July 27, 2009
Twice a year, and a few times in between, I'm expected to advise students on the courses that they should take. At first my excuse for not feeling very qualified was that I hadn't been a faculty member for that long. By year 2, I was requesting course enrollment data from the registrar, and mapping network diagrams of "people who took X also took Y". That way I could at least make plausible recommendations. For the first year I was at SI, there was also a site, "rankSI", where students could rate and comment on courses and professors. Though it was at times painful to look at the harsh criticism, it did provide useful insights. Then it became flooded with spam and went away (btw, I think having CourseRank, a Stanford project that Hector Garcia-Molina is involved in, here at UofM would be great).
It all boils down to a feeling that it's the students, and not we the faculty who have the inside scoop on courses. Ages ago, while getting my PhD at Stanford, I took pretty awesome courses in CS, stats, EESOR and physics, thanks to recommendations from other students. And I would be able to recommend those courses, because I spent many hours toiling through them.
But now I take no courses. I may know that a colleague is a good researcher or a good speaker, but do I know things about their courses past what is listed on the syllabus (if that)? Sometimes, a bit, if an instructor boasts about an activity, or an advisee mentions their experience with a course. An even bigger challenge comes when students from other departments ask me about courses similar to mine, but in their department. Or students from my school asking about courses elsewhere... I then try and remember what other advisees had told me, or sneak a peek at my not-overly-useful network diagrams. But mostly I tell them "ahem... have you thought about talking to other students?".
July 22, 2009
SI 508 (networks) is now part of OER
Thanks to the OER folks and quite a bit of work (more than I expected in any case) on my end, the masters-level version of my networks course, SI 508 is now part of Michigan's Open Educational Resources.
In theory all the content has been cleared for copyright and now has a creative commons license, meaning that anyone can use and adapt it for their own purpose. It has slides, labs, datasets, demos, student projects, everything.
I talked about it briefly earlier this week at the SocialNets in Education Project workshop @ Duke. I also found out that there was interest in my DRAT course materials (SI601), but it will be another while yet before I undertake another OER conversion :p.
July 03, 2009
Network textbooks are here!
Over the past 4 years, as I've taught a course on social and information networks, I've had to rely on a mix of research and review articles for the reading. It's true that some books had appeared that covered the developments of the late 1990s to the present, especially from the physicist camp, but they either didn't quite start from the beginning (that is, they were aimed toward the advanced graduate student), and typically they were very much focused on "scale-free" networks.
Just last year, I started using Matt Jackson's text, "Social and Economic Networks" in the PhD-level networks course I teach. As the title suggests, it is heavily econ flavored, which puts a nice emphasis on game theoretic models of network formation, and games on networks. But it also includes excellent treatments of other topics, such as diffusion and search. And the problems at the end of the chapters have had both me and the students scratching our heads and more importantly tinkering in Mathematica.
Two news books are about to appear.
The one I've been reading of late is by Kleinberg and Easley on "Networks and Strategic Behavior", and it is 1/2 about networks, 1/2 about game theory, info markets, and other neat topics. Aimed at undergraduates, it explains the subject matter so clearly, so eloquently, so seductively, that it brings tears to one's eyes (tears of joy, but also of envy that someone is able to write like this). It should be available by this fall.
Mark Newman's long awaited textbook is also supposed to hit the shelves sometime soon. I don't know when exactly (some people don't like being asked how their book is coming along), but he will be using it or a preprint version when he teaches CSCS 535 again this fall. It will likely be aimed at physics graduate students or advanced physics undergraduates (or students with a similarly strong mathematical background). I expect it will become the definitive volume on the topic.
January 02, 2009
Student projects in networks class
I ask each of my networks classes whether it is OK to post their final projects online. This year about 3/4 of them held back because they wanted to publish their work in a peer-reviewed (as opposed to Lada-reviewed :) ) venue. While this is great news, it means that now, only a few weeks after the end of the course, the project page is a little bare. But perhaps I'll blog about these remaining projects as they are published.
Still, right now you can check out language acquisition networks, book recommendation networks based on writing style, an online community for houses around campus, coauthorship networks of incentive centered design faculty, global city networks via international firms, and uncensored discussion of China.
January 01, 2009
Updated interactive demo tools
As preparation for adding my networks course, SI 508, to UofM's OpenCourseware, I've recompiled a list of interactive demos I use in this course. The demos let you grow some networks in different ways, then diffuse an infectious agent on them, or allow opinions to form, or test their resilience to random breakdown or targeted attack.
The demos are built on top of NetLogo and Guess and are Java based. My student, Eytan Bakshy has co-authored a number of these. I hope that they'll be used and modified by whoever would like to use or modify them. I'll try and blog about individual demos, but until that day comes, I'm just listing all of them.