Get with the geeks

Posted on 16/01/2013


Academia might seem old and fusty, but it’s in the process of rebooting.

In the four years since I left further education, it’s completely transformed. Textbooks are finally being digitalised for tablet devices saving paper and space. Research not only starts online but often continues through the Internet. And online learning now goes well beyond iTunesU or Google Scholar – it an integral part of it, thanks to sites like Memrise.

One of the main causes is that academics are embracing technology. It’s no longer a system forced on them; more and more are building their own computer programs and studying at the Internet itself. In our connected world knowledge discovery and creation are happening quicker. Computing is not just a subject/ faculty; it’s a skill required of any modern academic.

With all this going on, the key trend I’ve noticed is the breaking down of boundaries between disciplines, and between study and commerce. This has been going on since the 70s, but I wonder if the Internet’s “mashup” approach to pop culture has also had an effect.

I’d like to see more of this. There’s no practical benefit in there being a division between the “real” world and academia. That doesn’t mean more people taking open university courses; I’d like this formalised form of education to include more companies and more people in full/part time employment. You don’t have to go to university to study or have something to contribute. Anybody should be able to research, write papers, and critique current thinking.

But it’s also massively important to marketing communications. Academics can provide both excellent “revelations” about people, products or challenges as well as some inspirational weird shit.

With that in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of institutions, journals and websites that are doing some amazing research available online. Covering everything from robotics, to sociology, to design, these are the places to go for inspiration and cutting edge thinking. If you’ve seen any other great websites, feel free to add a comment below:

Culture digitally

Looking at “contemporary digital production”. It’s here that i’ve found ideas like Social Networks as capture and conversion engines (taking data like text or images and creating value from them by adding tags, people and popularity metrics).


As their website puts it: “Limn is somewhere between a scholarly journal and an art magazine.” Focussing on “contemporary problems”, the magazine/journal brings in experts to explore and present issues that affect us every day.

MIT media labs

These quirky computer scientists are always working on something fun. The list of research groups is interesting enough by itself (the molecular machine, information ecology, Opera of the future..?!)

MIT lifelong kindergarten

“Inspired by the ways children learn in kindergarten” this might not be as high brow as most. But that said, it definitely sounds fun.

The Scholar Strategy Network

Getting together experts (not politicians) to solve the world’s problems.

Standford is a hub for innovators at Stanford and aims give students experience working on real life projects so they learn more than just essay writing skills. Students can take multidisciplinary courses and even been turning their ideas into businesses through Kickstarter.

Taylor and Francis journal for broadcasting and electronic media

Sadly not open access, but doing some fascinating research into social networks.

Royal College of Arts

I went to their MA design graduate show and the ideas were phenomenal. The college is small, in a rather stately part of London but produces some of the best design thinking in the UK.

Their masters course on Design interactions led to the creation of the project, which is seeking to change the nature of online research. Amazing stuff.

Cambridge computer labs

Clearly for hardcore programmers but interesting nonetheless. They’re working on some interesting stuff (e.g. emotionally cognisant computers)

Information environments on Tumblr

Nice Tumblr blog on research into information architecture and designing user experiences.

The Society Pages

Social sciences articles on everything from gang culture in The Wire, to dissecting White identity and racism.

Theorising the Internet

Turning the internet into a way to study the internet. Neat.

Social sciences research network

Thousands of papers available for free online. I do love a free journal.

The Knight Lab, Northwestern University

(sounds related to Knight Rider but isn’t..) Media innovation experiments, such as BookRx (book recommendations based on your Twitter profile) and TimelineJS, a way of curating media chronologically.

Journal of medical Internet research

Finally, something from the world of healthcare. The JMIR is a peer reviewed journal, studying the effects of emerging technologies in health. It covers everything from online weight loss programmes, to how effective mobile apps are at preventing HIV and STDs.

Seen anything interesting going on online in academia? Drop me a comment below: