By Paul Resnick, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs
The faculty at the School of Information continue to investigate important research questions that impact people’s lives. Research at UMSI is highly collaborative with others around the university, across the United States, and internationally.
Some highlights from the past year:
Kentaro Toyama‘s book, Geek Heresy, came out this spring, with a torrent of publicity including being featured in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and on PBS. The main thesis of the book is that technology amplifies human and organizational capacity, but doesn’t substitute for it. It is written in an engaging, accessible, style with lots of fascinating examples of failed attempts to create positive social outcomes with packaged technology interventions. Check it out!
Julia Adler-Milstein received the annual New Investigator Award from the American Medical Informatics Association. Among other work, she has†assessed patterns of hospital engagement in sharing patient health information electronically with unaffiliated healthcare providers. Key findings include the fact that hospitals in more competitive markets are less likely to share data, as are for-profit hospitals.
These papers suggest a market failure, that the competitive implications of sharing data electronically are inhibiting it. As a result, she has argued for the need for stronger policies to push hospitals to share data. She shared that argument in testimony before a congressional committee in March.
Qiaozhu Mei and his colleagues won the Best Paper Award at ICML 2014, the International Conference on Machine Learning. Topic modeling has become a popular technique for automatically extracting from a set of documents some latent “topics,” defined as collections of words that tend to co-appear in documents.
The paper is inspired by a practical problem: eager non-expert consumers of topic modeling techniques often ask questions such as: Is my data topic model “friendly?” Why did topic modeling fail on my data? How many documents do I need to learn 100 topics? The paper provides theorems and proofs that characterize properties of the technique in terms of factors that include the number of documents, the length of individual documents, and the number of topics. It also translates the theoretical findings into a set of concrete guidelines for practitioners who want to apply topic modeling to their collections of documents.
Silvia Lindtner and her colleagues at Fudan University, Shanghai, received one of the best paper awards at the CSCW Conference. The paper is based on a year-long ethnographic study with elderly DIY (do it yourself) technology enthusiasts in China. Their paper tells a story of a DIY maker and hacker culture that does not neatly fit the widespread utopian narrative of the contemporary maker movement that portrays making as a site of individual empowerment, as a democratizing force, and as technoscientific innovation.
The researchers found that the elderly DIY makers were repairing, designing, and fixing both old and new, digital and analog technologies. In so doing, they turned their own homes into smart ones by adding sensor technology and circuits, creatively overcoming limitations due to health and age. Their approach to DIY was shaped by their coming of age during the cultural revolution, when a DIY approach towards science and technology innovation was heavily promoted as a national ethos (or 自力更生 in Chinese). Many parts of China, at that time, witnessed a pervasive lack of basic resources and so citizens were encouraged to be self-reliant and to literally make their own infrastructures needed for daily life and work. For the elderly, DIY making today meant reconnecting to and reliving aspects of this past. They distinguished China’s history of making-do from China’s pervasive consumer culture today. They believed that their DIY making practice allowed them to be part of a class of “high quality” citizens, who contribute to China’s social and economic development through science and technology production.
We also had a busy summer grooming the next generation of researchers. Professor Elizabeth Yakel secured a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. It supported eight master’s students from around the country to spend the summer in Ann Arbor working with our faculty. Several undergraduate students from around the country also visited for the summer to work with our faculty.
These are just a small sampling of the interesting and impactful research projects in which UMSI faculty are engaged. Looking forward to the year ahead, I anticipate more exciting research by faculty and more diverse research which you will read about throughout the year in UMSI Monthly.
In closing, I just want to say a few words of thanks to Professor Yakel, who was my predecessor in this position and who has moved up to the position of Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. I am happy to inherit an Office of Research Administration that is in great shape and thank Beth for orchestrating a smooth and organized transition for me.