Though the new website launched in February 2010, one facet of Middlebury’s revamped online presence did not take off until May. MiddLab, a virtual compendium of student and faculty research at the College, is still in its infancy in September after a slow summer, but its link sits prominently on the College’s homepage and student research is picking up speed as the fall semester continues — the conditions are right for Middlebury’s most recent web development to flourish.
“We wanted a place on the site that emphasized the research students were doing,” said Ian McBride, senior software engineer at the College and project manager of MiddLab. “On the old site we found all of these great projects that students were doing, but they were spread out all over the place. There was a sense that the research that was going on, particularly in the sciences, wasn’t being effectively highlighted.”
MiddLab — part showcase, part blog and part forum — has the space and the range of functionality to display the equally wide range of student and faculty research at the College. The site gives each research project its own page with many multimedia content options, and projects are indexed by department, researcher and a growing number of themes designed to connect research across disciplines. Inter- and intra-departmental awareness of similar research is one of the founding goals of MiddLab according to Temporary Research and Web Assistant Ryan Kellett ’09.5.
“With Middlebury theses, unless you really talk to other seniors who are working on topics, you have very little idea of what kind of research is happening on campus,” said Kellett. “It’s very unlikely that you’ll end up having an interaction with people who might have a similar topic in a slightly different field or a different department, or other people who have a topic that is related within your own department. That’s one of the ironic things about current research is it’s very sectioned off — MiddLab can help that.”
Bridging the gap between related research projects is also meant to span more than multiple departments within the College — MiddLab offers project pages to research institution-wide, including the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
The opportunity for researchers to connect with other researchers is only one of MiddLab’s goals, however. McBride hopes the ability to blog about ongoing research, not just present formal results, will help students think about the research process itself and publicize work outside of senior theses.
“This fall we really want to encourage student participation in MiddLab at the start of the research project,” said McBride. “People could create blogs about interesting research they’re doing as part of a course or an independent research project with a faculty member, or even faculty/staff research that’s going on independent of student activities.”
MiddLab serves as a useful font of information for members of the Middlebury community, but it also reaches out to the greater public, especially as part of the main webpage. McBride stressed MiddLab’s utility as a resource to people outside the College and as a means to exhibit work that would have otherwise seen a very limited audience. Associate Professor of American Studies and Director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) Susan Burch began a project last year called “Life Stories of Middlebury College” where students, faculty and staff conduct interviews with other students, faculty and staff about their experiences at the College, highlighting issues of diversity. These interviews were videotaped and burned to DVDs originally to be kept in the Special Collections archives — possibly never to be seen or heard from again. But in the last two weeks McBride has begun uploading the videos to MiddLab where they may enjoy a larger audience.
“As a central space to discuss and learn about research at the College,
MiddLab is an ideal setting to showcase some of the Life Stories films,” wrote Burch in an e-mail. “Its capacity to hold video material enables viewers to experience Life Stories directly, which we hope will foster greater interest in research on
diversity at and beyond Middlebury.”
McBride agreed that fostering greater interest in research at the College is important, but he has his eyes on a larger prize: he would like to see MiddLab become an open forum for discussion of the research.
“With the online discussion format, it opens up access to people who aren’t here on campus, who can’t attend live research presentations, and it gives people more time to reflect on the material of the research project before they ask questions of the researcher,” said McBride. “You don’t have just that 30 seconds of engagement looking over the poster, you can really examine all of the details and see if you have questions that might be more in depth.”
Maria Perille ’11, whose economics research on the effectiveness of charity auction mechanisms (in conjunction with two other students and three professors) is featured on MiddLab, expressed enthusiasm for the discussion potential.
“We were really excited about our research and wanted to share with others what we had spent the summer doing,” said Perille. “I haven’t actually checked [if anyone has commented on our project], but I think it’s a really good forum and I think the more people use it, the more beneficial it will be. Right now there are only a few projects up there and not all of the departments are involved, but I think once people start using it more and getting their own stories up there, then it will be a great resource for everyone to know what research is going on on campus — it will stimulate more discussion.”
To join the discussion and see what members of the Middlebury community are looking into, visit go/middlab, and to get your research on the web, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.