Congress 2010 — An interdisciplinary experience in Montreal

As suggested by the outside member on my PhD committee — Ray Siemens from the Department of English at UVic — I attended a day of Congress 2010 in Montreal in early June.

Congress 2010 refers to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, an event that is held once a year at a Canadian University. The Congress is the premiere destination for Canada’s scholarly community in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Congress 2010 in Montreal at Concordia University had about 9,000 attendees.

The main reason I attended was a panel discussion between Pierre Levy and Alan Liu, two of the leading minds in the field of new technologies and their impact on society. It was a bilingual conversation (truly Canadian, with simultaneous translation) called “Collective Intelligence or Silicon Cage?: Digital culture in the 21st century”. Levy’s point was basically that digital media can help us understand our knowledge as a society because it works as a mirror of collective intelligence, while Liu warned that we run the risk of monotony and singularity, and that everything converges towards the same idea if we don’t have several institutions in between individual and universal. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with both panelists, and could discuss some of my research with them. Collective intelligence and emergent knowledge structures in software development are closely related.

It was very stimulating and inspiring to attend an event from a different discipline, and I found it also really interesting to see how these events are organized in other disciplines. Some good ideas that we might be able to adapt for Software Engineering venues:

  • Use a mix of panel discussions and paper presentations, to foster a more interactive environment. We have controversial issues in Software Engineering as well.
  • Produce youtube clips with highlights from every day such as this one. It’s a great way to keep people in the loop who are unable to attend, and it captures the spirit of the event.
  • Choose a university campus as venue, especially one that’s right downtown. It was great to be fully emerged into Montreal during the lunch breaks, with a huge selection of lunch places.
  • Use a different pricing model. I paid a total of 15 dollars to attend Congress 2010.
  • Be interdisciplinary. Meeting researchers from other disciplines can be very inspiring. It forces us to focus on the essence of our work, gives us the opportunity to find a broader perspective, and can lead to great ideas. When it comes to related work, I’m thinking 15th century now…
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