Conference Review: Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Information Foraging 2018

The Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Information Foraging (ASIRF) is a five-day intensive seminar held in mid-September at Schloss Dagstuhl in Saarland, Germany. In 2018, 20 people from five different countries engaged in a series of lectures, tutorials, and project-based work with internationally recognized scholars who specialize in information retrieval and information seeking behaviour.

A portion of the ASIRF 2018 participants in front of the ruins of Dagstuhl Castle.

The seminar series began Sunday night with Dr. Michael Ley’s keynote that unpacked the structure and innerworkings of the bibliographic database, dblp, which was followed by a wonderful evening social mixer with a magnificent cheese platter served in the wine cellar inside the 18th century castle.

Day 1. On a bright and early Monday morning, Dr. Ingo Frommholz continued our learning journey with the mathematical modelling approaches used by Information Retrieval systems and Prof. Ralf Schenkel followed this theme and instructed us on how to create your own information retrieval system using everything from simple Boolean queries to complex processing algorithms. Prof. Norbert Fuhr concluded the lectures with a tutorial on a systems-centred view of Interactive Information Retrieval (IIR), covering the Interactive Probability Ranking Principle, Markov Models, and a brief overview of information seeking strategies. Once sun had set, the roles were reversed and each learner presented their dissertation topic, area of interest, or recently published study.

Day 2. Tuesday morning began with Prof. Pia Borlund light-heartedly challenging Norbert Fuhr’s definition of Interactive Information Retrieval (IIR). Prof. Borlund’s chuckled that the “real IIR” leverages a user-centric perspective. Her lecture was clear and focused on how to design IR studies with real users and how to write relevant work tasks to enhance and properly define the future of IR systems. Prof. Schenkel switched focus and continued the previous day’s lecture on creating IR systems by discussing existing open-source IR systems like Terrier, Indri, Apache Lucene, and more. Prof. Christa Womser-Hacker concluded the day by providing us with a broad sweep of information seeking concepts, models, and methods that can be used in everyday User Interface Design practices. As the day began to wind down, Prof. Schenkel and Tobias Zeimetz unveiled the group project. We realize now why we had two packed days that covered both the system and user-centric view of IR;  we were tasked to work in groups and either create a ranking system or design a user interface for a bibliographic database.

ASIRF 2018 participants enjoying the sun while experiencing a guided city tour in Trier.

Day 3. Prof. Andreas Henrich’s perspective combines the fields of Information Retrieval with the Digital Humanities, using DARIAH-DE as the core example of a federated database in addition to discussing the challenges industry organizations, like Accenture, face with building internal and maintaining search systems that support employees find what they need when they need it. With the first half of the seminar complete, we were rewarded with a mid-week break. The professors and learners climbed into a luxurious bus that carried us to the oldest city in Germany, Trier, whose history dates back to the Romans. We all experienced a walking tour of the city; wandering through its monuments, churches, and public places. We even had the incredible luxury of participating in a winery tour, where the group enjoyed an evening of Riesling wine and barbecue in the warm evening weather.

Day 4. Thursday morning meant it was time to go back to work. Dr. Henning Wachsmuth presented on argumentation retrieval and analysis, showcasing his exemplary work, args.me, which may eventually influence how we analyse political debates in the future. Prof. Schenkel concluded his three-part seminar on IR systems with a practical example of Apache Lucene. The lecture’s concluded with Dr. Ahmed Aker’s workshop on deep learning algorithms and a lecture on its application in fake news detection. The evening concluded with the learner’s groupwork and each team presented their case study.

The garden at St. Peter’s Cathedral during the city tour in Trier

Day 5. Dr. Stefanie Elbeshausen concluded our lectures with a presentation on Collaborative IR and organized a group learning activity that challenged the traditional notion that only individuals look for information. With new insights in our minds and a week of great lectures and activities it was now time to conclude our visit. Schloss Dagstuhl’s all-inclusive meals, planned activities, and remote location with deluxe amenities provided us with the optimal environment to exchange knowledge and meet new potential collaborators and friendships. This is a week we will surely never forget.

A special thank you to the sponsors for making ASIRF 2018 possible: ACM’s Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR), Gesellschaft für Informatik (GI), Schloss Dagstuhl, Center for Informatics Research and Technology (CIRT), and the University of Trier. And a note of gratitude to this year’s organizers, Ralf Schenkel, Ingo Frommholz, Norbert Fuhr, and Tobias Zeimetz who all worked incredibly hard to make ASIRF 2018 an inclusive and successful event.

This article was a collaborative work between Amelia W. Cole and Linda Achilles.

About Linda Achilles
Linda Achilles

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