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Simon Buckingham Shum <[log in to unmask]>
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Simon Buckingham Shum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 4 Dec 2007 11:36:16 +0000
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3 year PhD studentship to start as soon as possible

Human-Agent Collaboration for Distributed Sensemaking and Action

This exciting PhD project is a collaboration between the Hypermedia  
Discourse research programme at the Knowledge Media Institute, Open  
University UK, and the Brahms agent-based Work Systems Simulation  
activity in Human-Centered Computing at NASA Ames Research Center.  
The successful candidate will join a team with an international  
reputation and established collaboration track record, based at the  
Knowledge Media Institute, receiving world class doctoral training,  
and working closely with NASA using e-PhD collaboration tools  
including funding for NASA placements.

In many fields, cross-disciplinary teams must collectively making  
sense of complex, changing, potentially ambiguous information, often  
under time pressure (e.g. in scenario analysis, collaborative  
learning, space exploration, science teams, emergency response,  
strategic planning, intelligence analysis). As we tackle problems of  
an unprecedented scale and complexity, new tools are needed to bring  
stakeholders together for effective dialogue, analysis and  
coordinated action.

This project will integrate and extend two productive streams of work.
Mapping dialogue and argumentation. Joint work between KMi, NASA and  
other partners has developed a methodology and visual knowledge  
management software tool called Compendium. Compendium supports the  
creation of many kinds of conceptual map, both informal and formal.  
Conversational Modelling is an approach to capture, structure and  
index the deliberations and multimedia documents in meetings, from  
informal brainstorming, to opportunistic and intentional dialogue, to  
structured modelling of a problem. Compendium has built up a global  
user community who apply it in diverse fields, and has been used at  
NASA in field trials simulating Earth/Mars-based science teams (see  
papers below), collaborative workflow modelling of Shuttle launch  
procedures, and knowledge capture from an expert workshop.  
Applications at the Open University include scenario planning,  
concept and argument mapping in e-learning, and the design of  
multimedia learning activities. Web tools for collaborative inquiry  
extend these capabilities for 'open sensemaking communities' who work  
over time and space to map the connections between ideas and  
arguments as they address wicked problems. KMi has developed proof of  
concept demonstrators such as ClaiMaker for internet science  
publishing and argumentation, and will shortly release its follow-on,  
Agent-based modelling of work activities. The Brahms agent-based Work  
Systems Simulation activity in Human-Centered Computing at NASA Ames  
Research Center has developed an approach to modelling work  
processes, and an architecture for integrating technologies in their  
support. This was demonstrated at scale in the Mobile Agents project  
(see papers below) in collaboration with KMi. For more information  
about Brahms and for a free download of Brahms for research purpose,  
please go to
The project leaders and supervision team are Simon Buckingham Shum  
(KMi) and Maarten Sierhuis (NASA).

The Challenge

What will scientific publishing, collaborative modelling, or internet  
argumentation look like when ideas might be agents, arguments can be  
monitored, and agents can provide active support to analysts working  
over time and space? What are the human and computing challenges, how  
would you investigate them, and how would you validate your work?

We invite candidates to read the linked resources, and write a  
research proposal following the guidelines.

You are...

...passionate about developing tools for mapping human knowledge, and  
inventing and understanding new kinds of user experience with  
software agents. You will have a keen interest in human-centred  
computing, bringing Java and/or Web programming skills, and a  
relevant background in one or more of: multi-agent systems,  
conceptual modelling, argumentation, knowledge engineering,  
collaboration tools, user interface design, usability evaluation. You  
will be a team player, capable of working collaboratively at a  
distance and across timezones, but able to initiate new ideas, and  
work to agreed objectives.

Background reading

Buckingham Shum, S. (2007). Cohere: Towards Web 2.0 Argumentation.  
Submitted to COMMA'08: 2nd Int. Conf. Computational Modelling in  
Argument, Toulouse

Buckingham Shum, S., et al. (2006). Hypermedia Support for  
Argumentation-Based Rationale: 15 Years on from gIBIS and QOC. In:  
Rationale Management in Software Engineering, Allen H. Dutoit,  
Raymond McCall, Ivan Mistrik, and Barbara , Paech, Eds.: Springer- 
Verlag, 2006, pp. 111-132.

Clancey, W.J., et al. (2005). Automating CapCom Using Mobile Agents  
and Robotic Assistants. In Proceedings 1st Space Exploration  
Conference, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 31  
Jan - 1 Feb, 2005, Orlando, FL. Available from: AIAA Meeting Papers  
on Disc [CD-ROM]: Reston, VA, and as AKT-IRC ePrint 375

Clancey, W. J, P. Sachs, M. Sierhuis, and R. van Hoof. (1998).  
Brahms: Simulating practice for work systems design, International  
Journal on Human-Computer Studies, vol. 49, pp. 831-865.

CoAKTinG/Mobile Agents website: 

Sierhuis, M. and Buckingham Shum, S. (in press). Human-Agent  
Knowledge Cartography for e-Science: NASA Field Trials at the Mars  
Desert Research Station. Draft chapter to appear in: Knowledge  
Cartography: Software Tools and Mapping Techniques. Eds. Okada, A.,  
Buckingham Shum, S. and Sherborne, T. (Springer, 2008, in press)

Sierhuis, M., W. J. Clancey, R. van Hoof (2007). Brahms: A multiagent  
modeling environment for simulating work processes and practices.  
International Journal of Simulation and Process Modelling,  
Inderscience Publishers, 3 (3), 134-152.

Sierhuis, M. (2007). It's not just goals all the way down - It's  
activities all the way down. In G. M. P. O'Hare & A. Ricci & M. J.  
O'Grady & O. Dikenelli (Eds.), Engineering Societies in the Agents  
World VII, 7th International, Workshop, ESAW 2006, Dublin, Ireland,  
September 6-8, 2006, Revised Selected and Invited Papers (Vol. LNCS  
4457/2007, pp. 1-24). Dublin, Ireland: Springer.

Additional Information:

The Knowledge Media Institute ( is home to  
internationally recognised researchers in semantic web, artificial  
intelligence, cognitive science, human-computer interaction,  
information retrieval and multimedia processing. KMi offers students  
an intellectually challenging environment with exceptional research  
and computer facilities. You will be joining a dynamic PhD programme  
with about 15 other students in KMi, plus peers in the Computing  
department and Institute of Educational Technology who together make  
up the OU's Centre for Research in Computing (

KMi sees PhD students as critical to its mission, and awards  
Studentships (12,600/year tax free for 2007/08), with no additional  
fees, compulsory examinations or teaching required. Participation is  
required in CRC PhD events and thesis milestones, as specified in the  
KMI Research Degrees policy ( 
policy.cfm). Additional training courses to develop your generic  
research skills are run across the OU, attendance at which is agreed  
with your supervisor.

The Open University ( is UK's only distance  
learning university with a dedicated mission for excellence in  
teaching and research. PhD programmes are residential, however, and  
the student would carry out their research at the KMi in the Open  
University's central Milton Keynes campus.

Milton Keynes (, located in the triangle  
Cambridge, Oxford and London, is an exciting and vibrant place to be.  
It is one of the fastest growing cities in the country with fantastic  
shopping facilities, Xscape Snow slope, new skydiving centre and much  
more. Milton Keynes is also home to some major employers with Abbey  
National, Argos and The Open University having headquarters in the  
city. With more businesses continuing to locate here, unemployment  
levels are among the lowest in the country. Milton Keynes has  
excellent transport links with the M1 motorway and A5 running  
alongside the city and a fast train link into London Euston (35  


Feel free to approach us informally about your ideas.
Applications should comprise an Application Form, Research Proposal  
and your CV, submitted by hardcopy to:

Research School
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

and by email to reach Simon Buckingham Shum by:
1700 GMT Monday 7th January 2008.

Interviews will be held at the Open University, with video link to  
NASA, in mid-Jan, with the goal of starting as soon as possible.

Information about the Doctoral Programme is on the KMi website


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