The posting below looks at the increase in global collaboration not just in research but also in teaching and learning. It is from Chapter 16, Mission Impossible? The Challenge of ‘Institutional Character’ for Twenty-first Century Universities by John Wood in the book, Universities for a New World: Making a Global Network in International Higher Education, 1913-2013, edited by Deryck M. Schreuder. Copyright © The Association of Commonwealth Universities, 2013. SAGE Publications Ltd, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road,London EC1Y 1SP, United Kingdom. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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‘The Fourth Paradigm’: Data and Global Collaborations
Scholars are also now beginning to speak of ‘The Fourth Paradigm’, in which it is argued that ‘[i]ncreasingly, scientific breakthroughs will be powered by advanced computing capabilities that help researchers manipulate and explore massive datasets’ (Hey et al., 2009).
The speed at which any given scientific discipline advances will depend on how well its researchers collaborate with one another (and with technologists) in areas of e-science such as databases, workflow management, visualizations, and cloud computing technologies.
An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Global Science Forum report (OECD, 2012) highlighted the impact that global social sciences data sharing will have on issues such as health and well-being. Increasingly, global collaborations in humanities research are forming (for example, Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure [CLARIN]: www.clarin.eu/external/index.php?page=about-clarin), often using the expertise of organizations and people from physics and engineering backgrounds. An example is that of Lifewatch (www.lifewatch.edu), which is an international biodiversity research infrastructure combining several sources from space surveying to established collections in natural history museums and also allowing field observers with cameras on their mobile phone to contribute evidence. All the information from whatever sources is sent to CERN in Geneva – the home of European particle physics – for data analysis.
With such possibilities there also comes a warning. In a significant report from the European Commission entitled Riding the Wave, which is concerned with how large scientific data sets are handled in an open and transparent way, the following critique is made:
Data-intensive science operates at a distance and in a distributed way, often among people who have never met, never spoken, and, sometimes, never communicated directly in any form whatsoever. They must share their results, opinions, and data as if they were in the same room. But in truth, they have no real way of knowing for sure if, on the other end of the line, they will find a man or machine, collaborator or competitor, reliable partner or con-artist, careful archivist or data slob. And those problems concern merely the scientific community; what about when we add a wider population? How will we judge the reliability and authenticity of data that moves from a personal archive into a common scientific repository?
(European Commission, 2009)
It is for this reason that the ACU itself is co-operating with the Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information (CASRAI). The aim of CASRAI is to support individuals and members in joining ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor Identification; www.orcid.org), and other similar initiatives, which are involved in the authentication of publications, CVs, etc., so allowing some confidence to be restored to the fluid environment where some CVs, publication lists, and even qualifications are falsified. Publishers are noting that, despite computers to check content, plagiarism is still rife, especially among those whose academic reputation and salary are measured mainly by the number of papers published.
Not only is this just the territory of scholarly research; increasingly, the power of social networking and open access to information is also becoming a strong teaching tool. Interactive group work both inside a lecture theatre with the lecturer (now acting more like a conductor posing problems and bringing ideas to a conclusion or with clusters of students sharing ideas outside of a lecture theatre) and by using a common interactive screen has been shown to increase student understanding significantly. This will put considerable strains on any academic staff who are not at the forefront of the latest scholarly knowledge in their own discipline, as indeed will the increasing use of online teaching content from prestige universities around the world.
Training of staff to operate outside their comfort zone will seriously affect institutions that remain hierarchical in this environment. New ways of assessing students in this environment, such as their ability to contribute to the collective learning experience, will need to be explored further – as Jonathan Adams writes in Nature:
A fundamental shift is taking place in the geography of science. Networks of research collaboration are expanding in every region of the globe. The established science superpowers of the United States and Europe have dominated the research world since 1945. Yet this Atlantic axis is unlikely to be the main focus of research by 2045, or perhaps even by 2020. New regional networks are reinforcing the competence and capacity of emerging research economies, and changing the global balance of research activity. This may well reveal different ways of approaching challenges, and solutions that are different to those of Western institutions. If the science superpowers are to avoid being left behind, they will need to step out of their comfort zones to keep up with the dynamism of the new players in this shifting landscape.
The same trenchant article also contains a major warning for the Commonwealth about being complacent by assuming that, as an association, it will be a natural vehicle for collaboration:
These clusters indicate that proximity is just one of several factors in networks. Nigeria, for example, collaborates not with its neighbors in West Africa but with co-linguists in East Africa. This mirrors a global tendency to use paths of least resistance to partnership, rather than routes that might provide other strategic gains. Such language links have historically benefited the United Kingdom through alliances with Commonwealth countries that speak English and have adopted similar research structures. The United Kingdom cannot rely on this to continue. This growth of regional collaboration has many implications. It amplifies the development of emergent research economies. Researchers in Asia, for example, do not need recognition from European and US authors if their research is being cited and used by partners within the region. In the short term, students will recognize attractive opportunities closer to home, with fewer alienating cultural challenges than many European campuses have offered.
A still greater global challenge exists, which demands that universities across the world collaborate not only with each other but with all parts of society. This is best summed up in the excellent introduction to the first report of the European Research Area Board of the European Commission, published in 2009:
Our world is changing. We face mounting challenges: of global warming, scarce water, energy shortages and healthcare, to name a few. Their solution will require new ideas, discoveries, talents and innovations – the fruits of research. To achieve them, we must start by changing the way we do research. We must reorganize, to create a truly open European Research Area marked by free movement of people and ideas. We must rethink the way science interacts with politics and society, so our governance is based on best-available evidence. We must rewrite the social contract between the researcher and society, so that freedom of thought is balanced by responsibility for action. We must open our markets, our companies and our knowledge institutions so they work together more productively. Above all, we must create an environment in which the best ideas thrive, the brightest people prosper, and our excellence is rewarded – while at the same time improving the cohesion of our society. These are big demands, and imply fundamental change in the way we think, work and research – indeed, change as great as any in our history. We call this change a ‘new Renaissance’, deliberately invoking the memory of a comparable revolution in thought, society and science.
(European Research Area Board, 2009)
Although this specifically refers to Europe, the message is actually global. So what is this ‘new Renaissance?’ Again the report is quite clear:
A paradigm shift in how we think, live and interact together, as well as a paradigm shift in what the role and place of science should be. A new, holistic way of thinking is required as technological answers alone are not the end-solution to a given problem. Science and research have to look at the systemic effect of any action rather than merely the localized gain. We need to develop better tools to predict trends, to supply evidence for decisions. We need to train a broadly educated citizenry, better able to participate in public debate on the benefits and risks of research and technology.
(European Research Area Board, 2009)
It is a lesson well made; and it should be well heeded.
Plainly, many economies in the world are increasingly looking to universities to work together in looking for holistic solutions to the challenges before society – from food security to the provision of drinkable water. Just as governments look to maximize social impact through joined-up policies, so too they look to efficiencies in higher education.
In a major study, The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-class Research Universities, Altbach and Salmi examined how several countries are now approaching the issue via a number of seminal institutional case studies, many of whom are members of the ACU (Altbach and Salmi, 2011). Again, the ‘lessons’ are clear. From both the political and academic point of view, the new paradigm shift, in what is needed and what is emerging, has not been grasped.
Perhaps a grander challenge for the ACU is, then, to raise the level of strategic thinking among members – although it is acknowledged that most executive heads’ time is focused on immediate needs, with little time for long-term strategic planning.
Some universities are, however, seeing the need to form global partnerships, for example, the World University Network. Yet funding of international projects is difficult where several countries are involved with different schemes and cycles for support. It is proposed by the European Commission that there should be a regular ‘Global Summit’ that addresses these problems, and ongoing discussions are now taking place between the G8+5 members on how this might be done.
Adams, J. (2012) Nature 490, 335-56.
European Research Area Board (2009) Preparing Europe for a New Renaissance: A Strategic View of the European Research Area: First Report of the European Research Area Board – 2009. European Commission.
Hey, T., Tansley, S., and Tolle, K. (eds.) (2009) The Fourth Paradigm. Microsoft.
Lifewatch: www.lifewatch.edu (downloaded on 3 January 2013).
Newman, J.H. (1852) The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. London.
OECD (2012) New Data for the Understanding of the Human Condition: International Perspectives, Global Science Forum Report. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.