Blog: Jeffrey MacKie-Mason

Social media, "tweeting" and "friending". These days, it's hard to tell screen time from face time. Meet Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Michigan School of Information. This week, he'll be talking about the knowledge economy opportunities emerging from a unique graduate program that blends information systems with the social sciences.

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Post 4: Feeding the Knowledge Economy

 I've been writing about different ways that the University of Michigan's School of Information is providing entrepreneurs and innovation, and graduate, undergraduate and executive education to boost the development of a knowledge economy in Michigan. Now I'm going to describe an opportunity to learn, in person, about SI student innovations and skills. At expoSItion — next Monday, March 23, from 12 - 2pm in the Michigan League Vandenburg Room [map] [parking] — students will showcase projects developed this year.

Cutting-edge demos

Projects demonstrate cutting-edge social computing techniques, such as last year's audience-aware public display:
when a registered user passes by with a cell phone, the system immediately displays public photos from that user's online Flickr collection. Other students show off cool network visualizations of a wide range of social and commercial activities, such as free-riding on file-sharing networks, micro-loan repayment in developing economies, and the the viral spread of Facebook applications. Muse Comp, last year's overall winner, is a system of mobile devices that interact with museum displays for children to use while exploring and learning in a science museum.

Many of the projects are developed for submission to the annual, international student design competition at the CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) conference. In the last three years, SI students have placed in the top three in this prestigious event, with a first-place finish in 2007, and second-place in 2008. For 2009 (the first week of April, in Boston), five of the twelve finalist teams in this worldwide competition are from SI.

The CHI competition projects are constrained by a theme each year, usually related to public service or social issues. In 2007 the theme was alternative transportation; the SI entry, altVerto, won with its application of a key  influencing concept: computer-mediated intervention at decision-making moments.

The goal for this year's CHI competition projects is to develop systems that encourage the use of local resources in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. One such SI project on display at expoSItion is eXtend: a resource tracking system to help reuse information technology equipment in a large organization. Take high-end IT (from the research lab, say, or the finance department), and, after it's become too dated for advanced needs, pass it on to less demanding uses within the organization. The key is a nimble, user-friendly system for tracking and matching needs to opportunities.

WantKnot is doing something similar with industrial waste: matching producers with local consumers of that waste (one man's poison, etc.). One example is the reuse of slag from steel production (I'm not sure who uses it, but apparently some companies do). Two other groups are prototyping systems that make it easier for southeast Michigan consumers to find and buy food that is grown or produced locally.

Employer participation

Employers attend the expoSItion to see SI students' skills in action and to aid in their recruitment efforts.
Attending the exposition allows employers to evaluate presentation skills of potential interns/employees (something you don't get in a typical interview process), build relationships with students, and to generate interest and awareness of their organizations. To provide more to meet and discuss possibilities, the expoSItion is preceded by a Networking Fair (10am - 12pm, Michigan League Hussey Room).

Employers walk away with an understanding of SI, and of how the skills and talents of our students fit into their organizations. They also walk away with resumes of every student participant for continued recruitment efforts. Some job and internship offers have been made on the spot after viewing students' projects and presentations.

By the way, here's some good news about the knowledge economy in southeastern Michigan: despite the sharp economic downturn this year, the number of companies so far registered to attend expoSItion is a bit higher than last year. Overall, the economy is contracting, but innovative information businesses and the use of innovative systems in business is a shining light in a dark year.

(This entry was written with the assistance of Joanna Kroll, director of career services and practical engagement, and Frank DeSanto, communications manager, at the University of Michigan School of Information.)