University of Vermont

The Honors College

March 19, 2014

TO: All UVM Faculty Members

FROM: S. Abu Rizvi, Dean of the Honors College

SUBJECT: Faculty Seminar 2014

It gives me great pleasure to announce the 11th Honors College Faculty Seminar and invite you to participate. The seminar, 'Big Data': Engaging and Critiquing the Production of Knowledge in the Digital Age, will be held August 11-13, 2014. Professor Meghan Cope (Geography, College of Arts & Sciences) and Dean Mara Saule (Chief Information Officer and Dean of the Libraries) will lead the seminar. Meghan's field of Geography has been grappling with spatially referenced data arising from the proliferation of GPS and on-line mapping. She has co-authored a book on combining qualitative research with spatial analysis and geographic information systems (GIS). As Dean of the Libraries and Chief Information Officer, Mara is very interested in identifying and helping to answer new challenges of 'big data' and their role in scholarship and teaching.

The seminar will include a keynote lecture on broad issues of scholarship in the digital age; presentations by UVM faculty engaging with 'big data' from across social sciences, the humanities, natural sciences, engineering, computer science, and medicine/health professions; demonstrations by information specialists and library faculty on topics of finding and organizing data, managing metadata, and using data portals; site visits to labs; and hands-on opportunities to learn about tools for visualizing and analyzing data, from computer maps to 3-D animations. The seminar will conclude with a celebratory dinner hosted by President Sullivan.

The goal of the seminar is to enhance the teaching, scholarship, and service of its participants, who will receive a grant of $250 for participation.

'Big data' signifies massive sets of digital information of unprecedented volume, variety, and velocity, whose potential research applications are felt across disciplines. From the 'digital humanities' to medicine, from new empirical possibilities of 'crowdsourcing' to the human genome, scholars and students have new opportunities for exploring the world around them. They find growing records of every type of social, economic, political, medical, and physical process, as well as the digitization of the world's cultural artifacts. They are challenged ever more strongly to produce knowledge - not just information - about the world. To do so they need to synthesize information from diverse realms, generate insights by combining abstract conceptualizations with new empirical realities, and interact ethically with people and organizations. They are also faced with new questions about research practices. Scholars and information specialists are taking on new challenges regarding access, wise use, privacy, accuracy, and ethics.

In contrast to the methods of the 'big data' movement, scholars across disciplines have always explored what might be called 'small stories'. While large data sets may indicate broad and important patterns, the integrated analysis of specific cases, statistical outliers, unique biographies, and individual contexts can foster clear comprehension of contingent relations among people, places, events, and processes. The seminar will bring 'big data' and 'small stories' into conversation.

Throughout the seminar, participants will discuss and debate questions such as:

  • How have scholars across disciplines engaged with 'big data'?
  • What benefits and challenges has the growth of 'big data' brought to scholarship?
  • What are the relevant questions for interacting with 'big data' regarding accuracy, privacy, efficacy, and ethics? What kinds of campus conversations can (should) we have about these issues?
  • What is the potential - across disciplines - for incorporating the strengths of both 'big data' and 'small stories'?
  • How can libraries and information specialists help us foster open yet rigorous scholarship? What resources are available to get access to and manage various forms of data?
  • How can we develop practices across disciplines that stimulate the rigorous production of knowledge in the digital age?
  • What are the pedagogical opportunities and challenges of engaging with 'big data' to enhance the learning of a 'plugged in' generation of students?

Interested faculty should send a letter of interest and a short C.V. (four pages maximum) by April 18, 2014, addressed to Abu Rizvi, Dean of the Honors College, 50 University Heights. In your letter, please indicate any experience, concerns, or expertise you would bring to the seminar. Please send application material via email attachment to

Applicants will be notified of selection decisions by May 1, 2014 Please feel free to contact me at 6-9102 or if you have any questions.

Abu Rizvi
Dean, Honors College

Last modified March 21 2014 08:48 AM