Tuesday, 22 May 2012

RCN Network Meeting, Boston

On Friday 18 and Sat 19 May, I was in Boston for the first meeting of the Research Co-ordination Network on Sustainable Energy Systems, which funded by NSF and led by Tom Seager. The RCN includes a series of internships for sustainability students in settings outside their home discipline and will use a version of the Imitation Game method in order to explore the extent to which being immersed in a different culture, if only for a few month, allows students to develop meaningful levels of interactional expertise.

Martin Weinel and I were there in order to report on the latest developments at Cardiff and to find out more about what the RCN version of the Imitation Game will look like. This was the main focus of the Friday, where we met the other participants in the Network and described our research interests to each other. In relation to the Imitation Game, we learnt that there are a couple of significant innovations being developed by the RCN, namely that:

  1. The RCN version of the Imitation Game will use a Judge plus three other participants: a contributory expert from the target domain (a ‘positive’ control), a student or similar with no immersion in the target domain (a ‘negative’ control) and the student who has had the internship. The hypothesis is that, at the end of the internship, the judge should be able to order the participants and locate the intern’s level on expertise as being between that of the other two participants.
  2. The numbers will be relatively small, so statistical analysis of the kind we are doing at IMGAME will be inappropriate. Instead, the success of the internship program will be measured for the individual students in their performance in the Imitation Game. In addition, by aggregating the individual results, the proportion of interns who achieve this intermediate level of interactional expertise can be calculated, giving a measure of success for the programme as a whole.

The official RCN meeting on Friday was then followed on Sat 19 May by a workshop in which Tom Seager, Evan Selinger and others described how they are using role-play games to teach ethics in relation tosustainability. This is of particular interest to Imitation Game project as, like us, they are taking role play games that could (and have?) been played in more traditional pencil-and-paper ways, and turning them into electronic formats that can be adapted for a wide range of classroom contexts. The whole set up was very impressive and provided plenty of food for thought about how we might develop the Imitation Game and (in my other life) how we might teach research methods differently.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

IMGAME: Palermo fieldwork

Last week’s fieldwork trip to Palermo was a testing time in more ways than one but overall a definite success.

Network and/or software problems meant we struggled to complete the first day of data collection but sterling work by Marika and Leonardo meant that we managed to run three rounds of ‘Step One’ instead of two and at least give ourselves a chance of making up the lost ground. Big thanks must also go to Martin ‘Albert’ Hall for getting up at 4:30 am to reconstruct the databases in time for us to carry on with ‘Step Two’ as planned. After that, things went much more smoothly: recruitment picked up and we managed to collect all the remaining data as planned. In the end, we even finished slightly ahead of schedule.

Palermo also saw a new variation of the IMGAME method, in which Pretenders at Step Two answered two sets of questions rather than just one. This should give a measure of ‘Pretender noise’ and will allow us to explore the reliability of IMGAME data in a different way. We will, of course, also compare the results from Palermo, in which non-Christians pretended to be Catholics, with the results from Budapest and Cardiff, where we researched the same topics.

As ever, I must end by thanking our Local Organiser Marika for all her hard work. In this case, she had the unenviable task of finding atheists in Italy, dealing with computer problems on the first day and looking after Harry, Martin and me for a whole week. She did all this superbly and will be delighted to know that we fully intend to come back next year!J.