Jan 7 2010 (a 3 minutes read)

A wheelbarrow of (PPT) slides

As those of you who have been unfortunate enough to have a chat with me over coffee know very well, I have some interest in the formal education side of information architecture. Syllabi, courses, programmes, higher education and that kind of things. If we want IA and related UX disciplines to be around in fifteen years, we need to support their academic development by building build better, more solid foundations. I’m not alone in this, of course, and this is not a new issue at all.

As someone who is still transitioning between the practice and academia, this is of course also of professional concern to me, and it’ the reason I’m involved in such initiatives as the Journal of Information Architecture, now in its second issue, and the Research & Education Group in IA (REG-iA). This is also my broader focus as a Director of the Information Architecture Institute.

Now, for reasons I hope to be able to bring to public scrutiny sometime in the future, possibly before I get to write about retirement plans, I’m going through years of IA conferences and checking up presentations. I’ve been doing that for a while, off and on, as that’s being done in my spare (very spare) time. As far as hobbies go, it could be worse. Anyway.

When going through a program, to really have a blast (and to have a better picture, to be honest) I also read blog posts reporting on that specific conference. And one particular article, Deborah Gover’s Euro IA Summit Wrap-Up on Boxes and Arrows pinpoints something that has been bugging me for quite some time now. Deborah is talking about the first EuroIA held in 2005, and saying a lot of nice things. Then, there’s this sentence:

“If we have a call for papers and no one writes them, we aren’t documenting our work. One has to then question what historical significance these excellent summits will have. Wouldn’t it be extremely advantageous to be able to look back at the papers for all the summits, especially as time marches on and the field continues to (hopefully) develop? Wouldn’t it be a valuable teaching tool and reference for those institutions with IA programs? Wouldn’t it also be a valuable reference for companies and their IA teams? A collection of papers from past summits could also be a important tool for spreading the value and knowledge that IA has to offer.
We should be intensely interested in documenting these summits. Presenters should likewise be intensely interested in documenting what they have to say. It’s really not about making IA too stuffy, too academic, or even about who has better writing skills. It is about sharing in a dialogue, widening IA’s influence as a discipline, standing up for what we are presenting, and leaving a legacy.”

In her post, Deborah thanks the three speakers who presented full papers, and concludes asking a rhetorical question: does IA really want to deliver a wheelbarrow of Powerpoint slides in ten years as the sole manifestation of its body of work? A long list of call for papers that produce no papers?

I don’t know, somewhat I have a feeling that both the IA Summit and EuroIA have been kind of neglecting this point. And I have a stronger suspicion that if the various committees decided not to follow through with this on both sides of the Atlantic, this says something about where the community is heading. We are half way now, given Deborah’s deadline: shouldn’t we kind of think of something? Or are we really going for that wheelbarrow and be done with it?

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