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Macademia Connects ACM Faculty Who Share Research Interests

Macademia Connects ACM Faculty Who Share Research Interests January 14, 2011

New online tool will help faculty collaborate across the ACM

The tagline for Macademia is simple and to the point – “Connecting colleagues who share research interests” – and this spare, elegant, website for ACM faculty delivers.


There are just two steps to get started:

In a few seconds, a visualization appears showing a constellation of other faculty at ACM colleges who share similar research, pedagogical, and teaching interests. The site also provides a list of related academic interests. Click on one of those, and the constellation resets with a new grouping of interests and faculty.

Looking for collaborators to conduct a research project or organize a workshop? Click on the link in the top right corner of the website to put out a call for collaboration.

Shilad Sen

Shilad Sen

“Registration takes only minutes – the median time for profile creation is 152 seconds!” said Shilad Sen, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Macalester College, who has spearheaded the development of the Macademia website. “For this small time investment, you will immediately find faculty at other ACM colleges with similar research interests, and other people will be able to find you.”

The website is a significant new tool for faculty at ACM colleges to collaborate on consortially-funded workshops and research, as well as on their own projects, according to John Ottenhoff, ACM Vice President. “Campus Liaisons for the Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) Project repeatedly observed that collaboration across campuses — the goal of the Project — was difficult,” he noted. “Faculty need ways to find collaborators on other campuses. When we saw what Shilad had built at Macalester, we knew we had found an elegant answer to a real consortial need.”

The FaCE Project’s funding for new media tools has provided support for Sen and a group of Macalester students to develop this unique resource.

All ACM faculty members are now able to register their profile on the Macademia site. In addition, the site currently lists three Calls for Collaboration, and Sen and Ottenhoff hope that more will be posted soon.

Macademia website
Macademia’s elegant interface and visualization of connections among faculty and their research interests make it a powerful, easy-to-use tool for collaboration across the ACM.

Macademia built from the ground up with help from students

Macademia has its origins in an effort begun in 2007 by Macalester professors Diane Michelfelder (philosophy), Kendrick Brown (psychology), Diana Shandy (anthrophology and African studies), and Jaine Strauss (psychology).

“The project, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, sought to nurture faculty collaborations across academic divisions at Macalester,” Sen explained. “The Macademia team wanted to create a visual map of faculty research interests, but they weren’t sure how to do so.”

When Sen joined the Macalester faculty in 2008, his expertise in tags – text labels created by users, such as those describing videos on YouTube – was a perfect fit for the fledgling project.

“The group asked if I could draw upon my tagging experience to find software that would help them analyze and visualize research interests,” said Sen. “I spent a few weeks looking through alternatives, but existing software couldn’t effectively analyze the distinctive terms faculty used to describe their research interests.”

Sen enlisted the help of Isaac Sparling, a Macalester senior, and the two set out to build a prototype of the website. Over the course of several months, they gathered the research interests of about a dozen Macalester faculty members, entered the data, and developed Macademia’s online visualization.

Shilad Sen and the Macademia team in summer 2010

Shilad Sen with students on the summer 2010 Macademia team. Front row (l-r): Jeremy Lim, Anthony Tran, Megan Naminski. Back row: Shilad Sen, Ernesto Nunes, Nathaniel Miller, Henry Charlton, Alex Schneeman, Ryan Kerwin.

The result? “People liked the site,” Sen said. “Based on the success of the prototype site, the Macademia team expanded the site to all Macalester faculty. Our response was fantastic. Over two-thirds of Macalester faculty created profiles on the site.”

Ottenhoff heard about the new website and saw its potential for helping faculty across the 14 ACM campuses find collaborators for consortial activities and research projects.

“Thanks to funding from the ACM, a team of talented undergrads worked with me over this past summer to improve Macademia’s usability, reliability, and scalability,” said Sen. For the past two months, Sen and Ottenhoff have introduced Macademia to faculty on the other 13 ACM campuses. Word is spreading quickly, and the site is becoming a more valuable resource as more faculty set up their profiles.

Fittingly, and not surprisingly, Sen envisions that Macademia will lead to a cycle of further research and development. “I have two goals for the site,” he said. “First, I hope Macademia will become the first stop for ACM faculty seeking research collaborators. Second, I hope to use the site to conduct my own research on tagging systems. Macademia uses relatively sophisticated algorithms to identify connections between faculty, but no algorithm is perfect. I want to study how we should marry smart algorithms with feedback from even smarter users.”



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