Use of Social Network Analysis to Create and Foster Interdisciplinary Research, Projects, and Grants among Faculty

Use of Social Network Analysis to Create and Foster Interdisciplinary Research, Projects, and Grants among Faculty

Kyle Christensen (Columbus State University, USA) and Iris M. Saltiel (Columbus State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1815-2.ch009
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This chapter describes one university-based social network created for peer mentoring, knowledge brokering, and resource sharing for faculty and students to collaborate to increase research and scholarship. First, the case study describes the process utilized to survey interests of faculty as the basis for an affiliation network of faculty research interests. The benefits of social network analysis and its applications are discussed and utilized. Next, a conversation is presented about the use of social network analysis to foster faculty collaboration through targeted programming. Finally, recommendations for practice are presented.
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In the United States, expectations for increased scholarship as well as grants have grown for faculty at regional teaching universities, as well as at research universities in order to generate necessary operating funds. ABC University (a pseudonym) is a regional, medium sized university with 250 full-time faculty members. At ABC University, the task of developing faculty members to be more productive and skillful in scholarly endeavors as well as grant writing is essential to remaining viable during times of increasing costs and decreasing availability of funds from traditional sources. Given this challenge, we wanted to create opportunities for faculty to interact with one another, create fluid informal networks crossing disciplines, colleges, campuses and eventually, other universities. Coordinated programming from three one-person offices (Faculty Development, Social Research, and Sponsored Programs) allowed us to pool resources, skills, and areas of expertise to do more than we probably would have attempted individually. We decided to use professional development as the vehicle to facilitate collaboration among faculty and to develop both scholar endeavors and grant writing skills of faculty members.

Promotion of an intra-university affiliation network that emphasizes the building of relationships is an important area for faculty collaboration and activities. Traditional methods of collaboration and social networking focus on interuniversity relations within a particular field. Examples of these mechanisms include websites such as, citation indices, or academic conferences that reinforce these linkages. However, our focus on intra-university collaboration is based on the need to provide meaningful service to the institution, the faculty, and the broader community of stakeholders. This method of coordination also compliments current existing forms of inter-university collaboration by developing new avenues for research that allow faculty members to include existing research networks.

We knew that in order to be effective we had to serve as the catalyst to facilitate individual professional development and initiate collaborative efforts. The challenge for us was how to best provide the structures and climate to promote scholarly productivity, as well as increase efforts in competing externally for grants. We wanted to create an environment where professional and personal expectations could be expressed in an atmosphere of trust so that individual and organizational needs could be met. By sponsoring and facilitating opportunities for faculty networking and collaboration, we developed a climate in which we hoped success would precipitate as naturally as rain falling from clouds.

Following a survey used to measure faculty research interests, skill sets, and needs (described in greater detail later in the chapter), we developed and conducted a series of collaborative programs as “Lunch N’ Learns” to increase the collegiality, scholarship, and grants among the faculty. Food was served and time was allotted for brief overviews of the services offered by the three offices and a discussion about how and why to collaborate. Attendees were encouraged to share interests and needs. Networking analysis tools were used to capture personal interactions in order to enhance and expand scholarly activities and grantsmanship.

In this case study, we explain how social networking analyses were used towards the creation of interdisciplinary research, projects, and grants among faculty. The objective of this chapter is to depict the processes utilized in this endeavor. Specifically, the chapter describes how the professional development needs of faculty were assessed using Web 2.0 technology; how the professional development networks across disciplines were designed and developed; and, how the strategies aligning institutional and personal needs and goals were developed. Faculty development practices employing informal and formal learning strategies in social networks were utilized, and the program was assessed through a variety of evaluation metrics.

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