Our goal is to develop theoretical foundations for the hypotheses-guided design of systems, to allow us to assemble design knowledge which is application-related but not application-specific. Besides analyzing societal and legal frameworks relevant for systems design we develop innovative concepts and tools to validate our design hypotheses in the application context. Main areas of research are different forms of knowledge work which range from teaching and learning processes (e-learning) to cooperative product development processes and collaborative research environments and finally new forms of supporting discourses. Depending on the application domain, we take a different approach each time. However, it is always crucial to combine constructive, empirical and prospective approaches by way of employing appropriate theoretical concepts.

Our main focus for systems development is to identify which funcĀ­tions of a system may provide appropriate support to the human activities in which particular way. Here, we consider new techniques for individual usage (inter-activity) as well as distributed collaborative settings (co-activity). We develop new technical solutions based on insights and theoretical foundations from software ergonomics and from computer-supported cooperative work (cscw) resp. computer-supported cooperative learning (cscl) and evaluate the viability of their day-to-day use.

Already in the mid-90s, we invented the concept of virtual knowledge spaces and anticipated the general approach that became later known as Web 2.0 (2003) or Social Software (2002). The systems we developed on this concept were successfully deployed in various application settings, such as the core of a regional educational network (bid-owl) or as the e-learning platform of the University of Paderborn (koaLA).

The concept of virtual knowledge spaces is a key concept in our work. Over the years it was enriched and extended by mechanisms for visual knowledge structuring, responsive positioning and for discourse structuring. These extensions provided a good basis for the development of integrated research frameworks in various domains such as Mechanical Engineering (LTM-SOLA: thermal shock test laboratory), Medical Science (GATiB: distributed collaborative stem cell research), History (Studiolo: research environment for extended discourse) or in an industrial setting (koPEP: co-operative product development planning).

Both aspects of our research work, the constructive as well as the analytic part, are linked together via a specific media perspective that we have developed. It emphasizes the computer as expressive means for the human mind to create new insights (difference experience) and new forms of media-based social interaction (co-activity) rather than viewing it as a machine for generating and transmitting messages. In doing so, we have developed a theoretical framework which allows us to refer to related frameworks of other disciplines and to embed societal and legal requirements such as privacy, copyright and health issues.