Sociologist Margaret Mead views the small group as the principle unit of human organization at which societal level change begins. Group Informatics research is inspired by the notion that small groups are uniquely powerful forms of social organization. Groups who rely on technology, and not physical co-location, for interaction leave traces of their interactions behind. The goal of Group Informatics research is to use these traces to build a better understanding of how such groups change over time, and how these changes might be anticipated. Group Informatics accomplishes this by building models of technologically mediated groups in online learning, disaster relief, software engineering, online dating, public political discourse, adult recreational sports and other domains where groups emerge and develop through technology.
Group informatics examines how technologically mediated groups form, develop identity, use information, create knowledge and evolve structurally. Goggins and his colleagues apply a novel approach to discerning structure from electronic trace data using interface adapted log file transformations (Goggins, Laffey, & Amelung, 2011) and both time weighted and mode weighted network analysis (Goggins, Laffey, & Gallagher, 2011). Applying the time dimension to the analysis of small groups is a recognized strategy for understanding their development (McGrath, 1984; Mcgrath, 1991).
Small groups have three functions: Performance of work, maintenance of the group and satisfaction of member needs (McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000). By examining electronic trace data we can learn how the structure and interactions of groups change over time and how different groups appear differently when performing the same tasks in similar socio-technical contexts. The identity of the group is maintained through technology; and group informatics research demonstrates how identity corresponds to structures revealed through network analysis of log files (Goggins, Laffey, Galyen, & Mascaro, 2011).
Stahl shows how groups work together to construct original ideas through technology, a phenomena he calls group cognition (Stahl, 2006). Group informatics applies findings from group cognition and other computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) research to identify context specific ways to measure technologically mediated group performance.
Informatics is a term used in a variety of disciplines. Medical informatics, social informatics, community informatics, bioinformatics and many other "informatics areas of inquiry" share the word, but apply it in different ways. Some informatics disciplines, like medical informatics, are more data structure driven. Others, like bioinformatics, have a computational focus.
Social informatics examines the social aspects of computerization. Group informatics is conceptualized here as considering the influences of computerization on the development of small, technologically mediated groups. Small groups are viewed as "engines of knowledge building" in group cognition research. Sociologist Margaret Mead views the small group as the principle unit of human organization at which societal level change begins. Group Informatics rests on this idea that small groups are uniquely powerful forms of social organization across a wide range of domains; then explores groups who rely on technology, and not physical co-location, for interaction. The goal of Group Informatics research is to build a better understanding of how such groups change over time, and how these changes might be anticipated.
Recently there has been much research finding clusters of interaction in large populations, or developing computational mechanisms for "group discovery". For the group informatics researcher, these discoveries are incomplete; we seek to understand what the cluster means, where it came from and how it evolves over time. By scaling down to the small group, Group Informatics enables "scaling up" of group discovery grounded in the experience of the members.
The time element in technologically mediated groups is little studied because to understand changes in small groups (information, knowledge and social behavior), one must, in the sociological tradition, understand both the structure observed and what those changes mean. Therefore, the first goal of Group Informatics research is the development of a library of socio-technical patterns of small group development. Current projects are focused on building the infrastructure for describing those patterns structurally, relating them to ground truth and publishing our work describing the patterns uncovered thus far.
Goggins, S., Laffey, J., & Amelung, C. (2011). Context Aware CSCL: Moving Toward Contextualized Analysis. Proceedings from CSCL 2011, Hong Kong.
Goggins, S., Laffey, J., Galyen, K., & Mascaro, C. (2011). Group Awareness in Completely Online Learning Groups: Identity, Structure, Efficacy and Performance. International Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Under Review.
Goggins, S., Laffey, J., & Gallagher, M. (2011). Completely Online Group Formation and Development: Small Groups as Socio-Technical Systems. Information Technology & People, Accepted.
McGrath, J. E. (1984). Groups: Interaction and performance. Prentice-Hall Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Mcgrath, J. E. (1991). Time, Interaction and Performance (TIP). Small Group Research, 22(2), 147-1741.
McGrath, J. E., Arrow, H., & Berdahl, J. L. (2000). The Study of Groups: Past, Present, and Future. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(1), 95-105.
Stahl, G. (2006). Group Cognition: Computer Support for Building Collaborative Knowledge. Boston, MA: MIT Press.