Can Technology 'Democratize' Academia?

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The proliferation of communication technologies is profoundly changing the nature of academic practice. In this presentation I describe the impact of blogging and social networking tools on the practice and dissemination of academic research across disciplinary boundaries. I suggest that the traditional notion of the university is giving way to communities of scholars who are not tied to particular institutions, and less dependent on traditional forms of dissemination and publication. The resulting ‘democratisation’ of academia is portrayed in terms of a tension between democracy and expert knowledge mediated by technology.
One prominent contemporary challenge for technologists is to understand the ongoing impact of technological change on academic communities. At The Open University, the Digital Scholarship research team is mapping the use of Twitter in order to better understand user engagement with these technologies. I will present headline findings from this research and discuss the implications for scholarly practice at the OU.

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Can Technology 'Democratize' Academia?

  1. 1. Can Technology Democratize Academia? Dr. Robert Farrow Digital Humanities Colloquium 8 th July 2011 The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  2. 2. Context (+ provisional thesis) The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  3. 3. The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology Plato’s Academy (Michelangelo)
  4. 4. Academia: The Traditional Model <ul><li>Close(d) communities of scholars and students </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Disciplining’ knowledge: imposing order </li></ul><ul><li>Knowledge transmission from experts to learners </li></ul><ul><li>Iterative growth </li></ul><ul><li>Research, Networking, Dissemination, Teaching </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  5. 5. The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  6. 6. A provisional thesis (or provocation) <ul><li>The history of the academe is the history of expert knowledge becoming more ‘democratic’ (open/accessible/equal) </li></ul><ul><li>Decreasing dependence on institutional frameworks or ‘closed’ communities </li></ul><ul><li>This process is always mediated by and through (new) technologies </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  7. 7. Digital Technologies in Education <ul><li>Research : data collection; blogs; archiving; analytics </li></ul><ul><li>Disseminatio n: tools for authoring; publishing; curation </li></ul><ul><li>Networking : social networking; communication; pathways </li></ul><ul><li>Teaching : OERs; VLEs; blended learning </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  8. 8. Can Technology ‘Democratize’ Academia? <ul><li>Scholars less tied to particular institutions </li></ul><ul><li>Scholars less tied to traditional dissemination </li></ul><ul><li>Networking easier than ever </li></ul><ul><li>Improving access to education and scholarly artefacts </li></ul><ul><li>Where does this leave the expert? </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  9. 9. Challenges <ul><li>Access : archives; artefacts & tools; digital literacies </li></ul><ul><li>Research : quality control; interdisciplinarity; validity </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural : RNDT; accreditation; career progression </li></ul><ul><li>Institutions : libraries; repositories; publishers; faculties </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  10. 10. Solutions? <ul><li>Practical Steps </li></ul><ul><li>Guiding Principles </li></ul><ul><li>Develop understanding of changing practices </li></ul><ul><li>Recognise the value of a wider range of academic activities </li></ul><ul><li>Achieve recognised standards </li></ul><ul><li>Build stakeholder communities </li></ul><ul><li>Continuity with previous scholarship </li></ul><ul><li>High quality provision </li></ul><ul><li>Free and equal access to content </li></ul><ul><li>Accommodating IP rights </li></ul><ul><li>Sharing data & metadata </li></ul>
  11. 11. Current Research in Digital Scholarship <ul><li>Tim Coughlan </li></ul><ul><li>Robert Farrow </li></ul><ul><li>Jude Fransman </li></ul><ul><li>Martin Weller (PI) </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  12. 12. Research Questions <ul><li>How are digital resources being used to link people, institutions and projects? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the relationship between Twitter and other digital resources? </li></ul><ul><li>How can metadata support academic research? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the relationship to academic identity? </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  13. 13. 1. Qualitative Case Studies <ul><li>Observations </li></ul><ul><li>Interviews </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis of digital presence </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter activity </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  14. 14. 2. Metrics/Visualisation <ul><li>Review an individual or groups’ use of services such as Twitter, ORO, Cloudworks, Slideshare… </li></ul><ul><li>Tag and annotate content items and relationships to build a more meaningful picture of digital scholarship </li></ul><ul><li>Visualise ‘Digital Footprint’; tool for reflection </li></ul><ul><li>Coming soon: Should be available online for use at the OU in the coming months </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  15. 15. Network of people connected to / interacting with Timeline of service use Statistics (e.g. tags used) Raw content (e.g. tweets, posts, links)
  16. 16. 3. Survey <ul><li>Building on other two strands to develop understanding patterns of Twitter use within the OU </li></ul><ul><li>Synthesizing metrics and qualitative data </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  17. 17. Concluding Thoughts <ul><li>The DS project is short, and attempts only to understand or describe the use of one technology within one academic community </li></ul><ul><li>The proliferation of digital technologies into all aspects of academia continues to grow exponentially </li></ul><ul><li>Think about your own perspective, and how you might best use of digital technologies in your own role </li></ul>The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
  18. 18. Dr. Robert Farrow Institute of Educational Technology The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA <ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>http://open.ac.uk/blogs/openminded </li></ul>

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