Tim Stephen

Communication Institute for Online Scholarship (CIOS)

I am involved in the design and construction of information dissemination, analysis, and retrieval systems for scholarly research and education and in researching and building typological systems necessary for such information technologies to be effective.

With Teresa Harrison, I created the Comserve project, which has since grown into the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship (CIOS), an independent, Web-based not-for-profit scholarly association facilitating the use of information technologies in the service of communication education and research (see http://www.cios.org/). The scope of this project has expanded dramatically from a first-of-kind innovation in the use of IT to enhance an academic discipline’s scholarly communication to become a resource incorporated into the day-to-day process of inquiry and education at institutions throughout the field. The Comserve project was among the first efforts to create a set of online electronic services through which scholars could share resources for education and research, and it did so nearly 10 years before the World Wide Web.

I am the designer, editor, and principal author of an extensive suite of database and other software systems comprising the CIOS. These include: (1) the ComIndex database which indexes scholarship published in nearly 100 communication journals between the years 1970 - 2003 (in total more than 40,000 articles); (2) the ComAbstracts database, a full text database of article abstracts encompassing 65 journals between approximately 1960-2003 (in total more than 17,000 article abstracts); (3) The ComWeb archive indexing 80,000 web pages from 450 academic web sites in communication; (4) the full text of more than a ten year run of ten of the field’s professional journals.

Concept Analysis of the Field’s Scholarly Literature

My CIOS work has produced several important resource collections that have created an unusually rich research opportunity to study the evolution and interdependence of concepts in the communication field. Accordingly, I am now undertaking scientometric concept map analyses of the interrelationships among pivotal theoretical ideas extracted through statistical/linguistic analysis of the literature of the communication discipline gathered in CIOS databases. The project uses a suite of original software programs I’ve authored that parse the titles of the data records from the ComIndex database. The resulting dataset of approximately 200,000 unique words is sifted to eliminate junk terms (“and”, “but”, “anyway”, “those”, “who”, and many more) and to isolate core concepts, and normalized by converting British to U.S. spelling. My procedure then reduces the resulting set of normalized core concepts to their linguistic root forms. As well, the procedure lumps synonymous concepts (television, TV, tube), recognizes phrases of disciplinary relevance as singular concepts (e.g., “third person effect”, “spiral of silence”, “genre theory”, “social movements theory”, etc.) and appropriately splits divergent concepts that happen to have common linguistic roots (organic and organization).

I have been conducting statistical studies of the frequencies of co-occurrence within the resulting set of root key concepts and developing software systems that allow live exploration of the strength of these relationships (e.g., “gender” and “talk” co-occur with a particular frequency, “rhetoric” and “argument” co-occur with a particular frequency, etc.). I have also created a mapping process in which concepts are related to each other in a graphical display where distance indicates degree of relationship.

As the field approaches a future in which access to our literature becomes exclusively electronic, my work is discovering trends and regularities that will serve as the foundation for designing interfaces based on keywords and co-occurrence that will enable future generations of scholars and students to recover primary and associated texts, to explore and contact the often otherwise invisible networks of scholars who have contributed to theoretical and applied work in the field, and to view documents within the context of other contextualizing resources (web presentations, electronic discussions) that may help to situate them more precisely within the field’s system of knowledge.

This work, constituting a kind of theoretical data mining, has the potential to serve as a test-bed for examining hypotheses about conditions under which theoretical ideas rise and fall within the literature of our discipline. Further, it will be possible to construct in software an entirely new kind of educational experience for students of communication, a kind of virtual reality exploratorium of this mapped network of concepts, allowing students of communication to view and experience viscerally through the deployment of a 3D interface, the strength of interrelationship these concepts have acquired in the accumulated experience of the field.