Friday, January 15, 2010

Report on Web 2.0 in Australian Universities

The UK's Higher Education Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has released a report on Australian universities use of computer networking: "A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector". This concludes that Australia lags the UK a little in the use of Web 2.0, but this may be advantage as new commercial tools can be used in place of early academic bespoke ones.
Executive Summary
The Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) are administering a number of ANDS [1], ARCS [2] and NeAT (National eResearch Architecture Taskforce) [3]
projects funded through the Platforms for Collaboration [4] component of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and more recently through the Education Investment Fund (EIF) [5]. A range of e-Research services are being developed and promoted through these programs. Examples of such services include data registration and identification services, authentication services (AAF) [6] – as well as general collaborative services such as the EVO videoconferencing service, and shared content management and messaging services such as Sakai, Drupal, Plone and Jabber [7].

In parallel with these investments, it has become evident that users in the higher education and academic sectors in Australia are choosing to use main stream Web 2.0 technologies in their daily work activities. However there is limited knowledge about who is using which Web 2.0 technologies and for what purposes. Moreover there is little information about why specific tools and services are chosen when institutional or nationally-funded services are available. ...

Although the UK leads Australia in the development of collaborative eResearch services, the results of the survey indicate that the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in the higher education sector in Australia is not significantly dissimilar to the situation in the UK. Users prefer to use Web-based services that are already adopted by the wider community and that are free, robust, simple to sign on to, and easy to install and use. Examples include: FaceBook, YouTube, Skype and Twitter. Although the most active use of Web 2.0 has been by early adopters (people who are not afraid to try out new tools, experiment with them and promote them to colleagues and peers), this situation is changing as more Web 2.0 technologies are becoming broadly adopted by mainstream users. Because Australia has not had the same level of investment in cyberinfrastructure and lags behind the UK in the development of services, it has been able to take advantage of services developed in the UK and USA (e.g., RoMEO, Shibboleth) – as well as the recent explosion of free, open source Web 2.0 technologies. In some ways, this delayed investment has been an advantage because there is not an established pool of services that is being superseded by commercial and open source Web 2.0 technologies.

The survey has also shown that not all Web 2.0 tools and services are used to the same extent. The most popular services are the current market leaders: Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, Blogs and Twitter. As in the UK, the primary factors governing choice of service are: cost, ease of use/interface design, wide-spread adoption. The important factors in continuing use are reliability, efficacy and how much it is used by the user’s peer group.

The fallout has been that users don’t choose to use technologies that have specifically been developed by and for the eResearch community (e.g., Sakai, EVO) – unless they have been mandated by their research/peer group or institutional IT service providers or if there is nothing else available through the Web. The SWORD APP Profile [8] and RoMEO [9] are examples of such services not available elsewhere. Generally the perception is that services developed by and for the higher education and research sectors are less robust, problematic, difficult to use, poorly documented and not widely interoperable.

The lack of support in universities for freely available Web 2.0 technologies has led to tension between users, IT support and central management. University IT departments are often seen as “controlling” and obstructive. Users want to be able to download, install and use software services such as Skype onto their desktop computers or laptops – but often they do not have administrative rights to do so. There also exists a level of tension between mandated technologies (e.g., EVO) and widely adopted mainstream technologies (Skype) that both serve essentially the same purpose, but have different levels of support and security implications.
Many Australian institutions and faculty IT support are struggling to maintain both the security of content and services whilst also maintaining the flexibility required to support changing users’ needs. Slowly universities in Australia are beginning to adopt and support Web 2.0 services through their libraries and IT service departments. This is expected to grow over time in response to user demand. Universities also realize that although many staff and students are familiar with using Web 2.0 services, there may also be a need to provide training and support in these new technologies to more mature staff members or those staff and students from less technical disciplines. ...

From: "A Landscape Study of Shared Infrastructure Services in the Australian Academic Sector", Jane Hunter, Director of the eResearch Lab, The University of Queensland, for the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the UK Higher and Further Education Funding Councils, December 2009

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