Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn have changed the way we use the internet. Any individual can have an online presence, share resources, meet like-minded people and keep in touch with friends. Increasingly researchers have started to make use of social networking sites to support communication and collaboration, and we’re also looking into how social applications can help students learn. We know that a key part of the university experience is meeting and connecting with new people, and we believe that we can nurture and enhance these real relationships with online social tools.
Demos, a British think tank, has published findings that show bosses should not stop their staff using social networking sites because they could actually benefit their firms. So the next time you’re updating your profile and your manager walks past, there’s no need to quickly switch to that Excel spreadsheet!
We call the idea of academic systems which connect people “scholarly networking,” to highlight the differences with consumer social networks. We focus on the benefits to academics and students, and are investigating the various ways in which scholarly networking is coming into being – oriented around universities and departments, or around disciplines, hosted in academia or in the commercial sector or elsewhere, and so on. Dr. Laura James spoke at the Arcadia Programme seminar in April 2009 on this topic, and you can listen to the podcast here. CARET is working on a range of projects connected to scholarly networking – here are some highlights.
One of our projects seeks to identify and draw together the aspects of these tools that prove most useful to researchers in education. We are focusing on those researchers in their early careers in particular, when the building of networks of colleagues is initiated. The findings will lead to the development of new software and applications to enhance the existing TLRP-BERA virtual research environment.
If you’d like to get involved in the project you can sign up to be a beta-tester and take part in discussions on the TLRP site: http://groups.tlrp.org
Another team at CARET are busily investigating how students and staff at Cambridge communicate about their work and study. We hope to identify areas where more support – from social applications – can help, and to build those into CamTools over the next 18 months.
Read more about the JISC Academic Networking project here.