Online Collective Action Seminar

Collective Action Online

Northwestern University
MTS 525 Monday 3:00-5:50pm
Frances Searle Building, 2-378
Fall, 2015

Professor Aaron Shaw
Frances Searle Building, room 2-142
M/T 1:00-3:00pm or by appointment


Description & Overview
Learning Objectives
Assignments & Evaluation
Course Schedule

Description & Overview

Large scale online collective action such as peer production encompasses the most significant organizational innovations that have emerged from Internet-mediated social practice. The best known examples of peer production include free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) such as the GNU/Linux operating system, and free culture projects such as Wikipedia. This seminar introduces key issues in the study of peer production and prepares students to contribute to this interdisciplinary field of research.

The first part of this seminar surveys some of the most influential threads of empirical and theoretical research on collective action online and, in particular, peer production. The second part focuses on readings and discussions driven by student interests and projects. ( )

Learning Objectives

Participants in this seminar will become active producers of research and knowledge in the domain of online collective action and peer production. Throughout the quarter, you will cultivate the following skills in the context of research on peer production and related topics:

Assignments & Evaluation

In addition to the reading and active participation in seminar discussions, there will be four kinds of assignments for this course: (1) weekly discussion provocations; (2) coordination of a session of the course in a small group, including a collectively authored "position paper" that frames the discussion; (3) participation in weekly "bring-your-own-research" (BYOR) collective sessions; and (4) a final project. Some additional details about each are provided below.

You will be evaluated on your engagement with the material in our meetings (25\%); your timely completion of assignments throughout the quarter (35\%); as well as your success in producing a final project that applies knowledge of relevant subject matter in an original way (40\%). ()

Discussion Provocations

One day (24 hours) before each class meeting, you are required to circulate a brief discussion provocation to the other members of the class via Canvas. Your provocation should be about 250-500 words in length and should respond to central concerns raised by the week's reading assignments. The key here is that you should address something interesting and of substantive importance in a way that will engage others in discussion or debate. ()

Seminar Session Coordination

Later in the course, you will work in small groups to lead one of our sessions. This means that you will be required to work collectively to select readings, distribute a brief (~1000-1500 word) position paper that frames central topics and concerns, and moderate the class discussion that week. We will discuss and resolve the logistics of this in greater depth during October. ()

BYOR Collective Sessions

Each week, our meetings will be broken into two distinct parts: the first will be a more traditional seminar-style discussion of readings; the second will look a lot more like a research workshop or lab group meeting and is open (with my approval) to other students and faculty pursuing research projects related to the course topic. During these sessions, we will generally focus on brief presentations and discussions of research-in-progress by members of the group (including all of you!). ()

Final Project

Throughout the quarter, you will iteratively design and execute a final project. This project may be completely independent or it may be produced in collaboration with a team. A minimal template for a final project is an empirically-oriented research paper approximately 4,000 words (15 pages) in length. You may also consider writing a research design, system design, prototype assessment, or research/design proposal of roughly the same length. In any scenario, I discourage you from submitting anything longer than 6,000 words. Final projects are due at 5pm (Central time) on December 7, 2015. ()

Course Schedule

Please note: I will maintain full citations and detailed, up-to-date information about all readings in the course bibliography (also available as a .bib file). Please contact me if you find any errors or inconsistencies in the bibliography or if you have any trouble locating readings.

September 21 — Introductions
September 28 — Collective action & public goods
October 5 — Peer production & social production
October 12 — Motivation
October 19 — Organization
October 26 — Quality
November 2 — Social Movements
November 9 — Participation Divides & Other Gaps
November 16 — Motivation & Incentives (in crowds)
November 23 — Work, Labor, & Employment (mostly in crowds)
November 30 — Future Directions
December 7 — Final Papers Due at 5pm



Confidentiality of Peers’ Work

Throughout the course, you will be receiving, reading and commenting on classmates’ writing. These writing assignments are for class use only. You may not share them with anybody outside of class without explicit written permission from the document’s author and pertaining to the specific piece. ()

Confidentiality of In-Class Discussions

It is essential to the success of this class that participants feel comfortable sharing questions, thoughts, ideas, fears, reservations, apprehensions and confusion about works-in-progress, writing, the research process and scholarly experiences more generally speaking during discussions. Therefore, you may not create any audio or video recordings during class time nor share verbatim comments with those not in class nor are you allowed to share using other methods -- e.g., social media -- comments linked to people’s identities unless you get a person’s permission. If you want to share general impressions or specifics of in-class discussions with those not in class, ask for permission first. ()

Academic Integrity

You are responsible for reading and abiding by the Northwestern University Principles Regarding Academic Integrity.

Make sure to document all of your work and acknowledge the ideas and work of others. Possible sanctions, as per the university guidelines, include reduced or failing grade, a defined period of probation or suspension, exclusion from the university and notation on the official record. You must not, in any way, misrepresent your work or be party to another student’s failure to maintain academic integrity. Do not ever copy other people’s words without quotation marks (do not do this even if you are "just" taking notes) and always use proper citation. Do not ever refer to other people’s work without attribution. DO NOT cheat, plagiarize or disregard the University Principles Regarding Academic Integrity in any way, it is NOT worth it! When in doubt, err on the side of giving more credit to the original source rather than less. Feel free to ask me (the instructor) for clarification about related matters. ()

Deadlines, Absences, etc.

Emergencies happen. Unanticipated obstacles arise. If you cannot make a deadline, please contact me to figure out a schedule that will work. If you must miss a class, contact me. You are responsible for obtaining class notes, handouts, assignments, etc. from fellow students in case of an absence.

An additional word about extensions and incompletes: In principle, I have no problem with extensions or incompletes. In practice, they tend to be a pain for everybody involved and I strongly discourage them. If you absolutely must submit an assignment late, assume that I will require at least 1 month (4 weeks) to grade it. Please take this into account if you will need me to to submit a grade in order to receive your fellowship/diploma/visa/etc. by a particular date. ()

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