I am currently professor of sociology at Mills College in Oakland, California where I also direct the new Innovation Lab at Mills. I teach courses in the sociology department, the graduate school of public policy and the graduate school of business. My PhD is in organizational sociology and I write on the sociology of information, collaboration in organizations and communities, and innovation in education. Outside teaching and research, I keep a hand in electronics and robotics, exercise my inner-engineer, and dabble in woodworking and design.
Some relevant courses in my current teaching portfolio:
Simulation and Modeling for Policy
An advanced, hands-on class in computer-based simulation and analysis in social science, public policy, and business. Topics include logic models, flow charts, project management, decision analysis, game theory and strategy, cost-benefit analysis, discounting, queuing models, Markov models, stock and flow, system dynamics, intelligent agent models. Along the way students develop advanced skills in Excel.
Innovation in Business
Can innovation be taught? Can it be promoted? Can it be managed? Building on a foundation of human-centered design principles, this course will answer each of these in the affirmative via theory, empirical research, and hands-on practice. We use case studies, problems, and labs to teach you to participate in, and lead, innovation in for-profit, non-profit, government, and social enterprise. We will learn how to recognize significant problem opportunities, grow from failures (our own failures and those in the historical record), foster our own creativity and that of others, and listen to the feedback that the world offers when we prototype our ideas.
Design Thinking in Higher Education
An introduction to design thinking with a focus on innovation in higher education. The course will teach design thinking as a discipline, human centered design as a mindset, and innovation as an ethos, along with substantive background in the history of innovative education and the social science of innovation. Workshops on identifying important problems, working effectively in teams, cultivating empathy, using anthropological techniques to discern user needs, iteration, and low resolution, rapid prototyping techniques. We will motivate and equip you to be an education innovator, someone who looks at higher education, thinks "why not?" and then makes it happen.
Geographic Information Systems
Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
A hands-on interdisciplinary seminar in which we learn to program intelligent agent models to study of complex systems, emergence, and non-linear dynamics. Computer science and mathematical material are complemented by ideas drawn from social science and humanities.
This is a laboratory-based course in social science research methods. We learn the basics of the scientific method, data collection techniques ranging from ethnography to survey design to capturing digital exhaust, and the use of analytical tools drawn from social science, marketing, literary studies, and natural sciences.
Research in Sociology/Anthropology
Students propose and carry out an original research project. This two semester capstone uses a sequence of structured exercises to take students from initial interest in a topic through definition of a problem and research question, background research, development and testing of methodological tools, execution of research, analysis of data and communication of results.
Academic Experience. I have taught undergraduates and graduate students at Mills College for 17 years with previous teaching experience at Yale University and New College of Florida. At Mills I have served as department chair, run searches, and was for three years the chair of the Faculty Executive Committee (cf. faculty senate). I am on Program Advisory Committees for graduate programs in Interdisciplinary Computer Science and Public Policy. I am an effective and sought after academic advisor for both undeclared undergraduates and majors as well as graduate students. At Mills I have taught, advised, and supervised research of students in the social sciences, public policy, the graduate school of business, music, and interdisciplinary computer science. At New College I had stints teaching computer science and sociology. At various institutions over the years I was a teaching assistant in chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer science, sociology, and philosophy.
Curriculum Development and Design. At Mills College I am known as an innovator in teaching; I introduced laboratories into social science methods courses, experimented with "flipped classrooms," converted a course into a self-driving format, converted my entire teaching corpus into open educational resources, created a network science course, an interdisciplinary course on agent modeling, GIS for liberal arts, and mathematical modeling and simulation for the social and policy sciences. I have been a part of working groups that redesigned general education, developed sane assessment tools, and revised curricula in sociology, public policy, and our new "Politics, Economics, Policy, and Law" major. This summer I will be working with colleagues on curricular connections between graduate public policy and MBA programs.
At Yale I worked with School of Management faculty to develop curriculum (and teach) for HUD management fellows program and with Management and Yale Law School faculty I helped to create and run the Professional Schools Neighborhood Clinic – a clinic that drew members from all of Yale’s professional schools to work in inter-professional teams on real world community problems in New Haven.
During academic 2014-2015, of course, I worked with the team that implemented the inaugural curriculum at the Academy. Since leaving Los Angeles last May, I visited innovation education organizations in Ireland and Germany, worked with colleagues from top US colleges on an American Association of Liberal Arts Colleges initiative on design thinking and the liberal arts, and taught courses and workshops using IDEO curricula at the Mills Innovation Lab. Inspired by my experience at IYA and what I’ve learned since, I recently drafted a curriculum for program at Mills tentatively called “Technology, Business, and Design.”
Non-Academic Experience. I was one of the first 104 webmasters: in the first year of the world wide web I was the founder and director of “The City Room at Yale,” an early attempt at open data, and interorganizational collaboration to solve urban problems, and a co-founder of the Regional Data Cooperative for New Haven. From 2006 to 2015 I was on the advisory board of the global open innovation platform InnovationExchange (John Seeley Brown was also on the board). After my undergraduate degree in mathematical, physical, and computer sciences I built hardware and software at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Lab in a group that made the world’s second scanning tunneling electron microscope, and I worked in London at Bank of America on pc-based communication software and at an in-house startup at Chemical Bank developing foreign exchange netting software.
Communication. I have given talks to swim coaches and armed police officers, seniors and children, prospective students and prospective donors. I have written op-eds, blogs, academic journal articles, magazine articles, voice-over scripts, and a book, and produced instructional videos and animations. Over the past several years I have given numerous public addresses and workshops on innovation in higher education and the deep connections between liberal arts and innovation education.
I am a Professor of Sociology at Mills College in Oakland, CA. I also teach in the public policy graduate program at Mills. I am interested in the role information plays in human social organization. My toolbox combines the phenomenology of Schutz, Goffman's analysis of interaction and gatherings, the sociology of organizations, and various mathematical and computer modeling tools.
I have published pieces on time, community organizations and coalitions, notification and the information order, and democratic theory.
My graduate training at Yale was as a sociologist of organizations (working with Chick Perrow and Charles Kadushin) and, to a lesser extent, urban communities. I have written about interorganizational collaboration, organizations and time, and the informational responsibilities of social relationships (what I call "notification norms"). My current work is on the sociology of information. I am somewhat eclectic in my approach. On the one hand, I try to think about information behavior in the spirit of Simmel's formal sociology, Goffman's interactional sociology, and Schutz's phenomenology. On the other hand, I'm inclined toward big data, visualization, math, and modeling. I teach and play around with various kinds of simulation (from intelligent agents to getting Excel to do things it's not supposed to do), geographic information systems, social network analysis, and phenomenology (especially Alfred Schutz and Maurice Natanson).
My approach thinking about human organization is explicitly trans-disciplinary. I move back and forth between big and small, quant and qual, individuals, groups, and networks, silicon-based and carbon-based life forms. Unlike most people in my field I do not think economists and markets are bad and unlike a lot of friends on the more reductionist side of the dance floor, I think a lot about both emergence and phenomenology. Two of the most stimulating years of my life were spent as visiting scholar at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a place dedicated to crossing boundaries.
Before becoming a sociologist I was a systems programmer, working for IBM Research, Bank of America, Chemical Bank, and Synergistic Systems. My BA, from New College of Florida, is in mathematical, physical and computer sciences which translates to nearly, but not quite, majoring in physics, chemistry, math, and computer science. My undergraduate thesis was the development of a Pascal compiler for the IBM Series/1 minicomputer and I've coded in languages ranging from 370 assembler to Python. Back in the day I learned a lot about Raman spectroscopy at RPI and worked on software for the world's second scanning tunneling electron microscope at IBM. I am an inveterate Germanophile. While at Yale I helped to develop the first humanities computer consulting services at the Yale Computer and then founded and ran "The City Room" — an early attempt at community informatics — at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies.
After a 2.5 year stint as chair of the Faculty Executive Committee at Mills from 2009 to 2011 I turned my attention to new and old projects. At the top of the list was wrapping up a book called "Ghosts of Organizations Past" about trying to organize urban communities for social change (the book came out in June 2015 from Temple University Press) and work on a second one called "Notification in Everyday Life" about the social rules that govern who you need to tell what when and how. Beyond these book projects I continue work on a vision of the future of higher education called "Majoring in the 21st Century" and learning more about "big data" and coding. Other things contesting for space on the calendar are my flirtations with audio journalism, data visualization, an ongoing interest in design and innovation (especially open innovation at a startup Innnovation Exchange), 3D printing, and building projects at various stages from imaginings to maintenance.
Dan Ryan is an eclectic scholar and teacher, currently the Kathryn P. Hannam Associate Professor teaching in sociology and public policy at Mills College. With an undergraduate major in mathematical, physical, and computer sciences from New College of Florida, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University with a focus on organizations and urban communities. In addition to those topics he has written on time, information, and democracy. He teaches courses ranging from the social control of deviant behavior to geographic information systems for sociologists to modeling and simulation in the social and policy sciences. He is currently working on a book on notification in everyday life and writing about the future of higher education and the liberal arts under the banner "majoring in the 21st century."