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Collaboration and the implications for the future of research

Universities have traditionally been measured on the quantity and quality of research funding and research outputs as one of the main factors of institutional success. It is one measure used to rank universities both nationally and internationally and is used more than any other measure to attract both students and faculty. But is the way research effectiveness perceived about to change? The internet and web 2.0 have made collaboration easier and easier. Hours of library research have been reduced through not only sophisticated search engines and online journals and e-books, but access to blogs of leading academics, researchers and research students, and to tools such as Twitter, Del.icio.us and wikis.

In published research papers, arguments are based on the evidence of research data of which much is invisible, or evidenced through carefully selected quotations or the results of experiments. With the ability to store video and audio electronically as well as numerical and textual data, research publications will become increasingly multi-modal; and data-sets will be made easily accessible so that research results can be opened to greater public scrutiny as well as re-use by others.

Perhaps, as collaboration is made easier and facilitated between and across institutions sole authorship will become a thing of the past as academics work together on research questions, sharing data sets and interpreting them in new ways according to their research questions, their academic domain and their cultural experience. Researchers will post their research data in multiple formats onto collaboration web sites so others can take them down, re-interpret them together and add to the global pool of knowledge

Peer review and referred publications will be replaced by peer argument and co-creation and co-development of theory which means research council funding will need to be based on new criteria

This scenario is perhaps not too futuristic as the tools that make it possible are available now. So what will academic expertise mean in a web 2.0 world and how will academic rigour be judged? What will the criteria be for acceptance as contribution to research, and how will universities be judged on their scholarly output? And finally, what will be counted as authoritative research evidence and who will it belong to?

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