Recently in Collaboration Category

Sharing research data for greater impact

Introduction to open data tools that helps researchers share and build on existing research, increase their chances of getting cited and help preserve their work for future generations.

For more information about 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event, see That web page provides an overview of the event and links to the Google Site.

Adding a face & voice to online learning

Who says online learning has to be impersonal, detached and a lonely endeavor? Who says online classes are about staring at a screen full of content with minimum interaction with course mates?

Many faculty members are challenging these misconceptions by incorporating technology in their online classes as well as harnessing the capabilities of web 2.0 to increase student engagement and boost online student retention rates. A few faculty members at Lexington Theological Seminary are no exception. Several faculty members at the seminary have introduced technology into its online classes that allows students and faculty to interact via video and audio, as reported in an article by Campus Technology. Known as the MegaMeeting, the program lets instructors show PowerPoint slides, post questions to students on a noteboard application, teach using audio in addition to supporting text chat features.

MegaMeeting's potential for building a sense of community among online students who would otherwise never meet face-to-face is great. Instructors are able to set up virtual rooms (not unlike virtual chat rooms) that are available 24/7 so that students can meet with one another to collaborate on group projects and work on their assignments. One of the faculty members who have been using MegaMeeting said one of the advantages of this program is its ability to let students see the professor and vice versa, which is not (yet) too common in other online programs. In addition, the audio and video features of this program allow students to discuss articles and readings as well as ask questions during lesson time. In typical online courses, students would likely have to do that via emails.

Lexington Theological Seminary has already set up several online communities in its learning management system, which allows students to communication freely with one another about courses and professors without staff intervention. These online communities are Lexington's efforts to foster relationship-building amongst its online learners. However, the method of combining video and audio, and using the program's applications to its fullest in the classroom has enabled faculty members to bring this relationship to a whole new level.

The Humanities Go Digital

Humanities professors are teaming up with technology experts to push research in new directions. A recent New York Times article provided some interesting examples of how technical tools can help researchers pose new questions and find answers.

For example, the article mentioned researchers who are digitally mapping Civil War battlefields to understand the role topography played in battles. Academics are combining animation, charts and primary documents to create new ways to teach students about Thomas Jefferson's travels.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has teamed up with the National Science Foundation and institutions in Canada and Britain to create a new grant program to push research in new directions. The program is called the Digging Into Data Challenge.

While some researchers are excited about this melding of humanities and technology some are critical of the alliance. The field of humanities deals with aesthetics and emotions. Some critics wonder how these elements can be measured.

The New York Times article quotes Brett Bobley, director of the endowment's office of digital humanities. He said, analyzing unprecedented amounts of data can reveal patterns and trends and raise unexpected questions for study. He cited the human genome project is an example of how an area of study can be transformed.

"Technology hasn't just made astronomy, biology and physics more efficient. It has let scientists do research they simply couldn't do before," Bobley said.

Socially engaged reading: Making e-Reading communal

Have you ever had the experience of borrowing a book with copious marginalia from the library or a friend, and having those marginalia greatly improve your experience of the book? It happened to me once when I borrowed a copy of The Sun Also Rises from my hometown's public library. Someone who understood the themes and writing style of Hemingway with a level of sophistication I didn't have had made notes in the margins and underlines on specific phrases throughout the text. This person's notes greatly improved my understanding of the text, and I sometimes wished for their previously owned copies of other authors as I moved through my undergraduate English literature education.

Of course, none of us wants just anyone's comments displayed as we are reading - I've borrowed plenty of books with comments in the margins by others that I didn't appreciate seeing (One previous reader of a Jane Austen novel had decided to underline every reference to trees, I assume in an attempt to find a theme. Since I cared not a tiny bit about trees in Austen's text, I found the notes distracting and annoying).

All this makes me excited about a new mobile app, Social Books. Users can share their virtual bookshelf with friends and on Facebook and Twitter. Now when I read a book a friend greatly enjoyed, I can see his thoughts, and be a part of his experience with the book, as I read it. You could have friend groups organized around shared passions and share texts, comments, and links, extending your experience of the text through other readers' (who you find relevant) thoughts.

The uses for education are exciting. Imagine if you could see your classmates' comments in context on a shared text. It could make class discussions much more engaging. Your professor could share the text with the class, with a few notations in text that draw your attention to the areas she especially wants you to pay attention to.

The key to this idea is the social network. Already in the Kindle, readers can see what other readers of the text have highlighted. I almost always turn this off, because other readers don't highlight what I would have highlighted, and all other readers of a text are not relevant to me. But if I can read 20 Economic and Demographic Factors Driving Online and Blended Program Enrollments by Betts et al and see the comments of colleagues who are also involved in online higher education, the text is enhanced in a way that is relevant specifically to me.

I can't wait to get the app. I hope my friends and colleagues do as well.

20 by 20: Pecha kucha events at the University

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The University of Minnesota is hosting another event in the pecha kucha series on November 10, 2010. Organized around the theme Collaborative Learning Environments, the event will be at the Whole Music Club, 2-4:30 pm. From the 20 by 20 website:

How does collaboration deepen learning, teaching and research? How do technologies create possibilities for collaboration in our work? Educational technologies at the University of Minnesota offer many opportunities for students, faculty and staff to work together: online or face-to-face, synchronously or asynchronously. Yet technologies are not inherently collaborative--they only have the potential to foster collaboration. The key is to understand the potential of the technology being used and to develop skills and good practices in working with others. For the next session of 20 by 20, presentations will focus on the ways in which technology-enhanced collaboration enriches teaching, learning, research and work at the University of Minnesota.

By now, you have probably heard of "pecha kucha", a presentation format that consists of twenty slides that auto-forward after twenty seconds, transforming boring slides and long-winded presenters into fast(er) paced slides and a (hopefully) scripted presentation. Popular pecha kucha events have included the Ignite series in different cities, like Ignite Minneapolis and Ignite Baltimore.

You can view the two previous University pecha kucha events,
Open UMN and Google@UMN. They are also available from the University of Minnesota iTunes U site.

Social networking site keeps feelings of isolation at bay

lone girl with laptop on stairs.pngWhat is the image that comes to mind when you think of a researcher at a large University? A lone individual who spends countless hours tucked away in a quiet corner of the library or working tirelessly on an experiment in the lab located in the basement of the Science department? Though the image of the isolated researcher is largely a stereotype, there is unfortunately still some truth to it. With 23 campuses, The City University of New York can be a lonely place for faculty, staff and graduate students working independently on their research projects, detached from the larger university community. Ask any graduate student or faculty member and (s)he would tell you that research is usually a lonely endeavor but it does not always have to be this way, as seen in the example of CUNY. In an effort to foster camaraderie, academic discussion and connect the university's campuses, CUNY recently launched its new Academic Commons site, which is basically a social networking site.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, users can create and join groups, post messages, share files and collaborate on wikis. Instead of being a colossal waste of time, social networking in this case has helped many scholars connect with others who share similar research interests as well as connect with faculty members and fellow colleagues who they would have otherwise never met. As with any social networking site, groups that are created on Academic Commons are not always purely for academic or professional reasons. These groups range from open-source publishing to educational games and groups around favorite pizza joints and places to hang out. Though the CUNY network targets a decentralized academic audience and serves a different purpose from Facebook or LinkedIn, Academic Commons has definitely made researching at CUNY a lot less lonely.

Using Skype for study sessions

Wired Campus: Grad Students Who Live Far Apart Hold Study Sessions on�Skype -

As the first commenter at the blog post on the Chronicle noted, people have been using Skype to collaborate across distances for a while now. But it is still a good reminder that distance is coming to mean less and less in academia. We can work with anyone. We can learn from researchers in India, Antarctica, Brazil, Pequot Lakes even when our research has nothing to do with India, Antarctica, Brazil or Pequot Lakes. Imagine a world where a Public Health researcher can learn how colleagues all over the world are addressing the challenges obesity and use that knowledge to propose local solutions. Or a researcher on educational policy can get feedback on a policy draft from experts in China and India and Canada.

Our research questions, and importantly, our solutions, can pull from the best in the world, not just the best in the country. The changes happening now are remarkable.

Work Together While Apart

Collaborating with colleagues across great distances is becoming easier and easier with technology. Faculty at the University of Minnesota are using UMConnect to deliver lectures while traveling to conferences. Teams of staff and faculty write reports together and discuss dissemination techniques for grant projects. Graduate students stay connected with advisers while conducting research abroad. As broadband speeds become ubiquitous in the US, high-speed connections allow close to real time collaboration across great distance.

There are many technologies at the University that can help students, faculty, and staff work together from afar.

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