I attended Open Access Week at the University of Toronto as I was visiting in Canada throughout the month of October. I was fortunate enough to meet and hear a great talk from Stian Haklev a PhD candidate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). What is interesting is that I have never met Stian but I have been following his work for about a year. The reason I am able to follow his work is because he practices the principle of anopen scholar. I can at any time see what he is working on through his blog, his social media updates, or his work at the Peer 2 Peer University. So Stian’s openness in his research led me to contact him while I was in Toronto and we ended up having a great conversation after his talk.
The talk was titled ‘What it means to be an Open Scholar and the future of scholarly publishing’. Stian critiqued the current model of scholarly publishing for most often restricting access to the very audiences we as researchers aim to serve. The presentation is available here and a live recording of the sesssion ishere (real media player is required-cringe!)
Stian highlighted some of the potential benefits for academics sharing their research as open access. While it is not always possible to have published research shared initially, it is becoming increasingly possible to have at least a final draft shared through a system of self archival if your institution has a repository in place. There is growing evidence that shows that research articles that have been self-archived or published in open access journals are cited more often than those that have not (Gray, 2010, JISC, 2008). The potential for more citation through open access enables the researcher to gain more “academic currency” by having their research available to be read, used and cited by future researchers.
Stian did not suggest we limit the open scholar to publishing in open access journals only. Open scholarship involves making not only the finished product of research visible but also opening up the entire process. Stian suggested researchers share the “directors cut” of their research through blogs, social media or personal websites. This might mean sharing their research using a different genre or writing style on a blog which is more casual than a formal academic paper. Research often involves the writing of a paper, giving a presentation, abstracts, discussions, posters etc. all of which could be made open for those interested to review and use where necessary. In opening up the process of research, academics can invite collaboration, comment, and critique which may improve the finished product.
Stian argues that Open Source software coders often produce much better and well documented code when they are working openly because they know that others might be reviewing and trying to contribute to their work. Could it be possible that operating openly in our research would help us to better organize and document the process? While it may be daunting to think of the added work required to do this, I believe the potential benefits might make it worthwhile.
Stian made another excellent point around the formats we use for sharing research. You may have noticed a number of new devices entering the mainstream in the last few years. Smartphones are becoming quite popular and the iPad is one of the year’s biggest game changers. The tablet format should be well popularized within the next year or so.
People are reading on new devices which require new formats in which research should be shared. I know Stian is not a big fan of the PDF and I hear his argument; have you ever tried to read a PDF on your smartphone or cell phone? It really does not work! Have you ever tried to copy a PDF to a more friendly format such as a document? The spacing is usually all messed up! The PDF is an electronic version of an A4 page and fairly hard to work with on a small screen. If we want our work to be read we really need to provide it in a format which will allow people to read it anywhere, anytime. The changing nature of the hardware devices we use will require a change in the format research gets disseminated.
It was great to meet Stian and see the fantastic work he is doing at OISE. It’s also comforting to know that we share some of the same challanges in our contexts and I was very excited to hear about how they approach those challenges. I hope to deliver the open scholar presentation here at UCT sometime early next year. Stian said it was perfectly ok, as he is happy for me to share his message of openness here at UCT!
Gray, E. (2010) Understanding Open Access. Unpublished report for Open Access Week 2010.
JISC. (2008) JISC Open Access Briefing Paper. Joint Information Systems Committee. Available online