This project aims to bring some of the affordances of consumer social networks to teaching and learning, and will deliver applications within CamTools, our Sakai-based VLE. This is an informal blog by the project team at CARET, University of Cambridge.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

What's out there? Looking at Academia.edu

The Academic Networking team at CARET, together with our colleague Clay Fenlason of Georgia Tech, have been thinking about Academia.edu, the academic networking site.

It's an thought-provoking model of networking, inviting you to navigate a visualization of two parallel networks, one of research interests and one of academic institutions. Research topics and publishing outputs become the organizing principals.

Here are our thoughts in a little more detail:

Good points

Research is a global endeavour, not an institutional one, and Academia.edu reflects this. One of our interviewees had a profile on Academia.edu. She explained this was because at graduate level, you are unlikely to be working in the same field as people in your department. (This is partly because the graduates and academics are hugely aware of subtle nuances and differences between areas . You need to be aware of and keeping in touch with the research and publications of people who are working in your field - and they are most likely to be at other Universities. The ultimate nightmare for a PhD student is that you devote 3 years to researching 'railway companies in the Russian Revolution' and that 2.5 years through the research, another academic publishes a book on 'railway companies in the Russian Revolution', at which point you have to start again. Thus, Academia.edu offers another opportunity to keep abreast of research in your field internationally, and to make others aware of your research.

The same interviewee said that in looking at other people's key words (how
they'd chosen to define their research), she had been prompted to think about her research differently.

It's useful to be able to search people by their research field, particularly
now that interdisciplinary research is becoming increasingly important, and it helps you to find connections - i.e. who else is working on Mongolian nomads, whether they're in the Geography dept or the dept of Anthropology. It's a very obvious thing to do, but not something that you can do in our current university website.

Our interviewee said that she particularly appreciated the option to allow people to contact you via the site, without you needing to give out your email address.

I loved the way that when I put in the URL of my research paper, it turned it
into Flash paper so that I could read it directly online, rather than by downloading it. It's a small point technically, but it certainly created 'user delight' for me.

I enjoyed being able to see other people's research papers so easily.

I like the news feed, showing what others have been up to, although it's not really targeted enough to be of much use

Downsides

I couldn't actually find anyone with my research interest ('Who else is
working on Restoration Comedy at the moment?'). I couldn't find it by searching, wasn't sure how it would be classed (dramatic literature? literary criticism?) and couldn't find it by browsing. Or at least I don't think I could find it by browsing - 41 people were under 'dramatic literature' and I didn't want to look at each of them individually to see if they happened to work on Restoration Comedy. The search facility is clearly vital for this type of tool to be useful.

It isn't regulated in any way, so there's no guarantee that anyone on there is in fact who they say they are, that their papers are genuine, etc. For example, John created the Department of Tube Mechanics at Oxford, and added himself to it. No-one seems to have noticed.

It is extra work for academics to fill in and update their profiles - not only do they have to put together their official Departmental profile, at Cambridge their college profile, and quite possibly a research group profile or a specialist disciplinary network , but now they have to keep an Academia.edu profile.

The Flash interface drives me absolutely mad! From people's individual profiles, I'm constantly being returned to the overview of all Universities when I wanted to return to what I was last looking at, i.e. all members of particular department / centre. It doesn't seem well thought out from this point of view.

It's slow

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The idea of the site is great! And for some advice on academic networking go here.

Ludwik Kowalski said...

I just started using academia.edu (February 2010). It is clear to me that this tool can be vary useful to many people.

But learning by trial-and-error is not very efficient. I wish there were a textbook-like tutorial for novices. The FAQ is useful but it is not a replacement for a good tutorial.

Ludwik Kowalski Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University

Farrah Collins said...

You guys should check out this new social network, it's pretty awesome. www.Formvote.com