Blog Review: Doctoral Symposium on Social-Computational Systems by M. Guang-Ying
Posted by GRAND NCE, June 27, 2011

Four GRAND PhD students from across Canada were awarded the opportunity to participate in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Funded Doctoral Symposium on Social-Computational Systems, held June 9-11 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

They will share their experience in a series of blog-style entries. This article was written by Mo Guang-Ying, University of Toronto and member of GRAND's NAVEL project team.

Connect with Mo on Twitter at @MO_GY.

The experience of attending the Social Computational Systems (referred to as SoCS) Doctoral Consortium was invaluable.  The presentations by and my conversations with other graduate students and faculty were not only informative, but inspiring.  Here are a few ideas and experiences that really impressed me. 

University of Washington student Travis Kriplean presented his work on an application that aims to encourage people to “listen” to other internet users. The application asks users to restate the posts of other individuals in order to reinforce understanding and communication. To be honest, I’m unsure of the idea of “restatement”. However, I do like the notion of “listening”. When scholars argue for promoting social participation online/offline, the emphasis is on how to encourage citizens to “speak out”, while the “listening” aspect is largely ignored. Without a listener, even a loud voice is not enough to prevent communication failure. I look forward to seeing additional research on how to encourage and facilitate listening online.

Marisa Leavitt Cohn from UC Irvine presented her work on the use of software for NASA. It is interesting that someone is undertaking ethnographic study from both the developers’ and the users’ sides. Her presentation confirmed for me that qualitative study is highly useful when exploring and explaining complicated social processes in equally complicated social settings. Marisa touched on the conflicts between software engineers and users. I believe such conflicts exist within the multi-disciplinary GRAND network. In GRAND, my project (NAVEL), aims to identify and follow the development and resolution of these types of conflicts.  I hope our results will lead to an interesting study on scholarly network collaboration.

On the third day of the workshop, I had the opportunity to speak with Kar-Hai Chu from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research regarding a particular Social Network Analysis (SNA) method, developed with his supervisor, is particularly interesting. Usually, SNA produces one map for each network; for example a friendship network, an advice network, etc. Chu’s comprehensive map includes many different kinds of relationship ties reflecting various networks. This is really neat! I aim to utilize this technique to visualize our GRAND networks.

Apart from presentations and discussions with students, I was also able to talk with professors, including my assigned mentor Sara Kiesler, Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Carnegie Mellon University. The comments she gave me were positive, encouraging and constructive. I am especially appreciative that she pointed out a potential new direction of the development of my research. I relayed her suggestion to my supervisor Professor Barry Wellman, who also liked her comments. 

During the second breakfast, I found myself sitting beside Judith Olson, a famous researcher in the field of collaborative work and organizations. I asked for her opinion on how to evaluate collaboration, which is directly related to our NAVEL project, and in return she asked for my opinion on inter-cultural communication, a theme of one of her projects. It was an intellectually stimulating conversation, one that I really enjoyed. 

Though a short three-day workshop, the packed SoCS schedule made it feel like a week worth of content. I came away feeling part of a world of scholars who are exploring the same field but with different means and from different perspectives. 

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