Monthly Archives: April 2009

“Living and Learning with Social Media”

Over the weekend, I gave a talk at the Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology. I have made a crib of the talk available for anyone who might find it valuable:

“Living and Learning with Social Media”

Abstract: Many American youth are embracing a wide array of social media as part of their everyday lives. From social network sites and texting to blogs and wikis, many youth are leveraging the power of social media to create, communicate, share, and learn. In this talk, I will use social network sites as a case study to examine critical shifts that are underway as a result of social media. I look at how inequality is perpetuated through these systems and the challenges that educators face when trying to incorporate these systems into the classroom. Finally, I conclude by discussing implications for educators.

What are your information needs? (Knight Commission seeks feedback)

What information do Americans need to accomplish the personal goals and to be effective citizens in our democracy? How are they getting their news and information? And what would they do to improve the quality of news and information available to them?

For the last year, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy has been meeting in an effort to identify the information needs of communities in a local geographically-driven democracy, assess how and whether those needs are being met, and recommend steps to improve the fulfillment of those needs.

We have now prepared a draft intro of our report. Now the Commission, in partnership with PBS Engage, is seeking public input from citizens across the nation from Tuesday April 21 – Friday May 8, 2009. If this topic matters to you (and it should), could you please click on over to PBS and share your thoughts. In addition to seeking feedback about our draft, we want to know:

I hope you’ll take the time to contribute your thoughts on this matter. We are hoping to help push folks in power to think about how society is shifting and how we can leverage this moment in time to enhance democratic life.

RIP Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS)

I have been quite fortunate over the years. I have received numerous opportunities that afforded me opportunities to go far and do amazing things. One such opportunity was the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS). Much to my horror and sadness, I have learned that Pennsylvania has cancelled PGSS due to lack of resources. This brings me tremendous sadness.

During the summer before my senior year, I attended PGSS at Carnegie Mellon with 89 other students from around Pennsylvania. We were selected based on our potential and given a free summer at CMU to focus on science. We were taught classes that we weren’t taught in high school – molecular biology, inorganic chemistry, discrete math, computer science, modern physics. (A group of us teamed up together to master these topics by specializing in one and making sure that we could teach everyone else in our group what was going on when we collaboratively did homework together. There were five girls and five boys in our team; I was the girl rep for discrete math.)

For me, this program was critical. Up until then, my science classes had been beyond basic. This was the first time that I felt challenged by science and math and I LOVED it. Going into college, I decided to study math because of my experience at PGSS. (I quickly switched to computer science upon entrance when I realized that CS involved more fun math.)

What I got from PGSS went beyond the curricular structure. I loved the opportunity to spend a summer with brilliant folks who liked to solve puzzles and THINK. I developed friendships that played a critical role in keeping me motivated my senior year. I spent many weekends traveling to Philly and other places to meet up with the folks that I met at PGSS. My homecoming and prom dates were both from PGSS. I traveled by rail across the USA with a PGSS person after high school. While I was getting crapped on by my classmates, PGSS folks were keeping me sane and strong. (And they were also part of the reason that I got more deeply involved in Internet culture.) Governor’s School also taught me to function on all-nighters and have fun while working in the lab.

More than anything, Governor’s School made visible what college could be like if I went to a school surrounded by smart people. (It was through one of the people at PGSS that I learned about Brown.) When people would ask me what PGSS was, I jokingly called it the “ticket to the Ivy League.” For those of us who didn’t come from boarding and prep schools, PGSS was often a free pass into institutions that might have otherwise ignored us and our public school background.

Of course, this is also the challenge. Many of the PGSS folks that I know didn’t return to Pennsylvania. We used PGSS as a one-way pass out of the state to places where science and technology played a more crucial role in industry. And it’s hard for a state-sponsored program to consider that a success. But on an individual level, everyone I’ve ever met from PGSS benefited tremendously from that opportunity. It deeply saddens me to think that future students won’t have such an opportunity. Le sad.

Does money equal time? (Regarding proposed NSF funding of qualitative research)

Following a conference about qualitative methods, the National Science Foundation issued a report that provided “general guidance for developing qualitative research projects” and “recommendations for designing, evaluating, and strengthening qualitative research” (along with a bunch of papers from the workshop). This report has made a bunch of social scientists giddy over the (very real) possibility that the NSF might start funding more qualitative social science research.

This week, the brilliant sociologist Howie Becker (best known outside of sociology for his article “Becoming a Marihuana User” and best known to panicked grad students for his book Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article) penned a critique of the giddiness over the NSF report in an essay titled “How to Find Out How to Do Qualitative Research.” His sentiments are wonderfully summed up in his concluding paragraph:

On the other hand, it may well be–time will tell–that the methods recommended in the 2009 report will produce one result many people have long hoped for: an NSF grant for their research. Anyone wishing for such good fortune should remember one of the other criticisms many times repeated during the earlier meeting. NSF has an apparently inflexible rule that grants will not be given for faculty time released from teaching. But the chief expense of any qualitative research is always the researcher’s time. To do what Whyte and Goffman and Duneier and Hughes and Vaughan and the others cited above did doesn’t really cost much. The materials for recording, storing and analyzing interviews and field notes are cheap. Qualitative researchers need money to pay for their time, so that they can make observations and conduct interviews and get those data down in a permanent form. And NSF won’t pay for that.

Grants are a messy element of contemporary academic life. For some disciplines, grants are necessary to get funding for lab equipment and grad student labor (for the benefits of the “lab” – a.k.a. professor). Yet, increasingly, grants are needed to prove one’s worth in the academic hierarchy. Given the high levels of overheard at most institutions, universities put tremendous pressure on faculty to bring in the grants simply to pay for collective resources. Thus, faculty are often scrambling to get grants. Unfortunately, grants benefit some disciplines more than others. And it makes sense to get many multi-million dollar grants when you need to buy a crazy contraption to do your research, but does the same thing make sense in the social sciences?

Should scholars who don’t need much funding to produce quality research feel pressured to get grants even when they’re not necessary for the work? Sure, it’s uber nice when social sciences and humanities can pay for grad students (and none of us from those worlds would complain about this), but does pressure to get many grants actually create more research in these domains? Or does the lack of high value overhead from the social sciences make work in these areas look less worthy to money-strapped institutions because it doesn’t bring in the bacon? In other words, are we recognizing the perceived value of research findings or the costs of doing the research?

And how does this relate to faculty teaching load? In the sciences, it’s quite common for grad students to also do the bulk of that labor and for faculty to simply teach the main lecture class. Because of the dynamics of social sciences classes, I would bet that they are more of a load on faculty than in the sciences. So do grants without options for getting teaching relief actually add more of a burden on social science researchers?

More than anything, I’m curious if any of you have been privy to these discussions and have thoughts on the matter. I know that many of you come from different disciplinary trajectories so I’d be curious what your response is to this discussion of NSF funding of the social sciences.

(Tx Joe and Yuri)

discussion of “impact” at the CHI conference

Yesterday, I attended the CHI conference (an ACM conference for those studying and working in the area of human-computer interaction). I had the privilege of speaking on a panel discussing the paper entitled “Scientometric Analysis of the CHI Proceedings” by Christoph Bartneck and Jun Hu. The other panelists were Gilbert Cockton, Robert Kraut, and Louise Barkhuus. Because of the nature of this panel, I prepared seven minutes of commentary ahead of time. Although my notes from this are really rough, I decided that I should share them because others might find them to be helpful:

Remarks from Panel on “Scientometric Analysis of the CHI Proceedings” at CHI 2009

My main argument is that we should think about what kinds of impact we as academics intend to make with our work. Different scholars take different approaches, but we’re increasingly obsessed with how we can measure scholars’ “impact” and the focus on measurement distorts the actual impact being made. So, as we think about citation count, best paper awards, and the politics of our field, are we really talking about the way that we can have impact or the way that we can get tenure?

upcoming conferences/talks

Now that I’m working at Microsoft Research, I’m doing a bit more public/academic speaking, but I’ve done a terrible job of announcing where and when. So let me take a moment to list some of the upcoming talks in the next four months in case you’re attending these conferences (or should be):

Hopefully I’ll get to see some of you at these events – they’re bound to be quite fun! And utterly diverse. Needless to say, I won’t be giving the same talk at each event but hopefully they’ll all be quite entertaining!