Posted by: Gillian | September 29, 2011

Digital scholarship and #Change11

Access to education in the right place at the right time using resources that work intellectually and practically: that’s roughly my aim and has been for many years. That does not mean everyone uses only the ‘leading bleeding edge’ materials (most won’t want to!) but everyone should have access to them and if people without ‘qualifications’ make use of them and attribute their sources, what’s the problem? Digital scholarship is being much talked about in academic and journalistic circles and the excellent massive online open course (MOOC) team led by Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier is gathering many thoughts but here’s my view:

  1. Any user of Wikipedia or TripAdvisor or ‘bestrecipes/cars/widgets’ knows that sites need curation.  Someone needs to kick out the bad guys if the information is to be worth having.
  2. The ‘cloud’ is not free: someone somewhere has to pay for server space and maintain it.
  3. Standford has a policy of open access to its published papers. It is not alone but the big problem remains: can ‘anyone’ submit a paper to Stanford for peer review and acceptance on an equal basis? Universities have a name to protect and very limited resources for reviewing papers from outsiders.
  4. Universities are not the only places where real research and thinking goes on. All innovative global companies (and many smaller ones) have people who contribute hugely, not just to the sciences but to the arts and humanities.  Think of all the work going into the online presentation of museums and art galleries where the technology may have come out of universities but the broader scholarship is elsewhere.  Or think of farmers who often publish their research to other farmers.
  5. Peer review, as suggested in first point, is essential but it is time consuming and, when done well is a form of teaching. It also follows from the above that it is not necessarily the preserve of those in universities.
  6. In a global society (which is what the internet has become), it is indefensible to charge huge sums for reading peer-reviewed papers.

As I recently tweeted, the annual price that seems about right is ‘cup of coffee’ so that everyone with access to the internet thinks it only fair to pay up as they are likely to want to use it.  If any publisher feels like taking this on, I’m up for making sure it sticks to the ideals!



  1. Clear oiece or text. Like to add some questions.Question 1: Is peer review meant as a quality mark for the paper? Or as an assessment of the author of the paper? Question 2: What is the difference between a peer-reviewed paper and a book on the same academic level and subject? Why is the difference in cost between these two kind of texts?

    • Smart differentiation on Question1. It is meant as quality mark for the paper.
      Question2: Much more complex as book publishing introduces many more relationships. I have huge respect for a few (personally known) book publishers but do know what pressures some lesser book people are under so am more cautious with them.

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