I-CHASS Awarded 248,551 NSF Grant to Study Virtual Research Environments

Posted on Aug 30, 2012 | No Comments

I-CHASS announced today that project VOSS: Research on the Process of Virtual Research Environment was awarded $248,551 by the National Science Foundation. In recent years, there has been a wave of development of advanced cyberinfrastructure to support distributed collaborative science.  A key type of cyberinfrastructure, virtual research environments (VREs), have been hailed as having the potential to enhance the quality of science, to speed up the conduct of scientific research, and to foster global scientific communities around key research areas.  One gap in current knowledge of VREs is lack of systematic studies of the process by which VREs develop through intentional design and through unplanned events and contingencies.  A VRE is the product of multiple decisions related to the way in which science will be conducted, technological design and implementation, and who will be involved in the design and governance of the VRE, among other things.  These decisions are negotiated among a diverse and changing set of stakeholders over an extended period of time and the process of development is far from the rational design ideal.

VOSS will advance and refine a theoretical framework for understanding the processes by which VREs are developed over time and how these processes contribute to their effectiveness or lack thereof said Professor Marshall Scott Poole, Director of I-CHASS and project Co-Principal Investigator.  The framework proposes that VREs are constructed through interactions among five critical activity tracks, specifically: (a) technological design and implementation, (b) scientific work, (c) the community of VRE users, developers, funders and other stakeholders, (d) managerial and organizational system, and (e) critical events.  Activities in each of the tracks proceed according to different developmental processes and at different paces and the interrelationships among them account for the developmental trajectory of the VRE.  Effectiveness will be assessed in terms of productivity, collaboration, community development, and successful implementation and use of VRE features and is expected to vary over time.  Moreover ongoing assessments of effectiveness by key stakeholders play a role in the development of the VRE itself.

Professor Iftekhar Ahmed project Principal Investigator said “VOSS will utilize the process research approach to study the evolution of six VREs.  It will conduct in depth longitudinal analyses of the sequences of events involved in the development of VREs along the five tracks and trace inter-track influences.  It will assess the fit of various developmental models to the sequences to determine which generative mechanisms account for the development of the VREs and the coevolution of the tracks.  Finally, it will relate various features of the developmental process to effectiveness of VREs on several dimensions”. Professor Ahmed, now in the Communication Department at the University of North Texas, was a post-doctoral researcher at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois when the proposal was developed.

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