Recent technological advances are providing new and exciting opportunities for researchers to work together across the conventional boundaries of time, distance, and discipline. These advances have formed new networks of research, both in electronic mediums and in face-to-face environments, different from traditional networks in terms of their changing nature and scope. This paper reports some of the preliminary findings from a qualitative case study of the establishment of the ‘EMT project'. It attempts to illustrate how the EMT project as a connected network formulates positive academic interactions and consequently facilitates professional learning immersed in research activities. In parallel, the study examines the benefits and problems arising from the sense of being together across time and space supported by advanced networked technologies in collaborative research, and further identifies the gap between the academic and the technical perspective in research.
Contextual Background: E-Research As Connected Networks
In this increasingly professionalised world of modern academia, research is less likely to be carried out as an isolated activity than as a “social enterprise” that includes complex relationships binding elements together (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001). Especially with the advances in networked technology, academics are no longer working in isolation but in a social domain (Bourdieu, 2004). Research embedded in interactions with a number of academics thus can be described as a network consisting of web-like relationships. In this study, I depict a research project as a connected network, where academics come together and interact with each other. The network acts as an environment that supports all kinds of interactions among academics working together.
Here I present a model, proposing some of the characteristics of a research network that will be used in the analysis of the qualitative data below.
A research network can be said to exist as more than a collection of academics when it possesses the following qualities:
Aims: the shared purposive research thinking that to some extent binds academics together
Social Unit: a recognised entity with norms, roles, and power relationships, which holds its identity no matter whether academics are geographically dispersed or together
Interaction: the dynamics of a relationship among academics working together
Reciprocity: a modality (form) in which academics mutually learn from each other in the network