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Computing and Communications: Research groups

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019, 08:33

On 10 January 2019 I went to my first ever Research Fiesta that was held by the School of Computing and Communications! I’m still not exactly sure what a research fiesta is, but what I attended was a fun event.

This is the first of a two part series of blog posts about two key parts of the event. This post is a quick summary of all the research groups that exist within the school (including the one that I’m affiliated with). It has been compiled from a series of short five minute presentations that were made by the group conveners. The second post shares some key messages from a panel discussion that was about research and research funding.

Introducing the research groups

All central and regional academics (lecturers and staff tutors) can join a research group which aligns with their research interests. Looking towards the future, where the terms of associate lecturer terms and conditions may change, there may become a point where ALs may also able to become affiliated with research groups in some way (this is a hope and a reflection that is above and beyond my pay grade).

In some respects, research groups in universities come and go depending on the academics that are employed within an institution and institutional and school strategic priorities. What follows is the current configuration of the groups. If you look back on this post after, say, a decade or so, things might look very different.

SEAD: Software Engineering And Design

The SEAD group, the Software Engineering and Design research group isn’t just about researching software that runs in a computer; it also studies how software engineering relates to real world applications. The domains of application that the groups have studied has included: policing, health care, aviation, and sustainability (farming). These external domains of application are becoming increasing more important. An aim of the school is to have more PhD students.

This wider focus reflects the orientation of the school, in the sense that it is about studying and teaching about the connections between computing and people (as far as I understand it).

TERG: Technology and Education Research Group

TERG, the Technology and Education Research Group (group blog) is a large group; it has around 30 members and a third of the group are staff tutors. The focus of the group is to study the use of technology for learning and teaching. It is closely link to another research group called CALRG which is within another faculty, known as the Computers and Learning Research Group (group blog) and has hosted a number of STEM scholarship research projects that have been funded by eSTEeM, the OU centre for STEM pedagogy. TERG has recently run a number of events, including writing away days (for research publications) and workshops about methods and theories.

AI and NLP group

This group covers the subjects of artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing and also aspects of music computing. There is a movement towards an increasing amount of focus on ‘deep learning’. 

NeXt Generation Multimedia Technologies

XGMT (research group website) was formed in 2005. If I’ve got this right, XGMT has got a connection with a number of OU modules, including TM255 Communication and Information Technologies. Some of the areas of research image processing and mobile communications.

Interaction Design Research Group

Interaction design is primarily about how to design usable software systems and devices. Members of this group have got a strong connection with the module TM356 Interaction Design and the User Experience and key areas of research include: digital health and wellbeing, animal computer interaction, designing future interfaces (which means looking at physical interfaces and haptic devices – devices that rely on our sense of touch), and music computing. Recent activities has included submitting research to the CHI series of conferences, and also participating in public outreach events.

Critical Information studies

The aim of this group is to interrogate and to understand the notion of information from critical perspectives. There is an important emphasis on the analysis of power, the application of ethics and the consideration of politics. Subject areas and topics that connect to this theme include artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. A critical question that the group address could be, for example, whether algorithms and the data that they use can inadvertently produce prejudice that is reflected in the data that those algorithms consume. Members of this group have contributed to both undergraduate and postgraduate modules. The group has recently run a successful conference and aims to increase their outreach activity.

Reflections

It was really helpful to hear about the different groups. A thought that immediately came to mind was: I have interests that span these different areas. 

Although I’m a member of TERG, my postgraduate research was more closely aligned to the work that goes on within the SEAD group. My own personal research (and teaching) journey took me off in the direction of interaction design which, of course, has its own group. The point here is that there are many connections and links between these different groups.

There is another link that is really important, and that is the link between the groups and the undergraduate and postgraduate modules. Research carried out within these groups can (and should) directly feed into the design, development and updating of modules that are created by academics within the school.

An important question to ask is: what was the biggest lesson that I learnt from all this? My answer would be: an increased awareness of the breadth of research that is taking place within the school. By knowing about these group and the research that takes place within them I have a more direct understanding of who might be able to help me if I had a question about, for instance, what topics are important in a subject area. In a discipline such as computing, where so much is subject to continual change, understanding who to go to is really important.

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