International, interdisciplinary and “on the move”

Today, I’ve been at Southampton University’s interdisciplinary week, for a session on the World University Network, of which, Southampton is a part. WUN sponsors my trip last year to the the US to attend and speak at the the Decoding the Digital Conference at University of Rochester.

After a brief introduction to the session from my supervisor Graham Earl, and another one to the WUN from Elanora Gandolfini, Professor Leslie Carr, of the University’s Web Science Institute, kicked off by trying to claim that universities are old and more sustainable than the countries in which they are based. (I’m not going to agree or disagree.) He does make a compelling case however that there were attempts to make things like the World Wide Web before this academic and open initiative actually succeeded and was given free to the world.

He contrasts this with the rise of for profit academic publishing since the war, and recognizes the tension between the two methods of distribution and sharing of knowledge. But he concludes that universities are more than places to learn, but a vital engine for better worlds, woven into the social fabric, and more sustainable the Johnny-come-lately technology companies.

Then Chris Phethern, a third year PhD candidate, talked about a couple of exchange trips he has made alongside other Southampton students to Tromso and Korea, facilitated by WUN. Graeme Earl explained a little about the Research Mobility Programme (which got me to Rochester) and another programme that makes awards to specific projects.

He then went on to challenge us on various methods of interdisciplinary work, making me realize that though I work collaboratively on all sorts of written work, I do it by sharing multiple copies of the work on email, not by working on a single shared document like GoogleDocs.

I was on more comfortable ground when the discussion turned to social networking and blogging, two fellow PhD candidates I was sitting next to turned out to be far more nervous that I am about sharing this sort of stuff. Partly, I think, because they felt very few other people would be interested in their area. I countered that in the great scheme of things, I don’t expect VERY many people to be interested I this blog. But I feel I’ve already made useful contacts out of sharing my work here and on Twitter. However, justas we turned back to the front, one of the highlighted the concern he had about opening himself up to abuse on social networks. I think this is a very real concern for many, especially (it seems) women, as we transition from a pseudonominous internet society to a real-name one.

I have an action to take away from this session, to find out more about the University’s Internal Communications Network and SMuRF (and CalIT2). As someone who doesn’t spend much time on campus, I do feel I still rely too much on face-to-face real-world networking with my university cohort, and I might be missing the person also working at Southampton on a project that might perfectly compliment my own research.

Overall though, I left the session feeling very excited about the digital future of Universities. We may still be feeling our way nervously through the digital forest, but when the “find it” we’ll look back and realize that we changed the world.

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