Ryan 2023

I am currently Academic Program Director at the Minerva Project. My Minerva work is with partner universities in Mexico, Spain, and the UAE, mostly related to curricula in computational and statistical sciences. I came to Minerva from being a professor at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto where I directed the new Bachelor of Information program, a unique "second entry" bachelor degree that combines technology, design, and critical policy studies. I taught a course I created, "computational reasoning," in which I introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the most important concepts and styles of critical thinking in computer science, and I work with the "solutions stream" of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society. Before coming to Toronto in 2018 I was at USC where I helped get the Iovine Young Academy for Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation up and running, including designing and teaching its signature capstone "The Garage Experience," and developed a curriculum for a "legal design lab" at USC's Gould School of Law with Gillian Hadfield. My stint at USC came after going from assistant to full professor at Mills College in Oakland where I served, at various times, as department head, chair of the faculty, and founder of the innovation lab. At Mills I taught social theory, research methods, math modeling and simulation, and GIS, among others. I introduced labs into the social science curriculum, helped design a data science program, and worked on many curriculum transformation projects. I've spent time at large and small institutions, public and private, research universities and liberal arts colleges, and worked at universities in the US, Canada, and Germany. I did a Ph.D. in sociology at Yale following several years as a software developer after a B.A. in "mathematical, physical, and computer sciences" at New College.

U of T Faculty of Information Bio 2019

Abstractly, my interests lie at the intersection of social organization and the dynamics of information - how humans create structures that determine how information is created and moves around. More prosaically, these days I think about computational thinking, human centred design, higher education, and artificial intelligence.

Under "computational thinking" I endeavor to identify translational concepts, analytical techniques, habits of mind, and cognitive moves from computer science and communicate them to practicing professionals who work with technology and those who produce technology (or who aspire to become the latter).

My goal in human centred design is to use social science to understand how to more effectively socially organize creative teams to yield innovative solutions to problems that matter. This work melds my avocational life as a "maker" and engineer manque with my interest in innovation and collaboration.

I opted out of computer science during the second AI winter, but have become an AI/ML enthusiast at a distance in recent years, rehabilitating my early training and augmenting it with self-study. I want to combine this with social science to think about how to convey well-understood ideas from the human and social sciences to where they can be used (and thus not reinvented on-the-fly) by those working to deploy artificial intelligences to solve human problems.

I bring this repertoire and two decades of experience in college instruction and faculty leadership to the project of innovation in higher education. Neither the social institution writ large nor particular universities and colleges are, I believe, adapting to 21st century challenges as quickly or as effectively as needed. In fall 2019 I will take initial steps to build a lab for developing the tools and practices that will allow us to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easy.

I come to U of T from the University of Southern California where I was Professor of Teaching of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation (at the Iovine and Young Academy) and Law (by courtesy, at the Gould School of Law). Prior to USC I was Lokey Chair in Ethics and Professor of Sociology at Mills College where I was founder of the Innovation Lab at Mills.

At USC I taught "The Garage Experience" and "Justice Innovation Startup Lab" and co-taught "Legal Design Lab" (with G. Hadfield). At Mills I taught graduate level mathematical modeling and computer simulation for public policy and undergraduate level courses in social theory, geographic information systems, social control, and "Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software."

At Mills College I was Department Head in Sociology/Anthropology and for three terms served as Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee.

My Ph.D. is from Yale in sociology and my BA is from New College of Florida in mathematical, physical, and computer sciences. I have written on the sociology of information, collaboration in communities of organizations, and time.

Human Centred Design Course Pitch

Deanship Job Application Video

Smash the Semester

Deploying OKRs in a College Classroom

UofT Law Bio

Dan Ryan, Ph.D. (Yale, sociology), BA (New College, mathematical, physical, and computer sciences) is Professor, CTLA, in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. He comes to U of T from the University of Southern California where he was Professor of Teaching of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation (at the Iovine and Young Academy) and Law (by courtesy, at the Gould School of Law). Prior to USC he was at Mills College where he was Professor of Sociology and held the Lokey Chair in Ethics and was founder of the Innovation Lab at Mills. At USC he taught "The Garage Experience" and "Justice Innovation Startup Lab" and co-taught "Legal Design Lab" (with G. Hadfield). He has written on the sociology of information, collaboration in communities of organizations, and time. At the iSchool he teaches "Computational Thinking" and "Human Centred Design." Other areas of teaching interest include mathematical and computer modeling of social processes, geographic information systems, social theory, and innovation.

Tech Bio 2018

  1. Dabbling in node.js and relearning SQL for Syllabus21 project.
  2. Playing with animation and graphic design (Adobe CC) and various prototyping tools.
  3. Intermediate accomplishment in video editing.
  4. On my desk: 3D printer and CNC that I built (from kits, of course)
  5. Beginner user of GitHub. Working on concept of GitHub for course syllabi
  6. Advisor to senior capstone projects in AI and app development in my "Garage Experience" course.
  7. Outside "stakeholder" (client) for three projects in computer science capstone seminars at USC
  8. Python for data science
  9. Slack in classroom
  1. Curriculum Design
  2. Tools
    • Developed tools for using wikis in teaching
    • Coded in Python, R, processing, and JavaScript.
    • Data visualization using d3.
  3. Teaching
    • workshops on micro-controllers (Arduino), adding geo to mobile apps, and lock picking
    • graduate course in mathematical modeling for social and policy sciences (flow charts, decision trees, systems dynamics models, difference equations, cost benefit analysis, linear programming, Markov models, discounting)
    • social network analysis
    • intelligent agent modeling ("Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software")
    • GIS
Before That
  1. Doing WWW things since 1991
  2. C, Pascal, Perl, PL/1, Fortran, assembler, 8088 machine code.
  3. Founded one of earliest web-based civic data projects, New Haven On Line (morphed into the current DataHaven)
  4. Co-founded (with Margaret Krebs) Humanities Consulting Service (what we'd now call Digital Humanities) at the Yale Computer Center (one of my favorite clients is currently a UVA faculty member, Victor Luftig).
  5. Team of 3 who built FXNet, a foreign exchange netting platform (C on VAX/VMS).
  6. I worked at IBM Thomas J. Watson Labs building control and data collection software for the scanning tunneling electron microscope.
  7. Built microcomputer DB and communications apps.
  8. I have taught college level courses in programming (Pascal and assembler) and compiler design.
  9. My undergraduate degree is in "Mathematical, Physical and Computer Sciences." My BA thesis was writing a Pascal compiler for the IBM Series/1 minicomputer. Course work included most of the math, chemistry, physics, and computer science curriculum along with self study in analog and digital electronics, finite math, operating systems, data structures, compiler design.

Bullet Points 2018

BIG PICTURE: Always looking for opportunity to work with a great team building significant things.

RÉSUMÉ: I recently moved from Mills College where I was Professor of Sociology and held the Lokey Chair in Ethics to USC where I am Professor of Teaching of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation at USC's Iovine Young Academy. My appointment is in the Academy (teaching our capstone, The Garage Experience) with a courtesy appointment at the Law School (Justice Innovation Startup Lab and Legal Design Lab). At Mills I taught in sociology and in the public policy/business grad programs and was founding director of the Mills Innovation Lab along with being involved with the with a teaching portfolio including Simulation and Modeling for Policy; Design Thinking in Higher Education; Geographic Information Systems; Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software; Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Anthropology and Sociology; Theory, and Network Analysis.

DIFFERENCE: Experience in multiple disciplines and agility to move fluently between abstract social theory, whether humanistic or formal; hands-on policy design and implementation; math, code, and data; humans and design; business models, marketing, and hoohah.

BUILDING PROGRAMS: Just before leaving Mills I was working two programs. One was a set of programs folding computational and quantitative work into liberal arts disciplines that would tie together computational social science, digital humanities, and the art/technology nexus. The other was a program which was a version 0.2 of the program I’ve been helping to build at USC; I called it Technology, Business, and Design The idea was to use a liberal arts sensibility to transform a clumsy three-legged stool built on three professional/practical disciplines into the perfect vehicle for students who wanted both to think big ideas without being naïve and go out and change the world in the industries that dominate the SF and LA areas.

MAJOR21: I have been thinking a lot over the last five years about liberal arts for the 21st century under the heading "Majoring in the 21st Century," a play on words meant to question what it will mean to major in something, what it would mean to be a student OF the century to come, and what majors the liberal arts, broadly construed, should be look like. I’ve given a few talks, blogged for a bit, and maintain a wiki of ideas.

NOW-ISH: My current work could be characterized as a weaving together of ideas from design thinking, organizational science, computer science, and social science theory and methods to create pedagogy that supports design-informed innovation education and education innovation. It’s work that draws on my training as a sociologist, my BA in “Mathematical, Physical, and Computer Sciences” (read: math+physics+chemistry+computer science) and subsequent work in what we’d now call FinTech, digital humanities, data viz, and open data. Substantively, my teaching at the moment revolves around design thinking, the social organization of innovation, and building high-traffic bridges between business, design, and engineering.

RECENT OOOLALA I: The most attractive job listing I’ve seen recently was a position in an engineering school (joint with education) “in the area of simulation science, precision learning, adaptive learning systems, and associated technologies…our faculty is working to accelerate learning through the use of immersive virtual environments, serious games and multiplayer simulations.” I'm not formally qualified, but it was the kind of thing that gets my boat afloat.

RECENT OOOLALA II: Conversations at a university in the southern US about creating, perhaps from scratch, a computational studies program that would involve meaningful and rigorous digital work in conjunction with the liberal arts disciplines.

MAKE THINGS: What motivates me is thinking about NEW ways of teaching and collaborating across boundaries, rethinking how technology can be deployed in the disruption of education and how good social and human and design science can disrupt and facilitate excellence on the engineering side of the equation. I’m no longer satisfied being a social scientist or humanist who is commentating on science and technology; I’m about putting them together to make things. To give a practical sense of where I’m coming from, one of the ideas I’m playing with this semester is how we might develop an AI-based “flight simulator” for professional training (in this case, law) and how this could be connected with a complete rethinking of how we measure competence and readiness to practice in law schools and beyond.

2017 September

I am Professor of Teaching of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation at USC's Iovine Young Academy. I teach in the Academy (currently designing The Garage Experience) and in the Law School (teaching "Justice Innovation Startup Lab" and co-teaching Legal Design Lab). I retired this past June as professor of sociology and Lokey Chair in Ethics at Mills College in Oakland, California where I taught sociology and public policy and was involved with the data science and business programs and ran the innovation lab.

Other courses in my teaching portfolio include: Simulation and Modeling for Policy; Design Thinking in Higher Education; Geographic Information Systems; Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software; Research Methods in Anthropology and Sociology.

I started adulthood with a BA in mathematical, physical, and computer sciences; worked for a few years building financial software, and then started work on a PhD in sociology. By the time I'd finished it I'd made side trips into digital humanities, GIS, network analysis, data viz, and web-based data sharing.

My current mission is to pull together ideas from various strands of design thinking with insights from organizational science and social psychology to create pedagogy that effectively supports design-informed innovation and entrepreneurship education.

Iovine Young Faculty Bio 2017

Dan Ryan is a transdisciplinary social scientist. Prior to joining the USC Iovine and Young Academy, he taught university courses in computer science, philosophy, public policy, and sociology. His work and teaching touch on cities, organizations, geographic information systems, agent-based simulation, mathematical modeling, networks, social theory, information, innovation, and higher education. He has been coding since before there was a web and building websites since before there was an Amazon. His current distractions are javascript and HTML5, 3D printing, circuit building, disruption in higher education, and social information behaviors. His book, The Ghosts of Organizations Past (2015) is about inter-organizational collaboration in social organizational junkyards. He is an advocate of open-everything and a career-long supporter of women in science, technology, and quantitative social science. He has a PhD in Sociology from Yale University and a BA in Mathematical, Physical, and Computer Sciences from New College of Florida.


I am Professor of Teaching of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation at USC's Iovine Young Academy. I teach in the Academy (currently designing The Garage Experience) and in the Law School (teaching "Justice Innovation Startup Lab" and co-teaching Legal Design Lab).

Some other 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
Students learn fundamentals of cartography and gain practice making digital maps on three platforms: Open Street Map, QGIS desktop mapping, and JavaScript-based web mapping. Final projects include data acquisition and analysis and the design and implementation of simple spatially-enabled web app.

Data Visualization
This course is required for the data science major and is an elective for several other majors. We will learn the basics of graphic design and visual perception and how these inform the visual communication of quantitative information. After learning to dominate desktop data tools (e.g., Excel, PowerPoint, Keynote) we will learn to build interactive visualizations using d3, JavaScript, and related tools. Students with no coding background will need to do ancillary exercises to prepare for the second half of the course.

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.

Research Methods
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.

Technical Competencies. I have coded in C, Pascal, assembly language, PL1, Python, R, JavaScript, have a passing familiarity with Java and Ruby, and have been doing web design since the web was invented. I can make most desktop software perform beyond spec. I have taught compiler design and machine language programming. I have advanced skills in geographic information systems, data visualization, and information system design. I was trained in digital electronics and still tinker in my home workshop and have taught mini-classes on microcontrollers. I was an early adopter of 3D printing and have dabbled in 3D design and fabrication. I mess around with animation, video, radio journalism, all phases of home repair. I am comfortable using, maintaining, and sometimes building machines of many descriptions.

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 professor of sociology and Lorey I. Lokey in Ethics 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.


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."