In open educational resources and open access research, there is a strong emphasis about how they can support the exchange of content and understanding between people, with a focus on academic-to-academic, teacher-to-learner, and sometimes learner-to-learner. In this blog post I’d like to unpack how OER and OA can help connect academics with the public and what implications that might have.
If, as a thought experiment, we were to take as our primary use case members of the public: how can we best support that?
Heath warning: I used an old fashioned method of flipchart and felt-tips, so I hope these are legible enough to get my point across. Also I have used the metaphor of an open content cloud to mean something nebulous with fuzzy edges. I don’t mean cloud as in cloud computing. Also I have a very weak definition of open: at a minimum I just mean freely available without authentication.
Let’s start with the basics …
1) Academics contribute content (tweets, slides, papers, courses …) to the web. As well as being available to other academics, it is also on the open web so it is available to the public. It is also available to journalists to use in their reporting up to the public.
2) Of course, the cloud of open content is huge, the range of journalistic media is huge: no individual can read it all. Which is why social media is so important to our filtering and selection of resources …
3) … because it is social media that enables members of the public, journalists and academics to make connections between content items, for those connections to be visible to everyone else, and for people to be able to make rich networks of connections.
4) So far so good. But for this to deepen and build over time, within topic areas, and within individuals, for provenance to be trusted,and for this to become normalised as the way we use the web, we need to properly attribute and cite resources, to make this flow reliable and visible …
5) … and to do that we need to be able to clearly identify people and content
Hopefully this all looks familiar.
I think there might be some interesting implications for how we manage the digital infrastructure to underpin this public<>academic use case. Many of these implications are bubbling away in blog posts about OA and OER, so I think there is some value in articulating what these implications are.
- Academics should, and many are, embracing the possibilities of contributing content to the web, beyond an audience of other academics
- We need to understand what journalists need in order to use academic-created content. Data journalism, journalistic use of social media could be key to how academic-created content reaches the public. The rights that need to be granted to journalists to share, reuse and remix content need to be given, but in such a way that meets the motivations of the academic (often attribution)
- We need to understand better how the public (i.e people) use the web and social media: digital literacy is important for academic content to get informed take-up from the public
- Likewise rights that need to be granted to the public to share, reuse and remix content need to be given as appropriate. But they need to be simple, hence the value of sticking to some core licenses such as the Creative Commons suite even where better niche licenses might be available
- So how much does open licensing matter? Perhaps it matters most in the academic<>academic exchange, next in the academic<>journalist exchange, and least of all in the academic<>public exchange.
- However how much does attribution matter? A lot. Embeddable machine readable licenses are key to these chains of attribution because they offer the possibility of automatic attribution. (I am convinced this is very important, whilst I recognise it doesn’t work for big data, it is necessary for a lot of other use cases)
- When we think about identifying people, we shouldn’t just think about identifying academics: journalists and the public matter too, and our systems of identifiers must work across domain boundaries; where do twitter and facebook and wordpress fit with this rich linkage?
Given that researchers should be thinking about public impact, and teaching academics are starting to think about open education, perhaps infrastructure providers and institutions should be weighting the academic-to-public use case more heavily?
Connecting people through open content by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at infteam.jiscinvolve.org.
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