It's not easy explaining what Entrepreneurial Management Professor Alan Meyer does. Even Meyer jokes that it's a challenge describing his latest team project, Virtual Teams in Virtual 3D Environments, in "plain English."
"We will undertake a 'virtual ethnography,' comparing the impact upon innovative collaborative work for project teams using two alternative electronic surrogates for face-to-face communication," says Meyer, the Thomas C. Stewart Distinguished Professor at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon.
Translation: The team is examining how innovation works in virtual computer worlds. Using Sun Microsystems as a laboratory, researchers will compare teams operating in Sun's proprietary--but soon-to-be open-source--virtual environment, Wonderland, with teams working in Linden Labs' Second Life environment. The group will also look at how teams operate using traditional information communications technology.
The study, which is funded by a $360,000 National Science Foundation grant, aims to investigate five research questions, such as "How can managers, engineers, scientists, and educators be trained to operate successfully in virtual teams?" Meyer, the principal investigator of the three-person research team, is joined by Kathryn Aten, a Lundquist College Ph.D. student, and Jonathon Richter, a research associate in the Department of Electronic Studying.
Meyer sought special permission from the university to include Aten, whom he credits with drafting the grant proposal. It is highly unusual for a doctoral student to be placed in such a prominent leadership role, Meyer said.
According to Meyer, the project appealed to Sun Microsystems because it helps further the company's goal of developing an open-source virtual world to compete with Second Life.
This latest grant brings Meyer's total funding from the National Science Foundation to $1.3 million since 2000. Previous projects included a study of the nanotechnology investing community and an Oregon Technology Consortium grant of $435,000.
"Not only has Professor Meyer been able to secure funding for exciting new research projects, but he's also cultivated valuable relationships within the high-tech industry," said Lundquist Dean Dennis Howard. "These kinds of partnerships further the aims of the university and offer experiential learning opportunities for students."