VEBER (Virtual Environment for Built Environment Researchers)

A team at the Centre for Disaster Resilience led the development and testing of a virtual environment to support international collaborative research projects.

Due to the challenges and opportunities associated with globalisation of the research agenda and advancements in ICT, research collaborations (both international and national) have become increasingly popular over the last decade.

The concept of Virtual Research Environments is emerging as a way of addressing the complex challenges associated with conducting collaborative research. Virtual Environment for the Built Environment Research (VEBER) has been developed by the Centre as a web based collaborative tool based on a state-of-the-art online communication framework. VEBER is based on an open source distributed toolset called Moodle, which was originally developed as an open source Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Moodle is a dynamic data driven web application written in PHP and supports a number of different Database Management Systems (DBMSs) as the backend.

VEBER has been developed by using this toolset as a basis and by adding and adapting the functionalities required for a Virtual Research Environment. VEBER does not demand special skills for its usage; a general knowledge on how to handle an internet browser is sufficient.

VEBER provides a broad range of functionality that facilitates administration and coordination of an international collaborative project:

  • Collaboration and communication support - traditional communication modes are less capable of meeting the demands of multiple partner institutions in a collaborative research environment, therefore a set of communication tools embedded in VEBER is used for this purpose. These tools include communication channels such as announcements, discussions, group emails, forums and chat.
  • Information handling and exchange support - a file hosting tool provides a robust platform for information and document handling and exchange. VEBER is equipped with file hosting and sharing mechanisms including a common document repository and a private workspace to keep and share private and confidential documents securely.
  • Project management support - administration across partners is supported with calendar, task and notification tools.
  • Data collection and dissemination support - to overcome potential geographical barriers, VEBER provides a survey tool to aid data collection during a research project and a file hosting tool to facilitate joint paper preparations.
  • Research training support - VEBER provides discussion forums, file hosting, chat, online workshops and related learning materials, and library services, to support research training.
  • Access rights and allocation of responsibilities - VEBER provides user authentication mechanisms and strategies to share authorities and responsibilities. The sense of ownership is increased by increasing trust and facilitating leadership. Tools such as project calendars and task assignments help to establish and monitor commitment, transparency and clarity of activities desired for success. Communication tools such as forums, chatting facilities, and document repositories facilitated communication and project monitoring.

For further information on VEBER, contact Dr. Kaushal Keraminiyage at k.p.keraminiyage@salford.ac.uk