EMAC Course Explores the Driving Force Behind the Social Web

Cindy Shen
Cindy Shen

In a revised version of EMAC 3328, Professor Cuihua (Cindy) Shen will lead students in an exploration of the implications of digital media on the ways in which people engage in community life.

This course is designed for students interested in understanding and designing online communities using a variety of social media. Students will survey the history, theory, empirical research of online communities and many of the Web 2.0 applications that are driving the growth of the social web. During the first half of the semester, students will read theoretical literature on community and communication from multiple disciplines. Classes in second half of the semester provide more in-depth examination of topic-specific online communities including gaming, entertainment, teamwork, and mobile communities.

To course description for EMAC 3328 can be viewed on the UT Dallas Arts and Humanities Website.

The Family That Plays Together Stays Together?

EMAC Professor’s Research Finds Online Games Can Promote Socialization

“Get off the computer and go play outside.”

So go the words heard in homes around the country as parents and children clash over the social benefits of video games.

Dr. Cindy Shen

But parents needn’t worry so much, according to Dr. Cuihua (Cindy) Shen, an assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas. Her recent research article in the Communication Research journal argues that online games can actually bolster family communication.

“Even though most people think that spending large amounts of time playing online games can be harmful to one’s social life, if people play online games with their existing friends and family, game play could actually enhance their social experiences,” Shen said. “An online game thus becomes an additional venue, albeit virtual, for socialization.”

Shen surveyed more than 5,000 gamers about how they use the Internet, their specific activities in the virtual world and their psychosocial well-being for the article, “Unpacking Time Online: Connecting Internet and Massively Multiplayer Online Game Use With Psychosocial Well-Being,” co-written by Dmitri Williams.

The most popular massively multiplayer online game (MMO) in terms of subscriptions is World of Warcraft.

According to the study, online games engage 76 percent of all teens and 23 percent of all adults in the United States. Of these games, networked games known as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) are growing in popularity. The content of these games is based largely on social interactions, which supports the argument that new technologies create social augmentation, as opposed to displacement: “Not only could the Internet enhance one’s everyday communication with family and friends locally and over a distance,” wrote Shen, “it could also enlarge one’s existing social network by bringing together people with shared interest and values in virtual communities.”

Aion is another online game with a sizable following.

However, there are many who feel video games create time displacement, causing users to spend more time in virtual worlds and thus becoming physically and socially disengaged. But MMOs can also “foster informal sociability and cultivate virtual communities,” according to Shen, and her article illustrates more and more gamers are playing with family and friends they already know online, as opposed to playing with new acquaintances in the game. This helps strengthen the sense of family community, which many didn’t believe possible from the Internet.

Shen addressed this dichotomy thusly: “Whether Internet and MMO use were associated with negative or positive outcomes was largely dependent on the purposes, contexts and individual characteristics of users. The Internet is a comprehensive technology that affords a wide range of functionalities. MMOs also offer extensive opportunities for exploration, socialization and achievement. To a certain extent, both the Internet and MMOs are what you make of them.”

Prof Explores Dynamics of Online Networking

Birds of a feather flock together in cyberspace.

At least that’s what Dr. Cuihua (Cindy) Shen, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas, has shown in a research article published in the journal First Monday.

"We found that accomplished developers tend to connect with other accomplished developers, essentially forming an elitist circle," said Dr. Cuihua (Cindy) Shen.

Examining an online community using social network analysis, Shen tested the social drivers that shaped the collaboration dynamics among a group of users from SourceForge, the largest open source community on the Web.

Who Connects with Whom? A Social Network Analysis of an Online Open Source Software Community co-written by Peter Monge shows that users in online communities choose which users to interact with, and that their choices reveal the motivations and processes that create collective networks.

“Taken together, we found that accomplished developers tend to connect with other accomplished developers, essentially forming an elitist circle in the OSS (open source software) community. By contrast, it is more difficult for less successful developers to establish collaborative relations, and even if they do, they tend to connect with others who have a similar lower level of performance and experience,” Shen writes in the article.

OSS refers to computer software products that permit users to study, change, improve and re-distribute the software. This process is different from the traditional and proprietary model of software development, and it allows developers to establish social relations by collaborating in software project teams.

“Developers who are working or have worked on the same project are linked to each other thereby creating collaboration networks,” Shen said of OSS communities.

“By conceptualizing an online community as a network of participants and examining the formation of social ties, this research demonstrates that social network analysis can be a useful approach to studying the dynamics of online social systems.”

Shen hopes the article will lead to new discoveries in her field:

“Testing and comparing network formation mechanisms in online social networks across different domains will open new avenues for understanding the social and collaborative dynamics in contemporary networked media environments.”