Challenges of Open Scholarship

We are kicking off our new module by reading and commenting on a paper by Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) which seeks to discuss some of the assumptions and challenges they see underlying “open scholarship”. These will be considered in turn.

Assumption 1 – “open scholarship has a strong ideological basis rooted in an ethical pursuit for democratization, fundamental human rights, equality, and justice.”

Challenge – “it is presently unclear whether these ideals are essential components of the open scholarship movement or are merely incidental to those who are pioneering the field.”

This point is illustrated with reference to the MOOCs, which have evolved from the idealistic cMOOCs to the more commercial and corporate xMOOCs. I guess the underlying point here is that any scholarship, open or not, is eventually going to bump up against the “who pays” question. Making scholarship and learning available to as many people as possible is a noble aim and should be pursued, but the reality is that the salaries of those doing the resource and their equipment, offices etc. will need to be funded from somewhere.

There are a number of options here – the government can fund it out of general taxation, users can pay in one form or another, they can be funded by philanthropic organisations, or cross-subsidised by other activities undertaken by the institution, or various other options (apparently Udacity is even experimenting with funding education via product placement). Each of these has pros and cons and it would be interesting to review them another time. But my own view on this is that each of these models will bring its own issues and it is not obvious to me that any one of them is inherently more ethical than the others. I work for a for-profit education provider and have absolutely no ethical problems with that. This is a debate I will happily enter when needed!

On this point, I have just finished reading Who Owns The Future?, a rambling but intriguing book by Jaron Lanier (2013), which I highly recommend. He documents the way our desire for free or cheap services has lead to the creation of business models for technology companies that he sees as ultimately highly destructive. However, part of his argument is that this is the result of choices we have made as a society – it is possible for us to make different choices that will lead to a much healthier use of technology. This applies to education as much as anything else.

Assumption 2 – “open scholarship emphasizes the importance of digital participation for enhanced scholarly outcomes.”

Challenge – “scholars need to develop an understanding of participatory cultures in order to take full advantage of open scholarship.”

I completely agree with this point and wrote a previous post about the key scholarly skills of search, filtering and networking and how the cMOOCs can be great tools for learning them. These are not new skills, but have been transformed in recent years and are vital for anyone who wants to be a successful learner. They already do form part of the education process, at least for some, but in my view they need to be made central to the education we provide both to children and adults.

Assumption 3 – “open scholarship is treated as an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture.”

Challenge – “we must recognize that technology, and social media in particular, are not neutral”

Again, I agree, and recently was introduced to a paper which, while accepting the value of Web 2.0 practices, highlights their inherent tension with many educational practices (Dohn, 2009). The authors particularly highlight the “filter bubble”, whereby we are only exposing ourselves to views similar to our own. This is a real risk, and needs consciously overcoming by, for example, following some people on Twitter, or some blogs, which represent views we disagree with. Another example I have strong views about is Facebook, which unashamedly represents and promotes an ideology that privacy is unnecessary and needs to be eroded. The answer seems to me to be conscious awareness of the values implicit in technology and challenging them where necessary.

Assumption 4 – “open scholarship is seen as a practical and effective means for achieving scholarly aims that are socially valuable.”

Challenge – “such practices may also open the door to new dilemmas and make some aspects of current practice less efficient.”

It’s hard to disagree with this one too – open access leads to phenomena like “data deluge” that bring new challenges, which in turn need to be overcome. There are tools available to help with this, such as RSS readers, but they represent further skills to be mastered. What I would also note (and I think the authors would agree with me here), is that, on aggregate, technology has helped us to open up access to education over the past few decades. I sometimes use as my starting point here Thomas Hardy’s great novel Jude the Obscure (1895), which focuses on the tragedy of a stonemason desperate to gain a classical education who is continually rejected by the establishment of his day. Nowadays, someone of Jude’s determination would be studying part-time or at very least be a MOOC enthusiast. Continuing issues and dilemmas should not blind us to real progress being made on some points.

Overall the authors, cautious proponents of digital scholarship, have raised a number of very important issues that need to be consciously addressed as technology changes the tools we use in education.

 

References:

Dohn, N. (2009) ‘Web 2.0: Inherent tensions and evident challenges for education’, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4:343-363. DOI 10.1007/s11412-009-9066-8.

Hardy, T. (1895), Jude the Obscure, London, Osgood, McIlvaine & Co

Lanier, J. (2013) Who Owns The Future? Allen Lane, London.

Veletsianos, G. and Kimmons, R. (2012) ‘Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship’, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, vol. 13, no. 4, 166–189 [online]. Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1313/2304 (Accessed 5 October 2013).

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