By: Hailey Temple

As a research institution, Syracuse University faculty work to explore and share knowledge in their respective fields. At the School of Information Studies, Professor Steven B. Sawyer recently received grants to explore the growing field of information technology.

Sawyer’s first grant is for the Consortium for the Sociotechnical Systems and Sciences (CSST), a forum for young investigators to explore social informatics. Social informatics explores the concepts of social interaction and how technology impacts these processes. During the forum, Sawyer will lead courses that focus on design, development, and implementation of information systems. In addition, students will also learn to manage projects and to understand the roles of information and communication technologies relative to organizational and social change.

“There are three dominant views of thought behind the application of technology. With social informatics, we are looking to establish a fourth view; one that examines social activity around technology and sees how technology reshape social arrangements, break down friend barriers and changes social norms,” said Sawyer.

As the principal investigator (PI) for the fifth CSST Summer Institute, Sawyer will work to strengthen and expand the sociotech community by helping investigators find mentors and build their teaching, research, and service skill sets. CSST will also provide a place for young investigators to network with leaders in the field to keep the institute moving forward. Although CSST currently has 300 members, they are connected to over 20,000 researchers and educators across the nation.

At CSST, Sawyer hopes to encourage the legitimacy of the organization while encouraging collaboration. “We don’t want investigators to see this as a group you have to enlist with to be included. We include people across many disciplines that simply share a common interest in social informatics. CSST is a forum for social lubrication, where people can exchange knowledge and see if these are the types of people they want to know,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer’s second grant from Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems (VOSS)will explore the role of documents in supporting widespread collaboration and virtual organizing for scientists. Sawyer will track document paths and content to study effective ways scientists collaborate and what information they send to each other. With this information, Sawyer hopes to further the understanding of virtual organizations and find tools that are most effective for exchanging information during widespread collaborations.

Carsten Oesterlund, an iSchool associate professor and co-PI for the investigation, is looking forward to working on such a unique investigation. “Rather than focus on the electronics, we are investigating the people and what is around them: white boards, backpacks, computers, and stacks of paper. The materiality of all this information is central to understanding how people communicate during these projects.”