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Title: A study of knowledge construction in virtual product user communities
Author: Li, Xuguang Li
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 9419
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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In this research the virtual product user community is defined as a producer sponsored customer aggregation existing on the Internet to share usage experience and to collaboratively find technical solutions to problems with specific brand products. Such groups have a variety of benefits to members and organisations, one being that they are a knowledge resource for product users to look for solutions to specific problems with products and identify how to use them effectively. They are also a platform for the producer to communicate with its customers, to collect market intelligence, and to incorporate users’ innovative insights and problem solving skills. However, how knowledge is constructed and shared in such groups has been rarely studied. Previous literature that focuses on cognitive development and critical thinking stages in a formal online learning context may offer some relevant insights and methodologies but requires translation to the new context, and is not likely to provide a comprehensive understanding of this area. Accordingly, this thesis aims to explore knowledge construction in virtual product user communities. The philosophical basis of the research design was constructivism and interpretivism. A qualitative research methodology was adopted. Dozens of discussion threads of theoretical interest were chosen from a typical virtual product user community on the Dell User Support Forum (and from the Dell Idea Storm Community) and were analyzed through a qualitative content analysis method. In addition, semi-structured interviews with 20 community members of the Dell User Support Forum were conducted via e-mail. A deductive thematic analysis method was used for analysing the interview transcripts. More threads were chosen from a range of other virtual product user communities for content analysis in order to explore the influences of attributes such as language, national culture and technology platform on knowledge construction. A new content analysis tool, which is based on a combination of prior codes and new categories identified from the data, was created, in order to analyze the knowledge construction embedded in the discussion of technical problems. The research identified five types of key knowledge construction episodes that make up the knowledge building process and which are characterised by low-level cognitive engagement. A knowledge construction model which represents knowledge building in reality was developed. Furthermore, problem description episodes, non-constructive episodes, and moderation episodes were identified and their relations clarified. The problem description episodes were found to facilitate knowledge construction by providing knowledge about the problem and knowledge about its context. Following from this the peer advisor could diagnose the cause of technical problems and propose tailored solutions ideas based on the users’ experiential knowledge. The moderation episode can offset the negative influence of non-constructive episodes, maintaining social order and promoting knowledge contribution. The findings illustrate that knowledge construction needs collective contribution through various types of participation by community members at different knowledge levels. The influences of contextual attributes of a virtual product user community, including communication technology, sponsorship, national language and culture, moderation, and discussion topics, on knowledge construction, were all explored in this research. Models of different types of knowledge transfer across the boundaries between the virtual product user community and the organization, highlighting the role of moderators, were constructed. Besides the above findings, this research identified and defined this specific type of online community on the Internet, i.e. the virtual product user community. In addition, it provided a content analysis tool which is tailored to the purpose of examining low-level critical knowledge construction, which complements existing analytical frameworks, derived from formal learning contexts. The study mainly contributes to the general area of information and knowledge management, specifically knowledge construction in the virtual product user community and other low-level cognitive engagement contexts. It provides a theoretical basis for practices in managing online communities, and offers useful suggestions for educators in designing and managing formal online learning communities.
Supervisor: Andrew, Cox Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available