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Sharing knowledge and building communities: A narrative of the formation, development and sustainability of OOPS

, University of Houston, United States

University of Houston . Awarded


This narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) documented the formation, development, and sustainability of an online community called OOPS (Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System) originally formed in February 2004 to translate the MIT OpenCourseware project into Chinese. This community is unique in that it is comprised of over 1,800 online volunteers from around the world and has coalesced rapidly into a distinct group of people that share a common goal, interact frequently with one another online, and communicate mainly through a web-based forum.

Little is known about how this type of community is formed and evolves, how participants learn from and interact with one another, and how volunteerism is nurtured and supported. As a participant in the OOPS project myself, I became intrigued with the formation of this community and the experiences of its members. Using interviews with participants, archived discussions from the online forum, and observations, as well as my, own understanding and knowledge, I explored how the OOPS community formed values and created a social structure. In this research study, I have described how our experiences were shaped by social interactions, individual beliefs, values, and assumptions.

This inquiry involved two different ways of viewing the community through micro-stories, the individual stories of participants, and macro-stories, stories that involve the community as a whole. Each viewpoint has a different framework for analysis. Using the concepts of narrative authority (Olson, 1995) and knowledge community (Craig, 1995a, 1995b) as the first analytical framework, I drew on the micro-stories of this community's members to unpack various motivations, satisfactions, and hazards involving volunteer work, the forming of knowledge communities, and the expression of individual narrative authority. In the process, I discovered a phenomenon I have called "experience asymmetry" that exists when people have diverse experiences resulting in different and, at times, competing understandings. I further explored the interaction between experience asymmetry and narrative authority as they are expressed in a knowledge community. I have also expanded the current literature on knowledge community to include the online characteristics of human interactions, and I argue for a modification to also consider the notion of safeness, time, identity, and fluidity of boundary.

Using Wikipedia and models for open source development as the second analytical framework, I drew on the macro-stories of the community to understand events that bridge both the online and offline lives of the participants. Often these activities produce a friction that, while stressful, has the potential to create a synergy that increases dialogue and interactions. I have classified these frictions in four categories related to knowledge development, leadership and decision making, community structure, and usefulness and intellectual property. In this process, I have explored why participants take on additional tasks that have more complexity and more involvement as a way to sustain their commitment to the community.

Based on my inquiry into both the micro- and macro-stories, I have suggested five ways to sustain an online community through an environment that: (1) encourages increased responsibility and commitment of the members; (2) provides technology as part of the solution; (3) distributes leadership; (4) encourages use by people outside the community; and (5) gives back to the worldwide community through creating new knowledge.


Lin, M.F.G. Sharing knowledge and building communities: A narrative of the formation, development and sustainability of OOPS. Ph.D. thesis, University of Houston. Retrieved July 23, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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