Conference Review: Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Information Foraging 2017

ASIRF Attendees visiting Dagstuhl ruins on arrival day.

The Autumn School for Information Retrieval and Information Foraging (ASIRF) took place at Schloss Dagstuhl in Saarland (a Southwest German state) between October 1st and 6th, 2017. The School covered user- and system-oriented information retrieval (IR), with lectures given by leading researchers in the field—including Norbert Fuhr, a Salton Award winner. ASIRF was attended by 24 students and 8 lecturers, representing 4 continents and 13 countries.

On Sunday, attendees arrived at Schloss Dagstuhl for a relaxed day with only a lecture and field trip. Francis Jarmin gave the opening lecture on intercultural communication, a field that studies communication between different cultures—an especially relevant topic given the international representation of this year’s ASIRF attendees. Following the lecture, students and lecturers enjoyed a hike through the woods surrounding Schloss Dagstuhl to the ruins of a medieval castle. Afterwards, many of the guests settled in for an evening chat in the wine cellar, with some continuing on for the first of many nights of table tennis.

On Monday, ASIRF continued with two parallel lectures to accommodate students with different levels of prior knowledge of IR. Thomas Mandl provided an introduction to IR, while Ingo Frommholz went into the nitty-gritty of cutting-edge weighting and ranking techniques. Afterwards, all attendees rejoined each other for the remainder of the week.

Students captivated by Haiming Liu’s lecture on information foraging.

These initial lectures were followed up, throughout the week, with presentations by leading scholars in the field. Ralph Schenkel presented work on semantic extraction and IR efficiency methods and Norbert Fuhr on techniques for modeling interactive IR as a stochastic process. These system-centric lectures were complemented by multiple talks on information behaviour: Haiming Liu presented the key components of interactive IR, including information foraging theory; David Elsweier presented on his experience designing and conducting interactive IR experiments; and Katriina Byström provided a thorough introduction to information behavior.

A group assignment provided an opportunity to put students’ knowledge to the test. The assignment required students to design a ranking algorithm for recommending mobile phone apps to end-users. The assignment challenged us to apply the methods we had learned about throughout the week. While the students worked on the assignments, the lecturers warmed the seats of the wine cellar.

By the end of the week, all students had the opportunity to give a presentation of their work. This was a useful experience, as it allowed for feedback from peers and lecturers. Their constructive feedback helped shape many students’ emerging research directions.

ASIRF Attendees at 8th generation winery near Trier.

Other noteworthy experiences included randomized seating for our excellent meals provided by the Schloss Dagstuhl staff, which was especially useful for encouraging discussion between all students and lecturers. We also enjoyed the special experience of a guided tour of Trier, the oldest city in Germany, which was followed by a wonderful visit to an eighth generation winery for a wine tasting and traditional German meal.

Unfortunately, departure day came too quickly, and a long trip lay ahead for many. Though Schloss Dagstuhl is remote, it is an inviting place to nurture ideas, research, and friendships. This experience would not have been possible without the generous funding from the Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval, German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), Gesallschaft für Informatik and Schloss Dagstuhl. The attendees are grateful to these organizations for making ASIRF possible.

This article was a collaborative effort between Steven Zimmerman and Samuel Dodson.

About Samuel Dodson
Samuel Dodson

Samuel Dodson is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia.

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