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Support & Help for Academic Researchers by using Information Technology (SHARE-IT)

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The present paper will investigate how web 2.0 tools can contribute to the goal ...

The present paper will investigate how web 2.0 tools can contribute to the goal
of sharing (tacit) knowledge amongst young researchers from different disciplines, and
investigate the factors influencing the take-up of such tools. To this end, we will first
describe how a Dutch university has addressed this issue by means of a blog that is
developed to provide support and help for academic researchers by using information
technology (SHARE-IT). Next to providing an overview of the initiative, we will
describe how young researchers’ perceptions and attitudes of such blogs can be assessed.
Based on the seminal model on unified theory of acceptance and use of technology
(UTAUT) (Venkatesh, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003), we will develop a questionnaire
that aims at determining young researchers’ web 2.0 behavior. Additionally, a second
questionnaire will be distributed, measuring factors that support or inhibit individuals’
knowledge sharing intentions (Bock, Zmund, Kim, & Lee, 2005). By contrasting the
findings with the results of similar research in the UK (Procter, Williams, & Stewart,
2010), we will then be able to provide valuable insights on the way young researchers,
across countries, approach and perceive blogs and other web 2.0 technologies.

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  • 1. Support & Help for Academic Researchers by using Information Technology (SHARE-IT) Martin Rehm, Florian Henning, Joeri Bruynickx, Koen Beumer, Daniëlle Verstegen, Jeroen van Merrienboer, Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands Email: martin.rehm@maastrichtuniversity.nl, florian.henning@maastrichtuniversity.nl, j.bruyninckx@maastrichtuniversity.nl, k.beumer@maastrichtuniversity.nl, d.verstegen@maastrichtuniversity.nl, j.vanmerrienboer@maastrichtuniversity.nl Abstract: The present paper will investigate how web 2.0 tools can contribute to the goal of sharing (tacit) knowledge amongst young researchers from different disciplines, and investigate the factors influencing the take-up of such tools. To this end, we will first describe how a Dutch university has addressed this issue by means of a blog that is developed to provide support and help for academic researchers by using information technology (SHARE-IT). Next to providing an overview of the initiative, we will describe how young researchers’ perceptions and attitudes of such blogs can be assessed. Based on the seminal model on unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) (Venkatesh, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003), we will develop a questionnaire that aims at determining young researchers’ web 2.0 behavior. Additionally, a second questionnaire will be distributed, measuring factors that support or inhibit individuals’ knowledge sharing intentions (Bock, Zmund, Kim, & Lee, 2005). By contrasting the findings with the results of similar research in the UK (Procter, Williams, & Stewart, 2010), we will then be able to provide valuable insights on the way young researchers, across countries, approach and perceive blogs and other web 2.0 technologies.IntroductionThe world of Web 2.0 is ever-growing and increasingly starting to take over territories that have long beendominated by other, more traditional forms of communication technologies. One of the bastions that are yetto be fully conquered are institutions of higher education. However, their defense is slowly being infiltratedand universities are gradually opening up to these new technologies (Churchill, 2011). Simultaneously, agrowing demand from within can be witnessed that requires universities to more actively embrace Web 2.0and (social) software applications (Chong, 2010). In contrast to the older forms of communication, thesetechnologies have the potential to free users from merely consuming information (Churchill, 2011). Instead,both (academic) staff and students are empowered to creatively and collaboratively support their teachingand learning activities (Gray, Thompson, Sheard, Clerehan, & Hamilton, 2010). Consequently, scholarshave started to refer to Web 2.0 also as the “read-write web” (Richardson, 2006). Among all the available Web 2.0 tools and technologies, weblogs (or blogs) have experienced themost rapid growth in recent years. According to Meyer (2010), 83.1 million blogs were available in May2007. By January 2009, this number had raised to 133 million blogs. However, it is not only the number ofblogs that has become sizeable. According to State of the Blogsphere, 900.000 blog posts have beencontributed within a single day in 2008 (White & Phillip, 2008). It is therefore not surprising that blogshave been proclaimed to become a “new form of mainstream personal communication” (Rosenbloom, 2004,p. 31, as cited by Du & Wagner, 2006). However, blogs do not necessarily have to be the product of asingle individual. “Group blogging”, which is a relatively new phenomenon, has been promoted to fostercommunication within learning communities (Philip & Nicholls, 2009). Based on the work by Lave andWenger (1991), blogging can capitalize on the idea of “distributedness”, which stipulates that knowledgenot only rest in a single individual, but is spread over all members of a community. By bringing togetherindividuals via (online) platforms such as blogs, organizers of such initiatives can realize the potential gainsof what has been termed “collective intelligence” (Chu, Hwang, Tsai & Chen, 2009; Huang, Yang, Huang& Hsia, 2010). With these potential benefits being acknowledged, universities are increasinglyimplementing (group) blogs in their (extra) curricular activities. However, while numerous studies haveprovided personal testimonies, few studies have been conducted to really investigate the potential value anduser perception of blogs (Meyer, 2010). The present study will present a project that is currently beingimplemented at a Dutch university. The goal of the project is to create a platform that fosters the exchangeof tacit knowledge about enabling PhD research with the help of (IT)-based tools across academic
  • 2. disciplines. More specifically, the project foresee the creation of a dedicated blog that provides (S)upportand (H)elp for (A)academic (RE)searchers by using (I)nformation (T)echnology (SHARE-IT).Academic Tribes and their Common CultureAcademic institutions are increasingly trying to distinguish themselves from their competitors on the basisof their attractiveness for (young) researchers, e.g. doctoral candidates. In order to achieve this goal,universities strive to create an inspiring research climate, providing carefully developed PhD programs thatare fine-tuned to the requirements of these researchers. These programs are usually implemented byindividual faculties and/or departments (e.g. business economics, health science), each one focusing on thetraining of domain-specific applications of theory. This is very much in line with the notion of “situatedlearning” (Billet, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Savery & Duffy, 1995). At the same time, this alsoconfirms the existence of differences between academic disciplines and the way they approach scholarlyactivities (Fry, Creaser, & Butters, 2009). Similarly, Bailey (1977) notes that universities are composed ofdifferent “tribes” (as quoted in Becher, 1994, p. 151). Especially in an interdisciplinary field such asbusiness studies, such institutional divisions can be counterproductive. However, while highlighting thedifferences among disciplines, Bailey also acknowledges that there are commonalities. There is a “commonculture” linking up the “tribes”. In the context of this paper, we interpret “common culture” as all genericknowledge artifacts and skills that are applicable across academic disciplines. More specifically, thisconcept can include tools to archive one’s literature (e.g. Mendeley), as well as statistical softwarepackages (e.g. STATA). We stipulate that academic institutions’ research staff possess a vast amount oftacit knowledge about IT-enabled research. Sharing this knowledge with “newcomers” would provide themwith valuable tips and tricks. Yet, we believe that this exchange is not sufficiently exploited. While official PhD programs in business and economics cover some of these skills, to the best ofour knowledge, they generally are confined to “scratching the surface” of the available knowledge assets.This claim is supported by a growing perceived “underground market”, where young researchers formunofficial self-support groups that aim at helping with these more generic skills. We believe that academicinstitutions should pro-actively support these groups by providing them with the necessary platforms andmeans to facilitate this knowledge exchange – e.g. strengthening the “common culture”. This would notonly provide valuable insights on what might be missing from the official programs. It would also enableacademic institutions to tap into the tacit knowledge and skills of their young researchers from alldisciplines, make it publicly available and showcase their efforts to create an inspiring research climate.Given the great potential of available Web 2.0 tools and technologies, we stipulate that introducing adedicated blog where young researchers can engage into the exchange of knowledge would greatlycontribute to the identification and strengthening of the “common culture” across academic “tribes”.(Group) BloggingThe term web-log, or blog, refers to a simple webpage consisting of brief paragraphs of different types ofinformation that are called posts and are arranged chronologically with the most recent first, in the style ofan online journal (Anderson, 2007). Furthermore, while no sophisticated technical skills are required, blogcontributors can easily share a wide range of information, including text, graphics, animations and othertypes of (rich) media (Churchill, 2011). Additionally, contributions can be “tagged”. This tagging isequivalent to attributing categories, or themes to individual posts. The positive upshot of this is that itpermits the author(s) and viewers to easily search through all contributions based on “tags”, whichsimplifies navigation on the blog. Another interesting attribute of blogs is that visitors can post comments,thereby creating “weighted conversations” (Anderson, 2007, p.7) that encourage visitors to pro-activelyprovide feedback and suggestions for future posts. This latter characteristic can greatly contribute to thesocial networking between providers and users of blogs, allowing individuals to locate and contact peoplewho have a shared interest (Huang, et al., 2010). Generally, according to Campbell (2003), blogs in the context of higher education can besubdivided into three main categories, namely the “tutor blog”, the “learner blog”, and the “class blog”.The tutor blog is simply maintained by an educator, who uses the blog to share information, suggest onlineresources and encourages students to comment on posts. The learner blog can be run either by an individualstudent, or a small group of learners. The main intention of these blogs is to provide students with thepossibility to share their thoughts on a certain topic, reflect on their learning process, or practice particularwriting styles (e.g. journalistic). The class blog, which is closely related to the concept of group blogging
  • 3. (Philip & Nicholls, 2009), is characterized by situations in which a large(r) group of learnerscollaboratively engage into gathering information, sharing experiences and creating new knowledge. Withlearning being increasingly understood as an interactive process, where knowledge is being created whilecollaborating in social networks composed of diverse groups of people (Hakkarainen, Palonen, Paavola, &Lethinen, 2004), this last type of blog has received growing attention among researchers and practitionersalike (e.g. Anderson, 2007; Hurlburt, 2008). Moreover, based on the project’s goal of creating a platformfor young researchers to share and exchange their knowledge and experiences on the topic of IT-basedtools to conduct research, this blog-type is also the basis for the SHARE-IT initiative.SHARE-IT: “From Researchers – For Researchers”The general structure of the blog will follow the suggestions of previous research (e.g. Chong, 2010; Du &Wagner, 2006) and pay specific attention to the following issues.Element of OwnershipThe SHARE-IT blog is “from researchers for researchers”. Although the blog is initiated in a top-downfashion, this approach merely holds for the initial stage. As of the beginning, the project will activelyencourage the participation of the blogs target group (young researchers), by means of suggesting possibletopics and indicating preferences with respect to embedded blog services. This type of input will begathered via online polls and questionnaires, as well as by means of focus group meetings withrepresentatives of the target group. Previous research has shown that by developing such an understandingof the needs and preferences of target group during the early stages of similar activities, has a greatlycontributed to the creation of a sense of ownership among participants (Allwright, 2003; Soares, 2008). Additionally, instead of always the same group of people creating content for the blog, a group of“talent scouts” will be responsible for identifying who possesses valuable information that can benefit aninterdisciplinary audience. Once identified, these “talents” are then encouraged to share information, e.g.explain a research tool, free from domain-specific jargon, to allow visitors from various backgrounds tobenefit from the contributions. Next to introducing and explaining the applicable item, a key aspect ofevery contribution will be a practical example of how the tool has contributed to the individual author’swork. On the one hand, this creates a degree of relevance, as visitors can see the practical value and thepotential added value for their own work. On the other hand, this creates an incentive for young researchersto contribute, providing them with a platform to share their own experiences, and making them feel a senseof ownership of the blog.Interaction via CommentsThe possibility to leave comments has generally been identified as a pivotal aspect in ensuring the successof a blog (e.g. Churchill, 2011; Meyer, 2010). By encouraging people to comment on blog posts, it ispossible to stimulate interaction among a growing community of blog users. While this is an indirect wayof receiving feedback, this also adds to the sense of ownership among users. Being able to commentenables them to actively shape the blog, co-determine its trajectory, and also share their own personalknowledge and experiences about the topic of an applicable post. Finally, in order to encouragecommenting and to ensure that any started conversations are kept going, all contributors will be asked tostart discussions and closely monitor their posts. This can for instance be done by asking various questionswithin contributions or by explicitly asking for feedback.(Rich) MediaThe contributions to the blog will include items such as how to organize references, as well as how to workwith dynamic panel data. Furthermore, in order to develop the applicable resources, potential contributorsto the blog will be encouraged and supported to use different type of (rich) media, including interactivepresentations, screen recordings and social bookmarking tools to share online resources. The inclusion ofsuch rich media components, has been shown to positively influence user concentration and contribute touser perceived learning outcomes (Liu, Liao & Pratt, 2009).Linking Virtual and Actual WorldsPrevious studies on the impact of social software on learning have found evidence that combining virtualactivities with face-to-face meetings on the same topics have positively influenced the level of activity, aswell as the general level of recognition for the activities amongst the target group (e.g. Klamma, Chatti,
  • 4. Duval, Hummel, Thora, Kravcik, et al., 2007). Consequently, the SHARE-IT blog will regularly scheduleevents and activities that are hosted in the real world. Possible scenarios include, among others, anintroduction into a certain topic via the blog, which is then followed up by a workshop-type event in acentral location of the university (e.g. the university library).“Perpetual Beta”When creating an online portal in a fast changing environment, such as web 2.0, researchers have suggestedto adhere to the concept of “perpetual beta” (Procter, Williams, & Stewart, 2010). The basic idea is to stayflexible and never to consider the current state-of-affairs as the final one. Dron (2007) has referred to this asthe “the principle of evolvability” (Dron, 2007, p. 65), which refers to the fact that the structures of web 2.0tools, such as blogs, should not be fixed and capable of adapting to new trends and demands. In the contextof the SHARE-IT project, this will be achieved by closely following the latest trends in web 2.0, potentiallymaking required adjustments to functionalities and provided services. Additionally, by staying in closecontact with the target group, via blog discussions and regularly distributed polls and questionnaires, theblog will also keep a finger on the pulse of whether adjustments need to be made to the structure andcontent of the blog.“If you build it, will they come?”Introducing a blog to foster the (tacit) knowledge exchange between young researchers has many potentialbenefits. However, does the existence of such a platform automatically translate into the target groupactively making using of it? Do young researchers actually appreciate the fact that such a blog support themin successfully conducting their research? In order to answer these questions, our project will assess howyoung researchers perceive the SHARE-IT blog. Previous research on user acceptance of similar initiativesin the UK has shown that the majority of users are aware of the mediums general advantages (Procter,Williams, & Stewart, 2010). Nonetheless, it has also been suggested that users face considerable hurdlesthat prohibit them to engage in blogs and other web 2.0 technologies. Among the most commonlymentioned reasons holding back researchers, both in terms of active participation, as well as passiveinformation gathering are a lack of: local support and encouragement trust in the quality of information understanding of how it can benefit them directly Based on the seminal model on unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) byVenkatesh and colleagues (Venkatesh, et al., 2003), we will develop a questionnaire that aims atdetermining young researchers’ behavior in the context of web 2.0 technologies. This approach not onlyallows us to enhance our understanding of how young researchers perceive web 2.0. Using the UTAUT, weare also able to address a shortcoming of pervious research that has largely focused on models like to thetechnology acceptance model (TAM) by Davis (1989). The model originally distinguished between twodifferent constructs, namely the “perceived usefulness” (PU) and the “perceived ease of use” (PEU). PUmeasures whether and to what extend users view a new technology as a valuable contribution to betterperform an already defined and existing task. PEU captures whether an individual considers the usage ofthe technology in question to be manageable. Given the model’s simplicity, it not only attracted a lot ofattention, but also has been implemented in numerous settings (Liu, Liao & Pratt, 2009). However,researchers like Bagozzi (2007) have suggested that the model’s simplicity is also its Achilles’ heel(Bagozzi, 2007, p. 244), not taking into account group, cultural, and social aspects of technologyacceptance. Consequently, by implementing the UTAUT, we are able to address a number of the generallyidentified shortcomings of the TAM. More specifically, the UTAUT includes constructs as (Venkatesh, etal., 2003, p. 460): Attitude toward using technology – e.g. The system makes work more interesting. Social influence – e.g. People who influence my behavior think that I should use the system. Behavioral intention – e.g. I intend to use the system in the next <n> month Furthermore, providing a platform to share information does not necessarily equate to an activeparticipation of the target group. On the contrary, although the “talent scouts” might be able to identify“talents”, who have valuable knowledge about a certain topic, the latter group might refrain from openlysharing their insights.
  • 5. This issue has already been addressed by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975), who stipulated that a certainbehavior of an individual, such as for instance the propensity to share information, is first and foremostdependent on that individual’s intention to behave in this way, and that this intention is in turn dependenton the attitudes of that individual to the behavior. In other words, the beliefs held by an individual withregard to certain aspects of the behavior in question are determinants of the intention to carry out thisbehavior. These beliefs in turn are formed in dependency on a range of external circumstances. Dependingon these circumstances, this might lead individuals to hoard their knowledge. Such type of behavior hasbeen addressed by Bock and colleagues (2005), who designed a questionnaire that measures the factorssupporting or inhibiting individuals knowledge sharing intentions. In more detail, the questionnaire coversconstructs including (Bock, et al., 2005, pp 108-109): Anticipated reciprocal relationships – e.g. My knowledge sharing would get me well- acquainted with new members in the organization. Sense of self-worth – e.g. My knowledge sharing would help other members in the organization solve problems. Intention to share explicit knowledge – e.g. I always provide my manuals, etc. for members of my organization. In the context of the project, this questionnaire will also be incorporated in our efforts to betterunderstand whether and to what extend young researchers are willing to actively share and accessinformation via web 2.0 technologies. Finally, we will contrast our findings with the results of Procter andcolleagues (2010), who have conducted similar research in the UK. This comparison will not allow us todraw refined conclusions about culture-specific differences between the Netherlands and the UK. Yet, thesefindings will provide valuable insights on whether there are general differences between researchers in thetwo countries in the way they approach and perceive blogs and other web 2.0 technologies.ReferencesAllwright, D. (2003). Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7, 113-141. doi: 10.1191/1362168803lr118oaAnderson, P. (2007). What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education. In M. Hepworth, B. Kelly & R. Metcalfe (Eds.), JISC Technology & Standards Watch.Bagozzi, R. P. (2007). The Legacy of the Technology Acceptance Model and a Proposal for a Paradigm Shift . Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 8, 244-254.Becher, T. (2006). Studies in Higher Education differences The Significance of Disciplinary Differences. Studies in Higher Education, 37-41.Billet, S. (1996). Situated learning: bridging sociocultural and cognitive theorising. Learning and Instruction, 6, 263-289.Bock, G.-W., Zmud, R. W., Kim, Y.-G., & Lee, J.-N. (2005). Behavioral Intention Formation in Knowledge Sharing: Examining the Roles of Extrinsic Motivators, Social-Psychological Forces, and Organizational Climate. MIS Quarterly, 29, 87-111.Campbell, A. P. (2003). Weblogs for Use with ESL Classes. The Internet TESL Journal, 9.Chong, E. K. M. (2010). Using blogging to enhance the initiation of students into academic research. Computers & Education, 55, 798-807.Chu, H.-c., Hwang, G.-j., Tsai, C.-c., & Chen, S. An innovative approach for promoting information exchanges and sharing in a Web 2.0-based learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 37-41.Churchill, D. (2011). Web 2.0 in education: a study of the explorative use of blogs with a postgraduate class. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48, 149-158. doi: 10.1080/14703297.2011.564009Davis, F. D. (1989). Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), 319-339.Dron, J. (2007). Designing the Undesignable : Social Software and Control Transactional control. Educational Technology & Society, 10, 60-71.Du, H. S., & Wagner, C. (2006). Weblog success: Exploring the role of technology. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 64, 789-798.Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behaviour: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Reading: Addison-Wesley.
  • 6. Fry, J., Dis, C. O., Creaser, C., Johnson, W., Summers, M., Lisu, S. W., et al. (2009). Communicating knowledge : How and why researchers publish and disseminate their findings.Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., & Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26, 105-122.Hakkarainen, K., Palonen, T., Paavola, S., & Lehtinen, E. (2004). Communities of networked expertise: Professional and educational perspectives. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Hurlburt, S. (2008). Defining tools for a new learning space: Writing and reading class blogs. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4, 182-189.Klamma, R., Chatti, M. A., Duval, E., Hummel, H., Thora, E., Kravcik, M., et al. (2007). Social Software for Life-long Learning Empirical Studies on Blog Uses in Online Learning Networks. Educational Technology & Society, 10, 72-83.Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation: Cambridge University Press.Liu, S.-H., Liao, H.-L., & Pratt, J. A. (2009). Impact of media richness and flow on e-learning technology acceptance. Computers &amp; Education, 52, 599-607.Meyer, K. A. (2010). A comparison of Web 2.0 tools in a doctoral course. The Internet and Higher Education, 13, 226-232. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.02.002Philip, R., & Nicholls, J. (2009). Group blogs: Documenting collaborative drama processes. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(5), 683-699.Procter, R., Williams, R., & Stewart, J. (2010). If you build it , will they come ? How researchers perceive and use web 2 . 0 Managing.Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem Based Learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational Technology, 35, 31-38.Soares, D. D., & de Almeida Soares, D. (2008). Understanding class blogs as a tool for language development. Language Teaching Research, 12, 517-533. doi: 10.1177/1362168808097165Venkatesh, V., Morris, M. G., Gordon, B. D., & Davis, F. D. (2003). User Acceptance of Information Technology: Toward a Unified View. MIS Quarterly, 27, 425-478.White, D., & Winn, P. (2008). State of the Blogosphere Retrieved 08.02.2012, from http://technorati.com/social-media/feature/state-of-the-blogosphere-2008/AcknowledgmentsThis research is based on the “Support & Help for Academic Researchers by using Information Technology(SHARE-IT)” project, financed by the Maastricht University “Leading in Learning: E-factor in ProblemBased Learning” grant.