Monthly Archives: June 2006

Computer science seeks sex appeal

There is much interest in attracting new students, especially female, to computer science and it has not gone unnoticed by some in that discipline that there is a real image problem. The Computer Research Association, a grouping of some 200 academic departments in computer science and engineering, is doing its best to put the sex appeal back in CS (you mean it was once there?) by inviting anthropologists to give keynotes at their conference (the wonderful Genevieve Bell of INTEL (http://www.intel.com/technology/techresearch/people/bios/bell_g.htm) who spoke here at the iSchool two years ago) and trying to sell the message that not only can CS give you a high paying job but it really does deal with exciting ideas. Check out the reports from this year’s CRA gathering at: http://www.cra.org/govaffairs/blog/, particularly the accounts of Rick Rashid, head of Microsoft Research’s address where he argued that there was much excitement still awaiting the CS profession.

I don’t dispute any of this but I would note that the three projects listed as exemplars of wonder are:

–Using any surface as a computing interface
–Human scale storage, where all one’s actions and conversations can be recorded
–Terra scale applications such as mapping the sky and giving multiple attributes to each object

These have real potential for excitement but how much of that stems from the computational aspects that must be solved or from the human and social factors that such innovations might invoke. Unless CS incorporates the necessary methods and theories to handle those aspects then it’s hard for me to get terribly excited. And if CS did incorporate these, then would it still be computer science (and no jokes please about any discipline with ‘science’ in its name not being a real science)?

The serious point here (other than growing the recruitment of more and better balanced student cohorts) is what type of knowledge does it take to deliver successful outcomes for such projects? In my view there is no single discipline that could really tackle one of these three wonder projects successfully, only a multi-disciplinary approach could work. Since we tend to divide up universities into discrete disciplines and put buildings around them to keep outsiders from infiltrating their ranks, there seems to be a problem here. What would it take to create a truly new intellectual space to end the isolation at universities? I think the answer to that is far more important to think about than any specific wonder project and the information school movement might be the appropriate vehicle for trying out potential solutions.

Informatics program at Buffalo disbanded

While iSchools are springing up all over the place, it is not all sweetness and light for this emerging discipline. News from SUNY Buffalo is that their program, formed from the merger of LIS and Communications seven years ago, is now being ‘realigned’. LIS will become part of Education while Communications will join the College of Arts and Sciences. Ostensibly this will enable greater collaboration. The official line is somewhat at odds with the reported comments of others as you can read here: http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060620/1006816.asp?PFVer=Story.

There are many reasons why schools and mergers work and do not work so I suspect we will not know the full story here for awhile. The school’s website suggests that original affiliations of faculty lived on with each member still being seen as a professor in LIS or in Communications, and the divisions between these two seem fairly established in the curricular and degree offerings of this program. The provost estimates that the impact on students will be minimal and perhaps that’s the key — there may not really be an informatics program here, just an administrative umbrella under which two quite independent programs reside. Clearly something is not right in such a set up and it’s worth comparing this type of school with others, such as the greenfield program at Penn State which grew from the ground up and has avoided departmentalization.

Are there lessons here for other schools? I would not draw too many conclusions from this example but no doubt others will use this as an dire warning against changing existing disciplinary identities. Stay tuned.

You can read a blog offering the views of a faculty member involved at: http://alex.halavais.net/?p=1457

IA spreading as a discipline

It may not be the first, but it’s the first time I’ve seen an academic position for Information Architecture in a British university. The University of the West of England announced this in Guardian recently: http://info.uwe.ac.uk/vacancies/job_details.asp?ref=L10690/RWS. The position is based in the Dept. of Computing, Engineering and Math Sciences, and asks for experience in librarianship and information science. Glad to see some other people treating intellectual boundaries between disciplines in the information realm as fluid.

Archiving my work

I have submitted copies of practically all my published journal and conference papers to the dList open archive — see: http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/. They may take some time to appear there as they are currently being added but I had such success with the Crying Wolf paper there that it seems a useful place for others to access relevant work. I also have copies of most of my writings on my own website but in the spirit of LOCKSS there is value in more than one access point. We will also be making a repository of our school’s publications available through dSpace in due course, I’ll post details in due course.