INFM 718J / LBSC 708P - Communities of Practice and Online Communities

Fall 2005 - Tentative Syllabus[1]


Office Hours:

Jenny Preece
Hornbake 4105
(301) 405 2035
p r e e c

Office Hours:

Vedat G. Diker
Hornbake 4121E
(301) 405 9814
v d i k e
4:00-5:00 PM Tuesday
Also by appointment


Updates to this syllabus.


Class page on BlackBoard. [You may need to log in. Please use your UMD directory ID/Password.]


Credit Hours: 3 credit hrs.


Pre-requisites: LBSC 690 or INFM 603


Time: Thursdays, 9.30-12.30. (No Class on October 13 and November 24.)


Place: Hornbake 2119 (Wireless Lab).


Short (Catalog-type) description:

This class will introduce you to the concept of an online community (i.e., a community of people that can interact by using software such as listservers, discussion boards and other more sophisticated software.) You will learn how online communities can be used to support library users and workers, patients, academics, company workers, children, seniors, hobbiests and others. You will also learn what makes these online or partially online social groups successful, how they enable people to acquire and distribute knowledge and support, and how to evaluate them.


Statement of goals:

The goal of this class will be to:

Teach students about Communities of Practice, Communities of Interest and the associated knowledge management, interpersonal support issues so that they can evaluate their success in different knowledge worker situations and can participate in developing, evaluating, moderating and supporting COP and COIs.


After taking this class students will be able to:

-          Define and discuss the key concepts associated with COPs and COIs

-          Analyze a range of examples designed to support different user groups and different activities

-          Evaluate the success of existing online communities

-          Make recommendations for improving the usability and sociability of COPs and COIs

-          Contribute the development of COPs and COIs


Teaching methods:

The first hour of each class will be used for a lecture or discussion let by the instructor.

The next two hours will be practical work, student presentations, group work, or there will be an outside speaker or a demonstration.

Students will engage in individual work, group project work and class activities.


Student requirements / Method of evaluation

Students will be assessed on:

- An individual presentation to the class (15% of grade)

- A 1500-2000 word written paper on a topic of your choice to be approved by one of the instructors (30% of grade)

- An individual project using the Microsoft Netscan tool (25% of grade)

- A group project (25% of grade)

- Class participation (5% of grade)


1) Individual presentation to the class (15%): This will involve preparing a 15-minute presentation which you will present to the class. You will use no more that 10 PowerPoint slides plus a slide listing up to 20 key references.

You will select a community of your choice that is supported by one of the following types of technology:

          - Blogs (

          - Wikis (

          - Desktop video conferencing (iVisit)

          - Review and recommendation systems (;

          - Transaction and reputation systems (

          - Instant messaging (MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM)

          - Phone texting

          - Social networking systems (,,

          - Listservs/Discussion boards (Usenet, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Communities)

          - Open source development systems (

          - News and commentary systems (

          - Children-focused systems (ICDL)

          - Podcasting

          - Peer-to-peer content exchange/delivery systems (BitTorrent, Gnutella, Freenet)

          - IRC and chatrooms

          - Collaborative filtering systems (

          - Gaming communities

          - Tagging


Your presentation should include the following:

(i) Title of the community

(ii) Brief introduction to the community

(iiii) Brief description of the supporting software platform

(iv) Brief description of the usability support

(v) Brief description of the sociability support

(vii) Your opinions about how successful the community is and why


Please upload your presentation to the Digital Drop Box on BlackBoard. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

All PowerPoint slides will be uploaded to the class community website.

A schedule will be drawn up for these presentations during the first class.


2) Individual written paper (30%): This paper will present a carefully written discussion of one of the topics listed below. The word limit is 1500-2000 words plus figures, tables and references. Papers that exceed this word-length will have 1% deducted for every 20 words over-length.


Every paper should contain the following sections:

(i) Title and name of author

(ii) Brief abstract

(iii) Introduction: brief introduction to the topic, why you selected it and why it is important.

(iv) Sections that discuss different aspects of the topic and when possible articulate alternative opinions.

(v) Summary and your conclusions

(vi) Acknowledgments

(vii) References

(viii) Tables and figures – each labeled and on a separate sheet


Note: a title/legend for each table or figure should be presented where you would like it to fall in the text but the actual tables and figures should be placed at the end of the paper.


Topics from which you can select:

a)      Community model(s)

b)      Tragedy of the commons

c)      Cooperation and collaboration

d)     Special issues related to one of the following: COPs, children, seniors, people with disabilities, cross-cultural communities (Note: if you select to write about one of these you must produce a paper that goes beyond what is discussed in class)

e)      Gift economies

f)       Public goods

g)      Intellectual property, copyright, and other legal issues as related to online communities


Submission date[2]: October 20, 2005


3) Individual project (25%): This will be based on Netscan, a suite of web-based, quantitative tools for analyzing activity in Usenet groups. The project should involve comparison of two Usenet groups. One group should focus on disease support (not other health support topics, such as "quit-smoking" or "weight-loss"), and the other should focus on software/technical support. The students should compare activity metrics, type and level of support, styles, etc. by using both quantitative and qualitative data. One purpose of the project is to address the issue: “What Netscan tells us about <<community/communities>> and what it does not tell us”. The report is limited to 1000 words plus figures, tables and references.


Your report should have the following headings:

i) Title

ii) Brief description of the community

iii) Demographic investigations

iv) What you learned

v) Your opinions of Netscan: what it is useful for and what other information you would like to find.


Students may exercise and explore with Netscan in pairs or small groups; however individual reports and submissions are expected.


Submission date[2]: November 17, 2005

All projects will appear on the class community website

10% of the grade will be deducted for every day after the due date for late projects.


4) Group project (25%): The group project involves contributing to a class website with a communications component; in other words you will develop an online community. There will be six teams:

i) the content team who will assemble the content (this will include all the work done by everyone in the class)

ii) the design team who will design the homepage and navigation of the site

iii) an implementation team who will select software and implement the design and content

iv) a usability team, who will evaluate and guide the usability design

v) a sociability team, who will evaluate and guide the sociability design

vi) an editorial team, who will edit the content


Each person will identify a team to which they would like to contribute, in the first class. The group will start by discussing the project during the second class.


Here is a detailed description of the plans for the last two weeks (12/1 and 12/8) of the project.


A complete prototype must be ready by December 1 for review by the class and instructors. Together we will evaluate this prototype and the teams will have one week to make changes to the community site.


The final community site will be complete by December 8. It will then be made publicly available. During the last class you will provide the instructors with an evaluation of your co-workers which they will take into account when grading each person. This will be done using a simple grading mechanism.


5) Class participation (5%): This class relies heavily on the contributions of each member of the class. This field is changing very fast and it will be your job to help contribute topical material to discussions. For this reason, we are allocating 5% of your grade for class participation.


Required texts (Available at UMD Bookstore):

1) Wenger, E., (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0521663636.

2) Preece, J. (2000) Online Communities: Designing usability, supporting sociability, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 0471805998.

3) Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Basic Books, ISBN: 0738208612.


Tentative Reading List:

Topical reading will also be included from Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, (on the Web), journals and conferences. The aim of these will be to capture state of the art ideas and case studies. See each session entry below for each week’s readings. More readings may be added to this list during the semester.


1) September 01, 2005

         Topics:        - What is a community of practice (COP), community of interest (COI) and the relationship with knowledge management (KM).

                             - What kinds of communities exist and why? (examples: information-oriented, support, children, seniors, libraries and specialist libraries for medicine, companies, global companies).

         Practical Activities: Discuss the class activities and assessment activities. Set-up schedule for individual presentation.

         Instructor:     Preece

         Readings :  - Preece, Chapter 1, “Introduction”

                             - Preece, Chapter 2, “Community Tours”

                             - Wenger, Introduction, “A Social Theory of Learning”


2) September 08, 2005

         Topics:        - The needs of different types of users. For example, seniors need larger icons and uncluttered pages; patients need a supportive environment which is not hostile; learners need deep discussion and access to accurate information (we know the needs of different groups from user tests).

                             - The role of online communities in transferring different types of information (e.g., explicit, tacit), how information flows through communities, is captured, represented and searched.

                             - Different people’s roles within the community, e.g., the information professional, the designer, the moderator, active participants, readers (i.e., lurkers).

         Practical Activities: Usability and sociability, seniors, children, users with disabilities, practitioner needs.

         Instructor:     Preece

         Readings:   - Preece, Chapter 3, “Sociability: Purpose, People, and Policies”

                             - Preece, Chapter 4, “Usability: Tasks, Users, and Software”

                             - Wenger, Intro I, “The Concept of Practice”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 1, “Meaning”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 2, “Community”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 3, “Learning”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 4, “Boundary”

                             - Blythe, M., Monk, A. (2005) Net Neighbours: Adapting HCI methods to cross the digital divide. Interacting with Computers, 17, 35-56.

                             - Liff, S. (2005) Local communities: Relationships between real and virtual social capital. In. P. van den Besselaar, G. de Michelis, J. Preece, C. Simone. Communities and Technologies 2005, 41-53. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]


3) September 15, 2005

         Topics:        - Social issues in COPs, empathy.

         Practical Activities: Usability and sociability.

         Instructor:     Preece

         Readings:   - Preece, Chapter 5, “Research Speaks to Practice: Interpersonal Communication”

                             - Wenger, Intro II, “A Focus on Identity”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 6, “Identity in Practice”

                             - Rogers, P., Lea, M. (2005) Social presence in distributed group environments: The role of social identity. Behavior and Information Technology, 24, 2, 151-158. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Cassell, J., Huffaker, D., Tversky, D., Ferriman, K. (2005) How to win a world election: Emergent leadership in an international online community. In. P. van den Besselaar, G. de Michelis, J. Preece, C. Simone. Communities and Technologies 2005, 149-169.


4) September 22, 2005

         Topics:        - What makes these communities successful? How to evaluate sociability and usability using observation, questionnaire and interview techniques, expert reviews and user testing.

         Practical Activities: Evaluation methods. Introduce Group Project.

         Instructor:     Preece

         Readings:   - Preece, Chapter 9, “Guidelines: Sociability and Usability”

                             - Preece, Chapter 10, “Assessing Needs and Evaluating Communities”

                             - Maloney-Krichmar, D., Preece , J. (2005) A multilevel analysis of sociability, usability and social dynamics in an online health community. Transactions on Computer Human Interaction (TOCHI) 12, 2, 1-32. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Quan-Haase, A., Wellman, B. (2005) Local virtuality in an organization: Implications for Community of Practice. In. P. van den Besselaar, G. de Michelis, J. Preece, C. Simone. Communities and Technologies 2005, 215-238. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]


5) September 29, 2005

         Topics:        - Collaboration and competition online, local teams, distributed teams, support for face to face teams.

                             - What is the relationship between online and off-line communities.

         Practical Activities: Netscan (1).

         Instructor:     Diker

         Readings:   - Preece, Chapter 6, "Research Speaks to Practice: Groups"

                             - Wenger, Chapter 5, "Locality"

                             - Preece, J. (2003) Tacit knowledge and social capital: Supporting sociability in online Communities of Practice. Proceedings of I-KNOW'03, 3rd International Conference on Knowledge Management. Graz, Austria, July 2-4. In K. Tochtermann and H. Maurer, 72-78. Draft version available at:

                             - See also Marc Smith's homepage and follow links to other papers about Netscan and explore the Netscan tool.


6) October 06, 2005

         Topics:        - The sociability and usability features and the type of business models that need to be considered when developing COPs and COIs.

         Practical Activities: Netscan (2); introduce Individual (Netscan) Project.

         Instructor:     Preece

         Readings:   - Complete Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Basic Books, ISBN: 0738208612

                             - Turner, T.C., Smith, M.A., Fisher, D., and Welser, H.T. (2005) Picturing Usenet: Mapping Computer-Mediated Collective Action. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10 (4).


-) October 13, 2005 - NO CLASS


7) October 20, 2005

         Work due[2]: Individual Written Paper

         Topics:        - The importance of participatory community-centered development in producing successful online communities.

                             - Maintaining successful online communities by nurturing, supporting community evolution, ensuring that content is fresh, and providing appropriate moderating and technical support.

         Practical Activities: Building a taxonomy of online communities.

         Instructor:     Preece and/or Diker

         Readings:   - Preece, Chapter 7, “Community-Centered Development”

                             - Preece, Chapter 8, “Selecting Software”

                             - Wenger, Synopsis, “Design for Learning”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 10, “Learning Architectures”

                             - Constant, D., Sproull, L., and Kiesler, S., (1996), The kindness of strangers: The usefulness of electronic weak ties for technical advice. Organization Science, 7, pp. 119-135. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Gotved, S. (2002) Spatial dimensions in online communities. Space and Culture, 5, 4, 405-414. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Macaulay, L. A.; Keeling, K., Dafoulas, G., McGoldrick, P., Kalaitzakis, E. (2005) Intensely focused groups within online communities. HCI International. Conference on Online Communities and Social Computing (CD-ROM)


8) October 27, 2005

         Topics:        - Participation and non-participation.

                             - Motivation factors for participating in online communities

         Practical Activities: Mid-project review of progress. 5-minute presentation of the status of each team’s work.

         Instructor:     Diker

         Readings:   - Wenger, Chapter 7, “Participation and Non-Participation”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 8, “Modes of Belonging”

                             - Kollock, P., (1999), The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace, in Communities in Cyberspace, Smith, M., Kollock, P. (Ed.s) Routledge, London, Draft version available at:

                             - Nonnecke, B., Preece, J., Andrews, D. (2004) What lurkers and posters think of each other. Internet and the Digital Economy Track of the Thirty-Seventh Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Nonnecke, B. and Preece, J. (2000) Lurker Demographics: Counting the Silent. Proceedings of CHI’2000, Hague, The Netherlands, 73-80. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Subramani, M.R., Peddibhotla, N. (2003), Contributing to Document Repositories - An Examination of Prosocial Behavior, Working paper.


9) November 03, 2005

         Topics:         - How communities govern themselves (e.g., hierarchical and distributed management). The types of policies that are constructed and how norms develop.

         Practical Activities: Theorizing about how online communities work, and what future holds for online communities.

         Instructor:     Diker

         Readings:   - Wenger, Chapter 9, “Identification and Negotiability”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 11, “Organizations”

                             - Wenger, Chapter 12, “Education”


10) November 10, 2005

         Topics:        - Growth dynamics in online communities.

         Practical Activities: Modeling and simulating online communities.

         Instructor:     Diker

         Readings:   - Diker, V., (2004) A Dynamic Feedback Framework for Studying Growth Policies in Open Online Collaboration Communities.CD-Rom Proceedings of the 10th Americas Conference on Information Systems, New York City, NY, August 5-8, 2004.

                             - Jones Q., Rafaeli S and Ravid G. (2004) Information Overload and the Message Dynamics of Online Interaction Spaces: A Theoretical Model and Empirical Exploration. Information Systems Research (Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2004, pp 194-210). [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]

                             - Jones, Q., Ravid G., and Rafaeli S. (2002) An Empirical Exploration of Mass Interaction System Dynamics: Individual Information Overload and Usenet Discourse. Proceedings of the 35th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, IEEE, Big Island, Hawaii. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]


11) November 17, 2005

         Work due[2]: Individual (Netscan) Project

         Topics:        - Content development oriented online communities.

                             - Resource issues in online communities.

         Practical Activities: Mid-project review of progress. 5-minute presentation of the status of each team’s work.

         Instructor:     Diker

         Readings:   - Keats, D. (2003) Collaborative development of open content: A process model to unlock the potential for African universities, First Monday, 8, 2.

                             - Cedergren, M. (2003) Open content and value creation. First Monday, 8, 8.

                             - Raymond, E. S. (2001). Homesteading the Noosphere. In The Cathedral and the Bazaar : Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. 65-112, O'Reilly and Associates, Sebastopol, CA.

                             - (2005) The open source definition.

                             - Pavlov, O. and K. Saeed. (2004) A Resource-Based Analysis of Peer-to-Peer Technology. System Dynamics Review. 20 (3) 237-262. [You need to be logged in to BlackBoard to be able to access this reading. Log in now, if you have not done so yet.]


-) November 24, 2005 - NO CLASS


12) December 01, 2005

         Work due:     Group Project

         Topics:         - Project Presentations

         Practical Activities: ---

         Instructor:     Preece - Diker

         Readings:     ---


13) December 08, 2005

         Topics:         - Project Presentations

         Practical Activities: ---

         Instructor:     Preece - Diker

         Readings:     ---



[1] This syllabus is subject to change. Please check frequently for updates.

[2] If a "work due" date is a holiday for you, please let the instructors know at least one week in advance, so an alternate due date can be set.

Last Updated: November 24, 2005