Digital paradoxes around openness

I just got back from from listening to Penny Carnaby from Lincoln University in New Zealand talking about Embracing the Digital Paradox! Exploring the impact of the Canterbury Earthquakes (a natural disaster) on scholarship, learning and teaching. That was mostly about the aftermath of the Canterbury/Christchurch earthquakes, the roles played by digital media in providing support for people immediately and more long term, and the role of the National Library of New Zealand and other agencies collaborating to ensure that documentary records were preserved. One major project that arose is CEISMIC which is a digital archive of the events. 

Discussion in response to her presentation ranged across a variety of topics but eventually highlighted what I thought were some interesting paradoxes.

Penny talked about the challenges in moving academic publication toward openness which runs against the tradition of tightly control refereed journals that are held in university libraries and are not widely available to the public. She also mentioned the roles of elite gatekeepers in controlling access to those publication venues and effectively determining what is of most value. It struck me that those positions were paradoxical.

The pecking order of academic journals is typically determined by measures like the Impact Factor based on citations which imply wider readership if they are higher. On that basis I’d expect open publications to be more widely read and cited and therefore potentially rated as more valuable than closed.

When it comes to elites determining what is valued there is something of a mystery involved in academics, who are often iconoclastic and known for contrariness, accepting such verdicts rather than determining the value of something for themselves. True there may be something of the club involved but it’s strange nonetheless.

Another member of the audience asked a question about the reluctance of students to engage in online discussions in courses despite their propensity for using social media in daily life. That seems paradoxical but the answer may lie in another paradox that we tell students that online discussion is desirable but we assess them on individual, rather than cooperative, work thus according no particular value to engaging in discussions. In fact, we discourage cooperation when it matters most, around assessment, and tend to punish collusion as serious misconduct.

If we really are moving to a more open academic world we may have some work to do lining up various aspects of our work for consistency. Various inconsistencies may become more apparent as we open up. That might not be a bad thing.