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Surfing the tide: Associate Professor, Laura Czerniewicz

Presenting the second keynote address at the Unisa International Open Distance Learning conference, Associate Professor, Laura Czerniewicz (founding Director of the Centre for Educational Technology and Director of the OpenUCT initiative) apprised conference-goers of the seismic shifts under way in the open scholarship landscape.

Content at the speed of thought

Talking as an academic working at an educational institution, Czerniewicz based her presentation, entitled “Open scholarship: opportunities, power and contestation”, on what the landscape changes mean to working academics. Highlighting what she regards as the most profound changes, Czerniewicz said that copying content is easy and free. “Speed,” she added, “is no longer a problem  and content can be made available within a very short space of time, unlike the days when getting printed textbooks from A to B involved logistics and, therefore, time.”

Sharing, said Czerniewicz, now means multiplying (and not dividing), explaining that if one lends an e-publication to another person, both of you have a copy. Content is also device-agnostic, meaning that it can be accessed on various devices without adaptation.

Adapt or die

Content, said Czerniewicz, is now truly dynamic in the sense that it can be annotated, changed, linked and so forth. This, she warned, completely changes the way in which scholars publish and, indeed, the way in which publishing houses operate. Failing to take cognizance of this will have dire consequences as is evidenced by the demise of a number of (previously) major academic publishing concerns.

What this means for communication, said Czerniewicz, is that it becomes visible and, indeed, becomes content. “An example of this is the read-and-write web,” she said. “When you read something online you can immediately comment. Social media is also a completely new form of communication, and new forms of communication translate into new forms of influence.”

The changing face of scholarship

Czerniewicz explained that the massive shift in the communication overlay has had a major impact on the nature of scholarship, and proceeded to highlight the main areas of change. “In terms of conceptualisation,” she said, “literature reviews and the like were previously individual and private. It has now become shared and sharable, for example through social bookmarking systems such as Delicious and Reddit.” Data collection and analysis have also changed, she said, especially in terms of power relations. “The rise of crowdsourcing and citizen science means that non-academics are now also assisting in this regard.”

One of the most notable changes has been in terms of the dissemination of findings. “We now have new kinds of articles that are enhanced with links to references and even video – for example videos of interviews,” she said. Other areas of changing scholarship discussed by Czerniewicz included engagement and translation, and audiences and dissemination.

Unstoppable tide

“As a result of the emergence of open research, openness is a rising tide globally. Open practices are becoming mainstream, and global open policies are changing the shape of the landscape. The key issues of which we have to take note are infrastructure, tools, critical literacies and the aspects of creation and contribution. To us, as academics, there is also a tension between prestige and development that has to be managed,” concluded Czerniewicz.

Click here to watch the conference presentations on YouTube.

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