CogSci 2017 was the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. The Society was incorporated as a non-profit professional organization in Massachusetts in 1979. The society has over 1,500 members. To be eligible for membership, one must be qualified to conduct research in Cognitive Science beyond dissertation. CogSci conferences have been held annually since 1981. This year’s conference was held in London in July 2017.

The Fine Art of Conversation Workshop

The first day of CogSci 2017 consisted of workshops, one of which had the irresistible title: The Fine Art of Conversation with hashtag #tfaocogsci2017 on twitter. The workshop organizers were Saul Albert at Tufts, Claude Heath at Royal Holloway College, Prof Pat Healey & Sophie Skach both at Queen Mary College, University of London. The goals of the workshop included building an annotated collection of images of conversation drawn from fine art and interaction research (see Pinterest board which the attendees continued to populate post workshop), and surveying the ways in which engaged conversations are depicted.

What Happened at the Fine Art of Conversation Workshop

The CogSci workshop provided a venue for the intersection of disciplines such as conversation analysis, cognitive science, drawing, photography and more. Ways of depicting representative gestures that augment conversations (described in traditional linguistics text notations) were covered comparing video, photographs, drawings, frame-grabs, animations, text, maps etc. The instructors emphasized the use of drawings and all the participants got a chance to try various drawing techniques to represent human movement. The participants also created drawings using transparencies placed over screens showing paused video, making it possible to highlight individuals’ gestures during conversation when the videos continued to run. Sophie Skach created some beautiful drawings effortlessly, which the workshop attendees tried to emulate. Benefits of the drawing protocols include anonymizing the participants being depicted, and forcing the analyst to observe what is happening very closely – as well as the ease of communicating important gestures in academic papers. The workshop participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds – all having the need to conduct analyses of conversations.

Domains discussed included psychology, mental illness, patient care, language evolution, design thinking workshops, in particular identifying breakthrough points. Depicting the interactions of teams, for example reaching consensus, was another important use case. There was interest among the participants in animation, photography, illustration, dancing, & fashion. One participant discussed the concept of creating a conversation architecture, as well as the use of heat-maps to represent time passing. Projects to integrate annotation tools, such as Elan, with machine learning are underway or completed – for example the RedHenLab project.

This event was in-line with the trend for participatory workshops, hackathons & gatherings of people that provide a source of data or code. In addition to populating the Pinterest board, the participants classified the images of conversations that had been collected into categories.

What’s Next

After a visit to the National Gallery of Art in London, the workshop adjourned to a cafe making their own living conversation piece. Many thanks to the instructors and participants for providing such a stimulating workshop.

  • The organizers (@saul, @HeathClaude, @SophieSkach, and @Pat_Healey ) plan to follow up with a series of tool/technique development-focused hack sessions which they will announce in due course on with a view to proposing a panel at ICCA 2018 in Loughborough – the next major worldwide gathering of Ethnomethodologists and Conversation Analysts.
  • CogSci 2018 will be in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on July 25th – 28th, 2018.
Studying Conversations at the National Gallery & at Gaby’s

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1 comment on"CogSci: The Fine Art of Conversation"

  1. […] explored artistic methods for representing interaction in classical painting and sculpture (see this write-up and its twitter hashtag) including a field trip to The National Gallery where we found surprisingly […]

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