Special Topics: Sensemaking

Course Number: 
05-499 / 05-899
Cross listed as: 
05-898
Semester and Units: 
Spring: 9–12 units
Course Description: 

This is a seminar-style exploration that will focus on integrating knowledge from cognitive psychology, social psychology, social computing, machine learning and computer science that can help people make sense of overwhelming amounts of information.

The amount of information available to individuals today is enormous and rapidly increasing—70 billion hours are spent—and lost—every year on online sensemaking tasks (such as search) in the U.S. alone. Continued progress in science, education, and technology is fundamentally dependent on making sense of and finding insights in overwhelming amounts of data. However, human cognition, while unparalleled at discovering patterns and linking seemingly-disparate concepts, is also limited in the amount of information it can process at once.

This course will examine approaches that tackle sensemaking problems ranging from scientific collaboration to web search by combining the flexibility of higher-order cognition, the strengths of social collaboration, and the power of machine learning and visualization. Students will be exposed to theory about the social and cognitive processes involved in turning information into knowledge and how theory can be translated into practice through social computing, machine learning and visualization systems.

The material in this class would be of value to anyone interested in classic and cutting edge work representing cognitive, social, and computational approaches to helping people learn, understand, and discover insights that transform information into knowledge. These issues are relevant to students interested in domains including HCI, education, science, public policy, health, design, machine learning, social computing, and more.

You’ll read about four articles to prepare for each week’s class session. Papers have been selected either because they frame a sub-area, are one of the earliest, best papers in the sub-area, show cutting edge research or represent different approaches to the sub-area. While the course can’t possibly cover every important paper that has been published in the last four decades, it will try to focus on pioneering work and the research traditions that have followed. We will try to cover enough areas to give a sense of the breadth of cross-disciplinary research on sensemaking. You will also participate in weekly in-class exercises that will help translate theory into practice, and work on a final project which will allow you to go more in-depth in an area of your choosing.