Thursday, March 27, 2014

What I Know Is: A Research Symposium on Online Collaborative Knowledge-Building

The GSA Library attended last week a fascinating symposium on the theme of open knowledge and open education at the University of Stirling.

The first strand of the Symposium was on Digital Publishing and Open Access and got started with Ally Crockford, currently Wikimedian-in-Residence at the National Library of Scotland. Ally commented on some of the perceived anxieties about Wikipedia in library environments such as anxieties about the way students are now accessing information via Wikipedia rather than via library collections and anxieties about whether Wikipedia will soon make institutions such as libraries obsolete. Ally argued for exactly the opposite of the perceived anxieties, namely that rather than making libraries obsolete, Wikipedia holds the possibility of driving more traffic back into libraries thanks to its referencing system, but also of driving more traffic towards some of the digital initiatives that libraries are undertaking nowadays. Ally used the example of project specific resources, such as the Duncan Street Explorer or the Scottish Science Hall of fame, which a lot of time and effort has gone into, but which you wouldn't necessarily come across unless you were specifically carrying out research on that topic. Wikipedia on the other hand has a strong factor of incidental traffic which leads itself to discovery, so instead of acting as competition, Wikipedia can instead act as a gateway to these digital projects. If more librarians and other professionals in the Gallery, Museums and Archives sector add references to Wikipedia, then it has the potential of becoming a structure that supports open access to these digital resources and platforms.

In the same strand, Padmini Ray Murray, who teaches at the university of Sterling and has recently become a  Board Trustee for the Wikimedia UK Foundation, then carried the conversation onto ideas linked with Open Access Publishing. Padmini introduced her address in the context of the debate raised by Harvard in 2012 when they chose to denounce the outrageous prices set by academic publishers and instead urged their academic staff to switch to publishing their research through open-access journals. Padmini compared the current academic publishing structure to that outlined in Sorenson Mork Peterson's essay Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation analysing user exploitation trends occurring in Web 2.0. Padmini went on to outline a number of initiatives which have been trying to offer solutions to this issue, such as the Aaron Swartz's wish, leading to tax-funded research becoming freely available and the recent Knowledge Unlatched initiative which seeks to make books freely accessible on a Creative Commons license with the help of libraries around the world. Padmini added that she also saw academics using and contributing to Wikipedia as a stance of political resistance in this context. She sees the act of making academic knowledge and research openly accessible as part of our civic responsibilities, in reference to Tim Berners-Lee's recent call for a digital users' Bill of Rights, which should surely go hand in hand with a bill of responsibilities? In conclusion, Padmini drew our attention to Ben Werdmuller's definition of "Respectful Software", which is something for all of us to aspire to in the world of open access.

In the afternoon, we moved on to a new strand on Networked Communities, Commons and Open Learning. Penny Travlou from the University of Edinburgh, talking about her ethnographic research on networked artist communities and the concept of Co-Creation as a Model of Creativity. Penny made reference to the current maker movement with David Gauntlet's book Making is Connecting and its influence on contemporary art. She then expanded on some examples of open-source, networked art making with movements such as Art is open Source and the Furtherfield community which she explored as part of her ethnographic research. As another example of open-source art project, Penny also drew oour attention to Salvatore Laconesi's project La Cura, which she'd been involved with as a participant. As part of the discussion following the presentation, the point was raised that these collaborative cyber art practices are still not considered part of mainstream art, but rather exist as a marginal element, still awaiting recognition as Claire Bishop describes in her essay The Digital Divide.

The next part of that strand was led by Lorna Campbell, from CETIS, who works with OpenScotland and the UK Open Knowledge Foundation. Lorna began her talk by touching on some of the legacies of the UK OER program and in particular about the yearly OER conferences which continue to take place despite the original OER program having come to an end and are going from strength to strength (the next OER conference will be taking place in Newcastle at the end of April). Lorna pointed out a couple of interesting Scottish examples of OERs with the Napier 3E Framework and the Glasgow Caledonian University Library OER Guidelines, as well as drawing attention to Re:Source, the new resource-sharing platform for the college sector in Scotland, all providing support structures for the further development of new OERs. Some interesting conversations came up during Lorna's talk in relation to MOOCs and the fact that they are free, but not open-source, raising the point of what constitutes open in the context of education.

The conversation ended with a discussion between Toni Sant and Greg Singh on the theme of digital humanities. Toni Sant is currently the head of the Wikimedia UK Education Outreach initiative and teaches at the university of Hull. Practicing what he preaches, Toni hasn't read a student essay since 2010, assessing them instead on their contributions to Wikipedia. He'll be leading the next Annual EduWiki Conference, which will be taking place in Edinburgh either end of October or beginning of November 2014 (dates to be confirmed).