Sakai: a collaborative virtual research environment for education

Patrick Carmichael, Sanna Rimpiläinen, Richard Proctor

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The range of electronic resources and tools available to researchers has increased far beyond even what early enthusiasts such as Howard Rheingold envisaged when they described how the internet would put the catalogues and contents of the world's libraries on one's desktop (Rheingold, 1993; 90-91). Research projects are increasingly using network technologies to improve communication between project members, to safeguard data, and to engage with the users of their research. This has led to the emergence of models of "e-Research" which are perhaps best developed in the context of international scientific collaborations in fields such as particle physics and astronomy, and specific projects such as the Human Genome Project. At the same time, other, domain-specific versions of "e-Research" are developing, with different foci and characteristic patterns of collaboration.

In educational research, even small-scale publicly-funded research projects are already expected to publish electronically their findings and other research outputs and have a responsibility to archive their original data. But with an eye to the future, there have been calls for an increased role for electronic networking for communication, collaboration and dissemination as part of a commitment to sector-wide capacity building. McIntyre and McIntyre (1999) and Dyson and Desforges (2002) suggest both that expertise needs to be both shared between established researchers and that development opportunities need to be provided for practitioners and new researchers. Training for individuals needs to be complemented by strategies which foster institutional and sector-wide capacity to conduct research, undertake analysis, engage with users and develop innovative approaches.

These changes have been accompanied by the development of thinking about 'networks' and 'networking' (in some cases, importing models of networks from the world of internet communication) which has had an impact on expectations of how research is conducted and disseminated. Networks are increasingly seen not only as providing access to resources, but also represent sites for knowledge construction and the development of new professional practice. Rather than developing 'best practice' and then attempting to transplant it to a new context, the network metaphor suggests that knowledge construction and dissemination requires a shared frame of reference. The question then becomes how to ensure that this shared frame of reference is preserved and knowledge embedded across a distributed organisation (see Hakkarainen, Palonen, Paavola and Lehtinen, 2004; 73+ for a fuller discussion).

In this article we will describe Sakai, a novel electronic collaboration environment designed to support e-Research, and will reflect on some of the issues which have arisen from the first year of our using this platform in our own work and to support other collaborative and distributed research projects in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2006
EventBERA Annual Conference - Warwick, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Sept 200611 Sept 2006


ConferenceBERA Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleBERA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • virtual research environments
  • e-science
  • collaboration
  • VLEs
  • e-research


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