Conference Review: Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Foraging 2016

This year, following a series of successful editions, Leibniz Centre for Informatics at Schloss Dagstuhl in Germany has, yet again, hosted The Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Information Foraging (ASIRF). The event took place from the 3rd till the 8th October 2016 and was co-organised by The University of Hildesheim. The ASIRF 2016 attracted over 30 postgraduate students with backgrounds in computer/information science and IR researches from all over the world. Some of whom travelled from locations as remote as Brazil, Iran, or China. Regardless of their diverse backgrounds, however, the participants had one thing in common, namely their enthusiasm for information retrieval and willingness to acquire new knowledge in the field.

Thanks to generosity of the sponsors: German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), The Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR), and German Informatics Society (GI) – students had a chance to expand their knowledge of IR, establish valuable research connections, and explore the beauty of the Rhineland-Palatinate area of Germany.

ASIRF 2016 Group in front of Dagsthul Castle - Photo Credit: Prof Thomas Mandl

Over the course of the week, well known IR experts and academics delivered a range of lectures that covered a broad spectrum of aspects related to information retrieval and information seeking behaviour.

The first talk of The ASIRF 2016 was given by Mr. Francis Jarman who introduced the participants to the concept of inter-cultural communication and highlighted its implications for information seeking behaviour . After the inspiring lecture, students were familiarised with German university system, and provided with lots of practical information regarding application procedure and admissions.

On the following day, theoretical foundations of IR were laid jointly by Prof Dr. Thomas Mandl, The University of Hildesheim, and Dr Ingo Frommholz from The University of Bedfordshire. Professor Mandl offered a comprehensive introduction to automatic indexing, weighting, and evaluation techniques, while Dr Frommholz discussed some more advanced information retrieval models.

Later on in the course, Dr Leif Azzopardi from The University of Strathclyde, started of by providing an overview of different cost-benefit models, and explaining how these can be used to generate hypotheses about user behaviour. Then he delivered an insightful talk on how users of online search engines can be manipulated to change their information seeking behaviour. Finally, Dr Azzopardi offered a practical tutorial on foraging theory where he covered the process of sense-making and different representations of knowledge.

A captivating talk on information foraging by Dr Azzopardi - Photo Credit: Prof Thomas Mandl

The following lecture, which addressed the concept of expert search, was given by Prof. Dr Andreas Henrich form The University of Bamberg. In his talk, Prof. Henrich covered specialised search engines and discussed the components of expertise retrieval systems.

The closing talk of The ASIRF 2016 was given by Prof Dr.-Ing Norbert Fuhr, University of Duisburgh-Essen. It covered the topic of modelling interactive IR. Professor Fuhr introduced the Probability Ranking Principle and illustrated it with the aid of The Card Model. In the model, the actions of users are assessed in terms of effort, probability and potential benefit. Its aim is to optimise the sequential decision process to form complete search relations.

Apart from the lectures that provided students with a wealth of theoretical knowledge, there was also a chance to apply the learned concepts in practice. The participants were divided into small groups and assigned a task to explore how users search for apps, and then to present their ideas in front of fellow students. During their presentations, the groups applied a plethora of different approaches to the problem. The presented solutions ranged from design of specialised app retrieval engines to implementation of bots in the search process. Some of the students also gave short talks to introduce their peers to their current research. The presentations proved to be very engaging and led to discussions that continued outside the lecture theatre.

Since “all work and no play can make Jack a dull boy”, organisers offered a fantastic social programme to ensure that this was not the case with ASIRF 2016 participants. The programme abounded in fun activities such as trips to beautiful cities of Trier with its well-preserved Roman structures, and Mainz, the birth place of Johannes Gutenberg and home to the printing press. The students also visited a traditional winery where they got to know the process of wine production and tasted some of the best wines that the region of Moselle has to offer.


A sunny day in Trier - Photo Credit: Elizabeth

The Autumn School proved to be a successful event. It helped participants to enhance their knowledge, acquire practical skills, establish valuable research relationships, and make new friends. The ASIRF 2016 provided perfect environment for learning and scientific exchange – referred to by the organisers of the event as  ‘Dagstuhl Spirit’.  We can only hope that the this spirit will prevail and keep on inspiring the 2016 cohort in the years to come. If you would like to find out more make sure to apply for the next edition of this fantastic event!

Special thanks go to the hosts of the event Dr. Ingo Frommholz and Professor Thomas Mandl for sharing their knowledge and making everyone feel welcome at all times,  student volunteers Wiebke and Sabrina for ensuring that the event run smoothly, and Elizabeth for taking the group on the fascinating tour of Mainz following the footsteps of ancient Romans.



About Mateusz Dubiel
Mateusz Dubiel

I am a PhD student within the iLab and MobiquitousLab institutes of the Department of Computer & Information Sciences at The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. My main research interests include human-computer interaction with focus on usability and interface testing, and implementation of natural language dialogue systems in information retrieval. I hold an Msc in Speech and Language processing from The University of Edinburgh.

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