Digital Economy Network Summer School

Newcastle University

17th – 20th July 2016

The Digital Economy Network is a support system, of sorts, for postgraduate students whose research falls under the Digital Economy theme. The network organises a series of academic and social events, aiming to foster collaboration between researchers across the country. The Summer School programme is an example of this, offering postgraduate students the opportunity to engage with other members of the community, as well as experienced researchers across a diverse range of related fields. In 2016, this event was organised by the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics at Newcastle University. Within a few days, we managed to socialise with students from other universities, attend insightful master classes and workshops, and listen to some extremely prolific speakers.

Following an exhausting coach journey from Nottingham, we finally managed to get our hands on some food and wine at the Welcome Reception on Sunday evening. After having the chance to speak to a few fellow attendees, we spent a small amount of time exploring Newcastle – a first, for a lot of us. Excited at the prospect of being in this gorgeous city, we were prepared to get started with our master classes the next day.

Our first official day began with a talk by Mimi Ito from the University of California, on the influence that digital technologies can have on the education of young people. An extremely compelling speaker, her talk – which included an interactive tweeting session! – prepared us appropriately for a day of learning and discussion.

Following a short coffee break, we made our way to the master classes. I had selected the class run by Max Wilson from the University of Nottingham, which was based on peer-reviewing papers. Due to my interest in writing, as well as my aim to have a few publications under my belt, this class seemed perfect. Through the course of the day, I managed to learn about the reviewing processes for different types of publications, which was hugely useful, in order to understand how to cater to the specific requirements of any organisation that I could be writing for. Additionally, I managed to learn about the process of writing a peer review myself, which is a useful skill for any researcher to possess. The session was interactive – lots of sticky notes! – with a lot of room for conversation and discussion, which is just what we needed to maintain our attention through the course of a long day.

This was followed by a fascinating talk by Christopher Le Dantec from Georgia Tech, on how data can be a useful tool to encourage public participation in local government initiatives.

The day ended with a boat trip, complete with a barbeque, which allowed us to wind down and get to know each other a little bit better.

The second day began with a very different perspective on the proliferation of digital technologies from journalist Brett Scott. His animated presentation on digital finance and our imminent progression towards a cashless existence conveyed his passion and enthusiasm for the subject.

Revved up and ready for the day, we headed towards the workshops that we had chosen to attend. Interested in knowing a bit more about the field that I was working in, my workshop of choice was called ‘What The Heck is the Digital Economy? – A Linguistic Enquiry’. Organised by two of my colleagues – Annie Quandt and Andrew Moffat from the University of Nottingham’s Horizon CDT – as well as Ding Wang from Lancaster University’s HighWire CDT, the workshop began with an introduction to various ‘Digital Economy texts’, and an interactive session surrounding their prominent linguistic characteristics. Through the day, we had the opportunity to learn about various types of linguistic analyses, and the tools which could aid with these processes. This was followed by the opportunity to apply our newly-learned skills to the analysis of various descriptions of the ‘Digital Economy’, in order to identify the key features of the concept. Our textual analyses concluded with the attempt to form a coherent manifesto that would encapsulate these ideas, which involved an afternoon of intense debate. My favourite part, however, was winning a game of Digital Economy Bingo – a most excellent bonus of having attended the workshop!

A few games of bowling and pool later, we were done with our second day at the Summer School in what seemed to be the blink of an eye.

After two whole days of intense discussion, speed-networking, and intellectual debate, it was a blessing that the final morning involved a series of talks, as well as a panel discussion between the speakers.

Gregory Abowd from Georgia Tech started the day with an absolutely wonderful presentation on the application(s) of computer science to the world we live in. His inclusion of both his life and research experiences made for an engaging talk – easily among the top few talks that I have attended over the years.

The panel discussion was extremely interesting, with the inclusion of audience questions across a wide range of topics, from the issues facing minorities working in STEM-related fields to differing opinions on our daily dependence on digital technologies.

Finally, the day ended with a thought-provoking talk on the use of digital technologies to empower students to better understand their affect when engaging in online communication. The most memorable moment of the talk, for me, was when I realised that I was one of the only people to have watched Beyonce’s recent visual album Lemonade – what had everyone been doing with their lives?!

All jokes aside, the talk was an excellent conclusion to the Summer School. We left Newcastle having been reminded of the different social contexts that all of our work resided within, and the unique position that we were in to conduct research that had the potential to influence our everyday actions and decisions. More importantly, we had an enjoyable few days, got to learn about some novel concepts, as well as meet new people – a successful experience, all in all, I would think!