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|The New Breed of Scientists - Some Personal Notes
| 26 June 2014 | Sebastian Feller
Last time we talked about “the new breed of scientists”, i.e. scientists who conduct research across disciplinary boundaries and who tackle problems from a holistic point of view.
These days I am actually right in the middle of becoming such a scientist. Two colleagues and I are putting together a new research group. The group is named “Communicative Thinking and Technologies”. The research direction focuses on collaborative knowledge building enhanced through technological applications. We seek to understand how people think together, how they solve problems in teams and how they use technology to help them do this.
Obviously all these topics are related to linguistics in some way and as a linguist I have a couple of tools that I can use to look at some of these research questions in more detail. For example, elsewhere I have tracked thinking through the speakers’ lexical choices in a learning interaction. During problem-solving, the speakers changed how they referred to selected concepts. I used language as a proxy for conceptual change. On the other hand, it is also clear that linguistics is limited and that we need more tools to understand what is going on in communicative thinking with technologies. There are, for instance, fields like Human Computer Interaction and Human Machine Interaction which provide useful theories in this area. For example, Mayer’s Social Agent Theory helps us understand how people view the technology they interact with in social terms. Furthermore, Design Theory gives us insights into what kind of affordances technology provides: does it help you share your thoughts? Do you want to use it for generating ideas?
There are tons of questions that “traditional” linguistics cannot cope with. The team I work with consists, next to me, of a psychologist and an eduTech design specialist. It is sometimes difficult to come to an understanding, since we still see the science/research world through our “discipline spectacles”. On the other hand, our conversations feel always extremely enriching and whenever I get out of the meeting room I come out a lot smarter. New ideas and innovation are rarely born in a single mind. They are the product of many minds coming together and sharing their different perspectives.
I am still wondering what we can do to create more effective research teams with a better communication across the disciplines. How about “internships” in different disciplines? Being a linguist, why should I not work in Computer Science for a couple of months? During our research career, internships in other disciplines would give us an opportunity of getting a better idea of what other researchers do. It would certainly broaden our view of how things can be done and of how different people think about the world at large and the problems they tackle.
I guess it is still a long way for us towards “the new breed of scientists”. Anyhow I feel that our team is already on the way. I am super excited and cannot wait to see what is ahead of us.
Tags: communicative thinking, technology, linguistics, discipline, internship