Paper Analysis: “Being Present in Online Communities: Learning in Citizen Science


  1. How learning takes place in online communities where newcomers cannot easily interact with journeymen or observe practice and receive feedback
  2. How situated learning may develop beyond the formation of CoPs
  3. How do Planet Hunters (citizen science project) participants practices constitute different forms of presence and learning

What are Citizen Science Projects?

  • they involve access, feedback and relationship building
  • laypeople and researchers collaborate in the productions of scientific knowledge
  • participants may gather primary data
  • participants are not able to see the work other users have done
  • this is a deliberate design to ensure independent responses (e.g. Planet Hunters)
  • scarcity of journeymen


  • analyze data from the ongoing study of the citizen science project, Planet Hunters
  • explore the learning experience of newcomer participants in Planet Hunters, they focus on the work practices of both new and experienced volunteers
  • they pay attention to data that reveals:
    • how they make sense of the task at hand
    • how they work through obstacles of participation
    • how their work practice changes over time

Virtual Ethnography:

Ethnography: the study of people in their own environment through the use of methods such as participant observation and face-to-face interviewing

Virtual Ethtnography: refers to an ethnographic research approach that is carried out in the online setting – researchers often engage in fieldwork to immersse themselves in the culture they are studying

It is used to emphasize paticipation in an online environment

Trace Ethnography:

  • a flexible, powerful technique that is able to capture many distributed phenomena that is otherwise difficult to study
  • combines the richness of participant observation with the wealth of data so as to reconstruct patterns and practices of users in distributed sociotechnical systems.
  • highlights the history of participant activity as it appeared in the system logs of the online platform
  • combining virtual and trace ethnography allows researchers to identify and trace practices as they emerge
  • over the 6 months of observation, researchers visited the site a few times a week, spending between 1-3 hours participating and observing during each visit
  • drawing on the practice perspective in social theory, they conducted a qualitative analysis of the participant observation data, trace data and interviews

Three Types of Presence performed by learners (Sorensen):

  1. Communal presence
  2. Authority – subject forms of presence
  3. Agent -centered presence

Communal Presence:

  • forms around a central collective activity, object or event
  • communal presence learning takes place as particpants join the community and strengthen their relations to the centre
  • similar form of presence captured by the notion of legitimate peripheral participation
  • communal refers to the common attitudes, interests and goals shared by a group of people
  • 3 elements of communal practice that characterize newcomers learners experience:
    1. types of access to central activities – through rich examples of other people’s work plays a key role
    2. feedback on participation – feedback points out to newcomers that their contribution is valued and the community will benefit from them in some way. Negative feedback can cause a newcomer to leave the project or elses their work will improve
    3. building of social relations – newcomers build relationships with established members and they need the endorsement of these members who are willing to ratify the quality of their work

Authority – Subject Presence:

  • takes the form of regions and sub-regions, each associated with different clusters of similar activities, events or objects
  • e.g. a classroom = a region divided up in two regions, supporting authority – subject presence
    • Region 1 = the teacher, desk, blackboard at the top of the classroom
    • Region 2 = the students, their desks and chairs all facing the blackboard and the teachers sub region
  • The teacher is facing the class – the students have all the same books on the tables. students are facing blackboard – the students focusing on teachere and blackboard form an authority – subject form of presence.
  • knowledge is passed from the teachers sub region to the students = learning occurs

Agent-centered Design:

  • associated with fluid relations rather than stable structures
  • no ecntral focal point drawing peoples attention, e.g. in a classroom, the students participated in activities focused on the blackboard and the teachers but they also took part in activities in a virtual world (e.g. SIMS)
  • they piece together elements of their participation as they move through the virtual environment
  • it involves ongoing mutation of the knowledge mastered by the participant and the spaces and times in which they do so in.


Mugar, G., Hall, H., York, N., Jackson, C. B., & Crowston, K. (2015). Being Present in Online Communities : Learning in Citizen Science, 129–138.



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