What Do Master s Thesis Titles Inform about Media Technology?

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1 What Do Master s Thesis Titles Inform about Media Technology? Oittinen, P. Aalto University, School of Science (Aalto SCI), Department of Media Technology, P.O.Box 15500, FIN Aalto, Finland, ABSTRACT The paper reports results of an inventory of master s theses topics in at the Department of Media Technology of Aalto University. The study was motivated by needs to understand the scope of media technology for use in planning of education. Theses were chosen because they represent a distinct body of knowledge. BACKGROUND The Department of Media Technology was established in 2008 as a result of long term development fuelled by disruptive changes in the media domain. Restructuring of Helsinki University of Technology gave an organizational opportunity for the new department to be created. The restructuring took place in preparation of grounding Aalto University in 2010 as part of a major reshuffle of the university sector in Finland. Before establishment of the Department of Media Technology, the professorships which it united belonged to different departments and supervised master s students with a variety of engineering backgrounds. The major degree programs offering media technology majors were Computer Science and Engineering, Information Networks and Automation and Systems Technology (see Table 1). The contents of the majors of the same name were different in the different programs reflecting the specializations of the professors participating in them. Some program changes were made after the new department started operation; these are visible in Table 1 as differences between the entries for majors and specializations under them for 2005 and Further changes will take place in the near future due to an Aalto University wide restructuring of the bachelor degree programs. The new programs will be launched in 2013 and have influences also on the master s programs. This dynamic situation together with the rapid technological development - creates needs of continual discussion of the scope of the discipline of media technology. 12

2 Table 1 Master of Science level majors and their specializations offered before (2005) and after (2010). The current titles of the major and specialization areas give one but view to what is considered to be relevant media technology at the master s level. A more detailed view is given by the titles of the courses offered. If the education provided is considered to represent a supply view, the topics of master s theses completed by the Department s students represent a demand view. This is so because the theses are almost fully carried out at the commission of some external organization, to a large extent by companies. The purpose of this paper is to find what the master s thesis topics inform about the scope of media technology. To achieve this, a framework is defined and used to categorize theses. FRAMEWORK Media is a distinctly multi-faceted concept and so is also media technology. This makes all categorizations of topics challenging. The author is not aware of any media technology centred frameworks applicable to the context of this study. The curriculum definition activities of ACM (Association of Computing Machinery), IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and AIS (Association for Information Systems) come closest. These cover the computer engineering, computer science, information systems, information technology and software engineering disciplines. For visualization of computing curricula a 2D graphical view has been proposed 1. This, called The problem space of computing, conceptualizes the major job areas of graduates of the above mentioned computing disciplines. The job areas and descriptions in the form of examples are given in Table 2. 1 Computing Curricula Overview Report. The Joint Task Force for Computing Curricula

3 Table 2 Job areas in computing with examples. Vertical axis in the problem space of computing Organizational Issues and information systems Application Technologies Software Methods and Technologies Systems Infrastructure Computer Hardware and Architecture Description Information systems, and process, workflow and job related aspects in the context of use such as business, administration, archives, publishing etc Web services, databases, search engines, etc. Languages, programming, API, HCI, etc. Operating systems, network protocols, etc. RAM Memory, CPU, Cache, input/output and data communication devices etc The job areas are to a large extent equivalent with the highest level categories of the ACM Computing Classification System 2, 3. In the framework proposed here for media technology the categories of Table 2 are used as the vertical hierarchy. For the horizontal categorization, a classification which expresses three facets of media is chosen. These represent different levels of granularity. The horizontal axis of the original 2D visualization of the problem space depicts the nature of the employment and ranges from more theoretical to more applied. The finest granularity in the framework proposed here conceptualizes media as signals perceived by humans through vision, hearing or touch (also smell, taste etc.). The corresponding signals are aural, visual and haptic. At the intermediate granularity level media is conceptualized as interfaces through which content is accessed, searched, browsed and navigated by means which are more versatile than perception only such as bodily movement and eye gaze. The coarsest granularity is representative of media spaces and mediated communication and experiencing to uses in different roles. The spaces may be digital, physical or combinations of both. Examples of the former include content repositories, the www, virtual communities and virtual reality spaces and of the latter physical spaces such as public spaces, buildings, museums and concert halls. The proposed framework consists of five vertical computing levels and three horizontal media granularity levels as shown in Table 3. 2 The 1998 ACM Computing Classification System,

4 Table 3 Framework for categorization of master s theses on media technology. In order to find to what extent the terminology in the ACM Computing Classification System is compatible with the framework, a coarse heuristic mapping of terms of relevant top level and second to top level categories was made. The second level terms are examples from the ACM scheme and were chosen to reflect some of the current research interests at the Department. It is evident from Table 4 that the framework can be populated quite well. Empty space appears at the lower right hand corner which represents hardware, infrastructure and software aspects of media spaces. Also clearly the upper right hand corner is a borderline area from the standpoint of the ACM scheme; the Computer Milieux category is the broadest and most diverse of the top level ACM classes. 15

5 Table 4 Heuristic mapping of ACM terms to the classification framework of media technology. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The framework was used to categorize the master s theses which had been completed under the supervision of the Department s professors during the three year period of The total number of theses completed in the time frame is 148. Due to regulatory issues the end of 2010 was the time limit for completion of degrees for students enrolled before This had the consequence that the number of theses peaked in 2010 (95 out of 148 theses). Categorization used the titles of the theses and was aided by student supplied keywords. Based on this information alone, there was some uncertainty in the categorization. This was diminished by allowing categorization in two cells. The outcome is shown in Table 5. 16

6 Table 5 Categorization of master s thesis topics (in per cent). The highest percentage at each level of granularity is highlighted. ACM PROBLEM SPACE OF COMPUTING Organisational issues and information systems Media signals/ perception, % MEDIA GRANULARITY Media interfaces/ interaction, % Media spaces/communication & experiencing, % Total, % Application technologies Software methods and technologies Systems infrastructure Computer hardware and architecture Total, % In terms of the vertical hierarchy, the share of the titles is the largest at the highest level Organisational issues and information systems and decreases towards the lower levels. As for media granularity, the proportion increases from fine to coarse: its proportion is about 20 percent for Media signals and perception and close to 40 per cent for the two other levels of granularity. Roughly a fourth of the theses falls in the top right cell. It represents production and management issues in information and media systems, typically in organizational contexts and thus represents a position in the matrix for a wide range of topics. It may also be observed that about 65 % of the theses were commissioned by companies and other organizations, and instructed by personnel outside of the academia. This undoubtedly has contributed to a broad and diverse interest space. The interdisciplinary degree program of Information Networks has the mission of equipping its students with competences for handling broad-based topics. The importance of such topics as indicated by the high proportion - for potential employers of media technology graduates makes the discussion of optimal disciplinary combinations in the master s programs a timely topic. Another fourth of the thesis topics is localized in the centre of the matrix which by definition - is the core of media technology in the Computer Science and Engineering program context. The boundaries relative to the neighbouring granularity classes are not, however, sharp as proven by the experienced difficulty of assigning a category. Some thesis topics were crossovers between the perception and media spaces and were categorized in both. More than half of all master s thesis titles fall in the extended core area which encompasses the three media granularity levels and the three intermediate computing levels (3 3 cells). It is argued that teaching should cover this domain in the Computer Science and Engineering program context to facilitate sufficiently broad thesis topic choices. 17

7 CONCLUSIONS The paper reports results of categorizing master s thesis topics on media technology using a framework defined for the inventory. The purpose was to find how the scope of media technology appears when viewed through the lens of theses. As these are mainly commissioned by organizations with a need they thus represent a demand view of media technology. The inventory made it evident that the scope of media technology is broad and the domain interdisciplinary. Its core falls within the scope of computing, as defined in the ACM 1998 Computing Classification System, but its extended core spans beyond it especially as concerns media spaces. Exploration of the scope using other data such study programs from other universities could prove to be beneficial for ongoing processes of education development. 18

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