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Posts from the ‘Academe’ Category

Eliciting judgements of value with visual judgement cues

19 August 2013

Derek Thomson

WIRED has an interesting review of an MIT project attempting to elicit judgements of safety from visual cues of the urban environment.  It looks (from the paired comparisons).  As below, they’re talking randomly-paired images from Google Maps Streetview and asking random participants to judge which is more desirable.  From this, they’re calculating heatmaps of ‘safety’ but crunching the extensive dataset they’ve gathering.  Problem is; they’re not acknowledging the weaknesses of the elicitation prompt itself.


The elicitation prompt of this work is remarkably similar to “VALiD: Value in Design” – a past study of ours at Loughborough work that sought to provide a practical (rather than necessarily perfectly reliable) way of helping construction project stakeholders evaluate architectural options for addressing architectural criterion that they considered aspects of “value” for their project.  These judgements were structured as evaluations of “benefits” or “sacrifices” – getting to the core of the nature of value: the trade-off between desired and undesired outcomes.  This operationalised expression of such an obtuse concept was one of our main contributions from this work.  You can read the development of this understanding of value here.

When attempting to make this work in workshop settings (rather than an en masse online tool as MIT have constructed) we problem we found was one of calibration.  A picture contains a vast amount of rich information, all of which is interpreted by each individual with reference to their unique, tacit construct frames.  We found the data generated useful in the sense that it stimulated the debate among stakeholders from which sensemaking could  be structured, but not very reliable due to these biases in stakeholder judgements.  The resulting quantifications were workable, but they were meaningful only to those stakeholders who had participated in the debate around which an agreed interpretation and meaning was assigned to each judged image.

This whole calibration problem seems to be overlooked by the MIT work, which is somewhat odd given its prominence in the literature.  The MIT work does, however, appear to have successfully gained a large number of evaluations.  Perhaps they have been able to account for irrationality through shear dint of having so much data.  They don’t mention it in the supporting paper, though: just controlling for demographics.

The cost of ‘gold’ open access publishing

16 July 2012

Derek Thomson

Disclaimer:  I’m Deputy Editor for Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, an Emerald journal.

Well, we all know that the ‘academic spring’ is bringing open access to western academia in the very near future.  It looks like it will be in the UK within two years, if things pan out as expected.  In principle, this is a good idea.  But, as always, there’s a rub.  And here it is (from the above):

Though many academics will welcome the announcement, some scientists contacted by the Guardian were dismayed that the cost of the transition, which could reach £50m a year, must be covered by the existing science budget and that no new money would be found to fund the process. That could lead to less research and fewer valuable papers being published.

To get your paper into a recognised journal that’s indexed and has a good impact factor, you’re looking at £3,250 per paper (at least, that was the open access fee for my last paper accepted by an established international journal).  You’ve always got the option of publishing for c. £1,000 in one of the newer open journals, but these come without reputation or impact factor.  As the behavioural economists will note, no one ever buys a cheap theatre ticket.  Not when personal h-indices are at stake, anyway.

As every academic is under pressure not just to publish but to publish well, publication and citation in journals of good standing is the only option.  A typical institution will expect at least three high-quality journal papers from an academic per year.  So, each academic will have to find somewhere around £9,000 per year to keep their career alive.

The publishers are justified in charging these fees as their subscription model is suddenly untenable, but just where will be money come from?  The only thing I can hope for is that library subscription budgets will be divided through an institution and made available directly to academics to support these front-end publication costs.  But what are these budgets, and how much will each academic receive?  I can certainly foresee a situation in which the funding required by publication is rationed.  How would those decisions be made?

As a final thought, now that the funding mechanism is highly visible, I would expect journal editors to become under commercial pressure from their authors to see work in print quickly.  I would also not be surprised if reviewers start requesting a slice of the paper fee.  How will journal quality be maintained when a market for reviews emerges? How will those journals who cannot afford to pay their reviewers a competitive rate survive?  How will they retain their editors when editor fees are currently far below the income generated by a single open access paper?  How will editors resist possible pressure from publishers to increase the quantity of papers flowing through the system?

What’s happening here is the pricing of esteem.  As someone who studies the pricing of intangibles, it’s massively interesting.  But scary at the same time.

When and how are papers written?

1 July 2012

Derek Thomson

Now that the teaching period is largely over for the moment, thoughts turn to getting academic work in press.  Surely now that the teaching workload is currently low, the majority of my time should be focused on paper outputs, shouldn’t it?  Well, let’s see.

Starting this (Sunday) afternoon, I’ve begun tracking what I’m doing related to my current paper in my Twitter feed (links are on the right of this page).  This is a paper of which a draft already exists.  It has been seen by the co-authors (some months ago) and now I’m reworking it in light of their comments.  So I’m not even starting from scratch.  Finishing by Friday shouldn’t be a problem, then?  Who knows.

One thing does seem abundantly clear: papers never seem to be written in the office.  They – at least with me – seem to emerge out of the twilight and dawn.  But perhaps I am not alone in this.  With THES recently confirming an average academic working week of 60 hours, and our TRAC surveys including evenings and weekends (and evenings on weekends), everyone is well aware that the 9-5 office week doesn’t exist for academics.  But we’ve always known that.  It comes with the territory.

So, just when and how are papers written?  We should get an idea in one selected (but typical – for me at least) case over the coming days.

Are lecture hours an appropriate measure of teaching quality?

17 May 2012

Derek Thomson

An interesting day in the sphere following HEPI’s contention that the ‘failure’ of universities to increase contact lecturing hours in response to the introduction of student fees is, somehow, a failure to offer teaching quality.

It is so disappointing to see this attitude from a think tank that, at one time at least, had a Dearing connection.  It is now widely known that lecturing is the lowest common form of teaching.  Indeed, the fact that universities have not increased lecture hours in the face of fees should be commended as it implies that they actually care about teaching quality.

I suppose, now, the acid test will come.  It seems that new customers about to enter the sector do associate teaching quality with lecture hours, even if this is a horrible mistake.  With the advent of KIS data as a marketing tool next year, I suspect that lectures will be increased, even though it is one of the least effective ways of education.  It delivers content cheaply, but that’s it.

Anyway, here is an interesting article on this in today’s Telegraph, in which their education correspondent shows no understanding of education theory and simply regurgitates HEPI’s press release.  The comments are interesting too: those by students and academics are clearly differentiated.

The Russell Group have issued a great response, which gets to the root of the misconception.

Academe as artistry?

7 May 2012

Derek Thomson

With the Avengers doing so well at the box office, there’s a good few Joss Whedon quotes floating around at the moment.  This one:

I’ve had so much success. I had something to say, I got to say it, people heard it, and they agreed. That’s every artist’s dream. That’s the brass ring.

makes me wonder if there’s really anything different between academic works and those traditionally thought of as ‘creative.’  All an academic wants is for their work to make a contribution that other people consider worthwhile and useable.  That’s why we exist: to create and advance knowledge; rather than to advance (usually political) agendas through entertainment.

RICS on a sunny spring day…

1 April 2012

Derek Thomson

I was at RICS last week, helping with their ‘Innovation in the Built Environment’ book series.  I have to say, with the hottest day of the year so far and their awesome roof terrace, I could think of worse places to be working…

An opportunity for a funded PhD

29 February 2012

Derek Thomson

An opportunity exists for UK or EU nationals to compete for a funded PhD Scholarship in the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University. 

If you are at all interested in studying issues of stakeholder engagement, value, and/or the quantification of intangibles in a construction or built environment context, then please get in touch as soon as possible:

This is a growing field and opportunities to make fundamental contributions abound!

Interesting times

9 August 2011

Derek Thomson

I had a great time this weekend working with past colleagues (you know who you are…) pulling together ideas on the possible form of collaborative funding.

It seems that a seismic change is coming.  With new modes of building use that people just won’t understand.  Tension between tradition and innovation is becoming tangible. Interesting times indeed.