rakuns@rit.edu (Rich Kiley)
Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 2:08pm

The second phase of a social bookmarking site designed specifically for the Rochester Institute of Technology community has been recognized for its innovation by a leading higher-ed technology magazine.

The Research Network, which expands on the capabilities of RIT BookBag-a tool developed by a multidisciplinary team at RIT to enable users to share research links with one another-was recognized with an Innovators award from Campus Technology magazine, one of the leading sources in higher education.

RIT's Open Publishing Lab originally engaged a project team of students and staff from The Wallace Center, ITS, the School of Media Sciences, computer engineering, information technology and a retired librarian emeritus to develop BookBag-an open source software that enables finding, saving, tagging and sharing class- and research-based resources.

About 18 months after its launch, the development team unveiled the Research Network, a new tool that allows people to find others on campus studying similar topics and form their own study groups to collaborate. The tool was one of only nine honorees among 235 entries to be recognized by Campus Technology.

"This is wonderful recognition for the team, which has been engaged in a labor of love for the past several years," says Chandra McKenzie, assistant provost for academic affairs and the project's director. "The Research Network is really a different model-one in which faculty, undergraduates and graduate students can work together in an online, collaborative environment."

Michael Riordan, one of the developers, heard the tool likened to "Pinterest for research" at this year's Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival in May. According to Riordan, the Research Network automatically catalogs each Web resource saved in RIT BookBag using natural language processing, mapping it to other Web resources bookmarked in the system. By mapping who bookmarked a particular resource, the Research Network recommends similar resources and connects researchers with potential collaborators.

"It's really an organizational self-discovery tool," says Riordan, a professor in the School of Media Sciences. "The tool helps large organizations such as RIT discover the kind of research work being done and who is conducting it. It builds on the original BookBag framework to make it even easier for people researching similar topics to connect with one another."

The Research Network's ability to suggest other people and content based on what users are studying means users can simply click and follow other people like on Twitter, explains Riordan. To address privacy concerns, developers have created an opt-out option.

"We understand that not everyone wants others to see what kind of research they are developing, so we've created an option to share with others or not," says Riordan.

The tool works with a wide range of resources, including eBooks, blogs, RSS feeds as well as other digital content and Web-based material. It also integrates with RIT's myCourses and Wallace Library databases.

A successful pilot project with a Rochester secondary school has recently enabled the development team to see how the social bookmarking site can work beyond RIT's walls.

"It gave us insights into how it can be used in different learning environments," says Riordan.

"We're focusing now on getting the tool into people's hands and learn how its uses evolve with a new set of users," adds McKenzie.

To learn more, go to the RIT BookBag website.

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