Posts Tagged ‘multidisciplinary’

Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School 2011

After visiting Dave de Roure for the afternoon yesterday, I found myself with the chance to attend the final talk of the day at the Digital Humanities Summer School. Ray and Lynne Siemens were speaking on “The Uneasy Pursuit of the Future of the Book” and “Building and Maintaining a Team Approach in a Rapidly-Advancing Area of Research and Development”.

I found Ray’s talk a nice alternative perspective on how we (do not) understand the properties of books as traditional artefacts, let alone electronic books or iPads and similar. I googled the speakers to try and see whether they’ve taken any work to the Hypertext conference as yet, but they have not: perhaps this is some fresh digital humanities blood to recruit 🙂

Ray also asked some very ‘Web Science’ questions, including a pondering about measuring the impact of the web is on how we read and experience information. I asked how he’d document the features of textual forms: he spoke about the ‘architecture’ of the book, and the meaning of aspects such as indexes and page numbers… lots of interesting subjective things going on here.

Meanwhile, Lynne spoke about mechanisms to conduct multidisciplinary work. Like Dave, for me the main takeaway was “Wow, I’m really privileged that such work is a relatively normal affair to me” — it was a good reminder that such work is not necessarily everyday, and that approaches to it are not obvious to everyone.

Web Sci summer school, day 1

Ok, today was a blur but a few thoughts:

Honestly, I had a slight concern I might not get loads out of the summer school — I’ve had the privilege of being part of the WebSci community for some years now. It was not impossible that I’d show up to an event that was reminiscent of the WebSci conference series, a mere couple of weeks after WebSci’11, and not necessarily learn a lot.

I’m pleased to say I don’t think that’s the case. Some interesting talks today, and I’m refreshed by how few people I know here. Hooray!

Wendy's keynote at the summer school

Wendy's keynote at the summer school

Wendy opened her keynote with some audience interaction. The audience turned out to have a few who self-identify as web scientists (yes, including myself 😛 ), a few social scientists, lots of techies, and lots of people who didn’t stick their hands up! The majority are from UK/Irish organisations, some from the EU, a few from further afield.

We had some conversations about the balance of the WebSci community, in terms of its composition of engineering-types and humanities-types. Yes, it’s a recurring conversation; but it’s important. So, the first question to Stefan Decker from his opening talk was about HTML and RDF formats: it was a web technology question, and we very quickly got into a web technology conversation. This is no one’s ‘fault’, but demonstrates the difficulty of having a balanced conversation between social scientists and computer science, and an ongoing worry about CompSci dominating. Web Science is more than web technology or computer science.

On a related note, Abraham Bernstein gave a stellar talk about processing large graphs, but the first half of it was targeted at a CompSci audience. (This is no fault of his own: he was brought in on very short notice!) When Wendy raised the issue, asking him if he could talk about social aspects and bear in mind there are non-CompSci people in the audience, he rose to the occasion admirably, adjusting his style and vocabulary very smoothly.

Of interest, though, is the response from another member of the audience, who defended the speaker by saying “These are tools we need to understand and query the semantic web.” Yes they are, but I’d argue that not every web scientist needs those tools: they’re certainly a key part of the WebSci toolkit, but there is more to web science than querying linked data. (Of course, it’s possible the comment came from wanting to soften a perceived blow to our speaker.)

I very much enjoyed Wendy’s keynote, and shall blog it separately in a moment…

Multidisciplinary fun: when words have different meanings

Speaking of disciplinary differences… I co-organised the panel at WebSci’11. We wanted to talk about locational technologies and their implications for privacy, the law and interation design. The panel, of course, was composed of people from different disciplines: two lawyers (Lilian Edwards and Judith Rauhofer) and two computer scientists (Derek McAudley and myself).

First thing’s first, the panel seemed to go down well — hooray! We received positive feedback and chatter on Twitter seemed happy, particularly with Judith’s presentation.

We ran into an interesting issue, though: having organised the panel months in advance, a mere 24 hours before kicking off I realised that when my co-organiser Lilian said ‘panel’ she meant a rather different beast to what I meant by the same word.

So, in law it turns out that panels don’t really open to the audience: the allocated time is split evenly between the panellists, who each give their piece (presumably responding to one another). By contrast, my understanding of a panel session is that each panellist will speak for a little while — say, five or at most ten minutes — giving their position and pertinent information, before opening to the audience for a general Q&A that will probably take at least half the allocated time.

In the event, of course, we came to a compromise: I think we as panellists spoke our piece for perhaps 40 minutes, before having 10 minutes for questions. For myself, I felt uncomfortable during that because I was concerned that the audience was going to be expecting what I had been expecting — the opportunity to really interact with us. There were a few confused tweets, although as I say, the panel appeared to go down well in general.

All’s well that ends well, then. Still, lesson learned: different disciplines have different vocabularies and assumptions. This is something I have been saying for years, and I still got tripped up by it! I shall take the experience as a gentle reminder about the challenges of working across disciplines.