Around the World Conference


Today we are running the Around the World Conference from the University of Alberta. This year’s topic is privacy and surveillance in the digital age. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study is hosting this online conference. Here are some of my opening comments,

I would like to welcome you to our second Around the World Conference. This year’s conference is on Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age.

The ATW conference was the idea of the Founding Director of KIAS, Jerry Varsava. The idea is to support a truly international discussion around a topic that concerns us all around the world.

This year we have speakers from 11 countries including Nigeria, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, the US, and of course Canada.

This ATW conference is an experiment. It is an experiment because it is difficult to coordinate the technology across so many countries and institutions. It is an experiment in finding ways to move ideas without moving bodies. It is an experiment in global discussion.

Research Data Management Week

This week the University of Alberta is running a Research Data Management Week. They have sessions throughout the week. I will be presenting on “Weaving Data Management into Your Research.” The need for discussions around research data management is described on the web page:

New norms and practices are developing around the management of research data. Canada’s research councils are discussing the introduction of data management plans within their application processes. The University of Alberta’s Research Policy now addresses the stewardship of research records, with an emphasis on the long-term preservation of data. An increasing number of scholarly journals are requiring authors to provide access to the data behind their submissions for publication. Data repositories are being established in domains and institutions to support the sharing and preservation of data. The series of talks and workshops that have been organized will help you better prepare for this emerging global research data ecosystem.

The University now has language in the Research Policy that the University will:

Ensure that principles of stewardship are applied to research records, protecting the integrity of the assets.

The Research Records Stewardship Guidance Procedure then identifies concrete responsibilities of researchers.

These policies and the larger issue of information stewardship have become important to infrastructure. See my blog entry about the TC3+ document on Capitalizing on Big Data.

Blended Learning Award for GWrit

The Game of Writing (Gwrit) project that I am part of just got support through a University of Alberta Blended Learning Award. See the 2014 Selected Courses. This award is going towards creating a flipped version of Writing 101, a service course that is being scaled up to support large sections by Roger Graves and Heather Graves. With the Blended Learning Award support from the Centre for Teaching and Learning and with Faculty of Arts funding we are redeveloping GWrit to be used in large sections of Writing 101. Here is part of the abstract of the proposal,

Research suggests that by creating a rich online environment for students to connect and interact with instructors and peers they can improve as writers. We are currently building a gamified online writing environment, The Game of Writing (GWrit), for Writing Studies 101 (WRS 101) that can support student writers and alumni. WRS 101 is a high demand service course required for many degree programs across the University. We are creating a large class version that blends face-to-face with gamification strategies. In GWrit students will choose and work on assignments or quests that are part of the course. Their progress on these assignments or quests will be shared with peers and instructional staff; in this way all students can see who is working on the same quests, and they can ask for help or advice from them. Informal assessment will be available online from peers in the class; from paid peer tutors; from GTAs; and from alumni. This represents a significant expansion of the informal assessment available in traditional face-to-face courses, where peers and sometimes the instructor give informal feedback. We also intend to invite alumni to post assignments/quests that come from a workplace writing context. Students who complete WRS 101 will continue to have access to GWrit throughout their undergraduate careers and as alumni.

GWrit started as a prototype developed with support from GRAND. The original idea was an open writing environment where folks could challenge each other to compete at writing and where you could get analytics on your writing (number of words written, tasks completed, and visualizations like word clouds.) This research prototype is now being completely redeveloped by the Arts Resource Centre as a learning tool that can be used by students of our courses. We are adding commenting features so that students (and later alumni) can provide writing guidance in a structured fashion.

Research Collaborations: Where to start?

Today, I have to say a few words about collaboration at a lunch-time Arts Research Group gathering. I thought I would gather them here:

  • First, collaboration needs to be explicitly discussed to go well. Don’t assume that everyone knows who is doing what or that they share your sense of the goals. Err on the side of saying too much too often.
  • In some cases a formal charter is a good idea. The iterative design of a project charter for interdisciplinary research.
  • One thing you need to work out explicitly is how credit will be apportioned. Discuss it and then follow what you agree to. Always be generous with those with less power than you in the collaboration.
  • Collaborations are not necessarily friendships between like-minded folk. Collaborations often cross disciplines and research practices. Collaborations are often between people with different levels of support, power, and engagement. Try to share support with collaborators (if, for example, you get a grant.) Be ethical in your collaborations with those with less power. Be careful not to ask too much of those not engaged in the whole project.
  • If you want to collaborate with someone ask them. Invite them out for a coffee and explain what you want to do. Try to figure out how this would be useful for them and build that into the collaboration.
  • There are lots of tools you can use for managing communication and collaboration, but none of them are a substitute for regular attention. I frankly find a weekly meeting is the best way to keep things on track.
  • There is lots of advice our there on collaboration and even grants to facilitate developing collaboration. Developing a collaboration takes time, so avail yourself of support to do it.


The Coming MOOC Copyright Problem And Its Impact on Students and Universities

From Eleni, a short article on coming issues around copyright at MOOCs, The Coming MOOC Copyright Problem And Its Impact on Students and Universities. These issues are not really new. Anyone working on distance education in the 80s and 90s had to face these issues, especially if you were a faculty member creating content. Our University IP approach to copyright has languished as it is not considered as important as patentable IP. University IP boards tend to deal with the types of IP that make money for the university and not those that are usually assigned to faculty. The problem comes when a university invests significant funds in developing a MOOC or Blended Learning course. A university wants to be sure the copyright issues are solved before investment. A university wants some clarity as to who, of a large team of faculty, graduate students, videographers, graphic designers and programmers, really owns anything. A University want to be able to offer the course even if members of the team move on (which faculty do a lot.) The approach I am pushing at U of Alberta is non-exclusive rights so that anyone in the team (including the University) can do what they want with the materials. A prof can take the materials to another university if they leave and rebuild a similar course. All that is expected is that people and institutions are given credit.

We need to talk about TED by Benjamin Bratton

The Guardian has reprinted the trasnscript of Benjamin Bratton’s We need to talk about TED talk that is critical of TED. He looks at each of the three terms in T.E.D. (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and here is paraphrase of some of his points:

  • TED talks conceptualize the future, but tend to oversimplify it.
  • TED wants to be about imagining the future, but it tends to promote placebo politics and technology.
  • We are told that change is accelerating, but while that may be true of technology, it isn’t true of politics and culture.
  • TED talks have too much faith in technology. Another futurism is possible.
  • Capitalism is presented as being about rocket ships and nanomedicine. It is actually about Walmart jobs, McMansions and government spying.

He ends by talking about design. He argues that it shouldn’t be about innovation, but about innoculation. Design is presented in TED as the heroic solving a puzzles that will magically fix everything. Instead he argues for design as slogging through the hard stuff – understanding the politics and cultural issues.

He ends by summarizing why he feels TED is not just a distraction, but harmful. He believes TED misdirects our attention by charming us with the entertaining simple solutions while avoiding the messy, chaotic, complex issues that can’t be solved by technology.

I sometimes wonder if Humanities Computing didn’t serve a similar purpose in the humanities. Is it a form of comic (technological) relief from the brutal truths we confront in the humanities … especially the suspicion that we make no difference when we do confront racism, sexism, surveillance, politics and technohype. Why not relax and play a bit with the other?

WPA: Uses and Limitations of Automated Writing Evaluation

The Council of Writing Program Administrators has made available a very useful Research Bibliography on the Uses and Limitations of Automated Writing Evaluation Software (PDF). This is part of a set of WPA-ComPile Research Bibliographies. There are paragraph long summaries of the articles that are quite useful.

What seems to be missing is an ethical discussion of automated evaluation. Do we need to tell people if we use automated evaluation? Writing for someone feels like a very personal act (even in a large class). What are the expectations of writers that their writing would be read?

Student game world takes London maps into 3D space

Wired UK and some other sources have been blogging the Student game world that takes historic London maps into 3D space. The flythrough (YouTube) is from the winning entry to the Off the map collaboration/competiton that brought together maps from the British Library, Crytek’s CryENGINE, and the GameCity collaboration. Undergraduate teams used game technologies to model historic sites from British Library maps. The winning flythrough by Pudding Lane Productions feels like a recreation I would want to play in.