Contingency Theory, Agent-Based Systems, and a Virtual Advisor

Contingency Theory, Agent-Based Systems, and a Virtual Advisor

John R. Durrett (Texas Tech University, USA), Lisa Burnell (Texas Christian University, USA) and John W. Priest (University of Texas at Arlington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch125
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Abstract

In this article, we investigate the potential of using a synthesis of organizational research, traditional systems analysis techniques, and agent-based computing in the creation and teaching of a Contingency Theoretic Systems Design (CTSD) model. To facilitate understanding of the new design model, we briefly provide the necessary background of these diverse fields, describe the conceptualization used in the integration process, and give a non-technical overview of an example implementation in a very complex design environment. The example utilized in this article is a Smart Agent Resource for Advising (SARA), an intelligent multi-agent advising system for college students. To test all of the potential of our CTSD model, we created SARA utilizing a distributed instructional model in a multi-university, multi-disciplinary cooperative design process. Just as a dynamic task environment forces an organization to compress its management structure and to outsource non-core activities in order to become flexible, a dynamic software development environment forces designers to create modular software. Until now, cooperative development paradigms were too complex to facilitate inter-organizational cooperative development efforts. With the increasing popularity of standards-based Web services, the development of pervasive computing technologies, and the advent of more powerful rapid application development languages and IDEs, this limitation has been removed. Our purpose in this research is twofold: first, to test the viability of using Contingency Theory (CT), a sub-discipline of Management Organizational Theory (OT), in an agent-based system; and second, to use these new technologies in creating a distributed instructional model that will allow students to interact with others in diverse educational environments. As an example implementation, we create a virtual advisor that will facilitate student advising in distributed environments. In the following sections, we outline the background theories involved in the conceptualization of our design model. We start with the shifts in systems design techniques and how CT can be applied to them and to various Multi-Agent Systems (MAS) to allow Contingency Theoretic Systems Design (CTSD). Once the necessary background is in place, we briefly discuss our new eLearning approach to cooperative distributed education. Finally, the structure of the SARA is discussed.
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Introduction

In this article, we investigate the potential of using a synthesis of organizational research, traditional systems analysis techniques, and agent-based computing in the creation and teaching of a Contingency Theoretic Systems Design (CTSD) model. To facilitate understanding of the new design model, we briefly provide the necessary background of these diverse fields, describe the conceptualization used in the integration process, and give a non-technical overview of an example implementation in a very complex design environment. The example utilized in this article is a Smart Agent Resource for Advising (SARA), an intelligent multi-agent advising system for college students. To test all of the potential of our CTSD model, we created SARA utilizing a distributed instructional model in a multi-university, multi-disciplinary cooperative design process.

Just as a dynamic task environment forces an organization to compress its management structure and to outsource non-core activities in order to become flexible, a dynamic software development environment forces designers to create modular software. Until now, cooperative development paradigms were too complex to facilitate inter-organizational cooperative development efforts. With the increasing popularity of standards-based Web services, the development of pervasive computing technologies, and the advent of more powerful rapid application development languages and IDEs, this limitation has been removed. Our purpose in this research is twofold: first, to test the viability of using Contingency Theory (CT), a sub-discipline of Management Organizational Theory (OT), in an agent-based system; and second, to use these new technologies in creating a distributed instructional model that will allow students to interact with others in diverse educational environments. As an example implementation, we create a virtual advisor that will facilitate student advising in distributed environments.

In the following sections, we outline the background theories involved in the conceptualization of our design model. We start with the shifts in systems design techniques and how CT can be applied to them and to various Multi-Agent Systems (MAS) to allow Contingency Theoretic Systems Design (CTSD). Once the necessary background is in place, we briefly discuss our new eLearning approach to cooperative distributed education. Finally, the structure of the SARA is discussed.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ontology: An ontology is a well-defined set of concepts that are ordered in some manner to create an agreed-upon vocabulary for exchanging information.

Multi-Agent Systems (MAS): Multi-agent systems are those in which multiple agents (usually) cooperate to perform some task.

This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 64-69, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global)

E-Learning: Any form of education or training that utilizes online media and remote connectivity for all or part of its curricula. This model includes both purely online courses and those in brick-and-mortar universities facilitated by email, the Internet, newsgroups, or chat.

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