Appreciating the iSchool

CHI ran a panel on HCI and the Information School project. Being from an iSchool myself, it was my duty to listen in. Each panel member had a few moments to sell their vision of an “information school” . Some schools sat closer to the computer science perspective; others didn’t. Jon Carroll presented the most popular view: the classic triangle of information, technology, and people. In general, panelists also talked about how important HCI is to the information schools and how important the iSchool is to HCI. Also, some raised the suggestion that computer science departments might not always support the HCI community. I am not convinced that anyone really believed that HCI would disappear from computer science or information science (correction: excepting individual departments, I guess). The thought-exercise, however, helped me get a sense of the different strengths of the computer science and the information science perspective.

This panel made it clear that the information school was easiest to explain by describing its parts rather than pointing out some unifying definition. I feel that this is in contrast to other disciplines. For example, computer science has the Turing machine at its centre. The information school has a something else at its centre, a word (with more than one definition at that): “information”. I know that Carroll mentioned the triumvirate [information, technology, people], but a quick glance at the various areas of information science suggests that information is more central than technology or people.

On a high level, one can say information science is the study of everything related to information and under all the definitions of information: information as thing, information as process, information as knowledge. However, I don’t perceive that people can see the kind of research that gets done in information schools according to that definition. Instead, I find myself rattling off a list of areas until my audience nods their heads: “Library Science”, “Information Policy” (Law, regulations, free speech), “Information Systems”. And maybe I’m mistaking their bobbing head for understanding rather than friendliness, but I’d like to imagine that it is easier for them to think of what information scientists are interested in and what they study after hearing a list like that.

My own take-away reflects the same take-away from all of CHI. Information Science is a good home for HCI because it will pull HCI research into examining better the social peculiarities around an artifact, this will inform design. For example, I think an understanding of information policy and regulation can certainly affect the use of a system. It will be valuable to HCI to explore the connection.

Finally, I noticed that HCI is not completely interested in everything that information science has to offer, but I won’t say how.

In sum, it was interesting – and yes, I’m appreciating the iSchool perspective – even if I may rarely ever do research away from a technological artifact. But, if I wanted to, I could, and no one would stop me – that’s awesome.

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Filed under CHI, iSchool, The iSchool Movement

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