Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Unleashing the Masters of Information

We've just had our annual commencement at the School of Information at UC Berkeley, which means we are unleashing another class of "masters of information" on the world. I've always thought it was a little odd for us to be called the School of information, but that's the name (and we're not alone). I hope that all schools at Berkeley are schools of information (as opposed to "disinformation"or "misinformation"), but given what we do and teach here if any academic unit on campus were to use that name it could only be us.

Instead of a master's thesis, which is required by many professional degree programs at Berkeley, the ISchool requires a final project, which is almost always a 2-4 person team effort extending over a couple of semesters. This year there were 16 final projects sorted into three categories. The mix of final projects reflects the wonderful intellectual and curricular diversity here, but a handful are especially relevant to the topics I post about on this blog -- so go back and follow the link to the project list.

I'm very proud to say that the two projects that I advised
were singled out
by outside judges as prize winners:

MD:Notes was named the best project in the "Information System Implementation" category. The students were Zach Gillen (the Teaching Assistant in my Document Engineering course), Jill Blue Lin, and Kate Ahern.

Our product, MD:Notes, is a prototype for an application that improves the hospitals' processes for creating and retrieving progress notes.

Our primary motivation for the project was to better understand how public hospitals are making the transition from paper to electronic records, and to design a solution that addresses the hospitals' needs. Specifically, we focused on how two public hospitals in the Bay Area work with progress notes.

Progress notes are notes written by a physician to describe the patient's condition during the visit, the physician's assessment and plans for treatment. These notes are an important part of a patient's medical history. Taken as a whole, they tell a rich narrative about a patient's medical past. A progress note is one component of a patient's record consisting of many pieces of clinical documentation.

A Digital Clean Slate received the runner-up project award in the "Information Policy and Management"category. The students were Evynn Testa-Avila and Chris Volz.

When potentially derogatory information is dismissed from a person's record in the court system, the dismissal is not always registered immediately with various Corporate Data Brokers (CDBs) who provide background checks to employers. This means that errors can appear in background checks and jeopardize chances at employment. In this paper, we present the results of a pilot study that looks at the flow of information from public court records to CDBs and then to employers and job applicants. Of particular interest is how and when errors may be introduced into these records and how processes and systems can be improved to avoid or minimize such errors.

Both of these projects did very careful and thoughtful document and process analysis in complex environments -- I've called this "document anthropology and archeology" because it involves an iterative cycle in which documents or other information sources may refer or link to other documents, or to people, who can refer to other people or to other documents, and so on.

It is very rewarding each year to see the really interesting work that students do here and to contribute to it as a teacher and research advisor. But that always gives me mixed emotions, because it makes me look forward to the next class. So congrats to Zach, Jill, Kate, Evynn, Chris and the rest of the class of 2008, but you have to leave now to make room for class of 2010, so be sure to empty out your lockers in the graduate student lounge.

-Bob Glushko

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