iSchool Researchers Form Virtual Institute to Study Open Online Communities

iSchool Researchers Form Virtual Institute to Study Open Online Communities

Open online communities (OOC), such as Wikipedia, and free and open source software (FOSS) development projects facilitate innovation, economic activity and social well-being, but there is little scholarly understanding of the common characteristics of behavior across open online communities. University of Maryland iSchool researchers Susan Winter, director of research advancement and assistant director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information (CASCI), Katie Shilton, assistant professor, and Brian Butler, professor and director of CASCI, are part of a multi-national group of scholars leading a project to develop principles, systems and detailed methodological approaches for sharing OOC data and explaining OOC research results across disciplines.

In this project, funded in the amount of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation, Winter, Shilton and Butler will be working with Sean Goggins at the University of Missouri, as well as researchers at Télécom Bretagne Institut Mines Télécom in France and University Rey Juan Carlos in Spain to develop a virtual research institute, Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI). This virtual institute, governed by an advisory board that includes leading researchers and OOCs in Europe and North America, will look for systems and approaches for sharing data and resolving gaps in OOC data across academic disciplines.

 "While there is a great deal of research on OOCs within specific disciplines, the lack of a common data infrastructure around OOCs even while their importance for organizing and accomplishing work is increasing," says Winter.

To achieve its goals, this project will engage participants in a series of working groups, workshops and hackathons with the objectives of specifying, designing and prototyping an Open Collaboration Data Factory (OCDF). The OCDF's long-term goals include the development of a common set of easily accessible and replicable research datasets, and tools and processes that support research addressing the challenges of OOC systems; practice guidelines to facilitate consistent application of common research methods; documented research and resource exemplars to support coherent mapping of theory, data-based measures and available analytic tools; and ethical and privacy guidelines for processing OOC data.