Digital scholarship practices: Students and researchers working around the system

Imagine being a student at a small university whose library does not have the funds to subscribe to a journal that you need for your final paper. What do you do?

Imagine being a faculty member and you come across a very promising paper relevant to your work, but you can’t access it because there’s a 6-month lag between the time a paper is published and the time it becomes available at your library. What do you do?

A standard approach is to search Google or Google Scholar for the article, as a number of us self-archive our publications as soon as they become available. Another option is to email an author directly and ask for a copy of the paper. I find that most are not only willing, but excited to share their work and talk about it. I love sharing my research and I truly enjoy talking about it, so I’d be delighted to share it with anyone who lacked access but needed it. I believe this falls under fair use licensing.

Through my research on the practices of digital scholars (i.e. individuals who use emerging technologies for purposes relating to networked participatory scholarship) I have discovered another way that individuals use to access scholarship that they need.¬† If you take a look at the image above, you will see that individuals employ digital tools that we use in our day-to-day lives (a forum) to circumvent obstacles that prevent them from doing their work. In particular, individuals request articles that they do not have access to, and those who have access respond with a copy of the article. What you see here is the creative use of networked technologies to enable practice and success. And it does not just happen in open forums like the one above, but I’ve also seen it occur on Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, in one situation, the author was requesting access to an article s/he wrote because the publisher (!) did not provide him/her with a final copy of the paper. We can debate the moral and ethical dimensions of this activity, but to me this practice highlights ideas relating to empowerment, networked skills, digital participation, reciprocity, and participatory cultures as they pertain to scholars’ digital practices. [Update 11/26/2012: In addition to the platform above, other spaces where exchanges happen are: The pirate university¬† and #IcanHazPDF on Twitter. Andy Coverdale has also discussed this topic.]

Such practices aren’t foreign to teachers, as they are akin to using proxies or usb keys to bypass school filters. For example, here’s a video by Alec Couros that demonstrates this activity:


The expanding scope of Educational Technology


Kickstarting educational innovations (or, the case of #ds106)


  1. I did have an article I wrote published in a journal that did NOT provide me a copy and when I requested it, they indicated I would have to pay a fee to get it (it was a lot – like $100 or more as I recall). Since I needed it for annual review materials, I ended up requesting it through InterLibrary Loan (because UT did not have this journal), and I got it within a day for free, of course. The ridiculousness of the whole thing was enormous, and now I would NEVER submit anything to that journal ever again.

  2. Hi George.

    I touched on this a couple of years ago. For me, the most interesting thing was to see the mixed responses in my workshop.

    I wonder how influential web 2.0 / hacker ethics are here, or is it that some students are just more predisposed to ‘working round the system’ than others, regardless of the technology employed?

    • Hi Andy,

      Thank you for your comment and for the link to your blog. It’s great to read about your own experience with providing access to a paper to an individual who needed it.

      Your question is important, and is one has permeated my writing over the years, especially recently. The field of instructional technology has struggled with this question for years in one form or another. Does technology impact learning? Or is it pedagogy, with technology simply being the delivery mechanism? Does technology shape instruction or does instruction shape how technology is used? Do academics use Twitter because they suddenly have an urge to share, or have academics always had this desire and Twitter simply arrived at the right time? I touch upon this on my papers on Twitter-using scholars, Networked Participatory Scholarship, and the definition of emerging technologies (pdf). My perspective is that both technology and predispositions (though I would prefer beliefs/values) are influential here. In other words, some individuals discover what is possible with technology and find uses for it that they hadn’t considered before, while others keep on doing the same activities that they did in the past but through the use of new technologies. Technology shapes use, but at the same time, existing practices shape the use of technology.

      I would be interested in hearing your perspective on the matter. Thanks again for commenting.

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