsLive. I got see to old friends (like Cindy and Walt), and be a fangirl (hi, Merlin!).

During the wrap-up session, when Robert Scoble was talking about designing tools that would optimize everyone’s syndication experience so that they, too, could read 840 feeds, I called him an “edge case.” He didn’t like that. Not one bit. But his defense was, to me, unconvincing.

Robert’s an “edge case” to me in this context because very few people will ever have the time or the inclination—regardless of how good the tools are—to read that many sources. Robert does not because he’s some freak of nature, but because he’s got a job that requires him to monitor activity in the technology community. When I worked at the Library of Congress, I had a job that required me to read dozens of newspapers and magazines every single day, looking for articles related to governmental initiatives. That made me an edge case. Most people don’t read dozens of news publications every day, and it’s not that they want to but simply haven’t found the tools to do it. It’s that they don’t have a need for that much diffuse information.

He felt I used the term derisively, which I didn’t. He’s right that edge cases often push us in new directions, and I’ve got a long-standing interest in liminal spaces (the fancy academic term for those in-between spaces where contexts overlap and new ways of thinking and acting often emerge). But in his reaction, he confused what I see as two very different things—edge cases and early adopters. In this case he’s both. But his response focused much more on how his early adoption of new technologies—from macs to blogs—foreshadowed broader adoption. That’s about being an early adopter, which is not synonymous with being an edge case.

So what’s the difference? To me, an early adopter is someone who recognizes the value of a new technology or tool before it becomes widely used or accepted, and often evangelizes it to others. They recognize trends before they’re trends, and are the ones who are always acquiring the latest-and-greatest technical toys. An edge case is someone who’s on the extreme edge of an activity, regardless of whether they’re an early adopter. Someone who reads 840 blogs is an edge case. But so is someone who reads dozens of daily newspapers, or runs 10 miles every morning. Their choices may influence our behavior—those edge cases are great at recommending things to others—but most people will be far more moderate in their behavior.

There’s a story I cite a lot when I’m talking to people about diffusion of technological innovation. Back in my early days as a librarian in the 1980s, online searching didn’t mean launching a web browser and going to Google. Instead, it meant connecting via dial-up to an online database and doing a searches with complex boolean operators. Librarians loved this, and decided that the whole world needed to learn the “joy of searching.” It was that whole “teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” mentality. One day at a library conference, I heard a wonderful speech by Herb White in which he scolded librarians for this mentality. “I have no joy of searching,” he told the audience. “I have joy of finding!”

In that context of online searching, librarians were both edge cases and early adopters—much like Robert is with blogs and syndicated feeds. They’re edge cases because they do in fact love to search as much as love to find. They find it hard to believe that not everyone would want to learn arcane search syntax in order to improve their online search experience. But they’re also early adopters—they were finding things online before the web was born, and they continue to push the limits on how you can use online search tools (one of my most popular posts ever was a transcription of Mary Ellen Bates’ fabulous “30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes” talk from the 2003 Internet Librarian conference).

Anyone who’s looked at aggregated query logs from a search engine knows that most of the people doing online searching these days aren’t masters of the boolean query. They didn’t become like the edge cases. But they did follow the early adopters—just in a more limited way.

So, Robert, my point wasn’t that because you’re an edge case nothing you do is relevant to other users. Nor do I think being an edge case is bad (I consider myself to be one, too). But the people who follow your lead as an early adopter won’t do it the way you do. They’re simply not going to want or need to read 840 syndicated feeds. And to try to optimize the user experience based on the needs of edge cases isn’t, I think, in anyone’s best interest.

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categories: microsoft | research | search | social software

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

blurring boundaries between real and virtual worlds

Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled “The Horde is Evil,” in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are “on the whole evil,” and that this has moral implications for avatar choices:

I’ve advanced two controversial positions: that avatar choice is not a neutral thing from the standpoint of personal integrity, and that the Horde, in World of Warcraft, is evil. Nobody agrees, but it’s been suggested that the community could chew on this a bit.

So here’s my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I don’t agree with Castranova (my horde character is a Tauren, a peaceful bison-like creature that lives in a Native American-inspired cultural context), nor do many of the commenters—but the issues he brings up are powerful and interesting, and the lengthy discussion in the comments is well worth reading.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between “real life” and “game life,” since I have personal and/or professional relationships with most of the people in my World of Warcraft guild, including both of my children. Castranova’s argument, in which he bolsters his argument by citing his 3-year-old’s reaction to his undead character, relates directly to those boundary-crossing issues.

When I was playing online on Monday, Joi said that he thought World of Warcraft was becoming the “new golf” for the technology set. I think there’s some truth in that, but it brings with it all kinds of additional social pressures and complexities, of which avatar racial choices are only the beginning. I think there’s some fertile ground for research in that boundary area, the crossover between the real and game worlds, and the extent to which they influence each other.

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categories: research | social software

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

what's in my to-read pile?

I just got an IM ping from someone who was curious as to what was in the pile of articles I’ve decided to bring with me on my trip.

Right now my mind is buzzing with questions and ideas related to social bookmarking systems (like del.icio.us or Yahoo’s MyWeb 2.0), information-seeking behavior, and information network formation, so most of my reading has at least a tangential connection with those topics. In no particular order, here’s what I’m planning to dig into tomorrow:

I’m also listening to Alberto-Laszlo Barabasi’s Linked on my iPod this week, and have ordered the book to be delivered to me in Rochester (I pay sales tax to Amazon if I have it delivered to me in Seattle, so it’s worth getting it while in Rochester and lugging it back!)

Y’know, I’d really like a tool to allow a select group of people to build a collaborative bibliography. Something like CiteULike, but with the ability to create a specific set beyond simple tagging, and allow it to be added to by specific people. Is there any such collaborative bibliographic tool out there? (Maybe I should poke around and see if CiteULike or Connotea provide that capability…)

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categories: research

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

Thursday, 21 July 2005

microsoft research talk: ben shneiderman

Ben Shneiderman, who was also at the faculty summit, is giving an open (to Microsoft employees) talk today on Creativity Support Tools. I’ve seen Ben talk before, and he’s a lot of fun. He’s put up a web page to support this talk, but I missed the URL. Will try to get it later, once the presentation has migrated onto the internal server.

He starts by saying he’ll be focusing on the topic of chapter 10 of Leonardo’s Laptop. (Which reminds me; I need to get one of my grad students to box up and mail me some of the key research books from my office, including that one.)

Quotes a participant in one of his workshops who says “I’ve spent 20 years thinking about collaboration, but only 2 hours thinking about creativity.”

Much of the literature on creativity doesn’t mention computers at all. This is a new space that he’s claiming. Not making machines more creative (AI approach), but developing/improving computing tools to make people more creative.

Heifferentiates between revolutionary, paradigm-shifting creativity, impromptu everyday creativity, and his area of interest, “evolutionary, normal science, music, and art, creative knowledge work.”

How do we enable professional workers to move a little higher up the ladder in knowledge work using creativity?

Talks about the difficulty of doing empirical research into creativity, and reviews some theorists in creativity research:

Tells about a student who sent him email saying “My PhD proposal is attached, can you tell me what you think?” No context, no definition of expectations, and no reason for him to look at it.

Highly recommends Csikszentmihalyi’s book _Creativity_ (1993) — not quite a software requirements document, but close enough to allow him to take the next step towards that.

  1. Domain: e.g. mathematics or biology “consists of a set of symbols, rules and procedures
  2. Field: “the individuals who asct as gatekeepers to the domain…decide whether a new idea, performance, or product should be included” (originality is a necessary but not a sufficient component)
  3. Individual: Creativity is when a person…has a new idea or sees a new pattern, and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion in the relevant domain”

(At this point there are a lot of comments and questions from the room; this is like a professor’s dream seminar enviroment—a room full of very bright and interesting people who are here because they want to be, and are enthusiastically engaged in what you’re talking about.)

Shneiderman proposes these eight activities:

  1. Searching and browsing digital libraries
  2. Consulting with peers and mentors:
  3. Visualizing data and processes
  4. Thinking by free association
  5. Exploring solutions — “what if” tools
  6. Composing artifacts and performances
  7. Reviewing and replaying session histories
  8. Disseminating results

Talks about each individually:

For search, we need not just effective basic search, but also improved multimedia search, overviews and previews, result set categorization and visualization, multiple session searches. (Gets a laugh when he says that if you can’t find something to be creative about in search that Google hasn’t done, you shouldn’t be in this business.) We need faceted search, and the ability to preview cardinality of results. (MSN Search folks, take note: you should watch this presentation on the internal resnet site.)

Consulting with Peers and Mentors: Prefaces by saying the next killer app is responsibility, trust, empathy. The problem with consultation is a lack of trust. Need negotiated expectations.

Visualizing data and process—refers to _Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think_. Many data types to deal with in visualization, scientific visualization is different from information visualization. Getting to networks (from trees) is the challenge.

Talks about exploration and discovery. Shows a photo of birds, asks people to answer the question “what’s interesting here?” High dimensional spaces are messy. You can’t be hunting unless you know what you’re hunting for. If you don’t have hypotheses and/or specific queries, you can’t explore effectively. In any field, peopel are trained to look at things in thorough, orderly way. He says we need to develop the same skills for looking at high-order data. (Can’t you argue, though, that those orderly ways can cause blinders?)

Shows a chemical table of elements in spreadsheet form. Anything interesting? Hard to tell. Shows it in a scatter graph, asks the same question. People note outliers and correlations. So, can we build an outlier detector? A correlation detector? (Ah…yes, it’s the outlier detector that’s interesting to me in the context of social networks. We do a lot with correlation, less with outliers…)

Demos Multi-V: Hierarchical Clustering Explorer. Displays demographic data using it. Very complex tool, but at least demonstrates clustering methods. Also provides some very nice correlation tools; this is a data set with 14 different variables relating to US counties. So…counties with a large number of young people have high unemployment. Decreasing #s of highschool grads correlate to increasing levels of poverty. These are not surprising, but you can find interesting second and third level correlations. For example, slight increases in income cause dramatic reductions in poverty. Also possible to find quadratic relationships, outliers, and other kinds of clusters and relationships. Biologists were particularly interested in how the tool could identify gaps.

This is a fascinating tool. Would love to play with this in the context of social networks, tagging behavior, etc.

He’s running out of time, so flies through the rest of the slides:

Free association—suggests Axon idea processor.

Exploring solutions: mentions the work of Michael Terry and Beth Mynatt at Georgia Tech. Create multiple versions at a time, not one at a time.

Composing artifacts and performances—provide templates and exemplars. Need better tools, for better presentations.

Reviewing and rpelaying session histories…record, review, annotate, disesminate. Treat histories as first class objects. Replay them, step through them, etc.

Adobe photoshop history tools…each event is a discrete component; we should be able to do that in all tools.

Disseminating results—need better ways to do this. (Doesn’t mention blogs, but that seems like an obvious tool here.)

Challenges for creativity work: Domain knowledge is vital, it may take years, individuals have highly varied approaches, and the theories (about support tools) are shallow, evaluation is difficult, need better ways to do triangulation and multi-dimensional representation.

Influencing our colleagues: Want NSF to incorporate creativity into existing programs, also encouraging a new NSF program on software tools and socio-technical environments to enhance creativity. (Hmmm…the “socio-technical environments” piece of that is intriguing.)

Mentions Richard Florida’s compelling argument about creativity as a potent economic driver.

And that’s all, folks. Wow. A lot of content packed into a short time frame, and a lot of great ideas to think about. These research talks are definitely one of the big perks of being here…

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categories: microsoft | research

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

microsoft research talk: jim witte

Jim Witte from Clemson University is here for the faculty summit, and is doing a talk for the community technologies group in MSR today. He’s talking about the lack of focus on sociological aspects of computer-based communication in the literature. Notes that there have been articles in the American Sociological Review in the past two years on everything from cricket to tulips, but not one on social impact or significance of new communication and information technologies.

I asked whether some of the problem is with traditional disciplinary boundaries—does it matter if it’s sociology or anthropology or communication or education? (Similarly, Lilia points out that these researchers are clustering in places like AoIR, rather than more discipline-focused areas.) Another attendee makes a comment about this being the difference between “what can sociology do for us” vs “what can we do for sociology”?

Jim suggests that we shouldn’t be isolating this research, we should be integrating it into the top journals in the fields. In part because of the hiring/tenure pressures, and in part (I think; this wasn’t said explicitly) because the field as a whole needs to understand and appreciate these increasingly important topics.

Someone suggests that much sociological research revolves around inequities, and that we need to identify the inequities in technological contexts in order to catalyze sociological research. When Lilia and I point out that there are lots of forms of inequality and exclusion in online contexts, he agrees, and clarifies that what he means is that we need to be focusing journal articles on those aspects if we want to be noticed in the sociological canon.

Jim moves on to talking about some of his web-based survey research. He’s been doing survey design work for National Geographic (here’s the 2005 survey).

How do their tools differ from others out there? Selective invitation of respondents can be supported, as well as open convenince sampling. Allows monitoring of sample development aparticipant response, including source of respondent. They can support complex skip patterns (branching) to tailor survey to respondent. Incroporates non-text material into questions and prompts (images, documents, audio/video). Allows tracking of respone behavior, including time spent on individual quesitns and use of the “back button” to review or change earlier responses.

(Hmmm…I need to talk to Jim and Roy about using their system for our NSF survey this fall.)

A statement that “this is how you think about X” sparks a great debate between the psychologists and sociologists about whether we “know” what’s going on in somebody’s head. One person says “if I don’t know what’s going on in my head, how could you?” Another says that’s absolutely not the case. Then we argue about the extent to which people, say, play a snippet of music in their heads to represent a genre. Several of us feel that this is not necessarily how “most” people do this—it’s something that’s based on learning styles (auditory vs visual, for example), or perhaps other factors (age? gender? education?).

At the end of his talk, Jim mentions some other interesting projects at Clemson, including “animated work environments” (AWE), which allows your work environment to physically change based on needs. (So, for example, your kids are using their computer to work on homework, and then want to eat dinner at their desk—can the surface change to protect the computer while eating?)

All in all, a really interesting talk with some great discussion surrounding it—this is exactly the kind of event and interaction that makes working here so much fun.

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categories: microsoft | research

Monday, 18 July 2005

microsoft research faculty summit: monday morning

I’m spending the morning at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, an annual conference sponsored by MSR. It’s an invitation-only conference attended by about 400 CS researchers from around the world.

I’m not going to blog the whole thing (I’m not even going to attend the whole thing, since I have some meetings that conflict), but I will blog the ones that are particularly notable, starting with the kick-off event—a dialog between Bill Gates and Maria Klawe, the dean of engineering at Princeton.

Klawe quotes statistics saying that the number of jobs in CS is growing, salaries are going up. (I need to find out where those numbers came from.)

(Gates wants to know why physical education is the fastest-growing field in higher ed.)

Klawe send a softball question to Gates—“Are you finding enough people to hire in the US?” His response is an emphatic “no.” He says it’s not hard to find project managers in the US, but it’s much harder to find excellent software engineers.

She asks him to describe the ideal engineering candidate. He says he wants more emphasis on the basic underlying mechanisms of computers and algorithms. Then he veers into selection process rather than preparation, talking about the success of the intern program. Mentions the intern dinner—apparently they bring in 300 per night, not everyone at once. He says that they ask sometimes about other companies, and then describes Google as “faddishly hot.”

K: What’s your position on how interdisciplinary CS studies should be? Should students be doing double majors and application-focused coursework?

G: There are still plenty of pure CS problems—in privacy, security, navigatio of information. (Hmmm…I wouldn’t call information navigation a “pure CS” problem.)

K: These problems will only be solved if people work on them. We need funding for students to do so.

Her son is going into CS, but her daughter doesn’t want to. One of the issues that stops a lot of women and minorities from wanting to study CS is the image of the career and perception of what a CS professional is like. She says she knows it’s an exciting field that requires interaction, communication. So, how can we create a more positive image for our profession? What is Microsoft doing?

G: Microsoft can set an example of what kind of jobs these are, and how interesting they are. He says MS can promise people that within 2 years they’ll have the opportunity to move beyond basic development roles. If people really understood the jobs, they’d feel differently. He says he just “doesn’t get it” as to why people don’t have more interest in these jobs.

K: Notes the increased number of women who have gone into medicine and law in her lifetime. Points out that during that time television shows and movies have glamorized those careers. Why don’t we have the same thing for CS?

G: Well, if you took a movie camera into one of our buildings, it wouldn’t be that interesting.

K: That’s true for all of those other fields, too!

moves on to next question

K: CS is the only field in science and engineering in which the participation of women has been dropping. What would be more effective in getting women into these fields?

G: Women need to be visible.

K: (frustrated) We are doing that. It’s not working! Things happening on the grass roots level aren’t working. Every woman in the field is doing this. There has to be another way to succeed at this.

G: (Seems at a loss for a moment.) Mentions studies showing that we lose women at every step of the pipeline, and the problem with not having reached critical mass. He asks—is this different in Asia?

K: No. A few countries have high participation. Ireland, possibly because of the prevalence of single-sex education. Turkey, because students aren’t given choices, they’re assigned.

(She’s going from a prepared script, which causes some of this to sound really stilted and programmed.)

K: What are the areas you’re most excited about?

G: What’s happening in MSR is the most exciting, and the most interesting part of his job. TechFest is one of the “funnest” things on the Microsoft calendar. The TabletPC is cool; eventually every student will have one.

[… lost focus for a bit; I’m watchign this on a video screen, which is less engaging than having a real person up there …]

Ben Shneiderman does a very long statement-in-the-form-of-a-question, and claims that the ocmputing fields have the highest level of introversion, which Gates and Rashid dispute. (Rashid seems to be confusing introversion with isolation, arguing that software teams have to work together.)

Rashid points out that the social and media tools that kids are using now (iPods, IM, cell phones, etc) are tools created by computer scientists—why don’t kids want to be involved in creating them and making them better?

(decided I needed coffee at this point, so missed the rest of the q & a)

Of note following the dialog: several new RFPs being announced today:

Later this year:

Also coming: “institutes” with deep msr collaboration, 3-year commitment, IP agreement. Topics being considered are mobile phones, bioinformatics, and robotics. More information will be forthcoming, but details are not yet available.

Upcoming workshops include gaming technologies in education, and Tablet PC in education. Dates not yet finalized.

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categories: conferences | microsoft | research

Monday, 11 July 2005

upcoming uk trip

I’ll be going to the UK in a few weeks—I leave Seattle on Friday 7/29, and return on Sunday 8/7. Flying into London, then hopping a train to Oxford, where I’ll be presenting my NSF grant research at Crossing Cultures, Changing Lives: Integrating Research on Girls’ Choices of IT Careers. That lasts through August 3rd, after which I’ll head back to London for several days.

While I’m there, I’m really hoping for a blogger meetup of some kind. There are a lot of people “across the pond” whom I’d love to meet (or see again)—Suw Charman, Tom Coates, Gary Turner, Cory Doctorow, Hugh Macleod, and others.

Another stop will (probably) be the Microsoft Research office in Cambridge.

I’m excited about the trip (and happy that I was able to find a direct flight from Seattle to London!).

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categories: research | travel

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

research tidbit

I’ve been reviewing information about the students my colleague and I interviewed last year, and have found some interesting things. Keep in mind that we were working with a small sample—there were only ten women in the entering IT class last year, and eleven CS women. That makes it hard to generalize from our findings, but does give us some interesting avenues to pursue in terms of our larger survey project this spring.

Of the ten IT women interviewed, three changed programs during the first year. One transferred to Travel and Tourism, one into a transitional decision-making program and then into International Business, and one into CS. The student who transferred to CS has not enrolled for any classes since completing her freshman year.

Of the eleven CS women interviewed, four changed programs—two into IT, one into Biotechnology, and one into Sign Language Interpreting. In addition, one woman has not enrolled at RIT since completing her freshman year, and another changed from the CS BS degree program to the CS AS degree program during her sophomore year.

By comparison, none of the ten (randomly selected from a pool of 200) IT men we interviewed changed programs during their first two years. However, two of them took leaves of absence at the beginning of their sophomore years, and another was suspended and has not returned to classes.

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categories: gender | research

Thursday, 31 March 2005

qualitative interviews via email

As I look over the transcripts from our qualitative data collection last year, it’s increasingly clear to me that the clarity and depth of the answers we received from email surveys were significantly better than those we got through in-person interviewing.

This backs up what I found in my dissertation research, which is comforting.

I wonder if this is particularly the case for people in computer-oriented fields (my dissertation research was on students in doctoral programs in information science, which tends to be a very tech-savvy group), or if it holds true more broadly.

(Now back to actually doing work rather than blogging about it…)

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categories: research

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

sabbatical details

I was deliberately vague in my first post about the sabbatical, because I was waiting for details to get firmed up a bit. But I can now say, with no small measure of delight, that I’ll be spending my sabbatical year as a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, in the Social Computing Group. w00t!

Many thanks to Lili Cheng, manager of that group, for making this happen. I’m really looking forward to working with her team, which is made up of some really amazing people.

What will I be doing, exactly? Well, that’s still being worked out. I’m hoping to get a chance to peek over their shoulders on current projects like Wallop, providing feedback and participating in the design process. But I’m also really interesting in pursuing some work on what Linda Stone describes as “continuous partial attention.”

I’ll also be working on developing a social computing curriculum to implement at RIT upon my return.

Because I don’t want to spend half my life in my car, we’re planning on looking for a place to rent on the eastside (is it one word or two out there?). I love the idea of living in the city, especially since we’ll be homeschooling, but I just don’t think it makes sense given the traffic in the area.

My tentative start date at MSR is July 1, which means we’re really only four months away from moving—which is more than a little daunting. Lots to do between now and then!

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categories: research | sponsored

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

why do academics blog?

I keep getting asked this question by colleagues here at RIT and elsewhere, and I find myself sending them the same links over and over again. So here’s what I give people who ask me this, in an attempt to clarify the value of blogging to those of us in academia. It’s not all about personal confessionals. Really.

My Posts
you may ask yourself “how did i get here?”
blogging risks and benefits

Anders Jacobsen
Why I blog

Crooked Timber
The Academic Contributions of Blogging?
Academics and Blogging (see the comments)
Academic Blogging and Literary Studies
Lit Studies Blogging, Part II: Better breathing through blogging

Seb Paquet
Personal Knowledge Publishing and Its Uses in Research

Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen
Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool (PDF)

Collin Brooke
Blogging @ MEA (Collin’s notes from the panel that I did with Seb Paquet, Alex Halavais, Clay Shirky and Jill Walker)

Also…

University of Minnesota’s edited collection of essays, “Into the Blogosphere”

Feel free to add other favorite links to the wiki page I’ve set up.

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categories: on blogging | research | teaching

Friday, 4 February 2005

sabbatical plans

My sabbatical application for next year has been approved! I’m still working out the details, but it looks quite likely that I’ll be spending next year (with my family) in the Seattle area.

This mean that I’ll need copious advice from my Seattle-based friends and colleagues on finding a place to live, getting settled in, homeschooling our boys, and people we must look up when we arrive (probably in July).

It also means that RIT will be looking to replace me for a year with a visiting professor, which is the real point of this post. We really need someone who has both interest and expertise in web development and social computing. It’s a great opportunity for someone in industry who wants to spend a year in academia, or an academic at another school who needs a sabbatical opportunity of their own.

I realize that Rochester isn’t everybody’s ideal destination, but it really is a great city to live in. And I can’t say enough good things about the work environment—I have great colleagues, a wonderful office, excellent support staff, and incredible facilities (both technical and recreational). The cost of living here is very low (and if you act soon, you could even rent our close-to-campus house, complete with furnishings…), recreational and cultural opportunities abound, and the public schools are excellent.

If you’re interested, send me email, and I can give you more details.

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categories: Rochester | research

Monday, 20 December 2004

lab for social computing at rit

Over on Many-to-Many I’ve made an announcement about a new Lab for Social Computing here at RIT.

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categories: Rochester | research | social software

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

3-2-1 contact

It is indeed showtime, folks. Like Weez, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy being in the classroom, especially when teaching the web design classes I enjoy most.

And on the professional front, interesting activities are just ahead. A social software workshop at USC, a visit to Redmond, and an NSF workshop in October; the CSCW conference in November.

Summer was a good and healing hibernation period for me, but I find that when I’m not regularly interacting with colleagues—in person, not just online—my mind is less active, less creative, less productive. Being around my RIT colleagues re-energizes my teaching self, and being able to travel this fall to see colleagues with whom I share research and writing interests is re-energizing my research self.

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categories: research | teaching | travel

Wednesday, 7 July 2004

this is my brain on extisp.icio.us

Kevan Davis has written a program that takes your del.icio.us tags and creates a visualization—items with more links are larger. I’m not entirely sure how the positioning works, but I suspect that tags that often appear together on an item are located closer together.

delpic

Pretty amazing. Such a simple idea, so elegantly implemented, and so remarkably accurate at mapping my cognitive space. (Click on the above image to get to the real-time version, which allows you to click on any of the tags in the image and go directly to my list of links in that category.)

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categories: research | social software

Thursday, 1 July 2004

sabbatical planning

So, this is the summer that I have to start planning for a sabbatical, if I want to take one during 2005-2006. RIT applications are due in October 2004, but Fulbright applications are due in August. So if I want to go overseas (say, to Tokyo…), I need to get in gear on this.

I’m torn on the overseas idea. I spent two years abroad as a kid, because my father did sabbatical research in London (when I was three) and Malta (when I was thirteen). In retrospect, I’m very grateful for those opportunities, and I’d like my kids to have that same chance to experience living in another culture.

On the other hand, most of the places that make sense for me to go in terms of their interest in social and mobile technologies dont have English as their primary language, and that puts more of a burden on my family. It’s hard to be uprooted for a year because of someone else’s interests…it’s even harder if you’re then dropped into a place where you don’t understand the language.

Another possibility would be to explore options for a year as a visiting researcher at a US (or UK) corporate research lab. There are a lot of them—Microsoft, HP, FX/Palo Alto, Intel, and IBM are all doing work in collaboration and social computing, and I’m sure there are others. Less of a cultural adventure for all of us to do something like that, but it’s perhaps more in keeping with the kinds of research that RIT is interested in.

And, of course, there’s no guarantee that a place that I decided I wanted to go—overseas or not—would consider me a good fit, or would be able to make decisions on a time frame that matched RIT’s.

So, faithful readers…what do you think? Overseas or not? Academia or industry? As Frazier would say, “I’m listening.”

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categories: research

Thursday, 24 June 2004

blog research

I’ve posted a lengthy piece on blog research issues over on Many-to-Many. Y’all read it now, y’hear?

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categories: on blogging | research

Sunday, 13 June 2004

blog networks as faculty commons

The past week has been hectic—the combination of japanese, houseguests, and pulling off a wonderful blog panel at MEA took a lot out of me. So blogging has been unsurprisingly light. However, when your houseguest is Jill Walker, and your weekend cookout guests include both Jill and Seb Paquet, it’s hard not to generate some new ideas…so blogging may pick up a bit as I work those out.

The blog panel at MEA was not as well attended as I’d hoped (we were towards the end of the day, alas), but it was great fun to be a part of it. If you couldn’t attend, Collin Brooke did a wonderful write-up of it. Thanks, Collin!

And if nothing else, the panel provided a wonderful opportunity for the five of us to all meet each other—Jill and Seb had never met any of us before, and Alex and Clay had each only met me. The face-to-face interaction is obviously not a necessary component for collaboration and connection, or the panel never would have happened to begin with, but it certainly is a welcome and strengthening addition.

Last night Seb and Jill and I were talking about how the connections we’ve formed through our blogs are actually more important to us in terms of collegiality than the connections we have to people that we work with. I “know” Jill and Seb better (at least professionally) than I know most of the people in my hallway. I think this will be increasingly the case for academics—social software tools will foster and support collaborative networks that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, and those networks will become the important spaces in which creativity research develop. As Jill said, these social-software-supported networks have become closer to the ideal of the faculty commons than anything on a real campus has ever been.

So, what happens to research and scholarship—what happens to the current concept of a university, in fact?—when these formerly invisible colleges become not only visible, but more important than the traditional, geographically and disciplinarily (not a word, I know, but there isn’t one for what I want) bound colleges we’re accustomed to?

Virtuality simply isn’t going to replace physicality in toto; there’s too much value in physical presence. That’s why Jill and Seb and Clay were all willing to trek to Rochester for this panel—it was worth the expense (in time and money) to be able to connect in a physical space. Location matters—I live where I live for many reasons unrelated to my job, and that’s true for most of the people I know. So how do we blend our modes? How do we get the most out of the emerging blog commons? I don’t have answers yet, just questions.

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categories: big ideas | friends | research | social software

Friday, 7 May 2004

brief hiatus

I’m immersing myself in the coding of the qualitative data from our grant research, which means blogging will be light or non-existent for a week or two.

For those interested in the gritty details, I’ve got ~30 transcripts from the fall interviews, and ~30 email interviews from winter quarter, all of which need to be coded and analyzed for patterns. (There are spring interviews going on now, but that analysis can wait ‘til next month when we have all the transcripts.)

I’m coding them using NVivo from QSR, which has a lot of nice features, but is far from ideal. This summer, I’ll also try doing some of the coding using TAMS, an open source package running under OS X.

Once the analysis is done, we’ll spend the summer developing the survey instrument that will be administered at 80+ institutions in the US offering BS degrees in IT.

So I’m feeling a little stressed at the moment. Happily, I wrote an entire chapter in my dissertation (292K PDF) on exactly this process—facing a stack of qualitative data and feeling overwhelmed—which has been extremely helpful in managing my panic attacks this time around.

So, between gardening, enjoying the lilacs that are starting to bloom (Rochester’s famous for them), and coding the data, I’m not expecting to have much time left for blogging, at least in the short term.

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categories: research

Friday, 23 April 2004

you may ask yourself "how did i get here?"

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot lately, mostly by full-time academics, was how/why I started blogging. It’s not a quick and easy answer, but I’ve been asked it enough now that it’s probably worth having it here in a public and somewhat permanent form.

My blogging epiphany came about at the Pop!Tech conference in October of 2002. That was the first conference I’d been to with ubiquitous WiFi and a critical mass of people with laptops taking advantage of it, and I was intrigued. What were people doing with their computers, beyond taking notes and checking email? (Turned out that Simson Garfinkel was pulling POP passwords out of the ether, but that’s another story.)

When Dan Gillmor spoke, however, he related an incident that really struck me. Here’s Howard Rheingold’s account of it:

The second event Dan cited was the occasion last summer at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, held in Arizona, where Joe Nacchio, CEO of Qwest was, in Dan’s words, “whining about how hard it was to run a telephone company these days.” Dan blogged this while he was listening, and immediately got email from a reader in Florida who sent him a link disclosing that Nachio had sold $300 million of stock in the company he was helping to kill. Dan blogged it, and another participant in the Forum, Doc Searls, who was contemporaneously blogging the event, took Nachio to task for it, while Nachio was still standing at the podium.

I wasn’t at all familiar with the term “blog” or with the amazing growth of blogging tools and sites, but I was totally intrigued by the feedback loop that Dan had described. And then I realized that everything I was hearing at Pop!Tech was also being blogged by people in the room. (In retrospect, I’d seen this mentioned on the Pop!Tech web site before the conference, but it hadn’t registered as being important to me then.) I started reading the blogs of the people in the room—David Weinberger, Dan Gillmor, Ernie the Attorney. And as I started reading their mediated versions of what I was seeing live, I found that my appreciation and understanding of what I was hearing was deepened and extended. They had different context and knowledge to bring to the topic, links to related sites, personal experiences.

It was a transformative moment for me, particularly when combined with Linda Stone’s brilliant discussion of what she calls “Continuous Partial Attention“—a kind of scanning of multiple open information channels that she was increasingly observing in her students as an adjunct professor. This is not the same thing as multitasking—instead, it’s a constant monitoring, looking for content that makes it worth switching to a focus. (It reminds me of the process that directors of live television events go through…watching a bank of monitors showing different camera angles, deciding which one to bring up as the focal point at any given point in time.)

By the time the conference was over, I was determined to go home and try this technology out on my own. I’d noticed the MovableType link on a number of the sites I’d visited, and I liked the idea of a package I could install and play with on my own server. So upon my return, I downloaded and installed MT into my RIT account, and wrote my first post. (I chose the title mamamusings on a whim, not realizing it would become inextricably linked with me and my online identity; after a year or so of posting to the blog, I finally registered the domain name and transfered my blog off of the RIT system.)

Then I started reading—voraciously. I jumped from blog to blog, soaking up the content and context, thinking about how the medium could be used in my research, in my teaching, in my personal life. I felt very much like Alice down the rabbit hole—it was exhilarating and overwhelming. Along the way, I stumbled upon Joi Ito’s weblog, and noticed he’d posted about a scary “Aspartame is poison” email he’d received. I didn’t know Joi at all, but I commented on his site, and then wrote my own response to his post on my site—my first exposure to trackback technology, since my post automatically “pinged” Joi’s site to tell him that I’d mentioned his post. Much to my delight, this resulted in him visiting my site and commenting on that post—as well as on another post.

Suddenly my experiment in blogging had gone from a monologic to a dialogic form—not only could I “scribble on the walls” of other people’s sites, the walls were talking back. It didn’t take me long to realize how powerful these tools could be in the classroom, so I started making plans to use blogs (MT, specifically) as a context for teaching my upcoming web design class. That first quarter I started with a class blog on which all students had posting privileges, along with having each student create their own blog for posting their in-class exercises and thoughts on the reading. I used that model in my web design class, as well as in my xml class.

In the web design class, the individual student blogs turned out to be an excellent tool for teaching concepts like CSS and CGI. And in both classes, the dialog was greatly enhanced by the appearance in our comments by authors of books and articles we were reading. But the multiple authors on one class blog approach didn’t work well in either class, so I discarded that approach. Instead, over the summer I rethought the role of the course blog, and developed the first version of the MT-courseware I’ve been working on.

I wasn’t just thinking about blogs in my classes, though—I was also thinking a lot about how blogs could help me to make connections in the context of doing research. I felt very isolated at RIT, which is a teaching institution that has only recently started prioritizing research as a faculty activity. It’s very hard to do research if you don’t have a critical mass of people to work with—senior colleagues with research experience in your field, graduate students interested in working in your area. I had neither—so weblogs provided me with a way to build an “invisible college” that could help me develop research-related connections, support, and visibility. Alex Halavais and I experimented with using a blog to record our NSF grant proposal process, which was helpful in many ways (even though we didn’t get funded).

Along with the external links and relationships I was forming, I was also getting a chance to write regularly for the first time since I’d been a graduate student. Having a regular outlet for “thinking out loud” turned out to be extremely valuable to me. I’m a classic “talk it out” extrovert in terms of thought processes, and the blog community I was becoming a part of provided a wonderful context for doing just that. The combination of the informality of lightweight publishing and the immediate distributed peer review and feedback on ideas that blogs encourage was just the right balance for me.

This for me is really the power of weblogs for academics—and often for students, as well. It’s not about weblogs replacing journals, or becoming mass media outlets, or creating a huge personal audience. It’s about finding and maintaining a community of like-minded thinkers—inside and outside of academia—who can be part of an ongoing conversation. As Anil points out, it’s not about popularity, or being at the top of the power law curve. It’s about being part of a community, part of an ongoing conversation.

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categories: conferences | on blogging | research | teaching

Friday, 16 April 2004

when worlds collide converge

I spent most of the day Thursday at a workshop on cyber-communities sponsored by the sociology and anthropology departments here at RIT. (It was planned in conjunction with Howard Rheingold’s visit, who gave a great talk last night; Weez and I streamed it from my laptop for #joiito members, and the official archived version is already available on the RIT web site in .ram format.)

There weren’t very many people at the cyber-communities workshop, unfortunately, which was primarily due to the lack of good publicity for the workshop. Even though I was speaking at it in the afternoon, I didn’t realize that some really cool people were going to be giving talks, including Keith Hampton (I’m writing up his excellent talk for M2M this weekend—in the meantime, check out his site and read his papers!), and Lori Kendall (whose book, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online, I’m going to have to get and read this summer). The only web page I could find for the workshop was a press release on the RIT news site—which seems surprising for a cyber communities activty. Why weren’t “cyber tools” being used to promote this?

Part of the problem, I think, is the tendency for people who study about technology and its impact to disassociate themselves from those who study it directly. Happily, that’s happening less and less at RIT—this week was a great example. On Wednesday, digital poet Loss Pequeño Glazier , founder of the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo, gave a wonderful talk on campus. He was there as part of a series of talks for a digital poetry my mom is team-teaching this year, and they’ve brought in a number of technology focused people (including me…) to talk to the class. The cyber-communities presentations included talks by several people from IT or technology fields, as well.

What was particularly nice about my day yesterday was that it marked the first time that my RIT world has significantly intersected with my social computing world. Having Howard and Keith on campus, going to dinner with them and colleagues from RIT, was both strange and wonderful. I’ve felt for the past year or so as though I’ve been living dual professional lives, and yesterday was the first time it felt as though the two might be converging rather than diverging.

So yesterday was wonderful, and today I woke up to a birthday with sunshine and spring air and birds chasing each other around the backyard. It’s shaping up to be one of the best birthdays ever. And on that note, I’m headed outside to play!

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categories: Rochester | friends | research | social software

Saturday, 13 March 2004

great lines from shneiderman's talk

These are some of the things Ben Shneiderman said yesterday in his talk at RIT that really caught my attention—and some of the thoughts that those lines sparked in my mind. Much of this deserves more attention than my sleep-deprived brain can give them on a 6:15am flight from Rochester to Chicago (en route to Austin for SXSW/Interactive), but at least it’s a start.

Visualizations never give you answers, they only give you insights into questions.

Ah, what’s not to like about this if you’re a qualitative researcher at heart? I love data visualizations—at ETech, some of my favorite presentations were the visualizations of Usenet participation by Microsoft’s Marc Smith, and of Technorati link data by Dave Sifry. But Shneiderman nails my interest—unlike many of my colleagues, I see these visualizations not as answers, but as a starting point for asking questions. Thus my interest in better defining the nature of blog genres and interconnections, going beyond the data curves that Sifry can show us based on large data sets.

I’m a qualitative researcher at heart. I’m more interested in knowing the stories behind the numbers than I am in the numbers themselves. Of course, there’s value in quantitative analysis, and in effective visualization of quantitative data. (I’ve got signed copies of Tufte’s first two books…). But too often that data is used to draw conclusions that aren’t necessarily supported by the real experiences of the people that data is supposed to represent.

Studies of computer users show that 42-43% of their time using computers is time lost/wasted due to problems with their system (OS, Internet connection, applications). “When I talk about this at Microsoft, I get ‘I don’t believe your data.’”

Of course, this got the predictable laugh from the audience (populated by a great many Unix and Mac users). But it’s typical of the response of many computer software producers when confronted with user frustration. Which led directly to the next quote…

Bridge the gap between what users know and what they need to know.

He noted that very few users turn to manuals or online help. Why? Sometimes because they don’t know about them, sometimes because they’ve had trouble with them in the past and don’t trust them.

This reminded me of a story I often tell my students in web design. Many years ago, I managed the CD-ROM customer support for an information publishing company. The software interface to our product had extensive online help that my staff and I had written, and every screen of the product displayed the text “F1=HELP” in the top right corner. Nonetheless, we’d get many calls from customers every day who were frustrated because they couldn’t find any help.

Like the programmers I worked with at that company, my students at that point roll their eyes in disgust at the stupidity of the users, and expect me to do the same. But I don’t. I tell them that if the users can’t find the help they need to use their product—whether it’s a CD-ROM database or an e-commerce web site—it’s their product that’s flawed, not the users.

Brenda Dervin, the theorist whose qualitative research methodology I’m using in my NSF grant research, wrote a wonderful article in which she chastised librarians for treating information as “bricks” and users as “buckets”—too often, she said, when the bricks don’t fit into the bucket the librarian assumes that the bucket is flawed, and sets to work trying to mold it into a shape that will better accommodate the bricks. Sounds absurd…until you think about how accurate it is. And it’s not just librarians who fall into this trap—it’s most software and web developers, as well.

Right after Shneiderman talked about how we have to make the interfaces conform to the user needs (rather than the reverse), an audience member asked “But if we make interfaces ‘dumber’ don’t we risk making users dumber, by bringing them all down to the lowest common denominator?” Shneiderman responded that this was wrongeaded thinking—which led to his next great line:

Meaningful information architecture, shorter traversal paths, broad/shallow trees—this helps everyone. If you try to design a better web site for an elderly user with poor vision, you’ll probably end up designing a better web site for everyone else, as well.

At around this point, he showed a web site calledUniversal Usability in Practice, which is a web site developed by his students to show best practices in and resources for usability in design.

Ah. It’s time to “turn off electronic devices and stow all carryons beneath the seat in front of us.” I’ll close with the observation that while the entire auditorium was packed full of students, faculty, and folks from local industry, there were surprisingly few laptops open. Two of my colleagues, I found out later, were taking collaborative notes in SubEthaEdit—wish I’d known, I would have joined in. As for me, I found that being able to pull up sites as Shneiderman talked about them, bookmarking them (in del.icio.us, natch) as I went, was an excellent way to stay engaged in the presentation while still note-taking. I’ve got a post brewing on backchannels and meetings and the all-too-slow shifts that are taking place in this area.

Posted at 3:24 PM | Permalink
categories: big ideas | research

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

graduate assistantship open

My colleague Tona Henderson and I are beginning the search for a graduate assistant for the 2004-2005 academic year. Because our research is on underrepresentation of women in IT, we’d prefer that it be a woman.

The assistantship includes tuition reimbursement for two courses per quarter (with a possibility of three courses; we’re negotiating for that right now), a $16,000 stipend over the 9-month academic year, and a nice office. You also get to work with great people on interesting work.

The MSIT program at RIT offers a wide variety of specializations—including web and multimedia development, XML, game programming, networking, e-commerce, and software development and management. The entrance requirements are quite manageable even for someone without a highly technical undergraduate degree. (And yes, I know the web site is awful. There’s a new one under development, but I didn’t want to wait for it to post this announcement.)

If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, please contact me directly.

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categories: research

Monday, 19 January 2004

defining blogs

danah boyd and I are taking a conversation that we’ve been having about definitional issues surrounding blogs, and trying to spin it into some more substantial research.

There are a couple of issues to be thought about here.

First, figuring out—for the purposes of any other sort of research—what a blog really is. At the AoIR conference last fall, I noticed that most of the people talking about blogs (myself included) either didn’t define blogs, or used a potentially problematic definition.

Second, determining whether what we want/need to focus on for meaningful results are the blogs, or the bloggers. I maintain four different blogs, for example—not including the blogs for each of my classes. Choosing to focus on the object produced yields different results from focusing on the producer.

Third, deciding how (or whether) to categorize blogs. Reading through the bloggies award page for 2004 (while you’re there, vote for misbehaving for best group blog!), I was struck by many of the categories, and by the assumptions inherent in those categories.

The categorization becomes particularly important in the debates over women’s participation in blogging. Most of the debates are fueled by primarily anecdotal evidence. But how can we know what percentage of tech bloggers are women, if we don’t know (a) what a “tech blog” is, (b) how many blogs fit those criteria, and © which are authored by women?

So danah and I are proposing as transparent a research process as we can. We’re announcing our plan…here on my blog, over on her blog, and on misbehaving.net. Since we’re both already going to be at ETech, we’re going to meet there to brainstorm. We’ve proposed a participant session there to invite people to share their ideas. We’ll follow that up with preliminary research—drawing on what people like Susan Herring and her group have done with the Blog Research on Genre project. We’re hoping to present a preliminary paper—focusing on identifying and describing the problem and the research plan, not on the answers—sometime this spring or summer. (I really, really wish it could be at BlogTalk, but I don’t think there’s any way I can afford another overseas trip this year…)

We’ll be writing about the research as we go, soliciting ideas and feedback from the blogging community. But it’s problematic to limit discussion and description of a group to the members of that group—that’s one of the reasons to extend the conversation to conferences, and not just to conferences of bloggers.

On a side note, it’s been interesting to see the difference in response to danah’s two initial posts about this idea. On misbehaving, the immediate responses were very hostile. On danah’s personal site, the responses offered a number of useful lenses with which to view the issue. Makes it a lot easier to understand why the women over at misbehaving haven’t been posting as much lately.

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categories: research

Sunday, 16 November 2003

rushkoff blog

Somehow I missed that Douglas Rushkoff (a professor at NYU in the same Interactive Telecom Program where Clay Shirky teaches) has a weblog. (And has, apparently, since several months before I even started mine.)

Which reminds me that I have to get moving on my blog panel proposal for the upcoming Media Ecology conference here at RIT in June, where Rushkoff will apparently be giving a plenary presentation. It’s due December 1st. Ack!

I’ve noticed that when I’m on the right track intellectually, everything starts to seem connected. In this case, Rushkoff is connected to Sue Barnes, a new faculty member at RIT whose interests are very close to mine. He’s also connected to Clay, with whom I co-author Many-to-Many, and to Howard Rheingold, who I know through a couple of channels, and who’s speaking this spring here at RIT.

All of that points to the best kind of convergence, the kind that says to me there’s a critical mass of connections and content and interest to spin into something really interesting.

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categories: conferences | research | social software

Thursday, 16 October 2003

aoir presentation site

I’ve created a website for tomorrow’s presentation (part of my Tufte-inspired “renounce powerpoint” efforts).

Once the paper is a little more polished (the ending is still pretty rough), I’ll post it on that site.

And now to sleep. Wakeup call in six hours. Room service breakfast (it’s free!) in seven hours. Blog panels begin in eight hours.

(And yes, I have a copy of the presentation running on my local web server. I’m making no assumptions about conference connectivity.)

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categories: research

Sunday, 5 October 2003

slow but steady progress on paper

I clearly won’t make the deadline of having it done today, but I’ve made a lot of progress on the paper, and am confident that I’ll have a reasonably well-thought-out version to post online by the time I get to the conference (11 days).

Here’s the quote from Bourdieu’s book Homo Academicus that I’m using to begin the paper:

There are surely few social worlds where power depends so strongly on belief, where it is so true that, in the words of Hobbes, “Reputation of power is power.”

Not hard to see the connection to the blogosphere, is it?

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categories: research

Saturday, 4 October 2003

desiderata and despair

I know that Desiderata is a fake. Nonetheless, this segment has always stuck with me.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

As I sit here today trying to put together my paper for AoIR, I’ve been slipping further and further into bitterness. There are so many people out there who have said what I want to say better than I can say it myself. And I’m by turns left appreciative, envious, grateful, bitter, and enriched by what they say.

I’ve added two new (“new to me,” as the used car sellers would say) blogs to my blogroll as a result of today’s research, reading, and futile attempts at writing. One is Jeff Ward, who has written some wonderful pieces on the Bourdieu/blog connection here and here. His posts led me to Alex Golub, whose posts on People as Filters and Blog: Genre, Text, Technology were equally wonderful.

But the problem with reading wonderful things, for me, is that they often don’t inspire me to greatness. Instead they leave me wanting to get down on the floor and cry out “I’m not worthy!” Which probably isn’t a terribly healthy response.

I think that means it’s time to give up on this (for now), and go home. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel smarter.

(I feel particularly foolish for having taken this long to realize how good Jeff’s stuff is, really, since he’s tracked back to me on several occasions.)

Update (5:38pm)
Gerald has convinced me to stay the course. He points out that if I’m having a difficult time explaining to him what the smart people I’ve read have to say (which I was), that means there’s still a need to bridge a gap, to write about what they say, and about what Bourdieu says, and connect the dots rather than drawing new dots. (Not his words, exactly, but that was the gist of it.) He rocks. He also points out that my complaints about not being able to do this sound a lot like my complaints when I go back to working out at the gym after a long hiatus. In this case, it’s been nearly six years since I’ve had to exercise my “mental muscles,” and it’s showing. But that’s not a good excuse for giving up. Must…work…through…the…pain!

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categories: research

Wednesday, 1 October 2003

reputation and scholarship

RIT is in the process of a major shift in institutional culture, moving towards a stronger emphasis on scholarship rather than a nearly exclusive focus on teaching. While scholarship has always been mentioned in our tenure policies (see #3), the reality has been that it was the least critical piece. We have full professors in this department who have never published a peer-reviewed article or book, and associate professors who would be hard-pressed to tell you the name of an academic journal or conference in their field of study. The primary criteria for tenure and promotion have traditionally been teaching (with student evaluations weighted very heavily, along with breadth and depth of teaching topics), teaching-related activities such as curriculum development, and service—committee work, academic advising, and activities (like consulting, or pro bono provision of services) outside of the institute.

Over the past several years, our president has been working to change the culture of RIT from a single-minded focus on teaching to a greater blend of teaching and scholarship. On many levels, I’ve felt that this is a good thing. I believe that research and scholarship are critical to keeping the professoriate intellectually alive, and that without it our teaching creeps dangerously close to training. It’s hard to convince students that they should take scholarship seriously if we don’t model that behavior for them.

But while in theory this new approach has great value to all members of the university community, in practice it’s never that straightforward. RIT’s revenue is almost completely tuition-driven. No tax revenues (except for NTID), and not a large enough endowment to provide much breathing room. So every hour that a faculty member doesn’t spend teaching is that much less revenue. And IA will be pleased to know that RIT has really held the line on adjunctification, with a very low adjunct rate and a policy to create non-tenure-track lecturer positions (with decent salaries and benefits) rather than increating the adjunct rate.

As a result, until this year, everyone in my department has taught a 9-course load—three courses per quarter, three quarters per year, most classes with 30 or more students. That doesn’t leave any time at all for scholarship, so to move towards increased scholarship means something had to give.

When the institute passed new scholarship guidelines last year (here, in section 5), based in large part on Ernest Boyer’s reformulated scholarship definitions from Scholarship Reconsidered, it opened up an opportunity for our faculty to renegotiate teaching expectations. As a result, we’re about to implement a new “portfolio” approach that will require untenured faculty to take a “blended” approach—teaching 7 courses per year, and in exchange doing a specified amount of scholarship.

But in that “specification” lies the problem. It’s difficult to specify scholarship in discrete quantities, and to operationalize those specifications effectively. It’s particularly difficult for faculty hired before this shift began, but who are not yet tenured—and there are a lot of them. Between 1988 and this year our department grew from 18 to 51 faculty, and only 20 of us are tenured. Many recent hires were brought on because of their teaching skills, or their experience in the IT industry. Only nine of them have PhDs. Fifteen of them received their master’s degrees from RIT, where our focus is on preparation for industry careers, not academic careers.

Now we’re saying to these folks that the rules have changed. When we hired them, we said teaching and service were really all that mattered. Now we’re saying they have to be scholars, as well. And while we’re providing fairly broad guidelines for what constitutes scholarship (it’s not just academic journals and conferences), we are expecting them to be able to figure out what scholarship is.

What’s happening, alas, is that most of them are seeing the scholarship emphasis only as a bean-counting exercise for tenure and promotion, rather than as an opportunity (facilitated through lower course loads) to expand their intellectual and creative abilities. And as a result, the focus seems to be on process rather than product, quantity rather than quality. To someone who’s not familiar with scholarship, there’s no difference between Academic Exchange Quarterly and Harvard Educational Review. Both are peer-reviewed, therefore both are “beans” to be counted and put into the tenure jar.

As I was driving home today, I was trying to think about how to explain the difference between these to someone putting together their plan of work for the upcoming year. The key concept that’s missing from our scholarship documents and implementation plans is reputation. It’s not just that something is peer-reviewed. There’s more value to the faculty member, and the institute, and to our students, in my being asked to be a speaker at SuperNova than in my being asked to speak to the local PTA. There’s more value in my publishing an article in Wired than in publishing one in the local free-at-the-grocery-store computer rag. There’s more value in exhibiting my work at SIGGRAPH than in putting it up on the college web site. It’s not that there’s no value in those secondary options, but if I have to focus my energy on one or the other, the choice is clear.

Reputation is hard to quantify, and it’s particularly difficult in a field like IT, which spans so many traditional disciplines. And it’s even more difficult when you (quite appropriately, I think) expand the boundaries of “scholarship” to encompass a broader range of activities. But at the end of the day, scholarship really is about reputation. In a professional field, your “peers” may not be editors of academic journals—they may be other programmers, artists, or even bloggers.

I don’t know how we’ll solve this. I hope that we’ll eventually come through this transition period and get to a point where our faculty see scholarship as an opportunity rather than a burden. I wish I could convey to more of them how much joy I take in the research I’m doing, or how good it feels to get an invitation to speak at a conference. But I don’t know how to bridge the cultural gap, to help them make that difficult shift from teachers to scholars. And I fear that if they don’t bridge that gap—and quickly—there will be trouble aplenty when our “bubble” hits the needle of the tenure process in two years.

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categories: research | teaching

Saturday, 20 September 2003

thinking ahead

I want to find a grant or a visiting fellowship for the 2005-2006 academic year. Ideally one that lets me go overseas, along with my family.

I’ll be eligible for a sabbatical at that point, and the half-pay I’ll get for the academic year won’t be enough for us to live on. So the goal is to find a place—academic or commercial—that wants a visiting scholar or scientist who’s interested in working on social software topics. Such a deal…you get a well-credentialed, good-natured expert for a few months, without any of the messy overhead of long-term contracts or benefits! And as an added bonus, you’ll increase the female-male ratio in your organization for the duration.

So, if you hear of anything (or better yet, have the power to create anything), do let me know! (Yes, I realize it’s a long time from now, in bubble-time. But it seemed worth starting the seed-planting process.

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categories: research

Thursday, 11 September 2003

writer's amnesia

Does anybody else ever have the experience of looking at something they’ve written a few months earlier, and not recognizing it all as their own work?

I’m sitting here trying to work on my paper for the AoIR conference, and the obvious starting point is the abstract for the talk.

Now, I wrote that abstract. (I even went back and checked my outgoing mail file to be sure. Yep, it’s a verbatim version of the abstract I sent to Alex back in February.) But I’ve read it over about ten times tonight, and I’ll be damned if I can recognize it as my own. Where did I come up with that stuff? Why can’t I dredge it back back out of my memory banks and pick up where I left off?

I’m probably insane for even acknowledging how foreign it looks to me now, considering that people who will be at the conference expecting me to speak knowledgably on this topic are probably reading this blog. Oh, well. Welcome to my world.

On the bright side, despite my sieve-like memory, I’m quite impressed with my February-self’s ideas, and hope that over the next few days I’ll remember enough of what I was thinking about back then to write the paper that I described so well.

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categories: research

fall frenzy

This is a crazy quarter in terms of traveling. Normally I don’t travel much, if at all, during the academic year (except during breaks). But this quarter, I have three back-to-back trips in October and November. So today has been travel arrangement day. :P

October 16-19 I’ll be at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) annual conference in Toronto, where I’ll be on a blog-related panel that Alex Halavais put together. Minor detail…I need to write the paper. Ack. (It’s based on some earlier work I did related to Usenet, so I’m not at ground zero. But I’m still a little panicked.)

October 26-28 I’ll be at a workshop in Albuquerque, NM, for PIs (principal investigators) in NSF’s ITWF program. Everyone who’s gotten research money over the past few years from that program will be there to talk about their research and share ideas, results, etc. I’m excited about this, because it’s a great opportunity to get to know other researchers in the area of women and computing. However, because of the spam filtering problem I mentioned yesterday, I didn’t know I had to prepare a 5 page summary paper—which is due Monday.

November 2-4 I’ll be at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA, where I’ll be on a keynote panel on blogging “Top Tech Trends for Libraries” (sort of a ‘do-over’ of the ALA panel I was on, but sharing the podium with new people), and then doing a separate presentation on “Beyond Blogging.” I’m way behind on getting the paperwork done for that, too. (If y’all are reading this, I am coming. Really. I promise I’ll have everything filled out and sent back by the end of this weekend!)

All that has to be balanced with MW afternoon teaching schedule. I really don’t feel good about missing more than two classes a quarter (it’s only a ten-week quarter, so there are only 20 class meetings). So that means rushing home on Tuesday the 28th and Tuesday the 4th (including a red-eye flight home for the latter), so that I can make it to my Wednesday 2pm class.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying don’t be surprised if blogging falters a little during the next couple of weeks. That’s a lot of stuff to prepare for.

Thursday, 31 July 2003

why should we care?

When I’ve written in the past about women and technology, or spoken with people about the small number of women in computing programs and professions, the response is often “so what?” So what if women aren’t in the programs—if they’re not interested, they’re not interested. As one person wrote sarcastically in my comments, “Clearly […] we must start forcing more women to become engineers! (Beware the use of a single statistic as an indicator of a complex system. Be-more-ware the tendency to take action based on such a statistic.)”

Margolis and Fisher must have faced similar questions, because they devote a large section of the introduction to this topic. They go beyond the obvious potential benefits to the women of the wider range of job options available to someone conversant with a range of information technologies. Here’s the passage I found compelling:

In the long run, the greatest impact may be on the health of computing as a discipline and its impact on society. The near absence of women’s voices at the drawing board has pervasive effects. Workplace systems are build around male cultural models, and entertainment software fulfills primarily male desires.

They provide several examples to illustrate this problem—voice recognition systems that were calibrated to men’s voices so that women literally went unheard. Automotive airbags designed for male bodies, which resulted in avoidable deaths of women and children. Artificial heart valves sized to the male heart. They continue:

Along with technology’s power come responsibilities to determine what computing is used for and how it is used. These concerns may not be on the mind of adolescent boys who get turned on to computing at an early age and go on to become the world’s computer wizards. But these concerns must be part of a computer scientist’s line of work. The conversation among computer scientists shold not be isolated to all-boy clubhouses; women’s voices and perspectives should be part of this conversation. For this to happen, women must know more than how to use technology; they must know how to design and create it.

Theoretically, IT is more focused on these aspects of computing than traditional CS, which is one reason we’d expected that our program would be more attractive women. Thus far, it seems we were wrong. What remains to be seen is whether it’s a function of the program itself, or a problem with the pipeline leading to it. I suspect both, but that’s the point of our research. (New and far more detailed web site underway for that…stay tuned.)

(This is one in a series of entries from <a href=”<$MTBlogURL$>”>mamamusings related to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. For the whole series, go to the “unlocking the clubhouse” category page.)

book blogging

Loren Webster blogged his reading of Catch-22 this month, providing excerpts and commentary as he worked his way through the book. I really enjoyed that—being able to see a book through someone else’s eyes, read his thoughts and analysis along with Heller’s original text.

So today, as I started re-reading Unlocking the Clubhouse, I decided to try to blog the book as I work my way through it.

I’m doing this for several reasons. First, because it will help me read the book more actively, and integrate it with my own thoughts through the process of writing about it. Second, because I’ll have easy, searchable access to my notes once I’m done. And third, because I think it’s worth sharing parts of this book with those who haven’t read it. It’s not unlike real-time conference blogging, really. Except that anyone who wants a copy of the book can get one.

I’m of two minds on comments. I’m doing this primarily for myself, and to share some information—I’m not particularly interested in getting into arguments on every point. On the other hand, hearing alternative perspectives could be interesting. So I’m going to start with comments open on these posts…but I may change my mind and close them if they turn into flamewars. I’ll aggregate the posts under an “Unlocking the Clubhouse” category, linked at the bottom of each post.)

Written by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, the book chronicles Carnegie-Mellon University’s efforts to (a) understand and (b) address the issue of underrpresentation of women in their CS department. When they began their study, women made up 7% of their entering freshman class. (Sounds depressingly familiar.) Five years later, the percentage had risen to 42%. During that same five year period, it should be noted, the overall national percentage of women in CS programs had dropped steadily.

Here’s a key passage from the introduction:

The study of computer science can be seen as a microcosm of how a realm of power can be claimed by one group of people, relegating others to outsiders. While not ruling out the possibilities of gender differences in cognitive preferences, we challenge the assumption that computer science is “just boring for girls and women” by showing the weighty influences that steal women’s interest in computer science away from them. Our book tells the story of women students who were once enthusiastic about studying computer science and what happens to them in school.s. We describe what teacher sand parents need to do to engage and protect girls’ interests and change computer science into a field that is engaging and interesting for a much larger and more diverse group of students. The goal is not to fit women into computer science as it is currently taught and conceived. Rather, a cultural and curricular revolution is required to change computer science so that the valuable contributions and perspectives of women are respected within the discipline.

Wednesday, 16 July 2003

did you say twelve?

Got the preliminary numbers for our entering freshman class this fall, in preparation for interviewing the incoming women (and a random sample of men).

Of 210 incoming freshmen, a whopping total of 12 are women. Yes, that’s right. Twelve. Less than 6%. (Hmmm…should that be “fewer”? Not sure.)

That’s down from last year, when we were at about 10%. Which, in turn, was down from closer to 14% the year before. Everyone here I’ve shared that figure with has been aghast. “Twelve?? Are you sure???” Yes, I’m sure.

So yeah, there’s a problem. And it’s getting worse, not better. And yes, I have some theories as to what those problems are. But the reason we’re doing this research is to go beyond the personal theories into something grounded in the experiences of the students themselves.

If you’re interested in this issue, I highly recommend the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. It describes the process that CMU went through to understand and then address the problem of underrepresentation in their CS program. The number of women in their entering class went from 7 of 95 in 1995 to 54 of 130 in 2000. Pretty impressive. The things they found are important and interesting…it’s well worth a read by anyone who has an interest in women and technology, because (I think) there are generalizable lessons that go beyond educational contexts.

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categories: research

Monday, 14 July 2003

itwf grant on gendered attrition

The weather in Rochester is gorgeous today…low 80s, puffy clouds in a blue sky, negligible humidity. Spent the morning with my grandmother, my mother, and my son, walking and lunching along the Erie Canal. But duty calls now—I’ve started getting paychecks for the NSF grant work, so I’m in the office trying not to stare out the window at the still-beautiful day.

First order of business—find a graduate assistant!

This is an incredibly sweet deal for the right person. Over $15K towards tuition for two years (that covers about 3 2 courses per quarter, but I’m working on a change that will push it to 3), along with a $16,000 stiped for working 20/hours a week for 9 months (well, less than 9 months, really, factoring in quarter breaks and holidays).

Yes, I understand that the downside is that you’d have to live in Rochester. But believe it or not, I’m not here under duress. It’s a genuinely nice place to live. Low cost of living, wonderful art and music, good technology infrastructure, great health care, lovely spring, summer, and fall weather. Yes, the winters are challenging. But not nearly as bad as urban legend makes them out to be.

If you’re interested, take a look at the project web site, which has a detailed description of the project, and then get in touch with me directly.

Given the nature of the project, we’d obviously prefer a woman for the position…we feel as though the project funds would be best spent helping to bring another woman into the research. But that’s not a mandatory characteristic, just a preferred one. We definitely need someone with strong written and verbal communication skills, and would prefer someone with some social science background—undergrad, grad, or professional.

We’re reviewing existing applications to the IT program, but don’t want to limit it to that pool. Because of the tight time frame, however, it will be important to let me know sooner rather than later if you’re interested in the position.

Update, 5:57pm
Forgot to mention a bit about the academc program. In addition to lots of basic IT areas, from multimedia development to networking & systems administration to HCI. We’ve got a burgeoning game development program, and I’m hoping to start a concentration focused on social software development.

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categories: research

Sunday, 29 June 2003

woohoo! i'm official!

NSF Award Abstract - #0305973
ITWF: Understanding Gendered Attrition in Departments of Information Technology

And as my husband points out, the only thing better than seeing your name in an official NSF award notice is seeing it while you listen to Allison Krauss singing on Austin City Limits. Damn, that woman can sing. (Oh, man. That’s going to trigger the filtering software again, isn’t it?)

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categories: research

Tuesday, 10 June 2003

help wanted: graduate research assistant

Looks like we’ll be receiving our notice of award from NSF in the next week or two, which means it’s time to find the third member of our team—the graduate assistant. It’s a two-year full-ride assistantship—full tuition for two years, and a $16,000 yearly stipend, in exchange for 20 hours/week of work on the project. It does not include summers, although summer money may also become available. (Keep in mind, too, that this is Rochester, NY, where the cost of living is very low compared to major metro areas.)

This is a two-year grant to study the experiences of women in undergraduate IT programs. Here’s how we described it in the proposal abstract:

The proposed research will study the experiences of undergraduate women in departments of Information Technology (IT). Most research to date into women╠s experiences in undergraduate computing programs has focused on Computer Science departments. IT programs have cast themselves as qualitatively different from traditional CS. It is unclear, however, whether women╠s experiences in these programs are more positive than in CS, where retention of female students has been consistently problematic. This study will be done in two parts. The first will be a qualitative study of women entering the IT department at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as freshmen. These women will be interviewed upon entrance into the program, at the end of their first quarter, and at the end of the academic year. Based on the information gained in that study, key factors related to women╠s persistence or attrition will be identified. The second part of the study will be the development of a questionnaires for faculty and students intended to identify the presence and influence of those factors in academic departments. The questionnaire will then be administered at departments of IT across the US, in order to determine whether the factors identified at RIT are generalizable across institutions.

The qualitative methodology we’ll be using in the first portion of the study is Brenda Dervin’s Sense-Making, which is what I used in my dissertation research (on attrition in LIS doctoral programs).

What we’re looking for in our “ideal” graduate assistant is someone who has a background in social science research, strong writing skills, and good interpersonal skills (to help with interviewing subjects). They’ll also need to meet the admissions requirements for the MS IT program—which are not terribly stringent. (3.0 GPA, and basic programming and web skills, essentially.)

In addition to the opportunity to work with two very fun researchers (myself and Tona Henderson) on an interesting NSF grant (and associated publications), you’ll get a top-notch technical education. The next two years will be exciting ones in our program as we begin to expand the range of course offerings and focus on targeted areas like game development and social software, and XML.

If you’re interested, or know somebody who is, please contact me directly, at ell at mail dot rit dot edu.

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categories: research

Wednesday, 21 May 2003

os x qualitative research software?

Does anybody know of a good qualitative research software package that runs under OS X?

When I did my dissertation research, I used QSR NUD*IST, which ran on the Mac OS. But their current software (called NVivo, a far less problematic name for requesting funds from your department) only runs on Windows.

I’ve done some poking around, and haven’t found much. So I’m tossing this out to the blogosphere. Anybody know of anything? I need something that lets me highlight and code passages in interview transcripts—similar to what’s described in the NVivo information. (In the worst case scenario I’ll run NVivo using Virtual PC, though I really hate to do that if I can find an alternative.)

I’m wondering if Tinderbox might work. (Jill, what do you think?)

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categories: research

Thursday, 24 April 2003

duty vs pleasure?

What to do, what to do…

Just found out that a panel presentation I volunteered to be on has been accepted for the 2003 Association of Internet Researchers conference. The problem? It’s the exact same dates as this year’s Pop!Tech.

As an academic, I should go to AoIR, since a juried panel presentation is a very nice line on the vita, plus it’s a chance to talk to other people in the field who don’t see research as an unnecessary distraction from coding.

But I love Pop!Tech. It makes me think in new ways. It gives me a chance to talk to people who are excited about the same ideas that I am.

I really don’t want to have to pick one, but I guess I’m going to have to. Blech.

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categories: research

Wednesday, 26 March 2003

no, not that grant!

Got a phone call this morning from a program director at the NSF, letting me know that a grant proposal that I submitted in November has a very good chance of being funded.

Wow.

That’s the first grant proposal I’ve ever written. We (a colleague and I) wrote it fully expecting to get turned down. Neither one of us has a “track record” of funded research; heck, neither one of us has a track record of publications in our current field. We figured we’d get comments back, and that would be a learning experience that would help us work towards a funded project.

The grant’s not funded yet…but it now seems likely it will be. And it’s hard for me to describe just how wonderful I feel about this. Because I’m at a teaching institution, I’ve let scholarship fall by the wayside over the past six years. I haven’t been publishing, and I haven’t been doing research. This was the first time that I gathered myself up and actually wrote something to share with the outside world. And to have it warmly received by people I respect and admire…well, that’s worth more than I can say.

No, this is not the microcontent/blogging grant proposal. That wasn’t submitted until last month, so it will be quite some time before we hear anything on that. The funny thing is that everyone I’ve told today about the call from NSF immediately assumed it was “the blog grant.”

“No, not that grant,” I’ve had to tell them all. But a grant, nonetheless. So tonight I’m celebrating. In the words of Sally Field, “They like me! They really like me!”

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categories: research

Thursday, 13 March 2003

weblog tool projects

Today I had two different graduate students come to me with ideas for blog-related graduate capstone projects (an alternative to theses for our students). How cool is that?

It looks like the first one is going to work on multiple authoring issues associated with Movable Type. Ideally, I’d like a way to create an MT blog that has almost Wiki-like “add yourself as an author” capability. I’d also like a way to easily select among “simple” and “advanced” editing/authoring interfaces. Anybody know of things already happening in this arena?

The second is going to work on a kids’ interface to MT blogging. My 8yo, Lane, has expressed interest in blogging—but the standard MT entry environment is not particularly kid-friendly. I’d like a kid-focused interface that keeps things really simple, preferably integrating some of the functionality that plug-ins like MT-Textile offer, but also giving a UI that’s really kid-friendly (and kid-tested).

After too many years of supervising yet-another-ecommerce-project, it is incredibly exciting to have students who want to work on the things I really care about. And because our students take classes in everything from programming to database to HCI, we have an incredible opportunity to turn them loose on the LazyWeb and have what they do help the larger social software community.

I’ve waited a long, long time to get to a point where my personal and professional interests intersected so well, and in a way that has long-term professional potential. I have to keep pinching myself these days. :-)

On the not-quite-such-good-news front, my cholesterol test results came back, and it looks like it’s a very good thing that I’ve made myself publicly accountable on the exercise front. Need to change the diet, too, it seems. <sigh>

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categories: on blogging | research | teaching | technology

Monday, 10 March 2003

open source courseware

I have spent most of this weekend wrestling my course materials into the proprietary courseware framework that our university has invested in. The system, called Prometheus, boasts what may be the all-time worst user interface I’ve had the displeasure of working with in many years.

I’m taking the time to do this because, in my experience, criticism of a bad system is only taken seriously when the person doing the criticisim has made a good-faith effort to learn and use the system. So I’m using our Prometheus-based “myCourses” system to support both of my classes this quarter—one on-campus, one distance-learning.

So far, we’re off to a bad start. Simple things that I ought to be able to do aren’t possible at all—from moving a reading from one course meeting slot to another, to creating custom dropboxes for file submissions. The labels for sections and tasks are counter-intuitive, and the entire system seems to have been designed without regard for the user’s needs (at least the faculty user…we’ll have to see what my students say). While some of the Prometheus system is apparently customizable by “IT Administrators” at a given school, none of it appears to be customizable by the actual people who have to use it. I can’t make it less ugly. I can’t fix the UI problems. I have almost no control over the look-and-feel, which is a very large part of the overall “online classroom” experience.

It’s the equivalent of being asked to teach all my classes in a dark, dingy basement classroom, with no control over lights, desk locations, etc. Sure, the “institution” has the ability to change it. But as the instructor, I don’t. Blech.

What’s worse, however, is that I realized after I was done that there’s no way for me to make any of the course information publicly accessible—something I’ve always done with my syllabi. While there are some aspects of the courseware—like the testing and grading functions—that should be private, those are the exceptions. I resent using a system that won’t let me share the basic information about the class with anyone who’s interested.

Last year, I started building a PHP/mySQL system to generate my syllabi. You can see it in action with my web database, xml, and web design syllabi from earlier this year. But I can’t show you this quarter’s thesis prep or intro to multimedia courses, because they’re hidden inside our proprietary system.

Why isn’t there an open-source courseware package that’s as easy to use and customizable as something like Movable Type??? Is that so very much to ask? I did some poking around tonight, and didn’t find anything that really excited me. This is not rocket science…it’s a customized content management system (CMS) application. People make them all the time.

(Interestingly, Prometheus started out as home-grown “community source” software at GWU, but was purchased by Blackboard, a commercial competitor.)

Is there something great out there that I don’t know about? If so, I’d love a pointer. And if not, I guess I need to start fleshing out my little homegrown system, and looking for people to work with me on it to make it more robust and usable in multiple contexts.

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categories: curmudgeonly | research | teaching | technology

Monday, 3 March 2003

why bother?

I’ve avoided responding to Dorothea’s continuing self-described “rampage” against academia, because I suspect that nothing I write will change her well-entrenched negative view of academia. Clearly, Dorothea’s got some “issues” on this topic—not just her grad school experience, but her experiences with her father, as well.

But hey, I’m an extrovert. I think out loud. So I’ll respond, but not in a point-by-point attempt to rebut each of her assertions. You see, I don’t disagree that her view is in some ways accurate. I just don’t think it’s complete. Academia, like every other human-constructed environment I’ve ever seen (from the nuclear family to the nation-state) can be ugly or beautiful, depending on your own context and experience.

I feel particularly compelled to counter Dorothea’s assertion that “survivorship bias” is tainting my view. In fact, she might want to consider reading my dissertation. The topic? A qualitative (“Sense-Making”) inquiry into attrition in doctoral programs in my field. (And what field might that be? Library & Information Science—the same field in which Dorothea has recently been accepted into a graduate program. Which makes me wonder how she can say things like “Deeply sick and sad system. I╠m so glad I╠m out of it for good I couldn╠t begin to tell you,” with a straight face…).

I went into the project fully expecting to hear angst-ridden tales of woe from those who’d left their doctoral programs. In fact, that was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the people I interviewed had few regrets about their departure from doctoral work. They’d tried it, found it not to be what they wanted, and moved on.

It was necessary for me to do a great deal of related reading and research into graduate and doctoral attrition, and one of things that really became clear during this process was how very different the environments were from field to field. The experiences of a doctoral student (or a professor) in biophysics are extremely different from those of a sociologist, or a library scientist, or a literary theorist. And beyond that, the experiences of a student in any of those fields will vary significantly based on the country in which they study.

All of which by way of saying, it’s not the specifics of Dorothea’s complaints that I question. It’s the broad brush she uses to paint an entire world of teachers, students, and scholars—based solely on personal anecdotal experience.

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categories: curmudgeonly | research | teaching

Thursday, 27 February 2003

subverting the quantitative hierarchy

I am a qualitative researcher. I tend to believe stories before I believe statistics. Anne Galloway has a lovely post about the value of qualitative perspectives on blogging.

And Meg at Mandarin offers up an irresistable opportunity to play games with Daypop’s new “word burst” tracker. Use the word “oulipo” in your blog, she says. Consider it done.

And when the statisticians total their columns and find a burst like this, what will they make of it? Without the stories, it means nothing.

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categories: research

Sunday, 23 February 2003

<sigh>

The problem with finding a slew of interesting academic blogs is that it's left me feeling intellectually unworthy.

When I was a graduate student, with time and energy to spare, there were all kinds of interesting research agendas I wanted to puruse. From examining online discourse (circa '93) in the context of Habermas' ideal speech situation to applying Bourdieu's sociology of culture to reputation and interaction in CMC.

And then the real world interceded, and I ended up at a teaching institution, with a 3-course-per-quarter load, 300+ students per year to teach, advise, and evaluate, and no time to think outside the constraints of the classroom.

With the burst of the dot-com bubble, our torrent of new students is slowing to a trickle, which brings with it problems (what will happen to the faculty hired at the top of the bubble?) but also blessings (a significantly more manageable teaching load). So like Rip Van Winkle rising from his 100-year-sleep, I now find myself looking around at a new landscape, blinking in surprise and confusion, trying to figure out how to re-establish my ideas for research and exploration in new communication media.

I've found little to indicate that others have taken and run with the concepts I was toying with in grad school. But I'm going to spend some of the upcoming quarter break digging a little more deeply.

Meanwhile, when I stumble across scholars like Kieran Healy in my net travels, I'm torn between excitement and envy. It's a feeling I remember all too well from graduate school, one that Anne Galloway has recently expressed in her blog. I'm thrilled that someone is exploring topics like "Digital Technology and Cultural Goods"...but I hate that I have contributed nothing significant of my own, ten years after I first starting exploring the topic. And I'm wondering if there's anything I have to say that goes beyond what's already happening, or that comes close to the level of clear articulation that so many others are displaying in their writing.

In some ways, I suppose, I'm hoping that saying this publicly here on my blog will force me to move forward. We'll see. Watch this space. By end of summer, my goal is to have at least two articles--perhaps based on those earlier grad school papers--out the door and into editors' mailboxes.

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categories: research

Friday, 21 February 2003

synchronicity and collaboration

A few months ago, I wrote about the way blogs allow us to see ideas emerge simultaneously in more than one place. At first, I found this somewhat threatening and/or disheartening. My ideas seemed so much less original when I saw them echoed in multiple places--especially when the other people saying those things seemed to be saying them in a way that was so much more thoughtful and articulate than what I'd managed. But Jill Walker and Seb Paquet made comments to that post that I found cheering, and I started to see that process of parallel idea emergence in blogs as an exciting thing.

Normally, academics work so much in isolation--guarding their work until it's ready for peer-reviewed publication, trying to "scoop" each other in the process. But the culture of blogs seems to be enabling a change in that approach. Recently, Alex Halavais wrote about the initial "gut-wrenching" that he felt when he saw that concepts he's been thinking about were already being researched and written about elsewhere. But Alex also wrote that his initial unhappiness (fueled by a "senior colleague" who warned he'd have a hard time getting published now--more on that later) gave way to guarded enthusiasm over the fact that this gave some legitimacy to his research agenda, rather than torpedoing it.

Today, two blogs I read got me thinking more about these topics. The first was Anne Galloway's purselipsquarejaw, where she said "I'm feeling discouraged and disinterested. I don't want to maintain a blog. I don't want to finish my PhD. I don't want to be a consultant. I've got nothing interesting to say. My perspective is not unique. My voice is weak." Gosh, that sounded familiar. :-) But for me, at least, that was temporary feeling. While other people are, indeed, talking and blogging about topics that I at first thought were my unique ideas, I still feel as though what I bring is a unique perspective. Much of my perspective is based in what Seb called my "eyes-wide-open librarian" approach--I read a lot, and I like putting pieces together.

That's connects to my other blog-related discovery today. David Weinberger pointed me to a new blog (actually, a new category-based page generated from an existing blog, which is an excellent way to use tools like Movable Type) by the Happy Tutor, on the topic of "Philanthropy, Democracy, and Weblogs." It apparently emerged independent of what's been going on with the Emergent Democracy discussions initiated recently by Joi Ito.

What's so cool about this is that without weblogs, the simultaneous exploration of this topic by two really interesting people would probably have happened without direct connections being made. Joi and the Tutor move in separate blogcircles--but here is where the permeability of those circles comes into play. Joi and I are in each other's circles, and the Tutor is in circles that I'm connected to. So it took very little time for me to find and connect the two discussions.

And the synchronicity continues with what the Tutor is proposing, because it's so very close to what's in my NSF grant proposal...and the research agenda that I'm talking about pursuing in the short term. Need to spend some time over the upcoming quarter break connecting these dots ("threading the needle," as Shelley Powers would probably put it), and seeing what kinds of collaborative, synergistic activities could emerge from the synchronicity of these simultaneous ideas.

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categories: on blogging | research

Thursday, 20 February 2003

weblogs and sense-making

With the grant proposal done, it's time to turn my attention to how to formalize my interests in what's going on with blogs. Without a plan, I'm likely to spin my wheels for too long. And without making that plan visible, I'm unlikely to stick with it...so starting to give it shape here makes the most sense.

The emergent democracy discussions that Joi has started have got me thinking about how to combine my interest in qualitative methodologies like Sense-Making (which I used in my dissertation) with my interest in the interactions occurring in weblogs.

The Sense-Making methodology--which was developed by Brenda Dervin, a communications professor at Ohio State--has been used to study a variety of communication tools and media. The potential for this methodology in the context of weblogs is significant, since past Sense-Making studies have included topics near and dear to the hearts of webloggers--gaps between audience and media, online communities and "ideal speech" situations, and assumptions regarding the relationship between information and democracy.

As I've been pulling together the cites for this post, my thoughts are clarifying a bit...which is one of the most interesting and powerful aspects of weblogs, I think. They bridge the gap between private notes and publication, providing a structured but still malleable environment for idea forming.

So, that's where I'm going right now, I think. Time to think about what the path to that place will be.

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categories: research
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna