As a bit of a side project, I’ve been exploring the academic genealogy of IET (the Institute of Educational Technology, at the Open University). It began last year as an online CALRG activity, where current staff and PhD students submitted information about who their PhD supervisors are, and who they have supervised themselves at the doctoral level. I couldn’t resist translating the information into a social network, which I’ve updated recently to the best of my knowledge; I’ve added as many alumni as I could find, by reading the acknowledgements of archived theses. I’m hoping to present a poster illustrating the network of connections at this years’ CALRG conference in June. [Update: the poster for CALRG can be found here].
What is academic genealogy?
Academic genealogy is a way of exploring academic mentorship relationships, in a similar way to constructing a family tree. In academic genealogy, the relationships of ‘PhD student’ and ‘supervisor’ are analogous to ‘child’ and ‘parent’ when mapping a family tree.
It has received renewed interest in recent years with the development of online platforms, established with the aim of crowdsourcing information, to enable trees to be constructed dynamically at a large scale (without the need to trawl these for data). Examples include The Academic Family Tree (which has expanded from the originally Neuroscience-focused Neurotree, described in this paper in PLoS ONE), and PhD Tree, although neither are comprehensive yet.
Why try to map the academic genealogy of IET?
Initially, the data was collected in order to try to capture a sense of how knowledge has been building together in IET. The Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) is one of the oldest research groups in the field of Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) (this year will be the groups 37th annual conference), and over this period of time, it has helped foster many of the leaders in the field. Mapping the PhD student-supervisor connections is an interesting way of illustrating this.
Once the connections have been mapped more thoroughly (the current data covers the form submissions from last year, and any further information I could find from the department website, and theses deposited in ORO), other potential ways in which the network could be useful might include:
- Providing a novel, empirical way of examining the interdisciplinary nature of TEL; the approach has been used in this way in Library and Information Science, for example.
- As a way of helping PhD students or early career academics in TEL achieve ‘academic socialization’ within the discipline in a sense, by making explicit connections which are initially unseen but may be influential. Gaining an awareness of academic genealogy as part of the academic socialization process is reflected informally by its inclusion in the PhD Comics strip!
The family tree
I collated the information from the CALRG online form and website into a spreadsheet, which simply consisted of two columns; the first being the names of supervisors, and the second having their corresponding PhD students. This format allowed me to be able to import the data into Gephi, and visualise it as a social network. Note that I’ve used a network representation rather than a traditional family tree format, as PhD student often have more than two supervisors, and there is a lot more variation in the combinations of supervisors.
The network as it currently stands is shown below (very much a very-in-progress!). Click on the image to enlarge and zoom in:
There are a couple of ways that you can help to develop this work-in-progress further in time for the CALRG conference:
- If you are an IET PhD student or supervisor (past or present), I would like to add you to the network. An interactive version of the network can be found here: http://www.katyjordan.com/genealogy/, and you can use the search box to locate yourself, if you’re already in the network (the interactive version doesn’t have arrows, but by searching it will filter to you and your connections, which will then be listed in a panel to the right of the screen, or you can hover over nodes to see their names). If you are there but any of the information is inaccurate (e.g. changes to supervisory team or preferred name), please let me know.
- At the moment, I’ve opted for only a very simple layout (I’ve scale the node size according to the number of connections they have, but that’s all). I will work on customising the layout to be hopefully both more attractive and more informative for the poster. I’m thinking about colour-coding people according to position – e.g. current PhD student, current IET staff, alumni, other OU staff, or other universities, for example – but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to best lay the network out and what information to represent.
Please feel free to post a comment on this page 🙂 Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks for your contributions!