Thursday 26 June 2008

Inspirational Teachers

I listened to John Willinsky give an inspirational keynote at ELPub 2008 this morning. He banged the drum for Open Access and announced an OA mandate for the Stanford School of Education. According to the story, he was describing the Harvard mandate to his colleagues in a meeting and they instantly voted to adopt a similar mandate themselves. Way to go!

However, the message that I shall take home was his discussion of the connection between "public" forms of knowledge and "highly authoritative" forms of knowledge. He gave the specific example of the links made between between Wikipedia and the Stanford New Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ie opportunities where a general and democratic information resource links back to a resource which is written and governed by domain experts. A really very good thing, according to Willinsky, who believes that the sustainability of the entire research infrastructure is based on its perception as a Public Good, one that is open and encourages the participation and engagement of its sustaining community.

In other words, the fact that many non-researchers seem to be downloading papers from our repositories shouldn't be seen as a suspicious thing. "Things on the Web are just downloaded by teenagers and pornographers" according to some colleagues who are less than Web-friendly! "If a download isn't attributable to someone in a University then it shouldn't count - it's obviously a mistake or being read by someone who can't possibly understand it." That's the attitude.

But perhaps not. According to Willinsky, our (Higher Education's) ongoing existence as a part of society depends on us acknowledging that less esoteric forms of debate and knowledge do exist (public forums and websites) and that we should expect and encourage the public to refer to our work, and link to our work and even read our work.

And I think that if repositories have a role in making collections of research material accessible, then perhaps we should be thinking about how to make them a bit more accessible to the public, in helping us become inspirational teachers with half an eye to the rest of society.

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