In this chapter, we consider two multi-institution, multinational education research projects in Europe that used a variety of technology to facilitate online collaboration as virtual communities of practice. While judged as successes by their funding bodies, the projects both exhibited symptoms of conflict that were subsequently resolved. We apply a personal inquiry technique and draw on situational analysis to identify and explore the conflict resolution processes associated with issues of leadership, organization, and technology in e-research. We contend that the communication technologies themselves must support the development of a collaborative community; and that the social, technical, and cultural facets of electronic collaboration evolve integrally over time. We conclude by proposing strategies that may assist colleagues in setting up a successful e-research project.
This chapter draws its empirical base from experiences on two multi-institution, multinational education research projects in Europe: DELFEE and EQUEL. These were undertaken largely online using a range of software. The projects achieved their overall objectives and were innovative in their respective approaches to electronic collaboration, but each took time to establish ways and means of working amongst team members. Areas of conflict included the choice of software platform, the language in which the teams communicated and the mechanisms for intersite communication. Interventions were necessary to resolve these areas of conflict.
Individually, project members were highly literate in electronic communication and had experience of successful collaborations in the past. In these new e-research groupings, however, there were unanticipated barriers to realizing the organizational synergy offered by electronic collaboration across educational institutions. A previous examination of the features of these projects explored the extent to which they mirror global and national initiatives to introduce virtual research environments (King & Deepwell, 2006). Here we review and extend our thinking using personal inquiry and drawing on situational analysis to analyze the development of organizational synergies in both projects in terms of Leadership, Organization, and Technology.
We contend that the development of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) has, in each case, enabled operational, procedural, and cultural norms to be established, and the consequential innovative, cross-border outcomes achieved. Furthermore, we believe that the communication technologies themselves must support the development of this collaborative community; and that the social, technical, and cultural facets of electronic collaboration evolve integrally over time.
Against the background of relevant literature, and the general context of the two projects, this chapter will:
Examine how the classic features of a community of practice translate to an e-research environment;
Explore the barriers to successful electronic collaboration and its development as a functional community of practice that may be pertinent to other e-research projects;
Discuss approaches to resolving the conflicting expectations, skills, and cultural norms of electronic collaboration team members, and thereby achieving synergies through technology;
Propose strategies that may assist colleagues in setting up successful e-research projects.
We first examine the term e-research, then the application of the concept of virtual communities of practice and, finally, the synergies that technology may offer.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collaboration: Working together; a work group with shared objectives, particularly where the collaborators bring different skills, experience, and/or resources to a project.
Electronic Project Management: Processes employing a virtual infrastructure to plan, manage, and control the activities of a project team which may be geographically and/or temporally dispersed.
Virtual Research Environment: A software system which enables researchers to communicate and which provides support for their collaboration.
Reified Knowledge: Development of the concept of reification explored by Wenger (1998): knowledge which has been captured in some way; for example as a procedure, a form, a set of instructions, a computerized process. For a virtual community of practice, examples might be found in members’ wiki, discussion forum, or blog entries; in diary management procedures; or in project work-effort recording systems.
Community Of Practice: Term coined in the 1980s through the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, and John Seely Brown and Paul Daguid encompassing the notion of a normally professional, social grouping whose members work actively on a shared interest, solving shared problems, sharing and constructing knowledge over time.
Virtual Learning Environment: A software system which enables teachers and learners to communicate, and which provides support for course management and assessment.
E-Research: Collaborative research undertaken virtually with the support of information and communications technology.