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Posted by on Aug 25, 2011

Open education, open research, and co-authoring our knowledge base: Here comes everybody

I should just come out and say it from the beginning. A paper about open education that is authored by a single person feels (not necessarily is) a little anachronistic to me. That is, the spirit of open education is collaborative, constructivist, connectivist (whichever approach or nomenclature) you prefer. It all depends on openness and connectivity and indeed that is where it draws its very strength. The rapid assembly and disassembly of affinity groups based on need, want, topic, what have you. This rapid assembly is made possible through openness and in turn promotes collaboration and some significant knowledge production. To then craft research and disseminate that research solely through the prism of one individual just feels a little out of that spirit of that openness.

Some context. I participated in MobiMOOC, a massive online open course on mobile learning, recently. I have posted about this many times. This participation produced an incredibly frenzied, chaotic, and constructive atmosphere of collaboration. The course ended quite a bit ago, but there emerged a group that was interested in crafting some findings and research from the experience. As such, an informal research group emerged with several of the participants (and the course organizer, Inge de Waard). This research group has collaboratively crafted two papers from the experience to date (one was accepted for the mLearn2011 conference in Beijing in October and the other was accepted for The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning-IRRODL) and we have a third and a fourth in various stages of planning and execution. Quite impressive considering the course itself was six weeks long and the research group has carried on well past that length. We have made plans to continue this collaboration in some capacity or another through the autumn and our respective participation in the Change MOOC.

We have never met face to face (some of us will in Beijing), we live in six different countries (I am moving to Seoul in a week or so), we have done everything asynchronously, we have used the most accessible tools at our disposal, and we have crafted papers that are much stronger than they would have been had any one of us done this on our own (at least I can speak for myself there). They are sturdy papers as six sets of eyes combed through them and picked out any number of mistakes, mistaken logic, knowledge gaps, or unsupported conclusions. Online scholarship, in my estimation, was always supposed to look like this, but now I feel it. It just felt right (I am stressing the emotional bits here for a reason), like something in tune with its natural surroundings. My question now becomes why doesn’t scholarship on open education look more open?

 Now this is relatively simplistic. I know the paradigm of never having met colleagues is not a new one (I just experienced it through a wonderful Masters program at the University of Edinburgh) I know some research needs to be conducted in relative isolation (or at least authored by a single person). I do understand that and I suspect this especially applies to longer works. It would be tough, aside from many authors contributing book chapters variety of scholarship, to pull this feverish collaboration at a scale longer than say 20 pages (actually I think it is possible, but I don’t want to jump in there yet). At the end of the day, I also know that sometimes to get things done, you will need to do it yourself. However, it just strikes me as a bit of a philosophical disconnect, the subject being open education (of the MOOC variety) and the object being research authored individually. Like a 33 record played on a 45 turntable. It works, but not optimal. So what of form following function in our academic research? What should this look like? Does form impact function (yes, yes, yes) and, if so, should form follow function? Open is as open does.

So, for this MobiMOOC, and for this exceptional group of people (them, not me), we have crafted research (a lot of it) with little to no ego, with openness, with a sense of pioneering some untrodden trails, and with energy. The results are better for this experience, this writing and editing machine of process that we have set up. Nothing revolutionary in our approach (email, version control, each author takes a color, Google Docs for project plans and a repository of our ideas in varying degrees of comprehensiveness), but philosophically in tune with the nature of the subject we are studying. Ethnographically, we were all participants before we were researchers. The role of the one has influenced the design of the other.

So I am not talking concrete metrics here or dogmatic absolutes of what scholarship on open education should look like. Just a feel. The tranquil balance of organic design. There will always be room for the solo author. Plenty of room. But I am fairly certain we will see the rise (a paradigm a bit more common in other disciplines-have you seen the author listings on some science papers? They read like a phone book) of the co-authored paper. And that co will be a company. So, here comes everybody. And that everybody is going to author what we know and the way we come to know it. Together.

The above is James Joyce’s notebook for Finnegan’s Wake, from which the Here Comes Everybody phrase is taken. Joyce’s notebook does not look to different from our MobiMOOC collaborations. Chaotic and colorful. Image retried from Hypermedia Joyce Studies.

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