torsdag 25 oktober 2012

Program-integrating course

For the last two years I have been responsible for the program-integrating course that all (200+) students in our engineering program study for three years (at a leisurely 1/25 pace). I did a course analysis of sorts last year and I guess I should this year too but I just haven't had time (and I don't have the time right now either).

The course is really good in many ways, but the administration is killing me. So I'm very happy to hand back the responsibility for the course to my colleague Björn Hedin. He was responsible for the course for two years before me - but I was again responsible for the course before him (we are playing "tag team" with the course...).

I have now, finally, formulated and handed out a task that students have to complete if the missed too many activities in the course during the previous academic year. The students are to read a hefty bunch of texts on "schooling", "higher education" and "intelligence", and then write a personal essay based on the texts and based on their experiences. As inspiration for their essays, I have made essays from a previous theme available to them. At that time (2005), all students wrote essays in the course. Me and my colleague Per-Anders chose 25 essays that we liked a lot and even commented each essay and put them together in a pdf file. I don't think that file was spread around too much, which is a shame as the students' short [Swedish-language] essays on the theme "entertainment" were (and are!) definitely worth reading. So I have now made them available on the web and you can find them here (pdf file). Download the file, have a look at the titles and pick a few that you think sound interesting. I can pretty much guarantee you won't be disappointed!

The only thing that now remains for me to do in the course is to read through the completed tasks as they are handed in, and in general to "mop up" and sort through and file all the (unsorted) papers that have accumulated during the last two years.

This is yet another "light at the end of the tunnel" I can now see.

söndag 21 oktober 2012

ASPO Sweden talk

ASPO Sweden is the Swedish branch of ASPO - The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. These are the people who worry about peak oil and who try to disseminate information and get individuals and society to think about and prepare for a world with less oil/energy (and no economic growth!). I know people in ASPO Sweden (including the president) and was invited to give a talk about my recently-finished course, "Sustainability and Media Technology" at their meeting this weekend:


Daniel Pargman, Assistant professor in Media Technology, KTH
Title: Peak oil at the university?

Daniel will talk about his thoughts on designing parts of a new course on "Sustainability and Media Technology" around topics such as "limitations" and resource challenges. What was the outcome when engineering students at KTH were told that sustainability issues and resource challenges don't represent abstract issues that "someone else" will solve, but rather crucial issues that will have tangible impacts on their own lives? What happens when young people ("future captains of the industry") begin to weigh the possibility that ongoing problems (EU, U.S.) might be a sign not of a temporary slowdown but of an inevitable collapse?


The course finished recently and I would optimally have preferred a little more time to prepare, but I gave a 45-minute talk about the course and about the impact of the course (on students' thinking) earlier today. For this audience, I especially had a look at and analyzed seminar 4, "the Peak Oil seminar" in the course. The students had prepared by getting close up and personal with Heinberg, Rubin, Hagens, Hopkins (TED talk) and some other selected authors. The question my students had to think about before the seminar was:

Is it prudent (wise) for individual, companies and/or societies to prepare for a future of materials and energy scarcity and/or negative economic growth - or is it just plain stupid? Why? Furthermore, if therse are issues that we should care and think about, do you have any suggestion for possible implications on ICT and media (production, distribution, use, disposal)?
Although it can be difficult, you might also consider what (if any) the implications are for you in the future that you personally think we are most likely to face.

Part of the seminar preparations included formulating a question to bring to the table at the seminar. I have to say that it is not that often that I am truly and utterly proud of my students' performance, but this was definitely one of those times. Here is a selection of their great seminar questions (we did unfortunately not have time to discuss more than a fraction of the students' questions at the seminar):

  • How are we supposed to be more sustainable and consume less, when we at the same time are encouraged to consume more?
  • Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifices for a sustainable future? Do you think that enough people are? How do other people's sacrifices affect your will to make sacrifices?
  • How do we lead by example?
  • In a time of energy scarcity, will we see a change in the balance of power between nations? Who will become more and who will become less powerful?
  • If no other source of energy is found, can we go back to the local ways of living as practiced before oil was found, or have we gotten to used to our current lifestyle?
  • How can we make a transition and use less energy without inhibiting the development of new technology?
  • What will happen to the Internet when servers, storage and maintenance costs go up because of increasing energy prices?
  • Are ICT systems going to save our civilization or bring it down?
  • Is it possible to scale down and disassemble a large part of our (ICT) infrastructure?
  • Will computers and the Internet survive scarcity of materials and energy? Are we then not (still) assuming economic growth and infinite resources?
  • Who is responsible for developing a post-collapse informatics infrastructure? It's weird for government to do it since a lot is about preparing for a time without governments...
  • Le's say there is an economic collapse. Would we try to reconstruct the same economic system we live with today?
  • I was pretty affected by the videos and texts as I wasn't aware of the problem. Therefore I wonder how we should/could treat all this information?
I presented the ideas behind the course to the very receptive ASPO Sweden audience and got tons of questions as well as some constructive suggestions that we can take into account when we evaluate this year's course and as we prepare next year's course. Several people suggested I should try to integrate the crucial issue of the connection between (industrial) food (production) and energy into the course.

torsdag 18 oktober 2012

Books I've read lately

"Books I've read lately" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I read the three books below right before the summer (≈ May-June). I have already written about the books I read during the summer in two separate blog posts (1, 2) and so while I still have some more catching up to do, the next books I write about will in fact have been read "recently" - i.e. during the autumn term. 

The three books below constitute a series of sorts about computer culture, computer history and computers in a societal context and all three books touch or focus on the 1960's and the 1970's and the parallels between the emergence of a computer culture and a counter-culture. 

I started to read John Markoff's "What the dormouse said: How the 60s counterculture shaped the personal computer industry" (2005) already in 2008, but for some reason I put it aside after reading 80 pages. These things sometimes happened (before I structured up my book-reading habits) and so now I chose to pick it up again and read it from the beginning to the end. It was an easy read, but unfortunately the least interesting of these three book. Markoff has interviewed a lot of people who where around at the time (1960's, 1970's), but the book is primarily of interest to people who were around at the time. It is filled with stories about this and that, but there is little analysis and it's difficult to know what to make of the book beyond noting that person X said/did/programmed/met person Y and Z happened in a long string of events. What is the relevance of these events beyond noting that they happened then and there? I don't know, but to Markoff himself the book is about:

"the extraordinary convergence of politics, culture and technology that took place in a period of less than two decades and within the space of just a few square miles. Out of that convergence came a remarkable idea: personal computing."

A much more thorough and more theoretically astute treatment of the same period and the same phenomena is Fred Turner's "From counterculture to cyberculture: Steward Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the rise of digital utopianism" (2006). Beyond a much deeper and more interesting treatment of the intersection between 1960's computer and political culture, Turner also traces the trajectory of the resulting ideas forward in time to our day and age. Turner sees Steward Brand as an iconic networker who moves between different communities and cultures (counterculture, cyberculture, capitalist culture), lines them up and puts them in contact with each other and each other's ideas and then profits from his centrality in the resulting network when Things Start To Happen. There was nothing that bonded "New Communalists" with hackers until Stewart Brand lined them up and (in some mysterious way) made them share the same vision of the role of computers in society. He later lined up the resulting computer (counter-)culture (i.e. the WELL) with companies and commercial interests (i.e. Shell), resulting in (for example) the Global Business Network consulting firm and Wired Magazine. Turner's book is an archeology of ideas, people and (social) movements moving through time as currents of water forming lager currents and sometimes splitting up. 

The last book in this blog post is Richard Barbrook's "Imaginary futures: From thinking machines to the global village" (2007). I have to say that the book differed quite a lot from what I expected after having read some of Barbrook's shorter academic texts (like "The Californian ideology" - criticizing the neo-liberal politics of Wired Magazine). I thought it would be similar to Turner's book, tracing how ideas about and around computers have influenced each other and changed over time. To some extent it was, but it was also partly a personal story that starts at the upbeat future-, space- and consumption-oriented 1964 New York World Fair. The picture on the book cover in fact depicts that author at the fair as a young boy together with his mother and baby sister. The major part of the book is about the cold war battle between (in the right corner:) US/capitalism and (in the left corner) the SU (Soviet Union)/communism, and where the price is (the idea of) the future, and the heart and minds of people in developed and developing countries in the 1960's and 1970's. Who would "own" the idea of the future? Which superpower/ideology could present the most attractive (and credible) future? It might seem obvious in retrospect that the US/the West/capitalism would win that fight, but it really wasn't at the time and the book treats the hard work behind the make-over of capitalism from a heartless ideology with little sympathy for the common man (workers), through space, science fiction and not the least computer imagery, into a cool and sexy ideology promising access to (among other things) the promised land of unlimited consumption.

lördag 13 oktober 2012

Future of Media 2012 line-up

I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of all the great guests and lectures in my course DM2571 "Future of Media". We change the theme every year and this year's theme is "The Future of Magazines / Magazines of the Future".

I don't know why I haven't thought about doing this before. I actually think this is such a good idea that I just created and "retroactively" published (backdated) two new blog posts listing the 2011 and the 2010 line-up of guest lecturers:
- Future of Media 2011 line-up - The Future of Radio / Radio of the Future
- Future of Media 2010 line-up - The Future of Music / Music of the Future

Below is the 2012 line-up of our (no less than 19!) great guests lectures. A dozen different project groups will present their visions of the future in the form of a larger (200+ persons) public presentation (welcome!) between 13-16 on Friday December 7, 2012 (place to be announced later, documentation will later (Dec-Jan) be made available here).

Peter Jakobsson, Ph.D., Media and Communication, Södertörn University, "The end of the industrial information economy?"

Anders Malmsten, (on Twitter) CEO, Bonnier International Magazines, "Digital and global magazines will change the future for magazine publishers"

Sara Gabrielsson, KTH M.Sc. Media Technology student and ex-editor in chief of the KTH student magazine Osqledaren, "Working with a non-market, non-profit magazine"

Pontus Jeppsson, (on Twitter) Head of Mobile (business and product development of mobile services) at IDG Sweden, "New mindset, new business model"

Scott Ritcher, (on Twitter) fanzine publisher and editor of K Composite Magazine, "Storytelling"

Olle Lidbom, (on Twitter) Independent media analyst, editor of the weekly newsletter "Vassa eggen" [Sharp edge] covering international media trends, "The hunt for old and new revenues"

Ulrika Facht, (on Twitter) Media research specialist at Nordicom, Gothenburg University, "Reading magazines and periodicals and media use in general"

Kerstin Neld, (on Twitter) CEO of Sveriges Tidskrifter (The Swedish Magazine Publishers Association - on Twitter), "The market and challenges for Swedish magazines today"

Anna Troberg, (on Twitter) leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, author and former publisher manager, "What is free?"

Kristina Sabelström Möller, Ph.D., M.Sc., Senior Project Manager Business Development at the evening newspaper Expressen AB, "Stunning technology is not enough - there's more to the Future of Magazines"

Daniel Pargman, Ph.D., KTH/CSC/MID, "Beyond scarcity and abundance"

Anna Swartling, Ph.D., Usability architect at Scania CV AB, "Project TEAM work"

Åsa Moberg, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Environmental Strategies Research focusing on Sustainable Communication in MediaMohammad Ahmadi Achachlouei, Ph.D. student in Environmental Strategies Research, "Future magazines - environmental impacts?"

Hans Althin, Business Development Director and member of the management team at Aller Media AB, "Learn from the past when building for the future"

Johanna Ögren, (on Twitter) ex-marketing and business development management consultant, blogger and magazine entrepreneur, "Who is a publisher in the digital future?"

- Milad Hossainzadeh, Ba(h), Dip.M.Arch., White Architects, "Thinking inside the box from outside!"

- Pia Skagermark, Foreign Editor at Dagens Nyheter, editor of DN Världen, "Swimming against the tide? Glossy magazines in a digital world"

- Magnus Gylje, (on Twitter) Editor of K magazine Svenska Dagbladet, ex-editor of SvD Insikt, "Visual journalism in digital age"

We unfortunately had two guests cancel their lectures, and there was also one more person I really would have wanted to come, but alas, in the end it turned out to be too difficult to get her to visit us. I can't even hope we'll have better luck next year since the course will have another theme next year...

During the previous month, I have written a number of texts on this blog that relates to the this year's Future of Media course:
- New term, new courses
- How should student project groups be put together?
- Children's (magazine) reading habits
- Student project groups - ambitions and grades

torsdag 11 oktober 2012

Sustainability and Media Technology 2012 line-up

I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of all guests and all the great lectures in my just-concluded brand-new course DM2573 "Sustainability and Media Technology". 

I don't know why I haven't thought about doing this before, in my other courses. I actually think this is such a good idea that I just created and "retroactively" published (backdated) two new blog posts listing the 2010 line-up and 2011 line-up of guest lecturers in my course DM2578 "Social Media Technologies" (which I will not be responsible for any longer because of new commitments - i.e because I switched to responsibility to the new course about sustainability).

The "Sustainability and Media Technology" course ended with a "gripe session" yesterday and I got a lot of feedback that will help us improve the course for next year! Here is the 2012 line-up of our 12 guests (plus my own and colleague/course co-planner Jorge Zapico's lectures):

Nils Brandt, Ph.D., Associate professor in Industrial Ecology, KTH, "Sustainable development - and the role of technology?"

- Josefin Wangel, Ph.D., FMS/CESC, KTH, Idealistic researcher with a Ph.D. from KTH in Planning and Decision Analysis with a specialization in Environmental Strategic Analysis, "This is not sustainable development"

- Göran Finnveden, Ph.D., FMS/CESC, KTH, Professor and Vice-President for Sustainable Development at KTH, "Global environmental and sustainability challenges"

- Daniel Pargman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Media Technology MID/CESC, KTH, "Global resource challenges and implications for ICT and media"

- Sabine Höhler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH, "Spaceship Earth: Sufficiency and Efficiency Ideals in the Environmental Age"

- Nate Hagens, Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont, USA, US Director of the Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER), "Human behavior meets limits to growth: Constraints and opportunities"

- Malin Picha, Ph.D. student in Media Technology/CESC, KTH, "Printed and digital media and their environmental impacts"

- Shakila Umair, Guest researcher at FMS/CESC, KTH, "Recycling of Electronic Waste in Pakistan"

- Baki Cakici, Ph.D. student at Stockholm University, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences and Researcher at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS), Software and Systems Engineering Laboratory, "Designing ICT for future generations: The case of the Stockholm Royal Seaport"

- Jorge Zapico, Ph.D. student, MID/CESC KTH, "Hacking sustainability: using ICT for sustainability"

- Daniel Pargman, Ph.D., MID/CESC KTH, "Rebound effects"

- Concluding panel discussion"Images of the future"
ModeratorDaniel Pargman, KTH/CSC/MID. 
- Mattias Höjer, KTH/Environmental Strategies Research (FMS) and the Center for Sustainable Communication (CESC)
- David Webb, Retired financial analyst, investment banker and hedge fund manager
- Peter Nöu, Senior Program Manager at The Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova)
- Ambjörn Næve, KTH/Knowledge Management Research group

lördag 6 oktober 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel

I've had a heavy teaching load since week 35 (and before - planning the courses), but all lectures and seminars in my two courses (DM2571 Future of Media and DM2573 Sustainability and Media Technology) will end on the very same day - this coming Wednesday (Oct 10). Future of Media will continue throughout the autumn term, but it switches from the "course" part to the "project" part where students work autonomously and independently (outside of my immediate supervision). That for sure represents a lot less work and a lot less pressure for me (but probably more work for the students).

I've met these two groups of students in average 8 times (16 hours) per week for a period of 7 weeks ending this coming week. That might not sound like a lot, but each occasion demands (sometimes substantial) preparations or follow-up work (preparing for a lecture or a seminar, preparing, coaching and meeting up with a guest lecturer, planning a panel with invited guests, preparing written instructions, clarifying and answering questions about those instructions, deciding/coordinating/discussing/evaluating stuff with my course assistant(s), reading student assignments, keeping track of seminar groups and student attendance, scanning a text, uploading a presentation, booking a projector, making a change in the schedule, communicating and explaining that change to the students and on an on and on). Then there are of course other job-related commitments I haven't been able to evade or put aside and this has all in all been a period where I have not been able to do anything but the most crucial and pressing tasks.

You can check out the two blogs I have used for administering and disseminating information to the course participants to get a feeling of the pace and scope of the activities (28 blog posts and 17 blog posts in these two blogs just during the 20 weekday in the calendar month of September).

Anyway, it all ends soon and will then have time to look at everything I have put aside during this already-very-and-then-increasingly hectic period. Just thinking about the post-October-10 period actually feels like some kind of vacation to me right now... :-)    Still, there still remains 16 hours of lectures and seminars and teaching during Monday-Wednesday this coming week, and then I and my course assistant Leif will meet the dozen brand new Future of Media project groups (that will work on different topics vis-a-vis the "The future of magazines" theme) during Thursday-Friday. After that I have to read and grade 50 home exams and take care of previously-put-aside tasks... Still, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and I very much look forward to not having to work every night when the kids have gone to bed and during weekends!

As an aside, with this or perhaps the next blog post, I expect to pass last year's count of unique visitors to the blog (see picture). That isn't as impressive as it sounds as this is the 57th blog post during 2012 and I only published 54 blog posts last year (2011). I will follow this short message up with a more detailed analysis of blog traffic and the development of the blog sometime later during the autumn (after Oct 10!).

tisdag 2 oktober 2012

Student project groups - ambitions and grades

I recently wrote a blog post about putting together project groups in courses (in higher eduction). The two main criteria that I discussed (and that can easily come into conflict with each other) were choosing who/what to work with based on "friendship" vs "interest". Should a student be able to choose freely which group to join for a project? Or should I as a teacher encourage students to choose groups based on interests rather than on what your friends choose? My answer was that yes, I should.

There are however other criteria at play, for example educational background/specialization. If we assume that a successful project requires many different abilities, perhaps it's a good idea to form a group based on the complementary skills of the members? That might be the case, but I have a hard time imagining such criteria will have an impact. A student however reminded me about another criteria that was important for her, namely ambition. She wanted to join a group with ambitious, hard-working students who share the workload equitably - but finding and becoming a member of such a group becomes more difficult when a certain element of randomness and chance is introduced into the group formation process.

That's a valid point. So this year students will not only inform me about their 1st, 2nd and 3rd hand choices (as to what topics they would like to work with), but also which grade range they are aiming for in the course; A-B, B-C, C-D or D-E. Going for, say, C-D instead of A-B might not necessarily mean that you are a slacker - it might equally well signify that you have little time available as you study several other courses in parallel, that your partner/child/sport/start-up company/job on the side demands a lot of you, that the theme ("future of magazines") is not very exciting to you etc. While possible, I do believe only a brave as well as a brutally honest student would ever admit to aiming for the D-E grade range...?

If eight persons want to join a group but only five can, should I strive to put together a group of students with similar ambitions rather than letting the dice determine who will join the group and who won't? Perhaps, but I will not use the information for this purpose. It should instead be seen as a starting point for making personal goals and ambitions visible and possible to talk about within the project group. If levels of ambition differs within the group, this is probably something that group members should know about and talk about at an early stage (so that it doesn't later "explode" and create conflicts within the group).

This intervention of mine is in fact also very much in line with our guest lecturer Anna Swartling's advice from the lecture she gave last week about problems and pitfalls of student groups and project work in higher education.  Perhaps it's ok that everyone does not put exactly as much time into a student/course project? Perhaps it's ok that someone is very busy (or even away) during a period? Perhaps it's ok if someone who wants a higher grade works a little harder than someone who doesn't have exactly the same ambitions (even if every person in the group will get the same grade in the end)? It is anyway much better to talk about it at an early stage than to let it slide.

By stating your ambition and having an open discussion about it within the project group, groups members implicitly make promises to each other. If you state that you aim for the A-B range, but later don't work hard enough, other group members can point at this discrepancy and ask to to live up to the goals (or promises) you have previously stated.

Something that makes the issue slightly "delicate" (?) is that stating your goals (as a group) might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a group has stated that they aim for top grades but don't seem to perform in a way that is congruent with those goals, should I as a teacher make them pay attention to it? But is it then ok if a group with lower ambitions do not get that same early warning - and are thus more prone to end up with the (lower) grade that they stated they were aiming for? ...or was that in fact exactly the whole purpose of stating your goals in the first place - so it's all good...? That's a question I can't answer right now, but I still think it is an advantage to have this information out in the open with the option of me acting upon it (or not).

Another relevant question is what aiming for the A-B (or C-D) range actually means? Here are some thoughts based on how much time it is reasonable that a student should put into the project. Time is naturally something that relates to ambition and it might be easier to discusse time (i.e. to use time as a proxy for ambition/quality) in the project group early on. Here are two different ways to think about what constitutes a reasonable work load in the project phase of the course:

1) Being a full-time student implies a work load of 40 hours per week. This course corresponds to 1/3 of a full course load during the autumn term so 40/3 = 13 hours of work per person per week. This calculation does not take into account the fact that (due to popular vote) the course will end with a final presentation already on Friday December 9. If the course is "compressed" in such a manner, should not students be prepared to spend more than 13 hours per week on the course?

2) A 10-credit course corresponds to 6.67 weeks of full-time studies = 267 hours. Deducting time spent in the course before the project phase (24 lectures - 50 hours, other activities - a generous 37 hours) leaves 180 hours for the project phase. Since the project officially starts week 41 and ends week 50, that corresponds to nine weeks and a resulting course load of 180/9 = 20 (!) hours of work per person per week.

These are impressive numbers. If we form groups with 4-5 persons in each group, then a project group "should" spend between 50 and 100 hours on this project every week for nine weeks in row. That is a lot of time. But also note that putting 13 or 20 hours of work per person per week into the project in no way guarantees a top grade - but it does work well as a starting point for discussions within the project groups. Perhaps it is even reasonable to assume that such a work load corresponds to a grade right below a top grade range (i.e. B-C)? I know that this way of reasoning demands a whole lot from our very capable students. Does it demand too much? What do you think?

Finally, I have to make the point that it is very hard to gauge the amount of work that has actually been put into a project. Some groups might be lucky and strike upon and then refine a great concept from early on. Other groups might struggle and have to shelf several so-so ideas before they find the one idea they chose to hold on to and develop. But in the end, it is only possible and only relevant to judge the results, not the effort - grades are awarded according to results and not to effort. Spending fewer hours working effectively on a great idea beats spending many ineffective hours working on an average idea. We do on the other hand of course assume that there is a correlation between time spent in a project and the quality of the results - the more time you spend, the better the results (within reasonable limits). Going along with the very first idea that comes to mind - instead of spending a healthy amount of time getting to know each other and discussing different ideas - is a high-risk strategy!

How we actually go about to judge the quality of the results in project courses might be the topic for another blog post.