The New York Times published an article on an edX course (Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought) offered by Tsinghua University. Inside Higher Ed (IHE) wrote about it, too. The following quote from IHE articles summarizes the articles:
“That course is raising eyebrows because, despite hours of video lectures and supplemental material in the course, students would still have to tab over to Wikipedia to learn about the millions who died as a result of Mao’s land reforms or that his economic initiatives led to what may have been the greatest famine in human history, which killed tens of millions. Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought references those events glancingly in passing as “mistakes,” and generally heaps praise on Mao and his philosophies.”
I was asked to provide commentary for the New York Times article, and since it wasn’t included in the writeup, I thought it would be a good idea to share it publicly rather than leave it hidden away in my email inbox. Here is what I said:
Open courses are transparent, and that’s one of their positive aspects. They allow anyone to examine the ways that course creators think about a topic. The instructional materials from the Mao course are available to anyone to examine and study. One can look at the materials and ask: How do these materials position Mao Zedong? What are the elements of Mao’s thought that the creators of this course want to highlight? What elements of Mao’s thoughts are left behind and what are the elements that are being highlighted? What is the story that is being told here, and who stands to benefit from this story?
Stephen Downes made a similar argument in the IHE article: ““courses that might have been offered behind closed doors are offered for everyone to see.”
Now, that’s parsimonious :)
The Chronicle of Higher Education published a commentary some time ago that argued that professors are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution. It’s difficult to argue with the recommendation to exercise caution, when one looks at the list of scholars who found themselves in trouble in the last year: Salaita, Goldrick-Rab, Grundy, and so on.
But, the claim that professors are naive users of social media is unsubstantiated and reveals a limited understanding of the literature on how professors actually use social media and what they think about them. My colleagues and I have been conducting research on networked scholarship and scholars’ use of social media since 2009, and since that time, I can’t recall interviewing a faculty member or reading a study that revealed naiveté regarding social media and the challenges/tensions they introduce. If anything, most academics have an astute understanding of how social media intersect with their professional (and personal) lives and make informed (and tactical) decisions regarding their use of these technologies.
Granted, many find themselves in conundrums as a result of being in collapsed contexts and being exposed to unanticipated audiences, but to argue naiveté is misinformed.
One of my favorite aspects of my work is mentoring. I get to do this work in many contexts, but last week at AECT 2015 I gave the following presentation at the NSF early career symposium, and had a lovely conversation with colleagues on research agendas, career trajectories, and institutional expectations.
I was at a small gathering last week, called the Digital Learning Research Network. It was hosted at Stanford and it aimed to explore the messiness of digital learning. This was not representative of Silicon Valley’s uncritical love affair with technology. Many colleagues wrote reflections about it: Catherine Cronin, Kristen Eshleman, Josh Kim, Jonathan Rees, Tim Klapdor, Alyson Indrunas, Adam Croom, Whitney Kilgore, Matt Crosslin, Laura Gogia, Patrice Torcivia, and Lee Skallerup Bessette (to name a few). When was the last time you were at a small conference, other than the ones focusing on blogging, and this many people took time after the event to blog about it?
The messiness of digital learning isn’t a new development. It is something that educational technology evangelists ignore, but as a researcher who has an affinity for qualitative data, and as one who is increasingly using data mining techniques on open social data, I can tell you that mess is the norm and not the exception. I’m not the only one.
For me, the conference questioned educational technology but looked to it for empowerment. It critiqued universities but saw them as places to create a more just and equitable society. It brought attention to the US-centric conversations happening in this space, but recognized that we can learn from one another. It sought research, but did not seek to emulate research-focused conferences. It allowed Dave to share his thoughts but called him out on it when it was time to stop. ;)
I see the conference as the start of a longer and larger conversation. Many of us are doing research in this space and many were missing. Let’s expand the conversation.
Spoiler: We’ve been toying with automating the collection of literature on MOOCs (and other topics). Interested? Read further.
Researchers use different ways to keep updated with the literature on a topic. On a daily basis for example, I use Table of Content (TOC) alerts, RSS feeds, and Google Scholar alerts. Many colleagues have sought to keep track of literature on a topic and share it. For example, danah boyd maintained this list of papers on Twitter and microblogging; Tony Bates shared a copy of the MOOC literature he collected on his blog; Katy Jordan also kept a collection of MOOC literature.
A Google Scholar Alert
The problem with maintaining an updated list of relevant literature on a topic is that it quickly becomes a daunting and time-consuming task, especially for popular topics (like MOOCs or social media or teacher training).
In an attempt to automate the collection and sharing of literature, my research team and I created a python script that goes through the Google Scholar alert emails that I receive (see above), parses the content of the emails, and places it in an html page on my server, from where others can access it. The script runs daily and any new literature is added to the page.
We aren’t there just yet, but here is the output for the MOOC literature going back to November 2012. All 400 pages. I placed it in a Google Document because the html file is 2.5mb (and its easier for people to just download it in a format that they prefer)
In theory this is supposed to work quite well, but there’s a couple of problems with it:
- The output is as good as the input. Google Scholar (and its associated alerts) are a black box – meaning there’s no transparency of what is and isn’t indexed.
- It’s automated – which means it’s not clean and some “mooc literature” may not really be mooc literature because Google Scholar alerts work on keywords in the body of papers/text rather than keywords describing the papers/text.
We plan on to make the source code available and describe the process to install this so that others can use it for their own literature needs. My question is: How can the output be more helpful to you? Is there anything else that we can do to improve this?
I have a new paper out that sought to identify and describe faculty members’ open and sharing practices at one North American institution. Part of the goal was to juxtapose open practices and sharing practices. The paper highlights individual and environmental influences on open and sharing practices. The paper also suggests that defaults (e.g., the default youtube license) may be exerting pressures on the ways that scholars share their teaching, research, and scholarship. In other words, one way to instigate further change in this domain might be to rethink the default options.
Although the open scholarship movement has successfully captured the attention and interest of higher education stakeholders, researchers currently lack an understanding of the degree to which open scholarship is enacted in institutions that lack institutional support for openness. I help fill this gap in the literature by presenting a descriptive case study that illustrates the variety of open and sharing practices enacted by faculty members at a North American university.
Open and sharing practices enacted at this institution revolve around publishing manuscripts in open ways, participating on social media, creating and using open educational resources, and engaging with open teaching. This examination finds that certain open practices are favored over others. Results also show that even though faculty members often share scholarly materials online for free, they frequently do so without associated open licenses (i.e. without engaging in open practices). These findings suggest that individual motivators may significantly affect the practice of openness, but that environmental factors (e.g., institutional contexts) and technological elements (e.g., YouTube’s default settings) may also shape open practices in unanticipated ways.
The paper, open access and all, is here in pdf, or directly from the source: Veletsianos, G. (2015). A case study of scholars’ open and sharing practices. Open Praxis, 7(3), 199-209. http://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/206/168
This year’s AERA call for proposals focuses on public scholarship. But how do faculty members and scholars come to learn how to use social media and be “public scholars” in the networked world that they inhabit?
Given recent events surrounding professor’s use of social media (e.g., Salaita, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Kansas Board of Regents “improper use of social media” policy, the list goes on), it seems to me that we need to create curricula to help future scholars make sense of networked societies and networked cultures.
The need for such curricula is pressing because (a) scholars/professors face significant tensions when they are online and (b) many of the practices and innovations inherent to networked scholarship appear to question traditional elements of scholarly practice and institutional norms (e.g., questioning peer-review, publishing work-in-progress, accessing literature through crowdsourcing).
In other words, universities need to grapple with networked scholarship, as well as with the changing nature of scholarship, on a curricular level. Universities need to address networked scholarship on a policy level too (e.g., clarifying ex ante, and not ex post facto whether social media participation is scholarship), but that’s a blog post for the future.
Networked scholarship curricula will need to balance a focus on tools and issues. The teaching of tools could instill future scholars with the abilities to use networked technologies productively. For instance, networked scholars might employ the services of text-mining techniques (e.g., Google Alerts) to track mentions of their name, areas of research, or publications such that they can keep track of and participate in discussions mentioning their work. Many trends, including the publication of journals in digital form, the pervasive use of institutional profiles, and the use of social media services for personal reasons combine to make it highly likely that scholars are already searchable and findable online. Thus online presence is assumed to exist regardless of whether a scholar has taken any steps in cultivating such a presence, and the teaching of tools to manage one’s presence may be necessary. The teaching of issues pertaining to networked scholarship is also significant. Scholars would benefit from making sense of issues such as networked societies, context collapse, alternative metrics, homophily, filter bubble, open access publishing, digital literacies, and community-engaged scholarship. For instance, doctoral preparation curricula might problematize the fact that while Twitter might allow researchers to follow one another and discuss topics of interest, such discussions may go unchallenged, if scholars are only followed by those who have similar educational training and beliefs to them.
Further, scholars will benefit greatly from gaining a well-rounded understanding of networks that does not privilege a technodeterministic perspective, but rather accounts for a sociocultural understanding of networks that positions them as places where knowledge is produced and disseminated, tensions and conflict are rampant, inequities exists, disclosures often occur, and identity is fragmented. University curricula might also prepare scholars to work in an increasingly uncertain world: What challenges will scholars face at their institutions or in the broader culture as they enact networked practices?
“It will be fun, they said” meme – applied to Networked Scholarship
The concept of “sharing” is a persistent finding in my research, and it might be a topic worth exploring in university curricula. The individuals who are embracing sharing practices are finding value in doing so, and often advocate that others should share too. It is not unusual for example to encounter quotes such as “good things happen to those who share,” or “sharing is caring,” or “education is sharing.” These quotes illustrate and exemplify the values of the networked scholarship subculture. While faculty members have historically shared their work with each other (e.g., through letters, telephone calls, and conference presentations), and open access publishing is gaining increasing acceptance, educators and researchers are increasingly sharing their scholarship online in open spaces. Wiley and Green (2012, pp. 82) even argue that “[e]ducation is, first and foremost, an enterprise of sharing. In fact, sharing is the sole means by which education is effected.” However, education, both K-12 to higher education, has generally lacked a culture of sharing. Barab, Makinster, Moore, and Cunningham (2001) note that “change efforts [in K-12] have often been unsuccessful due in large part to the lack of a culture of sharing among teachers (Chism, 1985).” A core value of this subculture seems to be that sharing should be treated as a scholarly practice. As such, future scholars may benefit from an examination and critique of this practice to understand both its implications as well as its ideologies. Significantly, doctoral preparation curricula may need to grapple with how “sharing” interfaces with “open practice” and what the implications of various means of sharing are for scholars and the academy. For example, posting copyrighted scholarship on academia.edu may constitute a form of sharing, but this is not the same as “openness.”Academia.edu provides a distribution mechanism in the form of a social network, but does little to foster and promote open licensing and creative commons policies with respect to scholarship.
* This is an edited exceprt from my book, Networked Scholars (due out in January, 2016).
I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars. I can’t write any more today, so here’s a visual update: