Bold new look for research
Faculty researchers at Concordia have a slick, new tool at their disposal: a website designed to help them disseminate their research activities and connect with other researchers, students, and the public.
The research@concordia website is designed around a database of keywords submitted by the researchers themselves, which can be used to find other colleagues interested in a particular topic, or to get a brief snapshot of the research activities at Concordia.
Watch the video introduction to the microsite:
“The whole idea behind the website is to provide a quick way to scan the university and find what you’re looking for,” says David Ward, a producer with lab six and a half, an experimental multimedia group at Concordia commissioned by the Office of Research to build and develop the site with the help of Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS).
“Especially in a very interdisciplinary place like Concordia, you don’t always know where to look. Or you might look in the most logical place and find something there, but there might be something equally or more interesting in another department,” Ward added.
For example, if one types the word “bilingualism” into the search window on the research@concordia microsite, it returns 13 researchers from the departments of psychology, Études françaises and education. It also returns a word cloud of related keywords.
Clicking on one of the researchers, for example, Krista Byers-Heinlein, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, one is taken to her personal page that features her photo, links to other pages, including her lab and her department websites, and a simple question that frames part of her current research: “How does early language experience influence language acquisition?”
Byers-Heinlein inputted the question and her keywords into a form that is now found inside the MyConcordia portal. All aspects of the individual pages of researchers on the research@concordia site can be updated at any time through this interface.
“It’s a cultural shift towards people being really involved and being able to express themselves,” says Prem Sooriyakumar, Ward’s colleague at lab six and a half. “And internally, it’s an amazing tool. It’s creating a lot of catalysts for research in terms of collaboration.”
The new website will also serve as a useful tool for external audiences, explains Interim Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies, Graham Carr. “The potential here for student recruitment, and for external collaborator partnerships, is huge,” he says. “This is a completely novel pathway into the research activities at the university. Plus because it’s interactive, attractive and different, people are going to be drawn to it.”
The concept for the website emerged during the lead-up to the Congress 2010 of the Humanities and Social Sciences, a major event that brought 9,000 delegates and visitors to Concordia. Carole Brabant, former associate vice-president, Strategy and Operations, in the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies, asked the producers at lab six and a half to come up with a novel way to present Concordia’s research activities to Congress attendees.
“Congress was like a coming-out party for the university, and we wanted to put our research activities up front in an imaginative, edgy kind of way,” Carr says. “We also wanted to do something that would have a legacy when the ‘circus’ left town … Carole was the inspiration behind the project. She had the vision and was the main driver and champion.”
The lab six and a half team put together a prototype version of the site, which featured 150 of the university’s researchers, and presented it on large interactive screens during Congress.
The response, Ward says, was fantastic, and so he and his colleagues at lab six and a half began work on a permanent microsite that would exist in parallel with the main Faculty and department web pages within concordia.ca, linking to the hundreds of existing research-oriented pages. More researchers will continue to be added as the site evolves, including research-active part-time faculty members.
To develop the site, Sooriyakumar and Ward enlisted the help of three undergraduate students from Concordia’s Department of Design and Computation Arts: Gordon Bailey, Charles-Antoine Dupont, and Brian Li Sui Fong.
“We found great students who are passionate about information visualization, and they did much of the heavy lifting,” Sooriyakumar says, adding that there was a lot of back and forth during the site’s development between the Office of Research, IITS, lab six and a half, and of course, the researchers themselves. “We did a lot of groundwork to understand their needs,” he says.
The site is now launched online in a beta version, with a little more than half of the university’s estimated 800-plus researchers participating so far. Already, it has produced a lot of buzz, both on campus and off.
“Every time somebody sees it, they just go wow, because it’s completely different,” Carr says. There are standard ways to present research and research activities, but this is a totally different tool and style of presentation.”
• Office of Research
• Department of Design and Computation Arts