in-class activities for teaching with “Networks, Crowds, and Markets”

In the course of teaching SI 301 “Models of Social Information Processing” I developed a series of in-class activities and demos. The material in the most excellent textbook, “Networks, Crowds, and Markets” by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg, lent itself naturally to many such activities. Some things were interactive simulations, e.g. diffusion, cascades, and search on networks and agent based simulations of evolutionary game-theoretic models. We used a custom online information market to predict when a certain instructor would make the take-home final available. Sometimes using just cards, coins, paper and pencil, turned out to be good fun. I’d be happy if others could find ways to use and improve these demos, and am also curious about ones they have developed.

Click on the image for a description of the demos.

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Twice a year, and a few times in between, I’m expected to advise students on the courses that they should take. At first my excuse for not feeling very qualified was that I hadn’t been a faculty member for that long. By year 2, I was requesting course enrollment data from the registrar, and mapping network diagrams of “people who took X also took Y”. That way I could at least make plausible recommendations. For the first year I was at SI, there was also a site, “rankSI”, where students could rate and comment on courses and professors. Though it was at times painful to look at the harsh criticism, it did provide useful insights. Then it became flooded with spam and went away (btw, I think having CourseRank, a Stanford project that Hector Garcia-Molina is involved in, here at UofM would be great). It all boils down to a feeling that it’s the students, and not we the faculty who have the inside scoop on courses. Ages ago, while getting my PhD at Stanford, I took pretty awesome courses in CS, stats, EESOR and physics, thanks to recommendations from other students. And I would be able to recommend those courses, because I spent many hours toiling through them. But now I take no courses. I may know that a colleague is a good researcher or a good speaker, but do I know things about their courses past what is listed on the syllabus (if that)? Sometimes, a bit, if an instructor boasts about an activity, or an advisee mentions their experience with a course. An even bigger challenge comes when students from other departments ask me about courses similar to mine, but in their department. Or students from my school asking about courses elsewhere… I then try and remember what other advisees had told me, or sneak a peek at my not-overly-useful network diagrams. But mostly I tell them “ahem… have you thought about talking to other students?”.

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Week 1: [Still in an excited state, best for adventure/exploration travel] Where shall we go today? Bike tour? Explore the old ruins? What if I just go to the beach? Look at me I’m on the beach. I’m relaxing. I’m reading a book. Should I post about reading a book on the beach? If I go online, will I need to deal with work? Maybe I’ll do just a bit of work? Or maybe I’ll distract myself with some fun activity [repeat].

Week 2: [Work worries have receded, with secondary worries flooding in] What have I done with my life? Am I the person I want to be? What is that spot on my shoulder. Should I have it checked out? I resolve to be better. Resolve to do X,Y,Z when I get back, have had years to do X,Y,Z.

Week 3: [Secondary worries have receded, complete relaxation has set in] What should I have for breakfast? Which beach do I go to? Which book do I read? If I go kayaking will I still have time to finish reading my book? I’ll just bring it in the kayak. Yeah.

Last week: [Desperate attempt to really enjoy the remaining days] Today is the nth day until the vacation is over, gotta enjoy it. But it will be over soon. But I gotta enjoy it. Remember this. It will be over soon.

Sadly, any vacation

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