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  • Matthew Hora

Venturing into the digital realm, in 2015

Well I've finally gone and done it and created a website. The next step will be to trade in the old flip phone that doubles as a home land-line replacement and get a fancy smart phone, or watch, or implant. But probably not. This is surprisingly fun and creative, though, crafting an online presence is much more Avatar-like than I'd anticipated. But this site is primarily about work and the stuff I spend most of my waking hours doing, which is social science research.

The graphic here is what I call a "decision chain," which is a way to model the specific steps that a group of people take when making a decision. In this case, the decision centers around how (if at all) to use student evaluation data, which is a big question we're exploring in the study on data driven decision-making in colleges and universities. Instead of approaching the question from a top-down perspective, knowing that decisions grounded in "data" are surely superior to those that aren't, we've decided to take a more descriptive, anthropological approach, where we go and talk to people, hang out in their office, and ask them if and how they use data when planning their courses.

Some have rather sophisticated answers and utilize all sorts of technology and spreadsheets, whereas others are more intuitive, hunch-based. Whether one is better than the other we're not really taking a side on, but instead are focused on mapping out the decision steps people go through, and what contextual factors are implicated in these choices.

Every now and again while giving a talk I'll get a question like: "So what's the purpose of just describing things?" and you dear reader may be asking the same thing. To which I generally answer, before we can try to change things or design experiments we need to truly understand the phenomenon under investigation. And all too often, when it comes to the messy world of human decision-making and behavior in the "real-world," we know much too little.

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