At a presentation on Open Access to the Academic Vice President's Council at BYU last week we discussed changes in academic publishing and proposed moving toward a Open Access policy for this university comparable to Harvard's.
A key component of the Open Access movement is the rise of institutional and disciplinary repositories. While these are archives, their role will not be purely archival. A repository becomes a de facto publishing platform, and the publishing it will do will not be limited to republishing copies of scholarly articles that have first appeared elsewhere. An institutional repository will be a place where faculty can deposit their teaching materials. Open Access meets Open Teaching.
Or at the very least an institutional repository, by co-locating scholarship with teaching media and resources, will make more intimate the connections between scholarship and learning, between formal knowledge and pedagogy. Alongside preprints, published articles, technical reports, conference papers, theses, and dissertations will be found syllabi, recorded lectures, lecture notes, teaching units, visualizations, simulations, presentations, images, audio/video and multimedia. And there will be hybrids, too--natively digital or multimedia resources that are both vetted as scholarship and deployed as teaching resources.
And why not? If we are opening knowledge to the world, doesn't it follow that we should open up the tools of knowledge, the means to instruct and apply what formal scholarship only presents? Such catholicism of content will be difficult to organize, systematize, and appropriately license. But the greater challenge may come from those who fear that deposited materials that are not peer-reviewed will degrade the authority of those that are. But such reservations will probably not hold up against the inertia of Open Knowledge--what we may term the marriage of Open Access scholarly publishing to teaching and learning.
An institutional repository is not just an archive, it is a platform for distributing academic content. How will such a repository relate with commercial systems such as Blackboard/WebCT--popular learning environments deployed in colleges that already accommodate syllabi and teaching media? How will such a repository compete or coordinate with noncommercial distribution outlets for media--such as iTunes U (rapidly growing its body of free recorded college lectures) or even YouTube? Obviously there is much to be worked out, but the problems associated with organizing such a repository may prove less daunting than the commercial costs, legal entanglements, and collateral costs and risks associated with commercial or popular media outlets.
Teaching is fast becoming a kind of publishing. As teaching media diversify (and audiences), the only hope in the maelstrom of media is the order promised by the semantic web's metadata and extensible markup language (XML)(See my previous post considering metadata as applied to a specific field of study). Various incarnations of scholarly or pedagogical materials can co-exist in wild complexity if tamed by the structures and protocols libraries have learned to apply to whatever can be databased. With those simple yet crucial additions, content can be synchronized, data-mined, re-mixed, and especially syndicated (through RSS feeds)--all the while preserving appropriate attribution and self-description so that kinds of content (say, peer-reviewed vs. that which is not) can indeed be kept straight.
In fact, bringing teaching materials into an institutional archive will improve those materials as they are coded by new XML schema and then made repurposable. Imagine markup code standardizing the genre of the academic course syllabus, for example. In addition to subject identifiers, there might be learning outcome or policy identifiers to assist the development of best practices or compliance with disciplinary or legal requirements. XML is already ramping up for the specific needs of higher education, and we are bound to see technical standards for markup and sharing develop around all standard genres of teaching and learning. And as other media develop their academic identities, new XML can make them meaningfully part of something bigger and relate them to other tools and to formal scholarship.
What about including student work in an institutional repository? Could a questionable foray into chaos theory by an undergraduate rest cheek-by-jowel with a scholarly article on string theory? Will a PowerPoint presentation or a software program developed as a class project stand a chance of mattering beyond the semester? We might be amazed at what can happen as knowledge produced across classes, disciplines, and institutions is able to be coordinated and mined. With the right XML markup, what we deposit can not only be readily sorted and distinguished by data harvesters, but made available for scholarly study, recombination, pattern analysis, etc. The institutional repository can serve the goals of self-assessment, norming, accreditation--by organizing, ultimately all forms of knowledge production at the university and opening the door to better understanding what we know and what we do as researchers, teachers, or students.
We have to look over the horizon at how the institutional repository can become much more than an archiving platform that gives access to scholarship; it can also become a primary vehicle for combining our institutional focus on teaching with our mission of extending learning to the world by intelligently linking the more formal publications of peer-reviewed scholarship with the equally important (but less formal) “publications” of teaching materials and media.
The other key component in all of this will be the social aspect of knowledge production and publishing in academia. “The growing use of Web 2.0 and social networking—combined with collective intelligence and mass amateurization—is gradually but inexorably changing the practice of scholarship” (Educause, The Horizon Report 2008, p.6). Social networking is nearly invisible to conventional academic publishing right now but that is changing rapidly as the value of social networking is repeatedly proven in business and popular culture. Research, collaboration, and publication are tightening their proximity as the tools for social knowledge are being taken up by scholars and combined with online resources (check out the community building features of Pronetos for the humanities, for example).
The inevitable social component to higher learning and academic publishing is why the institutional repository should not be considered merely a secondary, archival instrument. It is going to be on the front lines for scholarship, for teaching, and for magnifying the social resources that make fields of knowledge living things. Our institutional repository can become--as disciplinary repositories like ArXiv.org already are--a dynamic part of creating virtual communities for sharing learning. Ours will have multiple points of focus—locally through campus courses and research, more formally through scholarly research, and less formally (and more diversely) as we increasingly engage global and nonacademic audiences.
When we consider the potential for publishing teaching media and accommodating social knowledge and learning through something like our institutional repository, it is critical that we relate promotion of Open Access to consideration of initiatives like MIT’s OpenCourseWare. If teaching is indeed a kind of publishing, and if open is better than restricted, then open teaching logically follows--along with enormous worries about giving away the farm or violating intellectual property or simply taxing faculty and support staff with preparing one's courses for broader dissemination. Is every course to be thought of as an independent study / extension course? What will that do to the cash cow that distance learning has become? How much does / should a university commercialize its teaching as a kind of commodity?
While few dare entering these dangerous waters of Open Teaching, some have dived in and taken strong first strokes. Utah State University's Educommons is an open teaching platform. The latter was mentioned in an interesting discussion that took place at Harvard’s Berkman Center in 2007 with Anne Margulies of MIT, who talked about their OpenCourseWare, and Joel Thierstein, who spoke about Rice’s University Connexions platform. Mounting a comparably grandiose effort might be foolhardy, but it would be a big mistake not to keep a keen eye on whether Open Teaching will join its braver cousin, Open Access, in refashioning higher learning.
Institutional repositories will become central aspects of university identity in the years to come. The accumulated intellectual output can be showcased and measured for both interior and exterior audiences, and the repository will be as much about outreach (even public relations) as it is about accommodating current research. People within and outside the university will pay attention to what articles or what courses prove most popular or which get commented on most--as happens already in online journalism or blogs. But the difference will be that the host institution will choose the degree to which it will ready its knowledge products and producers for everything that an institutional repository will be able to do in meeting both its practical and idealistic missions.