Blog Review: Doctoral Symposium on Social-Computational Systems by N. Nizam
Posted by GRAND NCE, June 23, 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 Naureen Nizam, Dalhousie University and member of GRAND's DINS project team.

Link to Naureen’s website and/or connect with her on Twitter at @nnizam

First off, I would like to thank GRAND for giving me the opportunity to attend the National Science Foundation Funded Doctoral Symposium on Social Computational Systems (SoCS) which was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota (June 9 - 11, 2011). 

I had four expectations from this symposium: to receive feedback on my current research (a pilot study on how users navigate websites using traditional and social tools), to acquire ideas and input for future studies, to explore what other researchers are working on, and to network.

The symposium and the workshops not only met my expectations but exceeded them. Here are some of the highlights that I benefited the most from: 

Doctoral Symposium: On the very first day, I had the opportunity to present my research work to a group of doctoral students and two mentors (Anatoliy Gruzd from Dalhousie University and Sara Kiesler from Carnegie Mellon University).  The mentors were highly knowledgeable in the area of Human Computer Interaction and Social Computational Systems. The group provided great feedback on how to evaluate navigation tools on websites and the type of platforms I should consider for my future user studies. 

Keynote Presentation: It was fascinating to hear Luis von Ahn from Carnegie Mellon University, speak to us about his past, present and future projects. His game, of having people look at images and label them to improve search, was acquired by Google. Luis von Ahn is one of the inventors of reCAPTCHA - whenever you are asked to enter two distorted words on the web - you are not only authenticating yourself as a human but also helping digitize books. He stated that about 100 million words a day are being digitized this way and about 10% of the world’s population has helped digitize books via this method thus far, which to me is astonishing. To no surprise, Google bought reCAPTCHA in 2009. His latest project is called “Duolingo” and it will allow users to learn languages for free and simultaneously translate the web. 

Panel Presentations: The panel presentations were made by world class researchers and touched on various topics, including ethics in SoCS research and computational models and techniques. I learned that there are ethical dilemmas when conducting online research and that we must consider the ethical issues on a case-by-case basis, know the federal regulations and in some cases educate our Institutional Review Board (IRB). Ultimately, as researchers we need to strive for high standards in ethics. We had a great discussion on this topic and it was very beneficial to get perspectives from the audience including those from the industry (IBM and Google). 

A presentation by Peter Pirolli’s from Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) informed us on Information Foraging Theory.  I was quite intrigued to hear the applications of Game Theory in the area of social sciences (especially the kidney exchange problem). Learning about the concepts of Game Theory and how they can be applied into Social Computational research was interesting and I hope to apply the concepts learned in my future studies. 

Poster Presentations: Quite a few hours of work went into the creation of my poster - thanks to Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd and Dr. Carolyn Watters for all their guidance. The hard work paid off as I had a quite a few visitors during the poster session, including Dr. Ashwin Ram (from Georgia Institute of Technology). Not only did they listen when I described my research to them, but they also provided me with ideas and suggestions for future work. 

Quote: N. NizamDuring the poster presentation, we also had the opportunity to mingle and visit other presenters and this is when I had the opportunity to speak to Ben Shneiderman (Professor, Founding Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Member of the Institute of Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland). It is hard to describe this in words but for me it was like meeting a celebrity. He has conducted fundamental research in the field of Human-Computer Interaction and has been a pioneer in the world of information science. I absolutely admire his work and have read his book “Designing the User Interface“. While talking to Ben Shneiderman, I came to know about his upcoming paper on “Social Discovery” (the usage of social tools to find relevant content), a topic of great relevance and interest to me due to my current research in this area. 

The knowledge learned, and the connections made, will tremendously benefit me as I continue my research in the area of Human Computer Interaction and Social Computing. Overall the National Science Foundation Funded Doctoral Symposium on Social Computational Systems was an excellent learning experience for me and I look forward to participating and learning from future workshops.

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