Scaffolding decentralized community information systems for lifelong learning communities

de Lange, Peter; Jarke, Matthias (Thesis advisor); Klamma, Ralf (Thesis advisor); Ziefle, Martina (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2021)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, RWTH Aachen University, 2021


Initially, the Web was developed as a decentralized system of information repositories that facilitate organizational knowledge transfer by allowing anyone to create and access content. However, Web publishing required both technical expertise and hardware infrastructure. With the rise of the Web 2.0, social networking sites and content management systems enabled all users to create Web content. But it simultaneously put the users at the mercy of the platform operators. Services could be shut down, erasing content and disrupting communities. Decentralized community information systems radically change this dynamic by establishing participants as equal peers, which form a self-governing community. This way, a community regains control over their data, while being able to scale the infrastructure according to their needs. In this dissertation, we followed a design science approach that provides support for communities to create and host their own decentralized community information systems. On the one hand, we produced several artifacts to provide possible answers to the question of what properties such an infrastructure needs to fulfill. With the blockchain-based decentralized service registry, we propose a solution for making community knowledge accessible in a secure and verifiable way. On the other hand, we transfer the metaphor of educational scaffolding to the domain of service development. It is based on the idea, that a scaffold serves as a temporary supporting structure during a building’s construction phase. As the construction site develops and the building gets completed, the scaffold gradually gets removed up to the point, that it is not needed anymore. With the community application editor, communities are provided with such a scaffolding environment for requirements elicitation, wireframing, modeling and coding their decentralized community applications. Once deployed on the infrastructure, those applications and development eff orts remain available, even after the contributing members might have left, serving as the community’s long term memory. We demonstrated and evaluated our artifacts on a European scale, with three longitudinal studies conducted within several communities from different areas of technology enhanced learning, such as the European voluntary service, vocational and educational training providers and in higher education mentoring scenarios. All in all, this shift from data being stored in centralized repositories to a decentralized infrastructure, hosted by community members, opens up possibilities for a more democratic and egalitarian management of community knowledge.