Diffusion of Innovation in Digital Libraries: Mobilizing Networks to Increase the Scope and Depth of Use of a New Cyber Infrastructure

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The purpose of this study is to understand the factors that encourage or inhibit the diffusion of innovation in cyber infrastructures critical for the success of the burgeoning number of web-based digital libraries. The American Sociological Association has transferred and modulizing more than 16,500 pages of teaching modules from a print-based delivery system into a web-based interactive digital science library called TRAILS.  

TRAILS is an online, modular (by topic and type of teaching tool) and searchable database that reflects a major innovation in the creation and dissemination of peer-reviewed teaching resources. At the heart of TRAILS is an extensive electronic database accompanied by a user-friendly search-engine interface to assist in submitting teaching materials (of all media types) and finding teaching materials for various venues, topics, and education levels.

This study investigates the diffusion a patterns in this new cyber-infrastructure compared to the print-based delivery system, as measured the number of users, institution type of users, and networks of users. We hypothesize that participation in networks and interconnections among users and potential users will increase usage and, using a quasi-experimental design, test strategies that are designed to increase network participation thereby increasing the scope and usage of teaching materials.

The study will answer the basic question of whether access to a cyber infrastructure results in more democratic and effective diffusion of resources than a traditional print -based system. Further, it will test specific research hypotheses about patterns of diffusion and the role of networks by using a multi-method research design. Unlike many existing digital libraries that only measure whether access to digital materials increases the number of users, the proposed study also contributes to a wider understanding of how diffusion occurs.


The places studied will be sociology departments and regional sociological societies.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and comparative, and is designed to generate causal evidence using quasi-experimental methods, statistical modeling, and network analysis. There are three purposed to TRAILS: (1) digitizing of materials; (2) increasing networks of high status users from Research I schools; and (3) increasing users from under-resourced schools. This project collects original data using information on participation and expenditures gathered through American Sociological Association member data base. Data also includes curriculum vitae from websites, citation data to establish co-authorship. We will use purchase and subscription data from ASA membership data files and questionnaire information from non-members. We hypothesize that moving to a digital library will increase the number of users and the depth (amount of usage), but new users will come from the same types of institutions and will be networked to previous users. The measures will be departments and types of institutions of higher education of users, as well as affiliation network measures that link individuals through their participation in a teaching and learning network. Employing quasi-experimental methods in regression models, a comparison with other digital libraries, and network analyses, we test three major hypotheses.


Preliminary findings suggest that hypothesis 1: Use of the current print–based teaching materials is limited to a relatively narrow slice of users in particular types of institutions. We expect greater usage among Master’s Comprehensive Institutions and Baccalaureate I Institutions is correct. With one year of TRAILS data we are able to compare purchase of print based materials to subscriptions to TRAILS that allows downloading of all materials in this digital library. By comparing TRAILS adopters to users of ASA’s prior paper-based Teaching Resource Center syllabi-sets, the study asks if there are TRAILS adopters who were not TRC users, whether the characteristics of the users changed, and how the new technology spread.
When a year's worth of subscriptions to TRAILS is compared to purchase of paper teaching and learning materials we find the following:

TRAILS subscribers tend to have almost the same characteristics as did TRC purchasers. TRAILS subscribers just as TRC purchasers are more likely to be women and pre-tenure faculty, who teach at Baccalaureate-only or master’s comprehensive schools.

Diffusion Patterns

TRAILS adoption is still at its early stages. TRAILS subscribers are still a small minority and can be classified as “early adopters” according to Rogers (2003).

  • The total percent of TRAILS subscribers among all sociology faculty in September, 2011 was 9.5%, which is higher than the rate of the paper-based materials.
  • The subscription rate to TRAILS does not appear to follow the S-shaped curve of the typical diffusion of innovation process as described by Rogers (2003).
  • Prior users of TRC materials are 4 times as likely to be TRAILS subscribers as those who did not participate in the teaching and learning network. 40% of all early adopters of TRAILS also purchased hardcopy TRC materials.
  • Those who did not buy TRC materials but participated in the teaching and learning network were 2 times as likely to subscribe to TRAILS. 42% of new TRAILS subscribers participated in teaching and learning activities between 2006 and 2008.
  • The users of TRC materials adopted TRAILS more quickly and continued to adopt for a longer period of time. Adoption by the other groups leveled off more quickly.
  • Non-participants in the Teaching and Learning network were significantly less likely to adopt TRAILS, with departmental colleagues of network members somewhat more likely to adopt.
  • Although network membership had a positive impact for TRAILS adoption, the reverse was not true. After the implementation of TRAILS the size (25% of all sociology faculty) and density of the teaching and learning network in sociology remained the same (1.6 activity, on average).

Two jumps in the number of TRAILS adoptions in August 2010 and January 2011 are related to the start time of the academic semesters.

  • Cyclical nature of faculty’s teaching needs during the academic year makes adoption levels the highest at the beginning of the academic semester and low through the rest of the year.
  • A jump in March of 2011 is related to the time when a TRAILS Facebook page was created.

Networks of users of paper-based teaching and learning materials which existed before the TRAILS could have created a word-of-mouth interest in subscribing to the new innovative method for the dissemination of teaching and learning materials.

A slight shift occurred toward widening the gap between users and non-users of teaching and learning materials. African American faculty and faculty in the South and West of the country were less likely to subscribe to TRAILS, while this was not the case for the purchase of paper-based TRC materials.

After the implementation of TRAILS the density of the teaching and learning network remained about the same.

  • The network’s density remained much the same (an average of 1.6 activities per person). 
  • The networks core remains small. 62 faculty (five percent of all network members) are involved in two or more production activities. 
  • TRAILS subscribers are slightly more embedded within the network than users of TRC materials in 2008: 53% of TRAILS subscribers are involved in some other teaching and learning activities compared to 47% for TRC users.
  • Faculty from non-research institutions of higher education continue to dominate the network and its core:
  • Just as in 2008, women get involved in more teaching and learning activities, as do faculty from non-research universities, and faculty from the Midwest.
  • Just as in 2008, racial/ethnic minorities, early career faculty, and faculty members with PhDs are involved in fewer teaching and learning activities.
Publications & Presentations: 

Thus far, we have produced three research briefs placed on the American Sociological Association’s website. Taken together, these briefs have received close to 2,000 “hits.”

They are: (1) “The Effects of New Technology on the Growth of a Teaching and Learning Network” that can be found at http://asaresearch.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the_effects_of_new_techno...

(2) “Networks and the Diffusion of Cutting-Edge Teaching and Learning Materials in Sociology” that can be found at http://www.asanet.org/images/research/docs/pdf/Networks_and_Diffusion.pdf

(3) “Teaching Alone: Faculty and the Availability of Social Networks” can be found at http://www.asanet.org/images/research/docs/pdf/NetworkBrief1_Jun10.pdfV

We have made numerous presentations of the study findings including those at the Eastern Sociological Society Annual Meeting, the Southern Sociological Society Annual Meeting, the Southwest Sociological Society Annual Meeting. This coming year we will present our latest findings at these meetings along with the Midwest Sociological Society Meetings. We have also presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting and the American Evaluation Association.

We have submitted an article to a peer-reviewed journal “Teaching Sociology.” Unfortunately, it was turned down. We are currently rewriting this article for a new journal.

Other Products: 

The digitized library of teaching library provides curricular materials to sociology faculty, including those who usually do not use such materials or do not have access to them.  These research results will fill the gap in the assessment of STEM digital libraries.