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National Science Foundation awards $1.95 million to GroupScope project

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $1.95 million for a project that will apply advanced computing power to research into social interaction in large, dynamic groups.

GroupScope: Instrumenting Research on Interaction Networks in Complex Social Contexts is led by Marshall Scott Poole, director of the Illinois Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science (I-CHASS), and co-principal investigators David Forsyth and Mark Hasegawa-Johnson of the University of Illinois, Noshir Contractor of Northwestern University, and Feniosky Pena-Mora of Columbia University. I-CHASS researchers Peter Bacjsy and Alex Yahja and Illinois education professor Dorothy Espelage are research scientists for this project.

Many important tasks—emergency response, product development, health care, education, and economic activity—involve large, dynamic, interacting networks of groups. Theory and research on such networks of groups is much less developed than research on isolated small groups or formal organizations. A major challenge for such research is the difficulties of collecting and analyzing the necessary huge bodies of high-resolution, high-volume observational data.

The goal of the GroupScope project is to address this challenge by applying advanced computing applications to capture, manage, annotate and analyze these massive observational sets of video, audio, and other data. The resulting data analysis system will enable breakthrough research into social interaction in large, dynamic groups to be conducted much more quickly and with much higher reliability than was previously possible. It will do this by automating as many functions as possible to the highest degree possible, including managing huge volumes of video, audio, and sensor data, transcription, parsing audio for critical discourse events, annotation and indexing of video streams, and coding interaction. These first pass analyses can then be supplemented by human analysts, and their analyses in turn will feed into machine learning that will improve the computerized analysis.

GroupScope will be developed with the collaboration of social scientists studying emergency response teams, children’s playground behavior, distributed teams, and product development teams. When developed, the GroupScope cyberenvironment will enable a community of researchers to collaborate on common problems; multiple researchers will be able to analyze and code the same data for both small groups and large dynamic groups and networks. Multiple analyses from diverse perspectives will enable discovery of previously unsuspected relationships among different levels and layers of human interaction. They can also be linked to survey responses from participants, enabling linkage to the realm of perceptions and traits.

GroupScope will shed light on the workings of critical functions performed by real world groups such as emergency response units, health care teams, stock exchanges, and military units. GroupScope will also have applications in the training of those working in multi-team systems, such as first responders to disasters. It can be used to record and “grade” training sessions, giving participants feedback on both strengths and weaknesses of their approaches.

Preliminary development of GroupScope was supported by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and by the Critical Initiatives for Research and Scholarship Program of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Illinois.

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