Networks as Spaces and Places: Their Importance for Educational Research Collaboration1
People tend to think about the online networked environment as a medium; a path of point-to-point communication. The metaphors of wires or pipelines are used to suggest its means of transmission. And, in fact, many people use the network like a telephone or mail system to exchange messages, or to retrieve and download documents, web pages, and other resources, in one-to-one or one-to-many patterns. To the extent that it is a medium or pathway, however, the online networked environment is not neutral — it affects the form of information and the communication that occur within it. As many have noted, online text-based communication has features of both writing and speech; it is written, of course, but it is often spontaneous and unedited, like speech. Online communication is affected by whether it is synchronous or asynchronous. And it is shaped by the degree of anonymity provided by not being in immediate, face-to-face contact with one another; this can make people more frank and honest, perhaps, but also less sensitive to the effects of what they say upon others. This degree of impersonality can also make participants oblivious to irony, sarcasm, or intended humor. In all of these ways the online medium is not a neutral medium. These factors can affect the forms and outputs of research collaboration in various ways: the style of writing, the degree of familiarity or unfamiliarity collaborators feel with one another; the ways in which research groups deal with conflict and disagreement, etc.
KeywordsResearch Collaboration Relative Centrality Virtual Space Online Environment Virtual Experience
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