Ph.D. Dissertation

Understanding Together: Sensemaking in Collaborative Information Seeking

Full-text can be accessed here.

Abstract: People often collaborate during information seeking activities. Collaborative information seeking (CIS) is composed of multiple different activities like seeking, sharing, understanding, and using information together. However, most studies of CIS have focused on how people find and retrieve information collaboratively, while overlooking the important question of how people collaboratively understand the information found by different group members. My dissertation focuses on a specific aspect of CIS, namely collaborative sensemaking, which is how people together understand the information found during CIS activities.
        I undertook a multi-method research approach in which I conducted two studies in two different CIS domains. The first was an ethnographic study of the CIS activities of healthcare providers working in the emergency department of a large teaching hospital. In this study, I used qualitative methods like interviews, observations, shadowing, and artifacts collection to examine how groups collaboratively find, understand, and use information in a highly collaborative and information-intensive environment. The second study was conducted in the domain of collaborative Web search where I examined the search and sensemaking behavior of users of collaborative Web search tools. Through lab studies and the development of a tool, CoSense, I examined how collaborative sensemaking can be supported during Web search tasks.

Research interests

Social Q&A (CIFellows project at PARC)
With the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, people are  turning to their online social networks to fulfill their information needs. I am interested in the broad area of social search, which is the augmentation of Web search activities through social interactions and feedback from social networks. The research question I'm exploring with Ed Chi, Lichan Hong, and Peter Pirolli is "How are people using their online social networks to fulfill their information needs?"

To examine information seeking in online social networks, we are analyzing the questions people are asking to their friends on Twitter. We are interested in the types and topics of questions asked, the responses received to those questions, and the social network characteristics that influce Q&A behavior on Twitter.

Related publications -
Paul, S.A., Hong, L., and Chi, E.H. (2011). Is Twitter a Good Place for Asking Questions? A Characterization Study. Poster paper to be presented at the AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM 2011).

Paul, S.A., Hong, L., and Chi, E.H. (2011). What is a Question? Crowdsourcing Tweet Categorization. Position paper at the CHI 2011 workshop on Crowdsourcing and Human Computation: Systems, Studies, and Platforms.

Collaborative and Social Search

People often search Web sites collaboratively for tasks like planning a family vacation or finding health care information. With the recent explosion of Web 2.0 technologies, there has been a lot of interest in collaborative and social Web search tools.

'Social' Web search is inspired by the success of the 'wisdom of the crowds' approach of sites like Wikipedia, Digg, and Delicious. The idea here is that other users (friends or other people searching on the same topics) can be a useful resource is helping a user identify relevant search results. Social search tools range from those that let strangers rank a user's search results to those that leverage the user's trusted circle of friends.

I am intersted in developing models/tools that succesfully leverage either social networks or the expertise of others performing the same task (such as planning a vacation) or having the same information need (such as looking for cancer treatment options). I'm also interested in examining users' search behavior when using social and collaborative search tools. I studied how users make sense of search results found during collaborative Web search with Merrie Morris at Microsoft Research, Redmond, WA. We studied how groups find, share, and made sense of information using a collaborative Web search tool called SearchTogether.

Related publications -
Paul, S.A., and Morris, M.R. (2011). Sensemaking in Collaborative Web Search.Human Computer Interaction Special Issue on Sensemaking.

Paul, S.A., and Morris, M.R. (2009). CoSense: Enhancing Sensemaking for Collaborative Web Search. In Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2009), Boston, MA. [Acceptance rate 24%]. Best paper nominee.

Paul, S.A., and Morris, M.R. (2009). Understanding and Supporting Sensemaking in Collaborative Web Search. Position paper presented at the Sensemaking workshop at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2009), Boston, MA. [Acceptance rate 66%]. .

Understanding and supporting collaborative sensemaking
I am fascinated by how people make sense of the large amounts of information they encounter in their personal and professional lives, of the situations they face in their work, and of their social interactions. Often, this process of sensemaking requires pooling of information from various sources, as well as interacting with others.

I am specifically interested in sensemaking in collaborative work.
For my dissertation, I conducted an ethnographic study of collaborative sensemaking among healthcare providers in the Emergency Department of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. A challenging aspect of the work of doctors, nurses, and other clinical and non-clinical staff in the emergency department is making sense of dynamic and unfamiliar situations using a variety of information sources. I drew on my ethnographic study to provide insights into how interfaces can be designed to support sensemaking during collaborative information seeking tasks.

Related publications -
Paul, S.A., and Reddy, M. (2010). Understanding Together: Sensemaking in Collaborative Information Seeking. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2010). [Acceptance rate 20%]. Best paper nominee.

Paul, S.A., Reddy, M., and deFlitch, C.J. (2008). Information and Communication Tools as Aids to Collaborative Sensemaking. In Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2008) Extended Abstracts, Florence, Italy. [Acceptance rate  ~38%]

Paul, S.A., Reddy, M., and deFlitch, C.J. (2008). Collaborative Sensemaking: A Field-study in an Emergency Department. Position paper presented at the Sensemaking workshop at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2008), Florence, Italy. [Acceptance rate 50%]

Paul, S.A. (2008). Supporting Collaborative Sensemaking in the Emergency Department. Poster presented at the Third Annual iConference 2008, Los Angeles, CA.

Paul, S.A., Reddy, M., and Abraham, J. (2007) Collaborative Sensemaking during Emergency Crisis Response: How do ICTs Help? Poster presented at the Proceedings of the 2007 ACM SIGGROUP Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP 2007), Sanibel Island, FL.

Collaborative information seeking, inter-group information flows, and group decision-making

Traditionally, information seeking has been considered an individual acitivity but in recent years, researchers have uncovered the collaborative nature of information seeking in domains ranging from library use to hospital intensive care units. One my research interests is in understanding how technology can be used to support coordination between groups engaged in information-intensive work, with a specific focus on improving information flows and decision-making. I have been focusing on how groups find, seek, share, and use information in  group work, especially in the healthcare domain.

Related publications -
Reddy, M., Paul, S.A., Abraham, J., McNeese, M.D., deFlitch, C.J., and Yen, J. (2010). Challenges to Effective Crisis Management: Using Information and Communication Tools to Coordinate Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Department Teams. In the International Journal of Medical Informatics (IJMI). 2010 Diana Forsythe award.

Zhu, S., Abraham, J., Paul, S.A., Reddy, M., Yen, J., Pfaff, M., and deFlitch, C.J. (2007). R-CAST-MED: Applying Intelligent Agents to Support Emergency Medical Decision Making Teams. Proceedings of the 11th Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Conference (AIME 2007), Amsterdam, The Netherlands. [Acceptance rate ~20%]

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