October 5, 2007
Ben Daniel, PhD student in Computer Science and Educational and Communications Technology.
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
By Brette Ehalt
Thanks to Ben Daniel, Facebook may be seen in a whole new light.
Daniel, an interdisciplinary PhD student in Computer Science and Educational and Communications Technology, is extending the notion of social capital – the way people relate to each other by sharing and entrusting information, collaborating, and reciprocating favors – to online communities like Facebook. He does this by constructing a formal computational model of these interactions that can be studied by computer analysts and developers, instructional designers, online instructors, e-learning researchers, and others.
Daniel’s studies focus specifically on online learning communities and “distributed communities of practice” where professionals exchange data and information in a particular field of interest. In explaining his work, Daniel said his Bayesian Model of social capital can be tailored to suit many systems. “Planners and policy makers could use the model to ask questions like, what are the common social factors involved in, say, the predator and prey cases of child pornography that we need to know in order to discourage this kind of collaboration over the Internet?”
Another question might explore what social issues, tracked through messages and comments, are most important among Facebook ‘friends.’ “If the planner behind Facebook is better able to visualize the social sphere of its users, then the planner will also be better able to build more efficient tools to encourage the relationships among them,” he said.
In addition, Daniel helped develop Distributed Communities of Practice (DCop), a concept he named, at the International Centre for Governance and Development on campus. DCop, a unique online community, was designed to connect people in the field of governance and international development from across Canada and from diverse sectors like universities, the federal justice department, the Canadian International Development Agency, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The objective, he said, is to enable them to create dialogue and to build trust and share knowledge with each other.
This work, Ben says, “has put the U of S on the forefront of research on knowledge networks.
A prolific writer, to date Daniel has authored and co-authored ten book chapters, six articles in various journals and over thirty peer-reviewed papers presented at national and international conferences. Originally from Sudan, he received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Juba (Sudan), a Master’s of Science from the University of Twente (Netherlands), and a Master’s of Philosophy from the University of Oslo (Norway). He will receive his Doctor of Philosophy from the U of S at fall convocation.
Brette Ehalt writes profiles of grad students for the College of Graduate Studies and Research.