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LTER Information Management and Collaborative Learning Environments


The need for information management is growing in this age of digital data and information sharing. With growing expectations for data accessibility and needs for data organization, scientific networks face challenges unique to long-term, large-scale scientific endeavors including a recognized gap between skills in information management and the needs – both recognized and unrecognized. Amidst the diversity of tools and technologies available, there are changes in scientific practices to consider that add to the data work in individual investigator’s laboratories and the work involved in supporting collaborative project teams. There are even more profound cultural shifts involved as collaborative systems are developed at multiple, interdependent scales, moving from short-term, single site projects to longer-term, multi-site distributed networks (NSF, 2002, p.15). To support creation and dissemination of knowledge about information management, an NSF supplement proposal was submitted in 2009 to the NSF LTER program office. The request was framed as follows: “We are requesting funds to bring together a group of specialists to 1) define a course of action and guidelines for creating a forum with educational materials on information management and 2) define the research questions we will pursue in a larger proposal.” The idea of initiating an education-oriented information management learning commons grew from collaboration among participants in two networks in the International Long Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER): the US Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) and the Finnish Long-Term Socio- Ecological Research (FinLTSER) Network. With Finnish expertise in relevant topics and data managers interested in the commons located at or near Oulu University, the meeting was planned for Oulu University and referred to as ‘the Oulu meeting’. Workshop participants from both networks recognized the need to consider development of some type of life-long, life-wide learning arrangements for information managers. The US Long-Term Ecological Research Network began in 1980. Due to a fortuitous accumulation of insights developed from previous community efforts, of bold visions from charismatic well-placed leaders, of holistic perspectives inherent to ecological science, and of a deep understanding about data matters, data management emerged early on as a required role at each of the U.S. LTER sites. The inclusion of a data manager at a site’s inception can be recognized as a strategic, formative factor. Further, the understanding that ‘data matters’ and that there are new types of work is a message that currently travels informally among ILTER participants. The role and its responsibilities have evolved and broadened in the last decade as is evident in the name change within the US LTER from ‘data manager’ to ‘information manager’ (Baker et al., 2000; Baker and Millerand, 2010). The generation of effective resources to scaffold articulation of and learning about information management roles is, however, at an early stage. This report summarizes start-up efforts in gathering and conceptualizing information about information management (IM) and collaborative learning environments such as a Virtual Learning Commons (VLC). Plans and products are discussed in Section 1; a timeline is given in Section 2 along with a description of initial events. The Oulu meeting activities are detailed in Section 3. Discussion and final thoughts are summarized in Sections 4 and 5, respectively. A list of abbreviations and online links is provided in Appendix 7.1 along with our 2009 proposal, the 2009 LTER All-Scientists Meeting Working Group Reports, and the Oulu meeting agenda.

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