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Plays Well With Others: Leadership in Online Collaboration

04/28/2011 9:30 AM
Amy Bruckman, SM '91, PhD, '97, Associate Professor at the College of Computing, Georgia Tech

Description: Amy Bruckman finds the accomplishments of such online collaborations as Wikipedia, Apache and Firefox "nothing less than astounding," and is both eagerly seeking and hoping to foster the next creative group Internet sensation.

In her lab's empirical studies, Bruckman has dissected different types of ensemble internet projects. She describes them as "naturally occurring constructionist learning environments," where individuals bring "who they are to the process of making meaning," and receive from their community technical and emotional support. This stuff matters, she says, because "people working together can create mind"bogglingly interesting stuff," not least because the most inclusive projects reflect the values of all their contributors.

Bruckman identifies some typical collaborative modes, including the remix (adapting someone else's project); the benevolent dictatorship (as in open"source software, where a leader decides what contributors may add to the project); and open"content publishing, in which participants work in parallel checking one another's work. She remarks that the last type of collaboration can prove surprisingly efficient and accurate. A Wikipedia entry that evolved in the first 100 hours after Japan's recent earthquake contained 2900 edits made by 761 people. Online collaborations often follow a project's "narrative" structure, says Bruckman, so people may work in parallel; or by continuation (with pieces handed off sequentially to the next person); or by collection, with a leader gathering the parts into a whole.

Some factors in online communities are more likely to encourage participation than others, such as clearly defined reciprocity (if I help, you help me in return); or that contributions are clearly attributed to an individual, and may improve that person's reputation. Bruckman is creating a suite of tools called Pipeline that attempts to enumerate the best practices of online collaboration to help digital producers kick start their own creative communities. She is certain that projects featuring "broad, diverse participation" will always "surprise you with intelligence and creativity," if people get the right tools and social context for making that happen.

About the Speaker(s): Amy Bruckman is a member of the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability (GVU) Center at Georgia Tech. She received her Ph.D. from the Epistemology and Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab in 1997, and her B.A. in physics from Harvard University in 1987. She does research on online communities and education, and is the founder of the Electronic Learning Communities (ELC) research group.

Bruckman is also a member of Georgia Computes!, an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance. She co"directs Georgia Tech's initiative in Web Science.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, The MIT Education Arcade

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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