Specifically, we are tapping into our own research and experience working with small groups of analysts (as well as the research of others) to teach students how to optimize group work processes with particular emphasis on group work in virtual or distributed environments. In addition, we are also teaching them how to collect useful information and produce analysis using a variety of online and social media tools. For this part of the class, we are emphasizing social network analysis as a core methodology.
In order to give the class some focus, Cathy and I decided to have the students take a hard look at strategic minerals (such as the "rare earth elements"). In order to share the results of our efforts, we also created a class blog, Strategic Minerals, where students could post both some of their collected information and some of their analysis for others to examine and comment upon.
On the blog you will find a couple of different kinds of exercises. First, there are INTSUM-like entries that summarize recent news articles but add snippets of commentary or analysis (Note: For those who have not tried it, blogging software is a nearly perfect way to replace traditional INTSUMs. You get all of the benefit and none of the costs of creating them the old-fashioned way).
Second, there are classroom exercises, like our recent effort to build a down-and-dirty model of the non-chemical relationships between the various strategic minerals using social network analysis. Third, and most recently, we have been posting some of our (very preliminary) analysis of the impact of trends in these minerals on national security, law enforcement and business interests in the US.
While none of our current analytic efforts are very sophisticated (Don't worry: We will get better), how we are producing these results is likely to be as (or more) interesting to many of you as our analysis. For example, the most recent assignments required the students to produce their analysis without any face-to-face interaction. Instead, they had to use nothing but the suite of collaborative tools we had been discussing (and using) in class. If you take a look at the "Methods and processes" section of these most recent reports, you can see how well this worked, what problems they had to overcome, and how they went about making the reports happen.
In the coming weeks we will be diving much deeper into social network analysis, talking a lot more about group dynamics, learning how to use Twitter, Pintrest, Facebook and other social media as collection tools, and producing increasingly complex reports involving larger and larger groups of analysts.
It promises to be an interesting term. We hope to learn something about strategic minerals but more importantly, we hope to learn how to work in groups and how groups work.
Follow along at Strategic Minerals!