Friday, 26 August 2011

Blogphilosophy: a plee for appreciating #open academic collaboration - #openscience

The past 5 months have been very exciting thanks to educational colleagues with an interest in mLearning. Without ever having met, and although we only started to exchange knowledge on mLearning from April 2011 onward, this encounter gave rise to several unusual academic collaborations: 2 accepted papers, 2 draft papers in the process of being written, and an opinion paper in the making. All of us are individual researchers, linked to different institutes that do not have any formal collaborations between us. Nevertheless, the energy and zest felt by all of us pushes us towards collaborative, open academic research actions.

If informal knowledge exchange is at the core of the knowledge age, then were does informal academic collaboration stand?
Collaborating across educational institutes is nothing strange, but writing academic papers in all openness still seems to be more of an exception. This is in strong discrepancy with the increasing knowledge that collaboration is a core strength of this knowledge era. If collaboration fits open learning, knowledge creation and peer-to-peer actions, it is but logical that academic collaboration will result in enhanced academic performance. Now I agree that there are many formal academic projects that stimulate collaborative research BUT that type of research is mostly closed to outside researchers, and it is limited to formal institutes.
So I guess, my interest is in open academic collaboration across institutes and a collaboration that is open to all that want to join. Michael Sean Gallagher, one of the 7 academic collaborators has written an incredible insightful post on the subject. Michael has a wonderful literary pen even when he writes on academic topics. I simply jot my ideas down here, for they have been wondering around my head the last couple of days and I want to structure them a bit.

From MobiMOOC to academic group
This idea came to mind after what happened to some of us that have followed the MobiMOOC course during spring 2011. Nearing the end of MobiMOOC an open invitation was sent by myself to all MobiMOOC participants to see if anyone would be interested in writing a paper collaboratively. Anyone that wanted to could join, and the paper would be written in collaboration, adding all of the volunteering authors to the paper (or at least those that added to the creation of the paper). I did not think many people would be interested, but it turned out that 6 people reacted, resulting in a research group of 7 people living across the globe, willing to write.

The way we 7 collaborate is nothing new, we use very commonly available tools: google docs, e-mail, track writing (with lots of commenting to increase understanding and though processes) and we work asynchronously building on each of our comments via iterative circles of rereading, commenting, rewriting.... Nevertheless, this simple drive of collaborative academic action seems to bring forward strong end results. In fact many of us, might be all of us, feel that this collaboration lifts our papers beyond the scope any single one of us could reach if we were to write individually.

BUT, and here it becomes strange... if we look at the academic world, one author papers are seen as a more weighed, accredited, appreciated form of writing then collaborative papers. Strange, for this knowledge era clearly supports networking skills, collaboration (peer-to-peer learning to name but one), ... so how can we align this idea of collaboration with the notion that academic performance is at its best when put forward by one individual? I truly belief that collaborative academic effort should move beyond the individual, beyond the ego, and towards common enhancement of science.

This idea of open research has been circling open science fora for a while, but it is still not very popular at this point in time. Why is that? Is it because of the fear that openness will lead to people running off with data or conclusions that you have been working a long time on to obtain. But then, is academic research not comparable to patents? When we publish data or conclusions in the open, would this publication not give us the intellectual property rights of those data or conclusions, keeping that research closely linked to the persona relevant to that particular research? Or am I too naive here?

Is it personal pride, the drive for academic fame?
Or do researchers hesitate to collaborate informally, because we all have the urge to shine? And formal academic actions give us the best leg up for academic bliss? So maybe we want to be the sole researcher for a dedicated topic? Maybe we do strive to have our name on a billboard indicating that we are important in the academic world?
In all honesty, I do feel that from time to time. I have the urge to be seen as 'important', but the only time this urge disappears is when I truly have done something, and not specifically when an audience is applauding the effort, but simply because I have undertaken an action and it made me feel good. So I think the urge to shine is only an indicator that I did not undertake enough action to satisfy my own soul that is eager for satisfying action. And in all honesty, when I was writing in this small, cross-globe group of educational researchers, I felt I really was adding something and in a way that felt good.