Symposium Explores Web 2.0's Impact on Scholarly Communication

Professors, lecturers and researchers discussed how Web 2.0 is changing how they communicate

8 August 2008

Social networking sites, wikis, and blogs are all the rage nowadays, but do they really enhance communication among those in academia? That was the question posed at the Drexel Scholarly Communication Symposium: “Scholar 2 Scholar: How Web 2.0 Is Changing Scholarly Communication,” an IEEE-sponsored event featuring panels and roundtable discussions with academics from several universities. The symposium took place in April at Drexel University in Philadelphia. A webcast of the event, along with wikis from the symposium, is now available.

Attendees, who included professors, librarians, and researchers from Drexel, Temple University, the College of New Jersey, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, discussed how the relatively new Web-based communities, dubbed Web 2.0, are changing how they communicate. Rather than being a new version of the World Wide Web or an update to technical specs, Web 2.0 describes how people are now using the Internet to collaborate and enhance creativity. The consensus among the attendees at the symposium was that they are communicating better now with their students, co-workers, and colleagues by using blogs, Web-based office products like Google Docs, and wikis, which are collections of Web pages that readers can contribute to or modify.

“There’s no more important tool than Web 2.0 in helping to organize large interdisciplinary groups [and] creating opportunities for communication among people,” said Drexel’s vice provost of research, Kenneth Blank, in his symposium-opening remarks. “We see this topic as critical for our research endeavors so that we can solve the problems that are facing us as a nation and as a world.”

PANEL TALK Panelists discussed the pros and cons of the new Web 2.0 world. Blogs, noted one panelist, eliminate the “mess of mass e-mails because you are able to create a blog post instead of a mass e-mail.” One participant noted that wikis can allow a company to consolidate policies and procedures in one place. Said another attendee, “These technologies can change the way you work. Staff wikis and blogs have facilitated communication that had never taken place before.”

Others pointed out that Web 2.0 closes the geographic gap by allowing people in distant offices to share documents and calendars while eliminating worries about software compatibility.

One project making broad use of Web 2.0, dubbed Open Notebook Science, sparked much discussion. Its creator, Jean-Claude Bradley, associate professor of chemistry at Drexel, has made available on the Web a lab notebook of his that’s chock full of raw experimental data on the chemical reactions of the antimalarial compounds he’s testing. In addition, Bradley reports in a wiki on things like project failure, something that’s usually “not published in a typical journal article but is very useful for someone doing similar experiments,” he notes. He also blogs about milestones and summaries of problems, and he provides links for people who want to dig deeper. He’ll discuss proposals he’s submitted for funding, and he reports on media coverage about his projects.

The comments Bradley receives from readers of his notebook can be quite valuable. “Open Notebook Science is an example of how you can attract people and collaborate with them and do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Bradley said.

ROUNDTABLE ROUNDUP A summary of the seven roundtable discussions at the symposium is posted on the wiki at http://scholar2scholar.wikispaces.com.

In a session on “The Hazards of Dependence on Technology—Technical and Social,” for example, participants, mostly librarians, expressed skepticism about the growing use of social networking by libraries and information centers. They cited such concerns as the loss of personal interaction and an eagerness to adopt new technology without careful consideration of its repercussions. They also questioned replacing systems that work well with new technology that does not always flow smoothly.

Jim Mitchell, associate professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at Drexel, listed several hazards of the new technology, particularly for teachers. These included a lack of time to learn, implement, and evaluate the technology; differences between students’ and faculty members’ expectations of how new technology will benefit them; and the challenge of coming up with assignments whose results students can’t easily copy.

Another session, “From Peer-Reviewed to Personality-Driven Journals, Blogs, and the Selection Process,” examined peer review and its possible evolution in the Web 2.0 world. Attendees generally agreed on two points. One was that online conversations in blogs can speed up the exchange of critiques of manuscripts. The second was that while peer review may not be perfect, most people are not unhappy with it. Overall, attendees said they felt that Web 2.0 draws people to the process and could benefit the community at large by making critical reviews of articles more widely available.

For more information on the Scholar2Scholar seminar, visit http://scholar2scholar.wikispaces.com/.

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