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Indiana University Bloomington

Better Decisions through Technology

Alan Dennis

Professor and John T. Chambers Chair of Internet Systems, Indiana University

Its exciting to see students learn, to hear their insights, to see them think about how technology will affect their future. Teaching is the best collaboration of all.

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Alan Dennis loves a good mystery, whether it lives in the pages of his favorite mystery writers or in the questions that drive his research into how we use technology.

“I like stories that engage me. What draws me in are interesting characters,” says Dennis, who holds the John T. Chamber Chair of Internet Systems, honoring the CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc.

People, instead of plots, inspire his bedside reading, and his research.

For the past 20 years, Dennis’ research has focused on people: why we behave the way we do and how technology can help us work better, work faster, get smarter, and be happier.

“I’m very interested in virtual teams—those whose work depends on electronic communications like e-mail, chat, and video conferencing,” he says. “We know a lot of reasons why these teams make bad decisions. What we want to know now is how we can design work processes and technologies to help them make good decisions.”

Recently, his research has investigated unconscious processes that can be used to prime team members to make better, more creative, and more strategic contributions to the decision-making process. 

“What we read, even what games we play before we enter a meeting or a class or a test affects the way we behave, how we perform, and the quality of the decisions we make,” says Dennis.

Dennis’ exploration of human networks and how we connect, engage, and share ideas has moved from virtual teams into very concrete classrooms. He has worked with Cisco’s Networking Academy to improve and evaluate the effectiveness of its courses that today reach almost 1 million high school, community college, and university students in 150 countries worldwide.

“We found that high school students who completed the Academy were more likely to go on to four-year colleges; community college students were more likely to get a full-time job and earn more. And we found that the Academy leveled the playing field between inner-city urban schools and wealthier suburban schools,” says Dennis.

Since 1972, when Dennis wrote his first computer program on punch cards to today, he’s been fascinated with how computers have transformed the way we work and live. But there’s still one passion that trumps even his love for computers.

“Fortunately, I discovered early in my career how much I enjoy teaching,” says Dennis. “Students are engaged with technology in a way I couldn’t have predicted. It’s exciting to see them learn, to hear their insights, to see them think about how technology will affect their future. Teaching is the best collaboration of all.”

In Brief

Websites I visit every day

“My Yahoo, or other news and financial outlets.”

What I do in my spare time

“Skiing, snorkeling, underwater photography, and war-gaming. I can tell you from experience that the snorkeling in Lake Monroe is quite muddy.”

Favorite restaurant

“Siam House. For a town of its size, Bloomington has a wonderful range of ethnic restaurants.”

Published April 28, 2011