Representations of open scholarship

One thing I have already noticed about being on a MOOC is that the forums and blog posts tend to mingle responses to the exercises and feedback comments on those exercises themselves. Maybe this is all part of the learning experience, but I’m not certain it is always helpful. I will try not to do this too much, but I do have one observation which may be relevant to open education as a whole.

I am a bit surprised that one of the resources set for this task is a set of Powerpoint slides for a talk delivered at a conference. When I personally use Powerpoint in presentations (which I know is a bit unfashionable), I consider it key that the slides are a visual aid to the presentation – they are not the presentation itself. You can use Powerpoint on a stand-alone basis if you want, but that is not what is happening here. The result is that, apart from thinking that 73 slides is far too much for one talk, I feel like I have picked up some ideas about what the speaker was saying, but I don’t think I really understand his argument. (Although I thought his wordle “word cloud” cv was very cool and I will pinch that idea for the “About Me” section of my blog). So why were we set these resources, instead of a more complete resource such as a video presentation, podcast or article? Is this because “open education” means “anything goes”? Hopefully not, but it raised the question in my mind.

Anyway, we are asked to create a visual representation of open scholarship, drawing on some of the ideas in our resources. I am not great on visual representations – I tend to think in words not images, and I have generally worked in places where experts can deal with making things look attractive, so I have never honed my skills in this way. But I gave it a go (that spirit of openness again). At risk of over-simplifying, I would depict the situation in two simple diagrams. One depicts the “old world” of scholarship, say up to the 1970s, although still very much the dominant model when I was at university in the 1980s:

Closed scholarship


It would be too much to say that scholars were completely isolated from society, but they seemed to me fairly well insulated. There were clear entry criteria and career paths. Scholars attended conferences where they discussed matters with each other. They published papers in peer-reviewed journals that few if any outside the scholarly community would ever read. They taught some students within the institutions they worked for. There was interaction with the world outside – perhaps some public lectures, “popular” books or TV appearances – but these were limited.

As we all know well, this model started to break down in the 1970s, with organisations like the Open University and the University of Phoenix (which, in the interests of being open, I will disclose shares a parent company with my employer) getting things going. You can then chart a trajectory via the World Wide Web, academic blogs, OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and many other staging posts to the emerging situation we see now:

Open scholarship

The key point is that the line between scholarship and the rest of the world is much more porous. Scholars regularly host tv programmes, share their thoughts in blogs as well as academic journals, and run courses open to everyone. This process is still at the early stages, of course, but the direction seems clear. It’s an exciting development, and means many more people can access and contribute to scholarship in all its forms. But, going back to my point about “anything goes”, the questions multiply too:

  • If the universities no longer have a monopoly on scholarship, then who defines whether someone is a scholar or not?
  • Who exercises scholarly authority? Is it based on credentials, qualifications, experience, or how many hits your blog or YouTube channel gets?
  • Social media discourse tends to gravitate to “small talk” – chat about the latest fads, fun stuff, soundbites, instant feelings. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is very different to scholarship, which at its best can mean a painstaking trawl through data and literature, carefully building up conclusions and then opening them for debate. Is the world of open scholarship going to allow space for this?

All food for thought and discussion as we move onwards.



Filed under H817 Openness and innovation in elearning

13 responses to “Representations of open scholarship

  1. In his blog post Niall was very unimpressed with the power point too.

    As an “Open Learner” I felt free to just ignore it.

  2. sorry, I think the link to Niall’s blog got stripped out:

    As a standalone resource, slideshare presentations should include the speaker’s voice and preferably not last more than three minutes. (imho:-)

  3. Few people know what they are doing with PowerPoint – as a short hand set of cards or stepping stones, stand alone, they can be used as you describe. But you are right – where is the narrative, the building of the argument of the nuanced slowing down or speeding up to change emphasis – let alone the question from the floor, or the adhoc additional thought. Visuals in a presentation should compliment what is said – one would be far weaker without the other. Very, very rarely when I have attended a conference or lecture we receive a handout that is, give or take (though the presenter didn’t read from it), the notes they used to talk through the images. When someone says ‘there is a handout’ and provides copies of the slides that is ridiculous. It is like being in a train looking out of the window while someone is talking to you – you want want they said,not what you were looking at.

    Regarding the mixing up of activities, as well as people, as here, we do asynchronously elect to opt in or opt out of the discussion so it isn’t as muddled as it may appear. We can be in several places at once, in a throng of people all of whom are on pause as we go around listening in, joining in or leaving it ’til later

    The important stuff is going on between our ears. What is going on in there? Are we not creating hubs of intelligence, vicariously, that before or ’til now, only existed in the labs, green rooms, common rooms, offices and cars of tiny, isolated groups of people?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comments Jonathan. I agree that the MOOC can lead to interesting conversations and intellectual stimulus – I feel like it has given me plenty to think about already. But it makes me wonder about the “C” element in MOOC. Are they actually more akin to the various forums and discussion boards dotted around the internet than a “course” as we would usually understand it? I think this is one of the many questions we are still working out.

      • The YouTube presentation is the way to follow this. Slides on their own are pointless and I wish people would stop doing it. At best they are an aide memoire for the presenter, meaningless out of context and generally very poorly designed and visualised.

      • I’ve been pontificating on the meaning of that C myself.

        First I said it couldn’t be “course” because there was no “route” given through the material:

        But I still didn’t know what the word really should be…

        A couple of days later, I woke up with the answer: “conference”

        The OU H817 MOOC is pretty close to Cormier’s cMOOC model, which really genuinely is just a conference. But conferences aren’t for beginners — they’re for people who already know the field in relatively high detail….

      • Niall – thanks for this. You have given it a lot of thought and I strongly agree. What that suggests to me is that, although MOOCs can be valuable (I am starting to enjoy this one and wondering about doing another), some of the more breathless comments about MOOCs replacing universities are wide of the mark, at least in their current form. What would be interesting would be to see if this is also true of MOOCs that are more based around technical skills, such as Udacity. I can imagine these are much more structured.

      • I’ve tried some Udacity stuff, and it’s not bad, but it’s limited. I think computer-based learning can squeeze the top and bottom end of learning — you could probably replace most of a 1st year university course with present-and-test computer technologies, and you could replace a lot of masters-level courses with connectionist MOOCs. But there’s a space in between where you still need individual directed guidance.

        I reckon, anyway.

    • If few people know what to do with PowerPoint, the blame can be placed on PowerPoint itself. Edward Tufte argued in his essay “the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” that PowerPoint actively encourages bad practice. I tend to agree with him, and it’s not restricted to PowerPoint. Any piece of software influences the users habits by presenting certain “paths of least resistance” (I work in IT support and training previously, and these paths of least resistance are very real, and very rarely the optimal approach to a task).

  4. David

    For the Anderson (2009), Alt-C Keynote I found it easier to download the slides file and open it in PowerPoint (some slides also contain notes) and also I found his keynote address on youtube at
    Again, it worked better to download the video to make it smoother for pausing as I took notes.

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