Friday, 27 February 2015

Dr Farida Vis hosts at Future Everything

On Friday 27 February Dr Farida Vis, Faculty Research Fellow based in the Information School, will host a session at the Future Everything Conference in Manchester.

The What Now For...The Weird and Wonderful session will celebrate the weird and wonderful aspects of the internet through a series of talks, stories and Q&As.  The session takes place between 14:00 and 16:10 in Manchester Town Hall.

More information about this leading arts, technology and cultural conference can be found on the Future Everything website.


Friday, 20 February 2015

The Importance of Digital Literacy in Primary School Children

Following the recent publication of 'Make or Break: the UK's Digital Future' by the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills, Information School PhD Student Sophie Rutter blogs about her PhD which explores primary school children's internet search tasks and the skills that they need to carry out these tasks.

A recent report published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills calls for digital literacy, as well as numeracy and literacy, to be taught as a core skills in both primary and secondary schools as “digital skills are now necessary life skills”.  However, the report also highlights a lack of teacher training and guidance in how to deliver these necessary skills.

For my PhD I am looking at the different types of internet search tasks that primary children do for their school work, and the types of skills that children need to conduct these tasks.  To date my study findings indicate that two types of search tasks are given to primary school children.  Firstly, children are asked to search for the answers to specific questions such as 'what is the capital of Germany?' and secondly, they are asked to collect a range of information about a particular topic: 'find out as much as you can about Ancient Greece'.  The searches may be conducted in class or may be set as homework.

Findings so far suggest that different skills are required for the different search tasks, and that within the same class there is considerable variation in the children’s level of skill in conducting these tasks.  Some children complete simple fact finding and research tasks with ease, yet others struggle.

I hope from the findings of my research to offer teachers guidance on setting children search tasks: outlining what skills are required for which tasks, what children may find difficult, and how to teach children to more effectively find the information they need.

Research Seminar: Critical Knowledge Sharing Skills of Project Managers in the Chinese Construction Industry

Information School PhD student Shuyang Li will present a research seminar on Tuesday 24 February on 'Critical Knowledge Sharing Skills of Project Managers in the Chinese Construction Industry: A Case Study'.

Appropriate knowledge sharing is key for modern organisations to retain competitive advantage. In the construction industry, successful delivery of a project requires project managers from three individual groups (namely the investor, design institute and contracted construction company), to develop and apply appropriate knowledge sharing skills to share their knowledge effectively. In this context, this study aims to identify the knowledge sharing skills required by construction project managers in their professional practices. The outcome is expected to be a contextually-grounded, comprehensive framework of project managers’ knowledge sharing skills, enhanced with a systematic analysis of potential enablers and barriers. This research will contribute to the theoretical understanding of knowledge sharing in the specific context of the construction industry. It will also deliver practical guidance for project managers on how to develop and apply effective knowledge sharing skills in their organisations and the wider construction industry.

The seminar takes place between 14:00 and 15:00 in RC-231, Information School, Regent Court.  All are welcome to attend and there is no need to book.

Research Seminar: Can Learning Analytics Inform MOOC Design?

Join us on Monday 2 March when Graduate Intern Naomi Colhoun will present a seminar on Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) design.

The presentation will share the results of an MSc dissertation study completed in September 2014. Based on the University of Birmingham's "Good Brain, Bad Brain: Drug Origins" FutureLearn MOOC, this exploratory research employed learning analytics techniques to investigate the extent to which observed learner participation in the course reflected the pedagogical aims of the course designers. 

The potential usefulness of learning analytics in informing MOOC design was evaluated, as was the effectiveness of the analysis techniques themselves. The mixed methods approach combined automated thematic text analysis, social network analysis and descriptive statistical analysis with the 'teacher voice'™ often missing from MOOC literature. Framing the study are the deeper debates around both MOOC pedagogy and learning analytics.

The seminar takes place in RC204 in the Information School, Regent Court at 13:00.  All are welcome and there is no need to book.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Developing Your Visualisation Literacy: A Workshop for Non-Experts

The Digital Society Network will host a workshop on visualisation literacy on Monday 23 March, 14:00 to 16:00 in the ICOSS conference room at the University of Sheffield.  The aim of the workshop is to develop attendees' visualisation literacy.

Data visualisations are increasingly ubiquitous. They’re used to communicate data to decision-makers, in journalism to communicate important news stories, and increasingly, to communicate research findings in the humanities and social sciences, fields not historically dominated by large datasets or their visualisations. The growing ubiquity of data visualisations requires researchers in these fields to develop their ability to make sense of them.  In other words, to develop their visualisation literacy. This can seem like a difficult task for people not accustomed to analysing the visual, statistical and mathematical at the same time.

This two-hour workshop is targeted at humanities and social science researchers who are not experts in data visualisation and who want to develop their ability to make sense of datavis. It is based on an AHRC Digital Transformations-funded project 'Seeing Data: are good big data visualisations possible?'. It will include hands-on activities and discussion of techniques and project findings, and will be run by the Seeing Data project team, led by Professor Helen Kennedy. Refreshments will be provided.

There are 30 places on this workshop, which will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. You are asked to bring your laptop or tablet to the meeting, if you have one. To sign up, please register online.

Please note that this workshop is not for people who are already familiar with datavis.

The Digital Society Network is an interdisciplinary group which focuses its research on society-technology interactions.  Professor Paul Clough of the Information School is a Co-Director of the network, and Professor Elaine Toms, Dr Farida Vis and Dr Andrew Cox are Steering Group members.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dr Jonathan Foster is Partner on WUN Data Diplomacy Project

Dr Jonathan Foster of the Information School is the University of Sheffield partner on a Worldwide University Network (WUN) Project on 'Data Diplomacy: Political and Social Dimensions of Data Collection and Sharing'.

The project is led by the University of Rochester and is part of a WUN Global Challenge on Understanding Cultures and Global Health.  The University of Auckland, University of Bristol, and the University of Western Australia are also involved in the project.

Data Diplomacy is an emerging construct that integrates concepts from data science, technology, and computing, with social science, international relations, and diplomatic negotiation.  In some cases it offers a new diplomatic tool that facilitates global relationships. Equally, questions surrounding burgeoning data creation and data sharing provide areas of tension in this new space for example issues related to privacy, security, free expression, and regulation - as well as variances particular to national and international contexts.

The project brings together stakeholders representing global, bilateral, and institutional interests and will engage the broad concept of data diplomacy and explore this in a number of topic areas such as agency, privacy, ownership and freedom of information.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Award of historical Twitter prize from Texifter for PhD Student

Well done to Wasim Ahmed, Information School PhD student, who has won a historical Twitter prize from Texifter to receive Enterprise access to DiscoverText for three months, and Sifter credit for up to three historical Twitter days up to 200,000 tweets. Wasim was one of five winners, and the only one from the UK, the other winners coming from the US and France. More information is available on the Textifer blog.

Wasim's PhD focuses on 'Pandemics and epidemics: User reactions on social media and Web 2.0 platforms'. He is being supervised by Professor Peter Bath and Dr Farida Vis. 

The Information School already has very good relationships with both Texifter and Discover Text through Farida and her work. Stuart Shulman, CEO of Texifter visited the School last year at Farida's invitation and gave a seminar on accessing Twitter data.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Public librarianship research is dead in the water – isn’t it?

In this blog post, Dr Briony Birdi argues for the relevance of research into public librarianship, despite the widespread closures of public libraries in the UK.

A few months ago in a brief conversation about the state of research in the LIS sector, someone informed me that [public] libraries – and, by association, any research into them – were ‘dead in the water’. Given that I have spent most of the past fifteen years trying to develop a body of research which focuses almost exclusively on aspects of public librarianship, I did not feel hugely encouraged by this comment. In response, I did what any self-respecting individual would do: I sulked, and moaned about it. And then I went back to my work.

But did this person have a point? Am I – to use a second mortality-related idiom – flogging a dead horse, having stayed for so long within this area of research? After all, I can hardly argue that papers reporting the findings of public librarianship research dominate the peer-reviewed journals in our field. Nor can I propose that public librarianship overwhelms the curricula of the UK LIS Bachelors or Masters programmes. It would also be wrong to ignore the fact that the national, local and professional media are reporting library closures, the deprofessionalisation of public libraries and the growth of community-run libraries on a daily basis.

So why should I bother, and why do I continue to encourage our Masters students to maintain an academic and professional interest in public libraries, despite the situation that they can see for themselves? Quite simply, because public libraries haven’t disappeared yet – but if we stop talking about them in our LIS education, if we stop conducting research into them, we’re not exactly contributing to a rosy future.

I am fairly certain that one of the reasons for the ‘dead in the water’ comment was that academics are by no means falling over daily opportunities for research funding into public librarianship. However, if you talk to any researcher or practitioner who has obtained such funding, I guarantee that they will tell you how creative they needed to be to do so. Even in my own small career I have been involved in sixteen separate research projects which have all involved public libraries, and have all received some degree of funding. Each of these projects has published its findings in the professional press or in peer-reviewed academic journals, or both. They have covered a diverse range of topics including reader development, social justice, leadership, adult literacy and learning, information literacy, genre fiction, collection development, empathy and community librarianship. Methods and theoretical approaches have been adapted from a wide range of academic disciplines in addition to our own, such as Education, English Literature, History, Management, Social and Occupational Psychology. Of course there are also many other people I could mention – both academics and practitioners - who are more successful, more prolific, and more high-profile then me, but in combination we have produced a significant body of work, by any standard.

Teaching and research are inextricably linked, and each should inform the other. It is for this reason that I will continue both to teach and research public librarianship, as to drop one would potentially harm the other. The purpose of this blog is not to describe my own limited achievements, but to give an indication of the kind of work that can be done. I am currently working on research proposals in public libraries and local politics, in the provision of services to migrant communities and in interlending. I am not working on any of these entirely on my own, but with colleagues from my own department, from other departments within my university, other universities and with colleagues from a local county council. I am also involved in ongoing public library research with colleagues in the English and History departments here at the University of Sheffield, and I hope to begin shortly another piece of work with a colleague in the Department of Politics. I have never had a problem encouraging people from other departments or organisations to work with me, and I have certainly never been given the impression that those in other academic disciplines thought that research in public librarianship was in any way irrelevant or defunct.

To conclude, I am certainly not unaware of the current state of public librarianship in the UK and beyond, but to dismiss the entire subject area as ‘dead’ is to overlook the large body of work that many of us are still involved in, and still continue to include in our research and teaching, as core aspects of the LIS profession as whole. As long as students continue to show an interest in what I teach and write, and as long as funding bodies continue to provide me and others with the financial support to conduct our research, I plan to stay where I am. A third and (I promise) final idiom comes to mind: there’s life in the old dog yet.

Dr Briony Birdi, Lecturer
Information School, University of Sheffield

Who links to Wikipedia?

Dr Gianluca Demartini, Lecturer in Data Science at the Information School, has conducted research into the structure of links that point to Wikipedia pages from external websites.  The analysis specifically looked at which top-level domains dominate the link volume for each Wikipedia language.

The project's key findings included the English Wikipedia being the most popular Wikipedia according to the number of links that it receives from external websites and websites under contributing many links to Wikipedia. 

Full details of the research can be found on the Wikimedia blog.