[NOTE 1: As a little background, I fought against including any text in the print version of the UCEA Review. I have become so used to publishing directly to the Web that I felt shackled by the constraints of the print medium. So, my idea was to include only the title and a QR code linking to this blog; that's it. I lost that wrestling match...kind of. I did get Dr. Byrne-Jimenez to include a QR code in the introduction that points here. What follows, then, is the expanded version of what appears in the print edition of the UCEA Review. So, if you're here as a result of scanning the QR code from the Summer 2011 issue of UCEA Review, well, cool!]
[NOTE 2: If you're here by some other means, well, that's cool, too!]
Knowledge dissemination is not a new concern. What is new are the many simple solutions not being embraced by the academy. There was a time when we had to rely on publishing companies to help us disseminate the knowledge we generated. The Internet has changed that dramatically. When “Web 1.0” (the “static” Web) came into being, one needed to be a coder and/or to master complicated software to self-publish to the Web. However, now that “Web 2.0” is mature, nearly anyone can self-publish to the Web. If you can send an email, you can publish to the web; literally, see e.g. http://posterous.com.
Thus, there has never been a better time to be a public intellectual. Why is it important to be a “public intellectual?” Rick Hess recently released his “public presence” rankings which attempted to show which academics were contributing most to the public discourse in education. He justified the need for such a ranking system by suggesting that “...it's the scholars who...can cross boundaries, foster crucial collaborations, and bring research into the world of policy in smart and useful ways.” For as long as any of us can remember, we have been having conversations about making our work “policy-relevant;” how to better do applied or utilization-focused work. Now, we have the means to cast a wider net with our work than ever before.
If the notion of being a “public intellectual” discomforts you, perhaps you would be more comfortable with the idea of allowing your intellectualism to be public. In his seminal book on open access publishing, Willinsky (2005) argues for what he calls The Access Principle:
A commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it (p. xii).
Willinsky goes on to state that advances in computer-mediated communications mean that a commitment to the access principle now necessitates embracing these technologies “to do as much as can be done to advance and improve access to research and scholarship” (p. xii).
So, what would a truly modern day scholar/public intellectual do? Consider at least the following possibilities:
1. Open access publishing
Let’s get this out of the way first: open access and peer-review are NOT mutually exclusive. I am not suggesting we eschew peer-review. I do think we need to re-think how peer-review happens, and there are some really sharp academics who are pushing the envelope on this (see e.g. this article on open peer-review and the link therein to this article about the "experiment" in Shakespeare Quarterly). New, modern modes of peer-review notwithstanding, there are plenty of good examples of high-quality, refereed journals that are open access. Just within the discipline of education, consider, for example, Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA) and the International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership.
I think Willinsky's access principle is reason enough to commit to open access publishing. We have a moral obligation to share our knowledge in the most accessible ways. To support that argument, though, there are a number fo other reasons to commit to open access publishing. I will touch on only two here: finances and modernization.
First, finances. Do you understand the current model? Essentially, you write something really important, sign over your rights to a for-profit publisher and then that publisher charges YOUR university (and potentially other subscribers; individual or organizational) a fee to carry that journal. In other words, you are giving your knowledge to a company so they can sell it back to your university. According to my trusty university librarian-colleague, my university currently pays $771 per year to carry Educational Administration Quarterly (EAQ). The Journal of School Leadership (JSL) costs $265 per year. Think about all of the articles published by members of your department in just the last year and add up the annual subscription prices of all the unique journals in which they were published. Then, think of what you could have done with those funds, especially in these difficult budgetary times.
Second, modernization. As stated in the introductory note, and environmental concerns notwithstanding, my form in the UCEA Review was constrained by the medium. I was limited to 1,500 words, which would have been more manageable if I could have used hypertext. Instead, for most of the knowledge claims I made "there," I offered a citation or a footnote. In most of those cases, I could have saved “space” by simply hyperlinking the text. It would have also savde you the trouble of having to manually enter URLs into your browser. In this space, I can (and did, frequently) include hypertext (i.e. links). Hypertext is the (not so) new endnote/footnote.
Many open access journals offer .pdf files of articles, but they also publish the articles in HTML. Publishing in HTML allows for hypertext, but also for much more. I once published an article (Becker, 2009) based on analyses of NAEP data. The NAEP Data Explorer tool generated beautiful color maps to clearly visualize between-state variations. If you click on the link above to the article, you will notice that those maps had to be published in grayscale. Here's an example of the color maps I could not publish:
That is an "old" graphic and the quality is not great, but it is better than the grayscale version in the print journal, right?
Most print journals STILL cannot handle color graphics. With incredible advances in data visualization technology, there must be a move to publishing to the Web directly. Consider what the New York Times has been able to do by way of modern data visualizations. Here is a link to an interactive visualization of how Americans spend their time. That's a bit more meaningful than a static APA-style figure, no? I dare you to watch Hans Rosling in the following video and not conclude that we need to think differently about how we display data and the media in which we display them.
The modern publishing affordances of HTML are not as much an argument for open access publishing as they are an argument for publishing TO and FOR the Web. Journals can still publish an HTML version of articles and limit access to subscribers. However, to place scholarship on the Web and to then not embrace the affordances of "Web 2.0," or the social web, makes little sense. Consider the arguments made in the next section about scholarly communications via social media.
2. Social Media: Blogging, Microblogging and More
Today, those who best embrace the affordances of the open Web and especially social media dominate the educational policy discourse. In Hess’s public presence rankings, Diane Ravitch is #1 with a bullet. She has a new book (2010) that she has relentlessly promoted by doing the old-fashioned book tour. But, she has promoted the book and shared her knowledge via modern means as well. Ravitch has been a blogger for a few years; her back-and-forth with Deborah Meier on Bridging Differences stands as a lighthouse for any serious scholar exploring the affordances of blogging as a scholarly platform. She has also become an avid user of Twitter where she regularly engages with the public. As a result of her use of various forms of social media, Ravitch has (amazingly) positioned herself as the leading voice of the counter-narrative to the dominant educational policy agenda.
There are other reasons to embrace blogging and other forms of social media as forms of knowledge dissemination. Kjellberg (2010) interviewed 12 academic bloggers and found commonalities amongst the functions that their blogs served and their motivations for blogging. Combining the six thematically described functions and the three main motivations, Kjellberg argues that “there is an all–embracing motivating factor that emerges from the combination of functions that a blog can have and the related possibility of addressing multiple audiences or a combination of audiences” (Conclusions, para. 3). First, motivated by sharing with others, a blog allows scholars to disseminate content and express opinions to larger audiences than more traditional outlets. Second, needing room for creativity and self-reflection, the blog is a tool for practicing writing and for keeping up-to-date and remembering; it is a space to house early articulations of one’s ideas. Finally, valuing connections, the participants used their blogs for interacting and creating relationships with others.
Dr. Scott McLeod, UCEA's Associate Director of Digital Awesomeness Communications, is a prolific blogger. He now has over 25,000 daily subscribers to his blog which is now housed at bigthink which receives over 1 million unique visitors per month. His posts start lots of discussion, including one post that generated 140 comments. How's that for "impact factor?"
Scott's blog is largely targeted at K-12 "practitioners." For a more "academic" or scholarly blog, I submit Dr. Bruce Baker (#51 in Hess's rankings). Through his blog, Bruce makes the complex narrative around school finance highly accessible. He takes advantage of the affordances of publishing to the web when he includes sophisticated displays of data. A recent post about charter schools on Dr. Baker's blog includes 25 comments which, together, comprise a great argument between Bruce, Stuart Buck and Kevin Welner. That conversation happened "in public," not at some exclusive conference or behind some paywall. How can you read that conversation and not recognize the value of blogs as spaces for scholarly communication?
I can point to lots of other examples at the intersection of social media and scholarship. Princeton English professor Jeff Nunokawa has written over 3.000 essays using Facebook's notes function. He uses Facebook as his platform exactly for how accessible it is. Larry Sabato is the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and the Director of the Center for Politics at UVA. Dr. Sabato has become an avid Twitter user. His Twitter updates inform his followers about current political events. His real-time updates have become an important scholarly compliment to commentary from mainstream media.
3. Digital Curation
"Content is no longer king; curation is king." Various forms of that sentiment have been uttered widely through various media. In the so-called "Information Age," where anyone can not only create content but also share it widely, there is a real need for content-area experts who can serve as curators.
In the field of educational leadership and policy studies, there is a growing number of armchair pundits on educational policy and leadership. Some of what is being written or said about educational policy, school reform, etc. is of questionable value. However, there is also a lot of really thoughtful commentary and analysis being generated and published around the Web. Maria Popova argues that in a new world of information abundance, content curation is a new kind of authorship.
One could certainly argue that content curation is not a new kind of authorship. Editing books or journals is about content curation and has traditionally "counted" as authorship for tenure and promotion purposes. However, at the risk of sounding repetitive, our tools for content creation are new.
Scott McLeod (him again!) maintains a second "blog" called Mind Dump wherein he shares tidbits from articles around the Web with links to the actual article. If you look at the list of the top "tags" he uses for the articles he shares, you can see quite clearly that he is mostly curating content at the intersection of education and technology. For that site, he uses a dead simple service called Posterous. Publishing through Posterous requires the skill of sending an email or clicking on an icon in your web browser. Really, that's it.
Social bookmarking tools are also incredibly simple to use and ideal for curating content. Diigo and Delicious are the two most widely adopted free social bookmarking services. Users can "bookmark" sites, aggregate them using tags, and then share their collections publicly. I would not have written this article had I not spent much time in the last year or so reading widely and thinking deeeply about the ideas about which the article is written. Along the way, I have bookmarked much of what I have read. For instance, the articles I bookmarked about open access publishing can be found at: http://www.diigo.com/user/jonbecker/openaccess. Using Diigo, I have curated a collection of 32 articles on a topic. Furthermore, unlike content curation in a print medium, that collection is dynamic (I can add or delete at any time) and interactive (visitors can comment on any of the items in the collection and start a conversation of sorts). I believe this to be a truly modern and increasingly important form of scholarly activity.
There are other forms of modern scholarly activity that are well-worth considering, including webinars and podcasting. Over the last 14 months, Steve Hargadon has been conducting webinars with authors, practitioners, bloggers, etc. all under the heading of his "Future of Education" series. Those webinars, which occur anywhere from 2-5 days a week, are open to anyone and are archived for anyone who wants to watch and/or listen after the fact. Hargadon has interviewed an incredible and diverse group of thinkers, ranging from Alfie Kohn to Rick Hess. The site housing the archived webinars is an incredible open educational resource that continues to develop. It is noteworthy and heartening to see that UCEA is beginning to engage in the podcasting arena, bringing the voices of the many bright minds at UCEA institutions to the public in modern ways.
In conclusion, we live in a time of knowledge ubiquity and not knowledge scarcity. We need to embrace the tools that allow us to adapt to that reality and remain relevant. I stand with Gideon Burton, Assistant Professor of English at Brigham Young University, who writes:
I don't want to be complicit in sustaining a knowledge economy that rewards its participants when they invest in burying and restricting knowledge. This is why Open Access is more than a new model for scholarly publishing, it is the only ethical move available to scholars who take their own work seriously enough to believe its value lies in how well it engages many publics and not just a few peers (para. 7).
If modernity followed The Enlightenment, I hope you will join me in the “public sphere” afforded by modern communications technologies.