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iSusLab : A Sakai-based Virtual Research Environment for scientists

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  • Communication
  • Education


This short presentation will persuade the audience to consider Sakai as a general tool for research (and other) collaboration and communication, using the University of Bath's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) as an example. A virtual research environment, or VRE, is at its simplest a collection of online tools to support researchers in their work. Definitions of VREs are therefore as diverse as the researchers who use them, but will typically include collaboration, data sharing and access to powerful computers for simulation and analysis (see e.g. Allan 2009). At CSCT, we have found Sakai to be an excellent choice for a collaboration-focused VRE. Its origins in higher education have made it a flexible and powerful choice for running a general online collaboration environment. By far the most popular tool with our users is Resources, allowing them to share documents and data, archive reports and much more. We have found Schedule to be a useful room-booking tool, and are piloting the use of use of Forms in conjunction with Resources (without the other OSP tools) to collect MRes research project proposals from potential supervisors. Other well-used tools include Forum and Wiki. The Sakai notion of worksites maps directly onto the need to restrict access to intellectual property, allowing fine-grained control of who is allowed to see what and preventing confidential information being accessible by those without permission. The VRE also has a role beyond simply facilitating research. As an Engineering & Physical Sciences (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Centre, we are responsible for the training and development of several cohorts of doctoral students. Sakai's flexibility allows them to explore various ways of interacting with their supervisors, collaborators and fellow students, giving them valuable experience for the future. Sakai's heritage as a VLE means it has the tools for us to run courses in situations where our main institutional VLE would be inappropriate. An example of this might be a one-off CPD course for our industrial partners, for which we would need to give access to a large number of external users. I would like to share our experience of using Sakai as a VRE with other delegates, and encourage them to promote it to researchers at their own institutions. Allan, Robert. 2009. Virtual Research Environments: From Portals to Science Gateways. Chandos Publishing (Oxford) Ltd. Vitae. 2010. Researcher Development Framework.

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