Post 2: Scoping a Web Science curriculum

Having decided to embark on studying to get a better understanding of the basics of Web Science, the first question is where to start? What ought to be in my D.I.Y. Web Science curriculum?

Usually, you might start by looking for a book to read as an introduction. However, because Web Science is relatively new, this niche seems to have not been filled yet. (An Amazon search does highlight an interesting-looking series of books entitled Foundations and Trends in Web Science, but these appear to be more advanced than introductory; my aim here is to get a basic foundation in the variety of topics that make up Web Science). Of course, in this day and age, the very first port of call when finding out about a new topic is not a book, but usually Wikipedia. In the case of Web Science, the Wikipedia entry is quite scant, and appears (at the time of writing at least) to be mainly based on information available from the Web Science Trusts’ website.

Fortunately, the Web Science Trust website deals with this very issue, providing a list of suggested Web Science curriculum topics, and descriptions of a selection of Web Science courses taught at various universities. The list comprises various different types of course, from single specialised modules to full degrees. In order to scope out a Web Science curriculum, I focussed upon the Trusts’ suggested curriculum, and information about the following programmes (selected for their breadth of the topic, rather than being very specialised; if you have stumbled upon this blog post looking for a more formal education in Web Science, these may be for you!):

My next step was to take the lists of topics covered by the courses and look for common themes. Having compiled the topics into a text file, I couldn’t resist making a Wordle, in the (somewhat naive!) hope that the themes would obviously present themselves. They didn’t, but I thought I would share the Wordle anyway, below.

Figure 1: Word cloud of Web Science curriculum topics, created using Wordle. Click on the image to view full size. It is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence. Please attribute to this blog and cite the URL of this post.

When comparing the topic lists of the web science programmes, I was quite surprised by the degree of variation. This is probably due in part to the differing lengths of courses involved (e.g. one module, up to a full masters’ degree) and the interdisciplinary nature of the field – the depth of study into different aspects such as the technical side, graph theory, or societal aspects are covered varies. The idea here however is to map out the topics in common, in order to gain a basic understanding of them all. My synthesis of topics is shown in the concept map, below (click on the image to enlarge).

Figure 2: Concept map of Web Science curriculum topics. Click on the image to view full size. It is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence. Please attribute to this blog and cite the URL of this post.

The main branches of the map are as follows (for details of the sub-topics, see concept map, above):

Web technologies

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

Analysing the web

  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Mathematical approaches
  • Social Science approaches

The web and society

  • Social structures and processes
  • Economics and business
  • Law and governance

This ‘curriculum’ does of course come with the caveat of having been put together by a novice in the field (me!) and may contain inaccuracies. I may need to revisit and revise the concept map in light of my studies! But it is certainly robust enough to form a starting point.

I had planned to address each topic segment by writing one full-blown blog post at a time on each (reflecting the way in which modular courses are taught in Higher Education). In creating the concept map though I’ve realised that actually it would seem to me to make a lot more sense to not impose a linear structure but to build up across the course simultaneously, from definitions initially, drawing together links to resources, to synthesising my knowledge. Since I am learning on my own, I’m not bound to structuring my curriculum around timetabling. So please forgive my forthcoming posts, they may look a bit messy, at least to begin with!

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