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Research

Here’s my CV.

I direct the Collaboration and Social Media Lab (CaSM), and you can learn more about my current work at the CaSM website. Below are some interesting tidbits about research projects I’ve worked on in the past. To read more about current projects, try the posts tagged “research” here on my blog.

Current Social Media Research

Participatory Culture (esp. Twitter fandom)

Fan studies has a long and proud tradition of studying creative, productive fans – fanfic writers, vidders, con-goers – but hasn’t really explored fans who engage without producing their own content. Live tweeting and other “second screen” activities afford us opportunities to witness fans’ listening activities and provides data useful for testing theories about reading/viewing and participation. I study fans of Rizzoli and Isles, Pretty Little LiarsVeronica Mars and other TV shows in order to understand how fans read texts publicly, collectively, and in real time. Xi Rao, one of my grad students at IIT, helps on this project.

Public Officials (esp. U.S. Congress)

Public officials are adopting social media at increasing rates, and this project aims to understand the impact of that adoption. Using data from Twitter, primarily, we explore how officials, both elected and appointed, frame issues such as climate change. We also study how social media use impacts communication with constituents and civic engagement. For instance, we’ve developed a new measure of political polarization, explained what Congress does on Twitter, and explored how constituents use social media to lobby their legislators. I collaborate with Aron Culotta, Matt Shapiro, Jahna Otterbacher, Matthew Heston, and Andrew Roback on this work.

Feminism and Gaming

With Carly Kocurek and Brian Keegan, I study discussions of the gaming industry, feminism, and harassment on Twitter. We focus on popular hashtags such as #1ReasonWhy, #1ReasonToBe, #GamerGater, and #NotYourShield and use theories from political science, sociology, and linguistics to understand what’s happening in those conversations and how they fit into the broader socio-political landscape.

Past Collaboration and Social Media Projects

Understanding and Revealing Information Bias (esp. social voting)

The information we see online, especially in user-generated content communities, is necessarily biased. Our goal in this project is to understand how the presentation is biased, how the design of communities creates bias in information presentation, and how to make users aware of the biases at work. We don’t argue that all bias is bad, just that it should be clear to users how the information they’re viewing may be biased. In some cases, the bias is dangerous. For instance, in mixed-gender online communities, males typically enjoy more power and prestige than females. In this project, we analyze user contributions to review sites such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and WebMD in order to understand the relationships between language use, gender, and the perceived value of users’ contributions. Collaborative filtering systems often rely on user feedback about utility to determine which content to suggest and make readily available. Because users rarely adjust the filters’ defaults or dig very deeply into contributed content, it’s important that we understand how users judge the value of others’ contributions and how contributors understand and act upon community feedback so that we may ensure diversity in both content and participation in online communities.

Joining a Virtual Organization: A Multi-Method Study of Newcomers to Established Collaborations

One of NSF’s Virtual Organizations grants, this study focuses on post docs joining virtual science and engineering teams. The objectives of the project are (1) to better understand under what general conditions Post-Doctoral Fellows are successful and (2) to identify social and technical barriers for Post-Doctoral Fellows entering virtual organizations. From 2009-2010 I was a Post Doc on this grant, a true participant observer working on a distributed science team.

Visualizing Activity in Online Discussions

In the Overherd project, we were developing and testing a set of visualization tools that allow instructors and students to see their discussions in an online learning environment differently. Our goals were (a) to make discussion participation more apparent and measurable for instructors and (b) to explore the impacts of visualization on participation. We used an online learning environment because the data was readily available, and we were easily able to run a field experiment that allowed us to compare participation in courses with and without the visualization tools. This project fit with my broader interests in discussion participation, social performance, and mechanisms for increasing participation in discussions. My interest here built on my earlier work with MessagePlus – another attempt to help people make sense of online discussions.
Here’s Overherd’s poster from ICLS 2010

Sustainability Games: Group Dynamics and Manager Education

Humans are resource obese – our use of natural resources exceeds our needs – and this gluttony has troubling consequences for the sustainability of worldwide economic health and quality of life. Managers and leaders must make decisions about resource conflicts where clear, best outcomes are unavailable. Because decisions about resources impact many groups, the managers of these groups – e.g., city planners, utility suppliers, and business owners – must work collaboratively to decide how to appropriately allocate and manage natural resources such as water. The Sustainability Game Studies (SGS) research project explores how we may be able to use a collaborative simulation to understand and encourage sustainable decision making under uncertainty. The SGS project was a collaborative effort that included researchers and developers from across Arizona State University, including DCDC, the Decision Theatre, the School of Public Affairs, and the W.P. Carey School of Business.

Using Cyberinfrastructure to Develop Next Generation Civil Infrastructure

One of NSF’s CI-TEAM grants, this study is a collaboration between School of Information faculty (and me) and faculty and students from the College of Engineering. We explored how to move a new material (engineering cementious composites – a.k.a. bendable concrete) into building code and eventually into construction practice. To do so, we need to understand how best to test the material to meet U.S. standards for building material, how to transfer the practices of making and working with the composites from lab to field, and how to encourage diffusion of innovations in communities of practice.

Onboarding in Distributed Software Teams

I spent the summer of 2008 working with Andrew Begel in the Human Interactions in Programming group at Microsoft Research. We conducted a qualitative study of software teams at Microsoft who had hired their first remote employee. Our goals were to understand the remote onboarding experience and to ease transitions for new employees and their teams. We found that communication technology and management style had significant effects on how these teams worked together and what they were able to accomplish.
Read our extended abstract for CSCW 2008
Here’s our MSR Tech Report about the project

Wikis in Organizations

This project explored the use of wikis by existing physical organizations. The first publication to come from the project was a note Jude Yew and I wrote for the GROUP Conference.

Poetry in Motion

The Poetry in Motion study was a pilot project for my Visuospatial Cognition class, and I conducted a web-based experiment to compare a static view of a poem with an animated version of the same poem to see whether the animated version engaged readers differently. This fall I’ll be running a full scale version of that experiment; I adjusted it based on qualitative research I conducted in undergrad English classrooms last spring.
Here’s a brief poster proposal about the experiment project

RideNow: Ad Hoc Ride Sharing and Flexible System Design

Research in the RideNow project focuses on how to motivate participation and reduce coordination costs in ad hoc ride sharing services, as well as the scalability, extensibility, and privacy implications of different system architectures. I was especially interested in the effects of ride sharing on social capital and the development of community.

MessagePlus

In MessagePlus, we examined what, if any, context can help people make sense of messages in email lists. When people look for content in email lists like Usenet, they often begin by searching. Search results return one message without context, and our experiments compared two interfaces for positiong messages within their thread context.

GLRCE

The Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research is an NIH/NIAID funded center. My colleagues and I provided the communications core for the center – developing intranet-like websites, public websites, and private websites for the Public Health Officials Network. We researched the use of technology and its role in the development and maintenance of collaborations within the center.
Here’s the poster we presented at the annual meeting in 2005.

My Dissertation

Building Bridges: A Study of Coordination in Projects

Projects are an increasingly common collaborative arrangement used within and between organizations. For instance, organizations use projects to make films, to build buildings, and to develop new vaccines. Project structures vary across organizations but share a few common elements; for instance, they are temporary and collaborative. Using data from a construction research project – the Woods Avenue Bridge (WAB) Project – this dissertation develops the concept of “adaptive capacity,” a set of abilities a project team accumulates that allows them to adjust their work to manage uncertain and unpredictable changes in their environment.

In order to gain an understanding of the work accomplished in the WAB Project, I rely on data gathered during interviews with researchers, MDOT employees, and contractors and archival documents produced during the project. Participants credited the success of the project to social and adaptive aspects of the project’s management and coordination – how relationships among project members were managed and how people were able to adapt to suit changing conditions and schedules.

Perspective taking, the ability to put oneself in the place of another and to recognize that others may have views different from one’s own, characterized many interactions among WAB Project team members. This perspective taking afforded positive relationships among project team members. Regular meetings during which proactivity and communication were stressed helped the project team stay abreast of others’ work, its impacts on their own, and on the project’s schedule. The project team also employed a number of shared artifacts including contracts and special provisions to develop shared understandings of their practices and dependencies. In summary, positive social interactions within the collaboration, strong social ties, shared understandings, and the adaptive capacity these abilities developed enabled the WAB Project team to adjust to changes in their environment such as schedule changes and unfamiliar practices required for working with new materials. Adaptive capacity serves as a resource for accomplishing the coordination necessary for a collaborative project to succeed. The concept of adaptive capacity helps improve our understanding of the resources collaborative teams develop that make it possible for them to find flexible and creative solutions to their coordination problems.
Read my whole dissertation
Download my dissertation defense talk, including my talk script