HASTAC's EAGER NSF grant, “Assessing the Impact of Technology-Aided Participation and Mentoring on Transformative Interdisciplinary Research: A Data-Based Study of the Incentives and Success of an Exemplar Academic Network,” uses computational analysis, data extraction, and social networking analysis to embark on the first large-scale study of the interplay of cyberinfrastructure and scholarly communication in an academic peer-produced network. The exemplar virtual institution studied is the HASTAC network of more than 11,000 educators, scholars, and leading-edge thinkers dedicated to innovative, technology-aided forms of collaborative research and teaching.
The study mobilizes six years of the extensive HASTAC data pool, including the 176MB MySQL database of individual and institutional member profiles, for social networking analysis, data extraction, text and content analysis, and procedural and organizational analysis. It provides critically needed evidence for the current and future capacities of institutions to support the interdisciplinary collaborations essential to meet the Grand Challenges (such as energy, water sustainability, or human sciences and policy design) confronting the world, especially those requiring collaboration among scientists working with humanists and social scientists trained to confront the societal and cultural factors that deter the implementation of scientific and technological solutions.
The intellectual merits of the project include modeling a method by which cyberfrastructure can enable successful collaborative research adaptable to other problem-based research centers and scalable to other projects, such as NSF-funded Science of Learning Centers (SLC); determining the best incentives for risk-taking early career interdisciplinary research; and calculating how voluntary, scholarly networking and virtual mentoring support and promote early-stage researchers in both scholarly innovation and high-prestige academic achievement.
The broader impact of the study is in addressing one of the most urgent structural problems in higher education and one on which there is little quantitative, data-based research: how to incentivize and support the range of cross-disciplinary researchers who must work together successfully in order to solve society’s biggest problems. At its broadest, it is anticipated that the study will intervene in current theories of organizational behavior, social media protocols, disciplinary and interdisciplinary formation, and self-governing systems, and lay the groundwork for increased collaborations dedicated to tackling the major problems and Grand Challenges of the 21st century.