A study of online scientific and scholarly communities for broadening participation in STEM

In collaboration with Dr Lisa Elliot at Rochester Institute of Technology, CSCCE’s director Lou Woodley is working to answer three research questions about online communities for broadening participation in STEM.

Grant abstract

NSF INCLUDES EAGER – award number #1834978

This project is conducting exploratory research about two currently existing online scientific and scholarly communities (OSSCs), each of which was established to broaden participation in STEM in identified target communities: (a) the NSF INCLUDES Open Forum (NSF-1748345); and (b) the Deaf STEM Community Alliance’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Virtual Academic Community (NSF-1127955).

The goals of the proposed study are:

1) to apply the information systems theory of the life cycle of online communities and the theory of social capital to understand the dynamics of two NSF-sponsored OSSCs that are focused on broadening participation in STEM;

2) to strengthen NSF INCLUDES Network activities with best practices and lessons learned from the project.

The project is conducting comparative analyses of the OSSCs:

1) to determine life-cycle stages of the OSSCs;

2) to examine leadership and engagement activities of community engagement managers in each community and how they evolve over time; and

3) to explore the perceptions of community members.

Why is this of interest to scientific community managers?

  • Communities often progress along a lifecycle from inception to maturity and possibly then decline or fragment into new communities. Little has been done to look at how the lifecycle maps to online communities of practice in science and specifically with communities focused on broadening participation – which is what the first part of this study is looking at.
  • Community managers help to steward their communities through the different stages of the lifecycle and their roles and activities change as a result. Part two of the study is looking at how the four community managers involved in the study use their skills over time.
  • Finally, online communities can be thought of as places where social capital is distributed and accumulated. This study seeks to explore what social capital looks like in the context of the two communities of practice and what role community managers may be playing in its distribution.

Dissemination of results so far