Archive for the ‘Media and News’ Category

An Alberta researcher offers object lessons in the gamification of learning

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

I was interviewed by email the other day by Danny Bradbury from the Commerce Lab. The interview is now up at An Alberta researcher offers object lessons in the gamification of learning. Rereading the interview I’m struck by the disconnect between the research we do and what industry does. We do research for the sake of research, but often we don’t connect the research to the concrete problems of practicioners whether a teacher or in industry. For that matter, in the academy, most of us really don’t know much about the realities in business any more than other consumers. We make assumptions, but don’t check them. We don’t actually know what sort of research has been done or not in industry. That isn’t all our fault as industry tends to guard its research as a competitive advantage. Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival describes the deep differences as between two ethical systems:

  • The Guardian system which is open and sharing, uses force and shuns trade.
  • The Commercial system that is competitive, thrifty, innovative and industrious


Defining Digital Humanities

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Melissa Terras, Julianne Nyhan and Edward Vanhoutte have just edited a reader on Defining Digital Humanities. I have two works in this collection, “Is Humanities Computing an Academic Discipline”, which is a paper I gave for a seminar at the University of Virginia, and a blog entry “Inclusion in the Digital Humanities”. I also note that they have selected definitions (of DH) from the Day of Digital Humanities. This seems to be a trend now – books introducing the field include definitions culled from the project.

HedgeChatter – Social Media Stock Sentiment Analysis Dashboard

Monday, November 25th, 2013

HedgeChatter – Social Media Stock Sentiment Analysis Dashboard is a site that analyzes social media chatter about stocks and then lets you see how a stock is doing. In the picture above you can see the dashboard for Apple (APPL). Rolling over it you can see what people are saying over time – what the “Social Sentiment” is for the stock. I’m assuming with an account one can keep a portfolio and perhaps get alerts when the sentiment drops.

To do this they must have some sort of text analysis running that gives them the sentiment.

Arts in 60 Seconds: Research Lectures

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The University of Alberta has put together a set of short (60 second) lectures by faculty on what they do. See Arts in 60 seconds and ignore my one.

Supporting Digital Scholarship

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The Tri-Council Agencies (Research councils of Canada) and selected other institutions (going under the rubric TC3+) have released an important Consultation Document titled Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada. You can see a summary blog entry from the CommerceLab, How big data is reshaping the future of digital scholarship in Canada. The document suggest that we have many of the components of a “well-functioning digital infrastructure ecosystem for research and innovation”, but that these are not coordinated and Canada is not keeping up. They propose three initiatives:

  • Establishing a Culture of Stewardship
  • Coordination of Stakeholder Engagement
  • Developing Capacity and Future Funding Parameters

The first initiative is about research data management and something we have been working on the digital humanities for some time. It is great to see a call from our funding agencies.

CIFAR: Do you have a question?

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Back in the Spring I blogged about how CIFAR was launching a new programme that might be open to humanists called, Do you have a question with the potential to change the world?. CIFAR doesn’t have much of a track record supporting arts or humanities research as their own reports note. An open call for questions would surely attract some questions that humanists would recognize. Alas, no.

Despite getting 280 Letters of Interest not one of the seven selected comes from the arts, humanities or social sciences. The closest is the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness project which is based in neuroscience and will apparently involve philosophers and ethicists. Here is the list of the seven selected for the next round:

  • Biology, Energy, and Technology
  • BrainLight: Cracking the Sensory Code
  • Brain, Mind, and Consciousness
  • Life in a Changing Ocean: New Perspectives on Marine Functions and Services
  • Making a Molecular Map of the Cell: Towards a Direct Determination of the Structure-Function Correlation of Biological Systems
  • Microbes and Humans
  • The Planetary Biodiversity Project

It is time to ask the question, Why doesn’t CIFAR support the arts and humanities? (In previous programmes they have supported the social sciences.) It is unbelievable that they did not get interesting questions from the humanities. Either no one bothered to submit an interesting question (which I happen to know is not true) or they aren’t interested in the questions we ask. Here are some of the some of the possible explanations I can think of for CIFAR’s ignorance:

  •  None of the 280 LOIs were of the quality of the seven selected.
  • The panel was composed primarily of scientists and engineers. The one humanist was Pauline Yu.
  • The type of questions they were looking for were not the sort we ask in the humanities. They were looking for questions that could be answered with a bit of money rather than the questions we deal with that may never be answered.
  • Their idea of “questions with the potential to change the world” does not include questions about government, race, democracy, culture, art, education or literature.
  • This programme wasn’t really intended as a way to bring in new areas of research as I was told when I asked about the dearth of humanities support.

I think it is time CIFAR be honest with the larger community and admit that they are focusing on support for research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine with some forays into the Social Sciences. No one would blame them for focusing their support. Deep in their reports they admit that “the growth of its programs in the social sciences and humanities has not kept pace with growth in the natural sciences” (Final Report CIFAR Performance Audit and Evaluation) though I frankly don’t see any growth at all. alberta@noon Monday June 10, 2013

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Last week I was interviewed by Judy Aldous on the CBC programme alberta@noon Monday June 10, 2013. We took calls about social media. I was intrigued by the range of reactions from “I don’t need anything other than messaging” to “I use it all the time for my company.” One point I was trying to make is that we all have to now manage our social media presence. There are too many venues to be present in all of them and, as my colleague Julie Rak points out, we are now all celebrities in the sense that we have to worry about how we appear in media. That means we need to educate ourselves to some degree and experiment with developing a voice.

Around the World Symposium on Digital Culture

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Tomorrow we are organizing an Around the World Symposium on Digital Culture. This symposium brings together scholars from different countries talking about digital culture for about 17-20 hours as it goes from place to place streaming their talks and discussions. The Symposium is being organized by the Kule Institute for Advanced Study here at the University of Alberta. Visit the site to see the speakers and to tune in.

Please join in using the Twitter hashtag #UofAworld

U. of Virginia Teams Up With ‘Crowdfunding’ Site

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Mike linked me to a Chronicle Bottom Line blog story about how U. of Virginia Teams Up With ‘Crowdfunding’ Site to Finance Research. UVa is teaming up with USEED, a company that has built a “fundraising platform [that] taps the power of social networks and the voice of your students to engage alumni and win new donors…” USEED is unlike Kickstarter in that it creates a unique site for each university rather than forcing them to compete on the same site. It is closer to the site for Carleton.

USEED is an example of a company that is experimenting with “social entrepreneurship” a gray area between for-profit and not-for-profit work. The Chronicle also has a story on the ambiguities of social entrepreurship. At times it seems like there are a lot of startups that are circling universities trying to figure out how to feed on our antiquated corpse.

CIFAR: Renewing their vision

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Today I went to a meeting about Canadian Institute For Advanced Knowledge (CIFAR) in the hopes that they might have programs in the humanities. They do and they don’t.

One new initiative they have that is open to humanists is their global call for ideas. The call is open to anyone:

Do you have a question with the potential to change the world?

A number of their programs like Successful Societies, Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being, and Institutions, Organizations & Growth seem to have humanists and social scientists involved, even if they aren’t issues central to the humanities.

In recognition of the absence of humanities programs they started a Humanities Initiative in 2009. Alas, it hasn’t yet developed any programs we could participate in. Here is some history:

In their 2009-2010 Annual Performance Report they state:

CIFAR organized a discussion with senior humanities researchers drawn from institutions across North America in May 2009 about the role CIFAR could play in supporting advanced research in the humanities. The meeting participants recommended the creation of an ad hoc Steering Committee that would undertake the process of identifying in detail how CIFAR should approach and support advanced humanities research. This Steering Committee met in December 2009, and following a telephone conference in April 2010 recommended that the Institute proceed with several pilot projects in the next year. Work on refining these projects and identifying task force members was underway by June 2010.

In a 2010, Final Report CIFAR Performance Audit and Evaluation, the evaluators note:

CIFAR’s Strategic Plan notes that the growth of its programs in the social sciences and humanities has not kept pace with growth in the natural sciences. CIFAR is, consequently, examining how its research model might be adapted to research in these disciplines with a specific focus in this five-year period on the humanities.

It is now 2013 and it seems the steering group recommended two pilot projects, neither of which seem to have done more than meet.

Pekka Sinervo, who presented here, suggested that it is hard to find examples of sustained conversations around a single question in the humanities of the sort that CIFAR supports. He challenged me to find examples they could use as models. Perhaps there isn’t a tradition of think tanks in the humanities? Perhaps senior humanists, of the sort CIFAR has recruited, are more solitary scholars who just can’t get excited about getting together to talk about ideas? Perhaps the humanities has lapsed into Cartesian solipsism – we think, we are, but alone.

I personally think CIFAR should restart and rethink their Humanities Initiative. If they are finding it hard to get humanists engaged in the ways other fields are, then try something different. I would encourage them to look at some examples from the digital humanities that have demonstrated the capacity to initiate and sustain conversations in innovative ways:

  • The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) is an extremely successful example of an open and inclusive form of conversation. Mellon supports this initiative that supports inexpensive “unconferences” around the world.
  • Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship Online (NINES) is a reinvented scholarly association that was formed to support old and new media research. This is not an elite exclusive community, but a reimagined association that is capable of recognizing enquiry through digital scholarship.
  • The Day of Digital Humanities is a sustained look at the question, “Just what do digital humanists really do?” Started at U of Alberta in 2009, the latest version was run by Michigan State University’s MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences. Other organizations have used this “Day of …” paradigm to get discussion going around issues like digital archaeology.
  • 4Humanities is a loose group that looks at how to advocate for the humanities in the face of funding challenges. With minimal funding we support local chapters, international correspondents, and various activities.

In short, there are lots of examples of sustained conversations, especially if you don’t limit yourself to a particular model. Dialogue has been central to the humanities since Plato’s Academy; perhaps the humanities should be asked by CIFAR to imagine new forms of dialogue. Could CIFAR make a virtue of the problem they face around humanities conversations?

Can you start a dialogue with the potential to change the world?