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Innovation Forum Recaps: Innovative Approaches to Geographic Information Science (GIS)

March 9, 2012 1 comment

TIC Talk: Innovative Approaches to Geographic Information Science (GIS)

Written by Laura Mansfield

Jin-Kyu Jung
Santiago Lopez

Jung and Lopez are both assistant professors in the UW Bothell School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

When talking about geographic information science, Jung prefers the abbreviation “GISci” to communicate the philosophy that GIS is “not just a tool, but a science.” Jung said GIS “helps us understand the procession of place. We are living in a completely new era. We have unprecedented power to map anything, anytime. What does that mean?”

Jung’s work focuses on qualitative GIS, which he said provides a new way to collect and analyze information. To illustrate the power of GIS, he described a research project he is working on that explores how children perceive their community. Jung and his colleagues interviewed children about the places they visit in their community and then used GIS technology to show the community on a visual basis.

“When you show the community on a visual basis, it provides different truths about that neighborhood. It also makes it possible to visualize barriers and opportunities.” Jung said. As he compared children who live in cities to children who live in suburbs, it became apparent that children in in the city have a smaller “activity space” than those in the suburbs. Jung defined “activity space” by the amount of space children have to move and walk around.

The SENSEable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is using GIS technology in Rome, Italy. To visit that site, go to : http://senseable.mit.edu/realtimerome/.

Santiago Lopez: “GIS – A spatial approach to addressing global environmental change”

Lopez said he uses GIS “to help ask important questions about the space we live in, and to visualize that information.” There is an unprecedented amount of data being created,” he said. “How do we incorporate all the information to create knowledge?” Specifically, he is looking at changes in the landscape and what factors triggered those landscape changes. There is an unprecedented amount of data being created,” he said. “How do we incorporate all the information to create knowledge?”

Lopez described his research project which involves visualizing changes in physical systems in the tropical Andes region. “The human aspect of climate change in tropical Andes is larger than in Antarctica,” he said. “By the end of the 21st century, the region could experience a change in temperature from 4.5 to 5 degrees. The effects include the shifting of grasslands and recession of mountain glaciers.” Glaciers are important to regulate climate and to provide water to human populations, he noted.

Lopez uses thematic mapping to illustrate his data. “With thematic mapping you can start asking questions and visualize changes,” He said. “GIS allows accurate longitudinal characterizations of landscapes. We need to find innovative ways to find linkages between spatial data and human behavior.” Ultimately, he hopes to determine the key factors to environmental change.

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Innovation Forum Recaps: Increasing Engagement and Learning in STEM Education

March 7, 2012 Comments off

TIC Talk: Increasing Engagement and Learning in STEM Education

Written by Stacy Schultz

On day two of the four-day UW Bothell Innovation Forum, professors from the university presented cutting edge research related to increasing students’ engagement and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). “We are trying to imagine new ways of designing learning environments for STEM education that takes learners’ prior knowledge, interests, and identities into account,” said Carrie Tzou, assistant professor of education.

As members of the audience ate lunch, Tzou along with Kelvin Sung, professor of Computing and Software Systems, and Robin Angotti, associate professor of Education each took the stage to share their work.

Tzou discussed her research as a science educator working with elementary and high school students. Her goal, she said, is to bring what is important and culturally relevant in students’ lives into the classroom while at the same time expanding scientific inquiry into students’ everyday lives outside of school.

She said young students who are given a chance to identify with STEM-related projects in school are more likely to pursue higher education degrees in those fields later on. “They learn to participate in science and have that identity formation as someone who can do science,” she said.

Her projects have included fifth grade students who learn about microbes through a scientific examination of how their families maintain healthy habits at home. Another project involved high school students who studied the effect of pollutants on fish in Puget Sound and how their own use of personal care products might be contributing to the problem.

Sung reported on his work with faculty and students using video games. The conventional thinking, he said, is that students like to play video games so educators should find ways for students to learn by playing. Actually, he said, many students want to learn how to build games.

Sung saw video games as a potential tool for faculty to teach basic computer science skills. The goal of his project is to give faculty some expertise in game programming so they can incorporate games in their lessons. “I’m interested in giving professors a tool to teach what they want to teach, but not for it to take over the entire class,” he said. “We are teaching computer science coding concepts through building simple games.”

The logic behind the coding is the same when you are making changes to the front end, or user experience. “The professor doesn’t need to know so much about gaming,” he said. Still, many professors are not “gamers” he pointed out, so he offers two-day workshops for teachers to learn how to build their own games.

Robin Angotti, who focuses on math education, says that 21st century students need to know more than just how to compute numbers. “There’s a shift in math education to more critical thinking skills,” she said. Students need to do creative problem solving, they need to develop flexibility in thinking, and the ability to question, she said.

Her research has focused on implementing a technology called “Kinect” that uses infrared laser tracking, voice recognition, and face recognition to teach math principles. The technology allows teachers to incorporate movement into math lessons. Angotti calls it “gesture-supported learning.”

Using volunteer members from the audience, Angotti demonstrated how it works. Students come to the front of the room and stand a short distance from the Kinect device. The device tracks motion as they move their bodies, either walking back and forth or moving their arms. Software created by programmers at UW Bothell display the results in graph form on a large screen and then students are asked to describe in mathematical terms, what the graph shows.

“Everything I used to write up on the board, I can have students demonstrate by moving their bodies,” Angotti said. There is not research yet to show whether gesture-supported learning improves students’ understanding of math concepts, she said, but it does seem to increase the interest of students who are not otherwise excited about math class.

One member of the audience wondered if gesture-supported learning could be used to help students gain insight about the Roman Empire. Another audience member talked about using the technology for teaching physics. Angotti agreed there are many possibilities. “There’s so much more that I could do with this,” she said.

Guest Post: Skip Walter Part II

February 12, 2012 Comments off

Skip Walter is a serial entrepreneur, consultant, angel investor and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering and an instructor in the Foster Business MBA program at the University of Washington.  As part of his commitment to HCDE, he serves as the Chairman of the External Advisory Board.  Skip has over forty years of experience in executive management, software product development, and new venture development.  He was the founding CEO of Attenex which was sold to FTI Consulting for $91M.  Skip and UW Bothell Professor David Socha regularly collaborate on principles for designing innovative software products and teaching human centered design.

Too Much to Know – The Death of the Long Form Book?

At dinner the other evening at Crush with my valued all things marketing and branding colleague, Katherine James Schuitemaker, I shared with her that I finally produced a draft of the book on Attenex Patterns I’ve wanted to write for a long time. She patiently listened without interrupting as I energetically talked about the topics and ideas I wanted to highlight.

When I finished and took a deep, expectant breath, I asked “so what do you think?”

Providing the gift that only long time colleagues have permission to do, she looked at me and then said “Skip, that is so old school.  You’ve waited so long to publish your first book that the world of book publishing has passed you by.  Toss the book idea out and start developing the iPad app that both of us really want.”

While this was not the comment or pat on the back I was looking for, I knew I was about to get something better.  So of course I had to ask “what do you think that app looks like?”

Katherine was at her most eloquent, software conceptualization best as she launched with the synthesis of threads we’ve talked about for twenty years since we first met at Aldus (now Adobe).  Energized, she leaned across the table and lamented “I am so tired of the linear book.  I am so tired of reading books and making notes in them that become completely inaccessible.  What I want is to have a tool that is the combination of the two tools we built at Attenex – Structure for authoring and Patterns for making sense of all the reference materials.”

“I want you to provide the same content that you were going to put in your book but now do it in app form.  But most importantly, I want that app to be the starting point of what I need.  I need to be able to put in a current project that I am working on and have your application point out the gaps between your framework and what I am doing.  I don’t want more information in the form of static content.  I want dynamic, connected knowledge that is ‘news I can use’ when I need it and in the context of what I need.”

“Skip, you have to go back to your original vision at Attenex of connecting authoring (Structure) with discovering (Patterns).  Stop with this book nonsense.  This is your legacy that only you can do.  The previous forty years are all prelude to preparing you for this killer app.”

Well, she had me know.  Legacy.  That was really unfair to entice me with the thought of producing a legacy.

While one part of my brain knew that she was on to something important, I couldn’t let go of the idea of writing a book now that I finally had the energy, motivation and stamina to do the writing.  With my high tolerance for ambiguity, I looked her straight in the eye “I’m going to be incongruent for a bit.  My gut tells me that you are right on.  Yet, my analytic brain is fighting your idea something fierce.  So I’m going to let my analytic self argue with you for a half hour and then I am going to agree with you and change course in some fundamental ways.”

Katherine was very patient with me for the next half hour as I served up objection after objection.  She did her best not to laugh as we’d played this game many times before.  Finally, as my “objection energy” ran out, I said “OK.  New game.  How do we marshal the resources to make it happen?”

As we parted, Katherine turned to me and commanded “Skip, free us from the tyranny of the linear book!”

Read more…

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology: Innovation in Action

February 8, 2012 Comments off

Last November, a new and highly innovative organization dedicated to scientific discovery opened in southern Japan on a high promontory overlooking the sea. The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) breaks all the rules of Japanese research organizations. Instead of being divided into discipline, it integrates them. Instead of seeking hyper-specialists, it brings together researchers who have not only depth but breadth of interests. Instead of replicating the hierarchical structure of the typical Japanese university, it gives young researchers full autonomy over their labs. Instead of being located in any of the main population centers of Japan, it is tucked away in the remote islands of Okinawa, far removed from the constraining influences of the conventional power structure. Instead of being closed to the outside world, it looks outward to the world—its president, Jonathan Dorfan, is from Stanford University; almost half of the researchers are non-Japanese; and five of the Institute’s Board of Governors are Nobel Prize winners. Instead of discouraging connections between the scientific establishment and industry, it actively seeks to promote them. Instead of being big, it is small.

What is particularly fascinating to me is that the Okinawa Institute seems to embody, in its structure and culture, everything that J. Rogers Hollingsworth—who is coming to Bothell for the Innovation Forum in two weeks—has identified as necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for the prosecution of truly innovative breakthroughs in science. Whether the OIST will fulfill its promise, of course, only the future will tell. If it fails, it certainly won’t be for lack of resources—the Japanese government has poured almost $1 billion over six years to get it started. And some people clearly did their homework on best practices around the world on how to foster path-breaking research in the sciences.

So what does that experiment in Okinawa have to say to us? Given that it is unlikely that someone is going to fork over $1 billion any time soon to help us start a new institute, what can we learn from this? Well, just look at the main characteristics listed above. Most of them don’t require shiploads of money to implement. What they do require is vision and leadership and follow-through. Those qualities are up to us, not someone else. Can we do it? Of course!

Learn more here: The Economist “Where Rats and Robots Play”

Guest Post: Skip Walter

January 5, 2012 Comments off

The author of our first guest blog post is Skip Walter, a serial entrepreneur, consultant, angel investor and and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering and an instructor in the Foster Business MBA program at the University of Washington.  As part of his commitment to HCDE, he serves as the Chairman of the External Advisory Board.  Skip has over forty years of experience in executive management, software product development, and new venture development.  He was the founding CEO of Attenex which was sold to FTI Consulting for $91M.  Skip and UW Bothell Professor David Socha regularly collaborate on principles for designing innovative software products and teaching human centered design.  In this blog entry, Skip shares work that he did with the University of Pennsylvania’s Russ Ackoff on “An Idealized Design for a University.”

 

Russ Ackoff on An Idealized Design for a University

 

In 1986, while managing Digital Equipment Corporation’s ALL-IN-1 $1B per year office automation development efforts, a colleague sent me a copy of Russ Ackoff’s Creating the Corporate Future (1981).  To paraphrase Russ’s famous introductory lectures on how he came across the process he turned into his Idealized Design methodology through his work with Bell Labs (the story is an introduction to his book Idealized Design:  How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis …Today), I really wished she had not sent me the book as I spent most of the next year interacting with Russ and his team at the Wharton School instead of doing what I was supposed to do at DEC.

After reading the book and a previous book The SCATT Report:  Designing a National Scientific and Technical Communication System (1976), I immediately called Russ and asked if I could visit him to learn more about his methods and his way of systems thinking.  I shared with him many of the challenges we were facing at Digital Equipment with our rapid growth and with the dramatic impact that the PC revolution and the networking revolution were having on our business.  He graciously agreed to meet and the next day I went to Philadelphia to meet him at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

For most of the next year, I consumed all of Russ’s publications and the many videotapes of his corporate seminars.  In addition, Russ introduced me to several of his corporate clients and included me in some of his consulting engagements.  I was able to see his systems thinking and idealized design methods come to life with his corporate clients as frameworks turned into profitable action.  Along this journey, Russ and I discovered that we were both frustrated with the institution called the university.  He always reminded me that if I wanted to understand the university that I had to realize that it was designed for the professors, not for the students.  I shared with him that my most robust learning at Duke University was my part-time job programming computers in a psychophysiology laboratory in the medical center and with my peer students, not the dull and drab lecture environments in the formal courses I attended.

Out of this shared frustration, we realized that there was an opportunity at Digital Equipment Corporation (then known as DEC which  was acquired by Compaq and then acquired by HP) to revive the falling revenues and profits of our Educational Services business by rethinking both corporate educational units and the university.  I found funding in my budget to hire Russ and his team of graduate students to work on an Idealized Design of a University.  I was not sure whether DEC would be open to the results of the design, but I knew that my extended staff would learn a lot about thinking differently about our enterprise software business.

The final report that Russ and his team provided for the project was completed in January 1987.  As you skim through the document, you can see that the thoughts are somewhat dated.  Yet, between this work and the previous two books mentioned, the foundational thinking for the world we find ourselves in today with the Internet has come to pass.  This foundational thinking is similar to the large scale Idealized Design that Russ performed with the Bell System in the early 1950s that led to almost all of the telecommunications advancements we’ve experienced in the last 60 years.

As I re-read this report, the introduction is as fresh today as it was 25 years ago:

“One who attempts to improve existing universities is very likely to become preoccupied with removing current deficiencies. Unfortunately, getting rid of what one does not want does not necessarily yield what one does want. This is apparent to those who get rid of television programs they do not want by changing channels. They have a high probability of getting programs they want even less. Therefore, effective design of a university must be directed at getting what one wants. not at getting rid of what one does not want.”

“Moreover, improving the performance of parts of a system taken separately – and universities are systems – does not necessarily improve the performance of the system taken as a whole. The performance of a system is never the sum of the performances of its parts; it is the product of their interactions. Therefore, efforts to improve universities should begin with preparation of a comprehensive design of what one would like a university to be ideally.”

“We cannot predict accurately how many of each type of college graduate will be required a decade from now. Even if we could, we would still have the problem of allocating these requirements to individual autonomous institutions. Our ability to forecast manpower requirements is not likely to improve because the rate of technological change will continue to increase.  This will augment an already considerable tendency of college graduates to switch fields after completing their formal education. For example, almost 30 years ago W. G. Ireson (in Peirson, 1959) reported that surveys over a period of thirty years revealed ‘that more than 60 percent of those persons who earned engineering degrees in the United States, either became managers of some kind within ten to fifteen years or left the engineering profession entirely to enter various kinds of business ventures …’ ” (p. 507).

Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching 80 MBA students a class on technology commercialization.  I really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the students who had come up with new business ideas the previous quarter in their entrepreneurship class and entered their plans into the UW Business Plan competition.  I spent a great deal of time outside of class working with ten of the teams and it was clear that they learned far more in this activity then they were learning in my formal class.  I was excited that a new crop of exciting entrepreneurs were interested in starting their own companies.

I took an informal survey and found  that 75% of the students were using the program to give them the skills to leave their current large employer to start their own company.  It hit me that these companies were spending ~$70,000 to send their employees to a program that was energizing them to leave their company.  What is wrong with this picture – for both the university and for the corporations?

In parallel with the discussions with David and Alan,  I am having discussions with a Seattle Venture Capitalist about how broken the startup funding model is.  One of the things that we’d both observed is how the amount of money to start a successful company continues to drop.  Ten years ago when we founded Attenex (sold to FTI Consulting for $91M in 2008), we needed $12M to get to a cash flow positive state.  Today, with advancements in Open Source Software and cheap cloud computing, we could recreate the same company for $1-2M.  It occurred to me that the cost of starting a company is falling rapidly while the cost of a university education (particularly private >$200K) continues to rise rapidly.  We are not far from a cross over point where it costs more to go to university than it does to start a company.

Recently, I’ve shared the Ackoff design with several academic and business professionals.  One of their criticisms is “Well, this might work for professional degrees, but it will never work for an undergraduate degree or a student interested in liberal arts.”  I used to think that as well.  However, in the last several months consulting for a high technology client, I have had the opportunity to interact with their pool of “research analysts.”  These analysts do the background research on markets and products and companies for the rest of the organization.  It turns out that in this very technical company, this group of employees are all very recent graduates of Bay Area schools.  None of them has a technical degree.  They are all history, English, political science and other liberal arts degreed students.  They were hired for their ability to research, think and write.  They are far better than technically trained analysts I’ve worked with in other companies.

I enjoy straddling the university and industry worlds.  I view my teaching in the Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE) Department at UW and the Foster Business School as a way to “pay it forward” in return for all of the wonderful mentors who have given me so much over the years.  Yet, as we’ve started re-kindling the “Idealized Design of a University” ideas, I started thinking about how the financial model of a university is so broken in the world of the Internet.  Why do we continue to invest in bricks and mortar when we have the ability to narrowcast any video any time any place?  I made the mistake last week of looking out on my HCDE class and realizing that the students were collectively paying $65,000 to take my class, and my compensation as a part time lecturer was $5,000.  Then it occurred to me that there are several excellent user experience (UX) design studios (not being used in the evening) around Seattle that would be a much better environment to teach in than any generic UW classroom for far less money than a university building.

While the capabilities of the Internet are certainly shaping new ways of thinking about a “university without walls”, there is another not so subtle change occurring all around us.  It is the switch from the content centered world of previous media (in the McLuhan sense) like books, music, TV and movies, to the app centered world of the iPhone, Android, and iPad.  Our content is now becoming dynamic, socialized, and contextualized by becoming an app.  Our content is now alive in ways that those of us who have grown up in a text based world have a hard time coming to grips with.  I now keep asking myself “are we finally seeing the death of the linear book?”

What would the world of work and learning be if at every turn we had “alive” content in context that is easily socialized and distributed?  What if we had expert mentors available for in context consulting for immediate problems and for longer term “degrees”?Fortunately, there are terrific professionals not just thinking about these ideas but testing them and putting them into action.  Cathy Davidson, Duke University, is researching, writing and practicing several of the core ideas related to innovation and the future of learning and work.

 

Follow Skip Walter’s blog: http://skipwalter.net/

Fostering Innovation

July 15, 2011 Comments off

One of the central questions of this Forum is how institutions foster innovation.  One of the techniques we have already talked about is to establish a subordinate unit enough removed from central management to allow for intellectual autonomy while simultaneously remaining enough integrated with the sponsoring organization to allow for support and resources.  It is the challenge this campus has lived with ever since our founding in 1990.  How can we be both autonomous from and integrated with the Seattle campus simultaneously?

Apropos of this challenge, Michael Hiltzik has written a fascinating book on PARC, the legendary research center established by Xerox in Palo Alto in the 1970s. Entitled Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (Harper, 1999), the book notes that “four factors contributed most to PARC’s explosive creativity. One was Xerox’s money, a seemingly limitless cascade of cash flowing from its near-monopoly on the office copier.  The second was a buyer’s market for high-caliber research talent.  With the expenses and politics of the Vietnam War cutting into the government’s research budget and a nationwide recession exerting the same effect on corporate research, Xerox was one of the rare enterprises in a position to bid for the best scientists and engineers around.  The third factor was the state of computer technology, which stood at a historic inflection point.  The old architecture of mainframe computers and time-sharing systems were reaching the limits of traditional technologies, and new ones were just coming into play—semiconductor memories that offered huge gains in speed and economics, for example, and integrated circuits that allowed the science’s most far-sighted visionaries to realize their dreams for the first time.  Never before or since would computer science be poised to take such great leaps of understanding in so short a period.  The intellectual hothouse of PARC was one of the few places on earth employing the creative brainpower to realize them.  The final factor was management.  PARC was founded by men whose experience had taught them that the only way to get the best research was to hire the best researchers they could find and leave them unburdened by directives, instructions, or deadlines.  For the most part, the computer engineers of PARC were exempt from corporate imperatives to improve Xerox’s existing products.  They had a different charge: to lead the company into new and uncharted territory” (xxv-xxvi).  It’s true that Xerox failed to capitalize on many of the innovations pioneered at PARC (although the author argues that the true story is more complicated, and they did adopt some, such as laser printing).

But let’s parse the four factors and see how they might apply to UWB.  First, yes, it’s true we don’t have unlimited funds of money, but we do have a lot of resources that can be stretched a long way.  Second, we have a bit of a buyer’s market because jobs are scarce and people want to live in Seattle.  Those are not insignificant factors.  Third, we are living through one of the greatest transformations in information technology in world history, comparable to the advent of writing and then of printing.  This explosion of technology, moreover, is creating interconnected challenges that traditional research universities—which are based on a nineteenth- and twentieth-century model of hyper-specialized knowledge—are not particularly suited to deal with.  They are certainly trying, forming collaborative and interdisciplinary teams to study complex phenomena, but they are still limited in their ability to scale very far upward in the hierarchy of complexity.  Breakthrough innovations, moreover, come from relatively small groups of folks with very diverse interests all trying to grapple with a fundamental issue of major importance, and doing so in complete freedom and out of the sheer joy of the hunt and not in order to fulfill the expectations of some bureaucratic imperative (academic or otherwise).  So what I am wondering is if that is where we as a fledgling campus—connected to a major research university but also with a certain level of autonomy—might we have a comparative advantage at this moment in time that would enable us to explore intellectual territory that has been hitherto ignored?

Transcending Technology

July 11, 2011 Comments off

The Economist recently published a short editorial noting that IBM is about to celebrate its centenary.  Most companies don’t last more than a few decades, so how did IBM do it?  According to the Economist, IBM was able to adapt to changing technology because it focused on “an idea that transcends any particular product or technology,” namely packaging whatever technology happens to be coming over the transom for businesses.  Those that don’t survive lose out because they tied their fortunes to a specific technology that lasted only for a single generation, after which it was abandoned for something newer.  According to this theory, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook are likely to last; Dell, Cisco, and Microsoft are not (because they are married to a specific technology).  It reminds me of a statement attributed to Napoleon, that the pen is mightier than the sword.  But it relates to innovation and to our own campus as well.  Because of a number of far-sighted faculty, staff, and administrators on our campus (and I don’t claim to be one of them), we are doing a marvelous job of exploring how learning can be promoted most effectively using new and emerging technologies.