Shared Infrastructure Services (Web 2.0) in Australian Higher Education

I thank Brian Kelly for his post alerting me to, and giving a good overview of, an important report entitled A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector. I have known the report’s author, Jane Hunter, from early days of the DSTC, and as always she has produced a detailed and authoritative report on the use of public Web 2.0 tools in Australian higher education institutions.

In the results summary we find:

The results indicate that until recently the use of Web 2.0 services was primarily for personal
use or within individual project teams. This is changing – increasingly research projects and
associated collaborators are including Web 2.0 technologies in their project proposals to
enhance collaboration and document sharing and to expedite information dissemination. In
addition, lecturers and students are using Web 2.0 technologies (Wikis, blogs, social
bookmarking and social networking) to share information and lecture material and to collaborate
on assignments. This has led to accelerated growth in the adoption of these technologies both
to facilitate work activities and in an effort to be seen as keeping up-to-date with the latest
technologies.

This is sweet music to my ears and those precious few colleagues from both the academic and general staff who like me mirror these results almost exactly. Without reading the report I could have written its findings for the benefits of Web 2.0 services:

  • Using Web 2.0 services typically requires no (or minimal) direct financial investment.
  • Sign-up procedures are usually simple;
  • The majority of technologies are very intuitive, quick to learn and easy to set up. This
    has led to the situation where people tend to experiment with a wide variety of different
    tools and to change preferred tools relatively frequently.
  • The services are generally very reliable, robust, well supported and widely used.
  • Because users are already familiar with these technologies through personal use –
    using them within the workplace precludes the need to learn new tools or new user
    interfaces for the work environment.

Similarly the disadvantages listed in the report are already etched on my heart:

  • The lack of support from university or faculty IT service departments;
  • Inability to easily download and install software from the Web due to restrictive
    university IT policies;
  • Lack of quality control and trust associated with social networking, social bookmarking
    and social tagging sites;
  • The inability to easily transfer data from one service to another (e.g., bookmarks
    between Delicious and Zotero) or to retrieve data if a service closes (e.g., a blog hosting
    site).

All of the above quotes apply directly to my experience in teaching over recent years, but also for administrative and research project purposes. It is somewhat of a surprise that the report was commissioned from the UK by UKOLN and JISC. The objective was to determine the ‘current use of Web content services by the Australian academic sector’ and to allow comparison ‘with the current use of Web content services in the UK’. Jane as director of the eResearch Lab at UQ did an excellent job. For me this is a must-read report.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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