Student profile: Mandy Lo
What was your academic path before coming to the Web Science DTC 4 year MSc/PhD programme?
Before coming to the Web Science DTC programme, I studied Electronics at Southampton University. After a few years of working in industry, I became very frustrated with the lack of basic mathematical understanding in my work place. Eventually, under a lot of persuasion, I went through teachers training at the same university. Throughout my time with Southampton University, twice I was offered a PhD opportunity: one at ISVR and one in ECS. For some reason neither has materialised. I am glad I finally get a proper chance.
Why did you choose Web Science?
I am interested in web science because of its diversity and its “mysterious” power in society. I call it mysterious because we do not yet fully understand why it is so. Web science would give me the opportunity to investigate what makes it work and thus giving us pointers as to how to harness/ utilise the full power.
What does the Web mean to you?
For some people, the web is everything – they just cannot live without it; others are totally ignorant of it; I am in the middle ground. I use the web as a tool (hopefully effectively). Like the difference between scissors and knives, when do you use what? I make a similar decision when it comes to choosing online/ offline tools. To me, understanding the web is like getting to know your tools. You know your tools well, you get to do your job well.
Best experience of the course so far?
It has to be the module where we can just go off to read up about any subject that take our fancy. That’s the module where you can have completely freedom in researching and exploring. Closely related is the module on research methods – an absolute eye opener to all the various ways of doing things.. You cannot start asking questioning about something that you didn’t know existed. Yes, “eye opener”, it opens your eyes to see what there is out there and allows you to dig deeper. Time would fail if I was to list them all.
What Research Areas are you interested in for your MSc/PhD?
According to a BBC report, The Open University (UK) has more than 263,000 students from 23 countries studying online; and at least 66% of US HEI offer online courses (as a stand-alone course or otherwise). In addition, Imperial College in London has been making its lectures available online since 2006!
Indeed, there are many researchers focusing on the development of online learning technology; or development of pedagogical content of the learning environment; or comparison of the effectiveness between e-learning and face-to-face learning. However, these researches are essentially subject-discipline oriented in an inherently multidisciplinary area. Current research that combines findings in web science with education is vague and limited. Most of which are visionary, questions to consider and lack solid foundation/ insight in socio-technical issues. This may account for the sudden surge of web science related papers in the field of education during 2007-2009 but followed by a sudden noticeable decrease. It is as if the concept is no longer exciting and/ or there is nothing more to explore until the web scientists tell us more.
I have chosen to specialise in Mathematics as a PGCE student because I have always enjoyed Mathematics and I want to help young people to improve their mathematical understanding and comprehension. During my PGCE, I have developed a particular interest in the use of ICT for Mathematics Education. Currently, “the development of e-Learning in the sciences in general and mathematics in particular has not met the general expectation” In part, this may be due to the fact that, “practical and intuitive mathematics input for users is still under investigation” . I have no doubt that the recent development of Mathematical Mark-up Language (MathML) Version 3.0 along with technological developments such as touch-screen monitors, handwriting recognition and mathematical expressions interpreters  are all going to have a positive impact on web-based mathematical learning. Yet, just as Professor Ben Shneiderman, computer science professor at the University of Maryland, says, “The technologists and companies that understand those [Web Science] issues will be far more likely to succeed in expanding their markets and enlarging their audiences.”
I believe this is an exciting area for PhD research and beyond. For instance, through the web, students are already linked to the teacher through a reliable network; students’ could use onscreen-handwriting technology to do and send their work; teachers could receive and mark their work using the same technology. Then, “save and close”, everything is on file: the work itself along with the teacher’s comments and marks. Just imagine! What would have been hours of work to compare students’ work and moderate results, could be done in just a few clicks! Not only can teachers analyse the data without having to type up results into MS Excel, they could actually pull up the students’ handwritten work to pinpoint where it went wrong!
By studying what makes e-learning successful, we can adopt those strategies for Mathematics Education; by studying the difference between text-based subjects and mathematics-based subject, we can identify and tackle the major obstacles in mathematics e-learning; by incorporating computer animation and simulation, we can help students to visualise the mathematics; by engineering and implementing these ideas, we can develop prototypes, which can eventually benefit both the teachers and the students.
What are your Career ambitions?
To further my research interest.
Mandy’s answer to What is Web Science?
Is web science computer science? No, it is not computer science. It should take society into account. For me it is about good product design in such a way that my design will be propagated through ANT or somehow accepted in the society. Observing the past is interesting, but I like to look forward too.