Web Science CDT: University of Southampton

Case Study 1:  A Web Science CDT and Southampton City Council collaborative project

Southampton City Council established a “People’s Panel”, a group of residents who express their views on council services, health services and living in the city to inform the Council’s future decisions and services. Members of the People’s Panel take part in surveys, quick polls, interviews and workshops, and their views are tracked over time to see how changes in the city affect their opinions and experience of the city.

Since October 2014, the University of Southampton’s Web Science DTC has been working with The People’s Panel to provided support with some of the technological and social science and aspects of the project. The aim is to develop a better understanding of citizen’s views of the city, and to mobilise them as “citizen researchers” to extend the Council’s reach and its ability to understand the range of clients that it serves.

Achievements to Date:

  • A team of Web Science CDT technology students visited the City Council to evaluate the Survey software being used, and its shortcomings regarding the council’s ambitions. The team was able to make recommendations about the use of the existing software to allow a key objective to be achieved – longitudinal data tracking between multiple surveys.
  • A team of politics academics and researchers with specialist knowledge of democratic engagement designed a Citizen Social Science project to run with members of the People’s Panel to gain knowledge on “Recycling”, a topic with considerable importance to the Council. A group of panellists was convened, a training programme was undertaken and experiments were co-designed with the panellists. Politics academics advised the council on data-collection techniques for longitudinal data analysis.
  • A Facebook group was set up to communicate with the “Citizen Science team” and to allow them to feed back on their experiences and to gain support during the running of the various planned surveys and questionnaires.
  • A public WordPress “Citizen Science” site was set up to communicate the results and analyses of the Citizen Science experiments with the wider public.
  • The requirements of a Data Gathering and Analysis website for Citizen Scientists have been agreed, based on the experience the initial group and their experimental work.

Future Work:  CDT student projects to develop data analysis for citizens, balancing simple data analytical capability and familiar toolsets.

Case Study 2:  Digital Music on the Web

  • CDT Student: Jack Webster (2014 cohort)

The University of Southampton Web Science CDT student Jack Webster is exploring how algorithmic music recommendation services are changing the way music is consumed in the digital age.

Jack initially joined the University of Southampton to study for a BA in Music.  After graduating he decided to continue his postgraduate studies with a PhD at Southampton’s Web Science CDT to combine his interest in music and the Web.

He said: “My parents told me about the CDT after they heard Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Director of Southampton’s Web Science Institute, talking about it on the radio. One of my music lecturers also recommended it to me.”

Jack says that the initial MSc year helped prepare him for his PhD by giving him the confidence to tackle subject matter outside of his comfort zone. “My PhD research focuses on how music streaming services are using music recommendation systems and how these systems are shaping people’s consumption practices and tastes. It is investigating the impact of new forms of cultural intermediation that are enabled by the ability to collect and mine data about online consumption practices.

“I am focusing on the world market leader Spotify, and have been interviewing a range of people involved in the music industry, including major and independent record labels, distribution companies, industry bodies, music journalists, and recommendation experts, to better understand the function performed by music recommendation services”.

“I will also work with a sample of Spotify users to try and understand more about how they experience music recommendations.”

Jack says that the CDT’s perspective of the Web as a socio-technical phenomenon underpins his research.

“This interdisciplinarity is a pre-requisite for studying the Web because it can’t be understood from a purely social or technical perspective. My research reflects this ethos, trying to make sense of how both humans and technology shape the impact of music recommendations on consumption practices and taste.

“The CDT creates an environment in which it is possible – and encouraged – to practice interdisciplinary research, that is enabled by the culture it promotes.

“I have also gained a great deal from being a part of the CDT cohort. I have been able to meet people across the whole of the cohort, enabling me to collaborate with like-minded people at different stages of the PhD that are able to share their insight and experience.”

The CDT has enabled Jack to travel to China for the Web Science Winter School, and to Amsterdam to take part in a research exchange studying the effects of social networking sites on media gatekeeping.

He said: “I have also gained valuable networking and research dissemination opportunities as part of my PhD by travelling to and presenting at a number of conferences around the world, including New York, Berlin and Hannover.”

Case Study 3:  Transforming Teaching and Learning in the Network Age

  • CDT Student: Nicholas Fair (2014 cohort)

PhD student Nicholas Fair credits Southampton’s Web Science CDT with aiding his doctoral research into transforming teaching and learning in the Network Age.

His PhD investigates how the Web and digital technology are no longer simply information resources but are an integral part of the learning process.

Nicholas says: “The Web has had a profound effect on the way we teach and learn; it has changed how we find, use and store information; how we communicate and collaborate; and how we create, present and share our ideas. Learning is not just something you do in a lecture theatre or classroom, but involves accessing a wide range of different people and information sources, where and when you choose.

“My PhD at the CDT is enabling me to research this new landscape to help university teaching and learning better reflect the reality of networked students living, working and learning in a Network Age. I hope my long-term research can have a widespread influence on our understanding of the future way we teach and learn.”

After working for two London advertising agencies, Nicholas decided he needed to reassess his life direction and moved into teaching English Language at a range of private and public colleges and the University of Southampton.

He said: “During my time teaching, I became increasingly interested in exploring the impact of the Web and technology on how we teach and learn. I took a Masters in Applied Linguistics and started to research the topic but I found it quite difficult to explore just from the linguistics side. I heard about the opportunities offered by the Web Science CDT from a colleague, and decided to apply for a place.”

First Nicholas completed the University’s online Web Science Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and then the Masters year before embarking on his PhD research,

“The MOOC and the Masters year enabled me to vastly expand my knowledge and understanding of the Web from both a social and technical perspective. For my PhD thesis I am developing a framework and visual representation system to capture what personal learning networks look like and how they are used. These networks are the online and offline people, organisations, devices, services and information sources that we use to complete learning tasks in the Network Age,”

The interdisciplinarity of the CDT and being a part of the CDT community has also been an enormous benefit to Nicholas’ research.

“I have a very varied educational background, with interests and experiences in a number of different areas, so the fact that the CDT encourages multidisciplinarity research was the single most important reason for me joining. Being based in both the Southampton Education School and within Web Science allows me to keep up-to-date with developments in both areas, while being part of the CDT cohort with its underpinning philosophies has provided me the space, opportunities and support to pursue the interests and projects that most excite me.”

During his time at the CDT Nicholas has had the opportunity to write and present papers at the World Wide Web Conference 2016 and the EduLearn Conference 2016. He has also developed what he hopes will be an on-going relationship with the Parliamentary Digital Service to help them link and open their parliamentary data.

Nicholas explains:  “I have been looking for a space in which I can be supported when needed, set free when desired, and always inspired and stimulated, in order to explore innovative, interdisciplinary ideas. The CDT is the only place I have so far discovered that has been able to meet those expectations.”

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