Student Originated Software 1997-1998
Winter Quarter

A Software Engineering Course at
The Evergreen State College

Tom Finholt is the Director of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work (CREW), an Assistant Research Scientist in the School of Information, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He received a B.A. with High Honors in history from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Social and Decision Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to joining the University of Michigan, Dr. Finholt was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a research fellow at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Dr. Finholt's current research focuses on the social and organizational impact of collaboration technology. He is directing a longitudinal study of the Upper Atmospheric Research Collaboratory (UARC). UARC is an NSF-funded project to design and assess computer-supported collaborative data collection and analysis in the international space science community. Goals of this work are an expanded understanding of methodologies to produce a better match between technology and user practice, and an increased understanding of the influence of collaboration technology on the coordination and organization of space science research and training. In addition, Dr. Finholt is the chief behavioral scientist on the Medical Collaboratory (MedCollab) project, an NSF-funded effort to design and assess computer-based systems for remote collaboration between radiologists and primary care physicians. Finally, Dr. Finholt is directing a longitudinal study of the Journal Storage Project (JSTOR), an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation effort to create digital back archives of 150 scholarly journals.
email:Tom Finholt
phone: (734) 647 4948
web: Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work

Collaboratory life

       Observations on scientific work via the Internet Global computer networks are the setting for collaboratories, or computer-supported "laboratories without walls," where scientists can work with each other, facilities, and data independent of geographic location. The emergence of collaboratories suggests a new organizational form for scientific collaboration where the coordination and practice of scientific work are not limited by physical proximity. This talk examines the effect of relaxed geographic constraints on the content and pattern of scientific collaboration in one community, space physics, through use of the Upper Atmospheric Research Collaboratory (UARC). The international space physics community focuses on data from observatories in the Arctic, from orbiting spacecraft, and from real-time computer models during multi-day experiments, called "campaigns." The traditional organization of campaigns produces two negative consequences for scientific collaboration. First, students and junior scientists unable to visit observatories can't benefit from contact with senior scientists that occurs during campaigns. Second, schedule conflicts often restrict participation in campaigns by colleagues with complementary expertise. UARC offers a solution to these problems by supporting scientific collaboration while reducing the need for co-location. Analyses of five years of data on UARC use show two key results. First, UARC transforms the division of labor during campaigns, allowing teams of scientists with complementary expertise to apply their distinctive perspectives to common phenomena without being co-located. Second, UARC transforms the nature of students' participation in data collection campaigns, allowing students to take an active role in experiments without being co-located. These findings suggest the suitability of collaboratories for scientific work when participants vary in experience, are geographically dispersed, and facilities are scarce or remote. At a theoretical level, the findings suggest that aspects of physical proximity, thought to be essential for group intellectual work, may have adequate analogs or substitutes in computer-mediated communication.

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