Keeping pace with e-research
New Zealand is keeping pace with the rapid international developments in building virtual research communities in the social sciences.
Professors David Thorns and Paul Spoonley presented a paper at the first international e-social science conference, held in Manchester, England in June 2005, on New Zealand's development of access grids for the BRCSS Network (Building Research Capability in Social Sciences).
The new technology will allow BRCSS to create a national network linking all the BRCSS partners, providing high-speed access to multiple sites at once. "It allows for 'many to many' teleconferencing, compared with the older 'one-to-one' teleconferencing," David said. "It is embracing new technologies to strengthen the way the network can work." He said there was similar rapid progress internationally, with 60 sites now in universities in the United Kingdom, and up to 200 planned or running globally. "Access grids were first used in 1999 in the United States, so the growth has taken place in a short period of time."
David said the conference provided valuable insights into how the technology was used elsewhere, thus showing how to maximise its use in New Zealand. "There were three main strands to the conference. The first was about the technological innovations that support collaborative research, such as access grids, sharing and transfer of files and data, and interactive online activity. For example, how a group working collectively on the same project can see each other and work together in real time."
The second stream related to how new technologies shaped the way people carried out the practice of social research. "This is about the practice of working together in virtual research communities and networks across the country – how does that change how you do the research? Developments include online researching and web-based design, new ways of sharing and using existing data sets, and collaborative online working. Such changes will also require new strategies for data storing and retrieval."
The third stream related to ethical and access issues. "The issues arising from e-social science research include, for example, issues such as how to make data anonymous, and how to protect people's privacy."
David said the conference host, the National Centre for e-Social Science, was a leader in e-social science research. The conference provided the opportunity to make valuable links with the centre. "It was certainly useful. We need to stay globally connected and be aware of developments in other places."
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