The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) Professor Kevin Crowston $478,858 over three years to investigate the capabilities of social computational computer support systems in the context of citizen science, defined as partnerships between volunteers and scientists.

Social computational support systems are any computer systems in which people interact socially. This can include blogs, e-mail, and social networking web sites, but is usually more concerned with online collaborative work like collaborative filtering, online auctions, prediction markets, reputation systems, computational social choice, tagging, and verification games. The goal of this study is to use and show how this kind of computer software can be used to facilitate communication between volunteers and scientists as they try to answer real-world questions.

The project will investigate how public involvement in scientific research can advance scientific goals while also educating volunteer participants, determining how citizen science can benefit large-scale data collection and analysis, and providing guidelines for improving the design and implementation of computational support systems for citizen science projects.

Crowston’s research will focus three goals: developing a practical understanding of how social computing can benefit science education, developing new research models of social computing that support large scale public participation, and testing social computing systems that incorporate explicit knowledge of human cognitive and social abilities.

The grant is a complement to the Virtual Organizations as Socio-Technical Systems (VOSS) grant awarded to iSchool Associate Professor Derrick L. Cogburn last year. That grant, “Developing a Comparative Meta-Analytical Model for Evaluating and Facilitating Accessible CI-Enabled Virtual Organizations,” studies how virtual organizations operate.

Crowston is a Professor of Information Studies at the iSchool. He received an A.B. in Applied Mathematics, Computer Science from Harvard University in 1984, and a Ph.D. in Information Technologies from the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991.