Academic Research and Web 2.0 Opportunities

Regular as clockwork, every year brings about a rite in Research Universities that is dreaded by certain Assistant Professors on the Tenure Track. Welcome to the Tenure Review process, a rite wanting to gain the ‘Holy Grail’ of tenure and the associated permanence at their universities of the employment contract. Originally conceived as a way of guaranteeing academic freedom, the advantages and disadvantages of the tenure system are endlessly debated by both academics and non-academics alike.

Regardless of one’s perspective of tenure, the critical success factor for the tenure process in most schools is research. Most universities aspiring to the more lofty strata of the rankings system put a massive emphasis on research-all kinds of research, whether funded or released.

A recent BusinessWeek interview with Drew Faust, President of Harvard University (Businessweek, 12/10/07) along with a follow-up public letter by several eleven public university provosts testify to the strength of emotions that research evokes in academia and also the competition which exists between universities. In 2006, over $47 billion was spent by universities on research and development (NSF, 2007), while competition for top journals was more extreme than before. If you want to access these reports, they are available to US readers free of charge or internationally by using a US proxy service like this.

In this competitive research climate and culture, there’s a marked contrast between high-flown research ideals and also the actions of research itself. Despite progress and computerization of the tools and increasingly advanced methodologies, there have not been comparable advances in the organization, reach, and range of research collaborations.

One would find his/her collaborations to be mainly local, upon scanning the curriculum vitae of a professor that is typical. Quite simply, most research professors compose grant proposals and articles with other professors who they already know. Included in these are graduate students and their colleagues down the hall, and previous co-workers or professors from their own doctoral program. Just in rare cases does the set of collaborators expand to incorporate other research workers they may have encountered at seminars.

Thus, when there is a researcher midway throughout the planet with strikingly similar research interests, regrettably, there is scant hope of the research professor ever actually working with her or him. Even if the initial researcher is not unaware of the other researcher through bibliographies, there is no simple ‘social’ means of connecting, short of directly e-mailing or calling. Of course, few professors initiate contact in this manner. Maybe they think the other researcher might not be amenable to work with them, or perhaps they need extra information about the researcher and getting this could be too boring. Most commonly therefore, it is only better to go with the ‘known’ quantities of reachable colleagues in what could be called “cooperation of benefit”.

So the obvious questions to ask are: can the action that is Web 2.0 toolset for academic research what are the tools that might facilitate this transformation? and what it’s done for social and business networking, Millions of previously unlikely business and social relationships and opportunities are created through such tools as Facebook and MySpace (social relationships), and LinkedIn and Ryze (business networking). Thus the question of the potential of Web 2.0 technologies is a useful one not only for universities looking to add to their arsenals in the research “arms race”.

What would a Web 2.0 portal look like? What tools might be on offer? What changes will be required in the mindset and practices of today’s academic research workers? Is there appearing tools in this class that may foretell the future for the actions of university research in the long run?

Web 2.0 portals for academic research workers must contain elements from the sphere of social networking. These would contain searchable professional profiles, newsgroups, and assorted way of communication, like instant messaging. Business networking tools might also contribute meaningfully through their approaches to contact management, referrals, and communication, to portals for research collaboration. In addition, while their knowledge taxonomies for classification of businesses and are somewhat rudimentary, these concepts may be useful in arranging the much more profound knowledge taxonomies crucial for the research communities. Maybe afterward, instead of collaborations of convenience, researchers might transition to global “cooperation of chance”.

While still inside their infancy, Web 2.0 research portal sites are sure to become important tools in the never-ending research “arms race” that characterizes research universities. They provide the advantages of collaborative international research – more extensive and better -fitting international collaborations, better-quality information for researchers, improved content for research papers and grants, and increased quantity of publications and grant proposals. Put simply, Web 2.0 tools could bring about a complete transformation of the practice of research and with it, major productivity gains.

Modern Web 2.0 research portals such as this enable researchers to collaborate on the site itself, handle actual documents and also network with co-workers and other potential research workers. It enables powerful web-based the categorization of results as well as searches into personal taxonomies.

The portal site uses their research interests and abilities as well as complete knowledge categorizations for categorizing users, which translates into having the ability to find research collaborators that are ideal with truth. It employs skilled article postings, sites, forums, advanced project management and news feeds of the latest research news. Moreover, it integrates specialized research tools that professors use most frequently, including survey creation/deployment tools, citation tools, bibliography direction and others.

These brand new web portals seem to point to the way. As traditional as the academic research culture may be, it appears unavoidable that universities will ultimately embrace the sea change brought about by the Web 2.0 paradigm. The challenge for Vice Presidents, and Deans, Provosts of Research is rapidly embrace these tools for the substantial increases they are able to bring to university research output and the best way to alter the research customs that is present. The entire world is flat and new synergies from international collaborations can’t be discounted. Certainly the early adopters will have the potential to advance their research rankings by investing in Web 2.0 toolsets for their research workers. In any event, the influence of Web 2.0 on academic research will be exciting to watch over the next several years.

John Simmons

Author, Netflix Fan and IT Blogger

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