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Helping as participation in an open online community : an exploratory study

The study explores the issues of participation, and to an extent, learning in an open online community of independent game developers, GameSalad is a firm-hosted online support forum for a desktop application of the same name. It is geared to provide members and users with a platform for sharing of information pertaining to their game development, and a place to seek and provide help. It is a large community with over 114,000 registered members (as of March 2015), with an average of 106,000 monthly active unique users, and a high degree of activity such as the posting of tutorials and tips, sharing game development progress, and announcing the launch of a new game. However, the majority of the interactions on the forum are concerned with seeking and providing help. This study focuses on issues around community, participation, and learning within online networks and is underpinned by a concern for participatory and social experiential perspectives on learning. In order to explore participation, an exploratory mixed-method approach was used. This involved a three-phase data collection procedure. First, observation of interaction in the community was carried out (noting the pattern of threads opened, weekly leader boards, resources, and general practices) coupled with document analysis to identify threads that reflected high participation or were deemed beneficial by interviewees. Second, online survey of 35 items including five demographic items, twenty forced 2-point semantic differential scale items, and ten 5-point Likert scale items was carried out, to measure members’ perceptions of the community and identity (n = 110 responses). Third, semi-structured sequential interviews were carried out with 21 volunteer interviewees online, using the forum’s own private messaging system over a period from August 2014 to March 2015. Although originally conceived as an overarching study of online participation, the study became focused on the more active members of the community, and on the question as to why and how some members of online communities appear to take on helping roles. The findings from both survey and interviews showed a strong sense of community among active members, and that active members saw their identity in the online community as an extension of their off-line self. Although open to all members, participants who volunteered to be interviewed tended to be among the more active members and many had adopted ‘caretaker’ or helper role in the community. The interviews showed that giving help was motivated by a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic elements, in particular, helpers were aware of the need to sustain the community and in many cases felt an obligation to offer help as a return or ‘pay it forward’ for the help they had received in the past. They were motivated by community mindedness, empathy, self-confidence and sense of identity. The giving of help depends on ‘mood’, this mood is generated not only when helpers feel they have the available time and relevant expertise in order to help, but also when those asking for help have asked in an appropriate manner and provided sufficient contextualisation. In part, learning in the community is seen as a social exchange, and members put a value on the discussions they saw useful. However, this study reveals some of the problems experienced by the company behind the community, tensions among some members of the community, as well as issues pertaining to shared knowledge and artefacts. This study improves our understanding of community of practice, the provision of help, the motivation for helping, as well as the dynamics of participation in an open online community. It gives insight into the sustainability of online community by showing the motivation, strategies for, and consequences of helping. It also gives insight into how informal learning is embedded in social interactions and perceived value. The study is not a unique case but it is one of an underreported area, a highly participative community. Methodologically, this study offers mixed method approach with a strong focus on qualitative data and analysis methods, with an innovative way of triangulating data.
Date January 2016
CreatorsHanif, Hafiz
PublisherUniversity of Warwick
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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