Monthly Archives: July 2006

New directions for academic publishing?

When I was a child, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, my father worked at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. My first engagement with the world of academic publishing and scholarship was the piles of printed cards my father would bring home – requests for copies of articles, sent from around the world, to the researchers at JCSMR (this being in the days before photocopiers, when authors received a certain number of printed copies of their article for distribution). As my sisters and I carefully cut around and soaked off the stamps for our stamp collections, the avid reader that I was read most of the cards, trying to decipher the handwritten names, addresses, article titles, journal names, and marvelling at the connections that paper made between professors and doctors in such far away places as Canada, Poland, and India.
Many things have changed since then, and as I sit in my office now, I have access within seconds to millions of journal articles. In fact, just yesterday I experienced a sense of frustration that a particular article I want is not available online, and I shall actually have to walk the 60 meters or so across to the library building, find the hard-copy journal, and photocopy it myself. (Yes, aren’t we spoilt these days!)

But apart from the relative ease of access to published material, has academic publishing really fundamentally changed in the last 3 or 4 decades? Is our model of scholarly dissemination still relevant to the 21st century?

Over at if:book, the blog of The Institute for the Future of the Book, they’re exploring this very issue, and developing an alternative approach. A recent article introduces the MediaCommons project-in-progress:

Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers (and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public). This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text. These time-lags have been worsened by the increasing economic difficulties threatening many university presses and libraries, which each year face new administrative and financial obstacles to producing, distributing, and making available the full range of publishable texts and ideas in development in any given field. The combination of such structural problems in academic publishing has resulted in an increasing disconnection among scholars, whose work requires a give-and-take with peers, and yet is produced in greater and greater isolation.

The whole post is worth a read, and has generated some interesting coments and views, some of which are outlined in yesterday’s follow-up post at if:book: initial responses to MediaCommons

Flickr and the expanded museum

I’ve always tended to think of a museum as a place, a building or specific space, somewhere one goes to to view (and perhaps experience) collections. While museums have evolved from the draughty, old, quiet places of static displays that I remember from my youth to more vibrant and involving experiences, often with web presences and access to information, images etc online, I still think of a collection, managed by experts, in a place.

An interesting item over on if:book recently, flickr as virtual museum challenged that concept and opened up more possibilities in my mind:

The Brooklyn Museum has been availing itself of various services at Flickr in conjunction with its new “Grafitti” exhibit, assembling photo sets and creating a group photo pool. In addition, the museum welcomes anyone to contribute photographs of grafitti from around Brooklyn to be incorporated into the main photo stream, along with images of a growing public grafitti mural on-site at the museum where visitors can pick up a colored pencil and start scribbling away.

What a great way to connect a very public form of art with the public that creates it and sees it, and form a far more creative, dynamic and involving exploration of the culture as well as the artefacts; an exploration that builds a collection even as it shows it.

Assessment and conversation

Konrad Glogowski is the author of the blog of proximal development. I have found his reflective explorations of his experiences as a teacher using blogs, and a doctoral candidate researching blogs and teaching, to be always interesting and thought-provoking.

In a recent entry, Unending conversation, he reflects on the changing role of the teacher, and his own transformation from a ‘teacher who peddles content’ to one engaged in the co-construction of knowledge with his students. Several of his comments stood out for me:

I no longer view the texts produced by learners as definitive pronouncements or conclusive statements on assigned topics. Texts are tentative attempts to construct knowledge and, if they are produced within a community of inquiry-oriented peers, they will lead to further knowledge building and meaning-making.


The discourse of one always interacts with and interanimates the discourse of others. Definitive statements and conclusions are discouraged. Instead, we build our understanding through incomplete attempts at constructing knowledge, attempts that will always remain incomplete because it is their very incompleteness that allows us to keep constructing, to keep questioning, revising, and reflecting.

So much of our assessment at university level – essays, exams etc – is focussed on ‘testing knowledge’ and asking students to answer questions with their statements and conclusions. Our assessment tasks serve to end conversations, rather than begin them. We demand answers rather than questions, we give marks rather than participate in dialogue, we make the limited conversation of those marks and the feedback private rather than collaborative. We expect students to ‘complete’ a conversation about huge complex topics in 1,000 words or maybe 2,000 or 2,500, within the space of a 13-week semester.

I know that we have to balance the reality of demands of time, and the expectations of systems of marking, examining and ranking students, but perhaps the learning of our students, and their motivation, might increase if the emphasis was on encouraging their assessment tasks as the beginning of constructing knowledge – necessarily tentative and incomplete by their very nature – and continuing the collaborative conversation around and beyond the tasks themselves.