MRes thesys_KeyReadings


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Notes from my MRes dissertation on 'Research practices in transition'. Online Mres in Educational and Social research, Institute of Education, University of London

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MRes thesys_KeyReadings

  1. 1. Research practices in transition: investigating the relationship between emerging digital and open scholarship in higher education settings Antonella Esposito November 2010IntroductionThese notes take cue from the reflection on my dissertation’s topic I am working on in current days:so, the exploration of theoretical concepts identified in the selected readings is intended as a work inprogress towards a more thorough review of my initial proposal and the definition of a theoreticalapproach.Key readingsMy early analysis of useful theoretical concepts for my prospective study was driven by thefollowing needs: - To find definitions and frameworks of ‘scholarship’, in order to classify (digital) scholarly activities. - To find frameworks to interpret ‘knowledge production and distribution’ in academic work. - To find frameworks to interpret (academic) work practices in transition.Given the above choice, I am aware that I excluded other interesting strands of analysis on the sametopic, such as any application of a digital literacy’s framework, or theories of innovation ororganizational change.Reading 1Pearce, N. (2010), Digital Scholarship Audit Report, Open University, Milton KeynesSummaryThis paper reports research approach and findings of an internal audit recently carried out at theOpen University and focusing on digital scholarship’s practices being adopted by a sample of OUfaculty. The aim of the research is to explore emergent open approaches in research behaviours, asprompted by the use of digital tools. Sixteen interviews were conducted, after selecting as manydigital scholars’ champions, belonging to a range of research areas.Theoretical conceptsThis exploratory study uses a conceptualization of ‘digital scholarship’ as devised by Pearce et al.(2010) and built on the model of ‘scholarship’ by Boyer (1990). Analyzing US higher educationsector at that time, Boyer tried to elaborate a more comprehensive understanding and valorisation ofthe nature of academic scholarship, encompassing the following four dimensions: Discovery(creation of new knowledge in a specific area); Integration (position of the individual discoveries ina wider context); Application (engagement with the world outside university); Teaching(management of all these procedure supporting teaching and learning). Pearce et al. (2010: 4)compared the above four dimensions with as many “trends towards openness”: ‘open data’, ‘openpublishing’, ‘open boundary between the academia and the public’ and ‘open education’. Therefore,this conceptualization of ‘digital scholarship’ assumes ‘openness’ as the only actual ‘break’ with
  2. 2. respect to traditional research practices. Pearce mainly considers individual researchers’ behaviourscoping with Web 2.0 tools, rather than their use of digital infrastructures. He explicitly states toavoid any technological determinism, maintaining that any shift towards more open forms ofscholarship, as enabled by the use of technologies, is a potentiality whose ongoing enactement is tobe verified. However, he reports a quote underlining that ‘openness’ implies the uptake of a certainideology and open values leading practices. It is worth noting that neither ‘digital scholarship’ or‘openness’ here are being conceptualized as further dimensions that transform the other ones (asexplicitated in Boyer’s model): digital tools and practices are apparently thought as embedded incurrent research practices, while ‘openness’ is merely being defined by its identified practices (opendata, open publishing, open boundary, open education).This adaptation of Boyer’s model of scholarship really lacks an authentic theoretical enhancement,but I think is just being used as a springboard by the author, in order to rethink later theconceptualization of research practices in transition only in the light of the interviews to faculty tobe carried out.Relationship between concepts and dataThe correspondence between scholarship’s dimensions and trends towards openness is being usedto guide the collection of data in the interviewing process: the interviewees were invited torecognize themselves in Boyer’s four dimensions and to count how their use of digital tools isshifting their own behaviour towards different practices.Indeed, the collected data challenge the above conceptualization of digital scholarship, givingevidence that tools can be used for different purposes and activities: for instance, a blog can be aninstrument for open publishing as well as a means for researcher to communicate with the worldoutside of academia. So, digital scholarship seems to blur boundaries between dimensions ofscholarship, in particular where communication activities are implied (‘open publishing’ and ‘openboundary’).Relevance for my studyThe approach, aim and limited extension of this study makes it close to the intent of my draftproposal. Boyer’s notion of scholarship is popular enough (in an Anglo-saxon context) to be easilyused to spark reflection in the interviewed faculty on their own changing research practices asdriven by technology. However, I identify some issues that are not considered in this study and thatin my opinion would deserve a theoretical reflection: - problematize the use of digital tools as a means to transform existing practice (i.e. the concept of co-evolution of tools and practices as applied in educational technology studies); - operationalise the four dimensions in Boyer’s model, so that they could be translated into “scholarly activities” (i.e. information access, communication, curation, etc.) to be investigated as many evolving practices; - take into account the research context with its concurrent drivers and inhibitors of innovation.Finally, the author momentarily draws my attention to the contextual and historical value of atheoretical concept, inducing a more careful consideration, for instance, of the actual importance ofthe dimension of ‘teaching’ in a definition of scholarship to be applied to a specific national highereducation setting (discrepancy between US and UK higher education contexts).Reading 2
  3. 3. Houghton, John W., Steele, C. and Henty, M. (2004), ‘Research practices and scholarlycommunication in the digital environment’, report (in particular Chapter 2 – The production ofknowledge which focuses on theoretical frameworks).SummaryThis large-scale Australian study investigates how research practices are changing in the digitalenvironment, in order to draw policy recommendations at a national level. A wide-rangingstatistical and literature review constitutes the basis on which Houghton et al. build their frameworkand grounding for analysis. The authors conducted a series of in-depth interviews to a small sampleof senior researchers working in a number of fields and institutional settings. The study focuses onthree aspects of academic activity: communicaton and collaboration; information search and access;dissemination and publication. The authors aim to gain a systems view of the issue beingresearched, through an analysis of the multiple factors (i.e. funding opportunities,commercialisation of research outcomes and impact of ICTs) and conflicting forces at work (i.e. thepresence of international publishers and open access institutional repositories) which haveinfluenced the current landscape of research practices. They consider ICTs both as digitalinfrastructures and as digital use for personal use by individual researchers. Their key findingsreveal that new forms of knowledge production and distribution are emerging: these forms areshaping research practices, envisioning more sustainable and cost-effective ways to informationaccess and communication. These new modes of knowledge production and distribution are to bestrategically supported (through new forms of evaluation, incentives, facilities of communication,publishing based on open access’s principle) to yield sustainable approaches to research. To thispurpose, the authors suggest to take an holistic approach to ‘re-engineering’ the system for thecreation, production and distribution of scientific and scholarly knowledge.Theoretical conceptsIn Chapter 2 they discuss four main frameworks which they retrieved from an internationalliterature review: the systems of innovation, that encompasses a wide body of study focusing onfunctions of the systems in which the knowledge is being produced and communicated; the TripleHelix, aiming to describe the interplay among academia, industry and state; the post-academicscience, that encompasses work analyzing the contrast between traditional ‘academic science’ andthe emerging era of science; the new knowledge production (based on Gibbons’s work, 1994),which is based on the conceptualizations of a traditional mode of production of knowledge (Mode1) and an emerging, transdisciplinary and problem-oriented mode of knowledge production (Mode2).In particular the authors widely use Gibbon’s conceptualization of Mode 1 and Mode 2 ofknowledge production, which is also of interest for my study.Mode 1 of knowledge production refers to a complex of traditional values, practices, social norms –originating from a Newtonian model of science - which must be followed “in the production,legitimation and distribution” of what is considered scientific knowledge and sound scientificpractices. Knowledge is being driven by disciplinary norms and communities and theory andapplication are distinguished.Otherwise, Mode 2 of knowledge production is characterized by a focus on problems more than ontechniques, and on interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research; by anemphasis on collaborative approaches and diverse and informal modes of communication; by adiversity of location of research activities. Knowledge is transdisciplinary, integrative and
  4. 4. consensual and there is a dynamic between theory, application and context.“Mode 1 is disciplinary, while Mode 2 is transdisciplinary. Mode 1 is characterised byhomogeneity, Mode 2 by heterogeneity. Organizationally, Mode 1 is hierarchical and tends topreserve its form, while Mode 2 is more heterarchical and transient” (Gibbson, 2001, as quoted inHoughton et al., p. 5).Gibbson maintains that there is interaction between Mode 1 and Mode 2 and that the lattersupplements rather replaces the former. Moreover, Mode 2 is critically dependent on newinformation and communication technologies, due to its transdisciplinary, dispersed and interactivenature.Relationship between concepts and dataThis conceptualization helps Houghton et al. to frame current tensions emerging in researchpractices at a cultural, institutional and organizational level: for instance, the coexistence oftraditional (i.e. peer review) and emerging approaches (open peer review), as well the need for amultidimensional system of rules, i.e. research evaluation, which should combine quantitative,qualitative and ‘relevance’ factors, Mode 1 and 2 of knowledge production. It is worth noting thatin this study there is no conceptualization of digital or open scholarship, but the framework beingused allows us to gain an understanding of whether evolving practices enabled by technologies aremerely improvements of pre-existing ways of conduct or whether they are disruptive breaks againsttradition (i.e. open access repositories), which should be ruled and supported. ICTs are identified asa key factor in Mode 2, while features of Mode 2 help to identify distinctive approaches to‘openness’ – beyond ideological positions - as many signs in an evolving research landscape, drivenby a plenitude of contextual, political and economic factors.Relevance for my studyThe system view adopted by the authors is particularly relevant to understanding digital scholarshipas one of the variables at work when we look at research practices in transition. The framework ofthe contrasting modes 1 and 2 of knowledge production provides me with a tool for interpretingchange in scholarly practices from a number of viewpoints, from economic to cultural, fromorganizational to epistemological.However, I think that Gibbson’s model could be a starting point to analyse structures of knowledgeproduction and distribution. There are some problematic issues related to this framework, referringto my study: - given the selected framework and since they focus on a range of settings, the dimension of teaching – so typical and controversial in academic scholarship – is quite missing; - the ‘commodification of knowledge’ is seen as a given to be coped with and not as threat (as in many higher education contexts and in postmodern debates); - the role of ICTs is not critically thematized (thinking of the idea of ‘pedagogised society’ by late Bernstein); - the transition from disciplinary to transdisciplinary knowledge sparks a good hint for analysis focusing on evolving differences in diverse subject areas: this needs to be faced using further instruments (i.e. vertical and horizontal discourse); - the contrast beween Mode 1 and Mode 2 of knowledge prompts a new question: what are the emerging modes of legitimation of knowledge in academia? Here I think that the use of theory of Legitimisation Device by Karl Maton (2005) could help to render academic
  5. 5. disciplines as many fields of practice in transition, animated by agents competing for power and control.Reading 3Bernadou, A., Constantopoulos, P. Costis, D. and Gavrilis, D. (2010), ‘A Conceptual Model forScholarly Research Activity’, in iConference 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2010 at: paper presents a conceptual model of scholarly research activity, as being developed within aEuropean project aiming to define prerequisites for a digital infrastructure to be designed forscholarly work in the humanities, arts and cultural heritage. The study originated from the statementthat in humanities effective research is increasingly dependent on expert use of an expanding massof scholarly resources. The aim is to formalise the research process in order to facilitate the designand development of digital repositories which can support research in arts and humanities. Themodel was founded on an empirical study carried out through an open-ended questionnaire andused the Activity Theory framework to consider both historical development of inquiry work andresearch planning.Theoretical conceptsActivity Theory focuses on the concept of activity, intended as the “purposeful interaction of asubject with the world”. Using the AT framework (following Leont’ev’s elaboration), the authorsdefine scholarly work as a purposeful process, carried out by actors, individuals or groups,according to specific methods. The research process is thought of as a series of tasks and sub-tasks,specified by procedures, which have a normative character and convey what in the relatedcommunity is being defined as good practice. Given that representation, the authors define theresearch process as “an enactment of the corresponding procedure”, carried out by an individual orgroup of researchers for specific goals. These goals can be represented in a more specific way in thedifferent tasks of the research process and “can be associated with the performance of the servicesdesigned to support the respective tasks” (Bernadou, p. 3). Three kinds of ‘objects’ in the researchprocess are identified: ‘physical objects’, which are researched and stored (original domainmaterial); ‘conceptual objects’, which are concepts created and propositions formulated (the contentof scientific theories); and ‘information objects’, which are a particular class of conceptual objects(content of digital repositories). The authors keep on elaborating their conceptual model of theresearch process, combining it with another normalisation model (CIDOC CRM), internationallyutilized for historical and documentary purposes.The use of the AT framework allows the authors to better detect and understand relationshipsbeween specific activities, goals, methods and tools, through a comprehensive description whichfacilitates communication with the stakeholders.Relevance for my studyThe object and purpose of this study is quite different with respect to the intent of my initialproposal. However, I find it interesting as an example of the conceptualization of scholarlyactivities being investigated and as utilization of the cultural-historical Activity Theory framework
  6. 6. in order to capture the dynamics of scholarly work. The AT framework is an analytical lensfocusing on explaining social and cultural work practices through the environmental and historicalcontext in which the activity is taking place.As a set of descriptive principles (Barab et al., 2006) it constitues a framework particularly suitableto explain the goal-oriented, socially and culturally grounded work practices of scholars usingdigital tools and artifacts. It can help highlighting the dynamics of scholarly practices in transition,because it combines the active engagement of researchers with monitoring the developmentalchange of participants.Framed by the AT principles, the issue being researched can be analyzed to investigate scholars’work practices in transition, as situated in a higher education context typically organized byconsolidated rules, driven by subjects within a community of peers, shared with students and non-teaching staff, and mediated by digital artifacts which are affecting ways scholars establish rapportwith their own practices.I think that the use of this analytical lens could be productively combined with other levels ofanalysis - using theoretical constructions such as Gibbson’s Mode 1 and 2 or Maton’s LegitimationDevice - aiming to identify deep structures of knowledge production and distribution.