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I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media & Information at Michigan State University.  I also hold a courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and am an affiliate of the Cognitive Science Program. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media & Information.

My research blends Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Communication Research, and Cognitive Science, and draws on many other disciplines (in particular evolutionary dynamics, complexity theory, and cognitive anthropology). I research how computational media might, and does, alter the collective intelligence of groups. To study collective intelligence, I run crowd-based experiments, analyze social media data, build online communities and analyze their use, and develop agent-based models to test new theories.

Currently, my research is oriented around two distinct research questions:

How do knowledge structures co-evolve with social structures online?

Knowledge in human societies is distributed across people and artifacts. Knowledge itself also dynamic: it changes over time as people learn, forget, and develop new understandings about the world around them. How people communicate (including who interacts with whom, and the social and technical constraints on those interactions) has an enormous impact on the dynamics and distribution of knowledge in human groups. At the same, the knowledge and ideas that people come to hold can drive them apart or bring them together, altering the large-scale structure of social groups.

Taken together, knowledge and social structures change dynamically over time and in response to one another, much like an individual’s brain rewires itself in response to new learning. This coordinated variation can be examined as a co-evolutionary process. I adopt this lens to ask questions like: Do certain kinds of online social structures generate more or less diverse bodies of knowledge? Are some kinds of knowledge structures more or less viral than others? Can we build online social platforms that interfere with the emergence of extremist beliefs and pseudo-knowledge? What is the best way to organize a social system in order to reduce balkanization?

How can we design sustainable sociotechnical systems for social justice?

Social networks that benefit society in numerous ways have emerged with the Internet. With little direct monetary input, these networks can mobilize resources in times of crisis, provide empowering information and critical social-support to individuals managing chronic diseases, and create freely accessible, high-quality educational materials for self-motivated learners.

The science of how to design and manage large, sustainable, sociotechnical systems to achieve social goals is at the forefront of human-computer interaction (HCI). I strive to apply insights from complex systems theory and collective intelligence to advance the field. My work involves significant amounts of community-based participatory design, but my primary aim is to develop design methodologies for sustainable sociotechnical systems. For example, how can we decide which technical features are necessary to support the continuing exchange of resources among people with symmetric needs? How can we predict whether or not design changes to a social platform will lead to increased engagement or attrition? How can we “nudge” an existing sociotechnical system towards stable equilibria?

 

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