Jan 7 2010

A wheelbarrow of (PPT) slides

As those of you who have been unfortunate enough to spend some time with me over a coffee or two know very well, I happen to have some interest in the education side of IA. Syllabi, courses, programmes, university seminars, that kind of things. I think IA and related UX disciplines need to get more substantial from that point of view to still be around in fifteen years1. 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. This is also why I'm involved in such initiatives as the Journal of Information Architecture, now out with its 2nd 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 bring to public scrutiny sometime in the future, possibly before I get so senile that you start to read retirement plans and hearing aid-related posts over here, 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, there could be worse. Anyway. <7P>

Since sometimes I want to have a better picture, when I want to really have a blast I also read blog posts or articles commenting on the conference I'm examining at the time. And one particular article, Deborah Gover's Euro IA Summit Wrap-Up on Boxes and Arrows is spot on on something that has been bugging me for quite some time now. Deborah is talking about the 1st EuroIA, 2005, and saying a lot of nice things. Then, there's this sentence, which I quote verbatim:

“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 article, Deborah thanks those 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 call for 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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