Thursday, 28 May 2009

Importance of 'The Social' in Scholarly Networking

Finally managed to read through the OU report highlighted in Fridays' posting and one of the key observations for me, relating to my interest in the role of conversation within education, revolves around the level of 'head nodding' agreement or endorsement the report makes in relation to the importance of 'the social' in scholarly networking. Recognised by distance education providers, as a means of building supportive student communities, more likely to complete their studies and long recognised in business and commerce as a means of generating business and building trust, it now seems 'the social' and its implications for scholarship are becoming more openly accepted within academic circles as a means of cultivating relationships and building informative, constructive collaborative research networks.

The report itself reviews scholarly networking activities within the OU in order to make a series of recommendations aimed at supporting the development of the Bamboo Project, which is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:

How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

Project Bamboo is being led by the University of Berkeley and University of Chicago with the OU and University of Cambridge leading on the scholarly networking strand of the project with the term 'scholarly networking' being generally understood as referring to networking using web 2.0 type tools.

Similar scholarly networks are being established in other disciplines, such as Nature Network in the science area and Within3 in the health and life sciences sector.

The report refers to the 'social value' of online networking, the 'social glue' required to make online networking effective, the sharing of 'personal information' to build trust, the blurring of social and scholarly networking activities, which often become indistinguishable with participants using the same account for both. One example highlighted how a social contact became useful for scholarly purposes after work-related information came to light in a 'social networking profile'.

The report even goes as far as recommending that the term 'scholarly networking' be renamed to 'social networking in education' to avoid an overly elitist ethos or view of the activity which could be detrimental or at least in opposition to the nature of this style of social networking. It notes the fact that services like 'Twitter' may even cultivate a greater mix of contacts by bringing together 'different types of group who might not have met outside seminars but .... might meet online and then arrange to have a coffee and a more in-depth conversation.' (para 3.2.3)

The report's final recommendations highlight key priorities including the need to identify clear purposes for the Bamboo project scholarly network, which will then inform the future content of the network. A social dimension to the network is recommended:
  • acknowledge the importance of a social element to scholarly networking and ensure that the network design incorporates this facility
  • support informal styles of discussion, including quick comments
  • enable the discussion of specialist interests with worldwide colleagues

as are links with current web 2.0 technologies:

  • Incorporate and area for network members to publish their blogs
  • Incorporate a separate microblogging area for fast communication and quick questions. Consider integrating with Twitter or similar
  • Provide the means for members to interact with Facebook and MySpace for the purpose of notification of their contacts on these sites about relevant activities on the Arts and Humanities network [a two way feed/flow of information which could leave an open door to an otherwise relatively closed network?]


Open University (2009). It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd May 2009]

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