Open access

An Experiment with Open Pedagogy

I’m still working on the third edition of our physical geology open textbook (I really should be done by now, but you know how these things go), and thought it would be a nice touch to include vignettes about how geological events have affected people.

Not lists of damage to property and infrastructure, or the costs incurred, or the number of fatalities. I was thinking about descriptions in the words of people who were there. What did they see or hear or smell? What did the air taste like? What did they think about as they watched the event unfold? What was it like to be there?

I wanted students to have a connection with those events that went beyond knowing a list of facts. Why? As Maya Angelou put it, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Making vignettes for an open textbook was an opportunity to expose students to the idea of “open.” I told them that many people have generously shared their work online, often permitting it to be adapted and remixed in addition to allowing others to re-use and redistribute it free of charge. I told them about Creative Commons licenses, and Public Domain, and made it a project requirement that they use only open-access materials.

The vignettes themselves took the form of posters. I provided detailed criteria, but key points were that students must use language accessible to another student who has never taken a geology course before, and that posters should be 1 part science and 2 parts lived experience. Less important, but really cool, the poster also had to include an augmented reality component via HP Reveal. Here’s the sample I gave them.

poster_small_view

Sample poster (by me) with a first-hand account of the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. Eye-witness account courtesy of the Digital History Project. Get the poster as a PDF file.

To see the augmented-reality element of the poster—a pop-up video montage of images from the eruption—download the HP Reveal app for your smartphone or tablet, and follow my account (username karlapanchuk). Then view the poster through the app. Or, click here to see the video.

I had a few questions going into the project:

Will the posters be appropriate for the textbook? There’s the matter of accuracy, but in an open textbook accuracy isn’t enough. Materials must also have the right license.

In the limited time available, is it possible to teach students enough about open access and Creative Commons to have them make the right choices about which materials to use, and how to use those materials?

Can I be reasonably certain that students understand what it means to release their own work under a Creative Commons license, and that they have a choice about whether and how to do that?

Norma_thinking

Norma Talmadge, photographed in 1922. Norma doesn’t have answers either. Photographer unknown. View source.

Mostly, I still have those questions, but here are some things I learned:

Thing 1. A 20-minute lecture is not the best way to give students a working knowledge of open-access resources, and how to find and use them.

Thing 2. I’m not confident about how to balance teaching about open access with teaching geology. Should I minimize the time I spend Creative-Commons-proselytizing and restrict students to sources where I know materials have appropriate licenses? That seems like a missed opportunity, though.

Thing 3. An entirely realistic outcome is that a student will add “Public Domain” to all figure captions regardless of whether the images are in the public domain or not. I need a way to make students accountable for their choices that isn’t me spending days tracking down the copyright status of every image students use. Perhaps this is a job for peer review.

Thing 4. Some classroom experiments generate a roomful of quizzical eyebrow gymnastics that translate roughly as “I thought this class was about rocks.”

 

Categories: Open access, Teaching strategies | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Why Open Science Daily?

In February of this year I started a new project: a Twitter account called Open Science Daily (@journal_365). I started after reading about Sci Hub, a project of systematic piracy of research articles from behind journal paywalls. This matters because such articles are the lifeblood of academic work, but the cost of journal subscriptions is keeping them locked away. You might not think it’s a big deal whether or not a scientist has access to the Antarctic Journal of Annelid Research but what about journals publishing the latest findings on cancer?

Contemplating a Life Without Truth

I had the jarring experience myself of discovering that one of the universities I work for had forgotten I existed (at least for staff computing privileges) and cut off my access to electronic journals. It felt like I’d lost a limb or a smartphone. I wondered how anyone could possibly survive without being able to find out stuff whenever the out of stuff needed finding. What do you do without access to truth as filtered through the peer-review process? Those were dark days indeed.

After reading about Sci Hub I thought that it should be doable to establish some sort of framework where a journal could offer content freely by optimizing on the fact that its input (research) comes to it for free, its reviewers are free, editors may be unpaid, and there is no longer the overhead of producing materials in hard copy. As I contemplated how this might work, I suddenly remembered that it already existed, and was called open-access publishing.

Now I’m not the most up on my open-access resources, but I’d like to think that I have at least a little more knowledge than the average Jane. Yet I forgot these things even existed! Free peer-reviewed knowledge, and I forgot! It occurred to me that if I didn’t remember these things existed, then (barring explanations including but not restricted to teaching-related stress, lack of sleep, and lack of caffeine), how many other people don’t know or forgot? And so Open Science Daily was born.

So What, Exactly, Are You Doing?

Using the OSD account, I’ve been tweeting about one open-access science journal a day (more or less- but my track record is pretty good). I include the name, the url, and some key hashtags, but my strategy for maximum attention-getting is to use images. Initially I started off doing this sort of thing:

Earth System Dynamics

 

But then it got a little fancier,

Paleo Electr

 

and fancier (this one makes my eyes happy),

TWBul.png

 

and now they’re mini art projects. (Note the superposition of the semi-transparent storm clouds over the melting glacier to give the whole thing an ominous feel.)

EarthFut

 

While making pretty pictures is fun, I’m cognizant that my images might be the first thing someone sees of a given journal. In other words, I’m making the first impression, and I don’t take that lightly. That means I try to make the images look clean and professional, and take cues from the journal’s homepage about what might be appropriate, or what those running the journal might like to see. Sometimes they make it easy, such as by putting a tiny Mars rover at the top of their page, so I can do this:

GeoIMDS

 

The descriptive text in my images comes verbatim from the journal’s homepage whenever that is possible. This is primarily because I’m dealing with many topics that are new to me, and I don’t want to make paraphrasing errors. It’s also much faster. If I had to go through each journal to come up with my own succinct descriptions I simply wouldn’t be able to do this project. It seems reasonable that the journals should speak for themselves in this way.

Which science journals?

I’m working from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and it’s likely this will keep me busy for a while. I’ve covered the journals they’ve filed under “Geology” and am working through categories which are also related to the Earth system and space. I choose journals which use English to describe themselves, so I can avoid cutting and pasting information in a language I don’t understand. The journal must also have a clear description of its focus and scope. Many do, and helpfully label this information “Focus and Scope.” But others have thwarted by best attempts to find a snippet of description that is pithy enough for my images.

Who is this for?

Awareness of open access journals matters for people who are not affiliated with an institution having deep enough pockets to afford journal subscriptions. That could mean people who are members of the general public, who work independently of an institution, or who belong to an organization that simply doesn’t have the cash. It also matters for the researchers and academics whose work is being published, because they might not otherwise consider whether their journal of choice is open access. It matters because institutions can begin to consider open-access publishing in their policy-making, and take steps to encourage it.

This is also for me, because I love the brain rush accompanying the sudden realization that yet another universe of ideas exists, of which I had been completely unaware. It’s like feeling your way around a dark room and encountering an unexpected doorway. Looking at a new journal each day has made me aware of new fields, and allowed me to make connections between seemingly disparate concepts. I sometimes wonder if my little band of followers will become bored if I stray too far from their areas of interest. But I find myself exclaiming, “That’s actually a thing?!” at least once a week, and having that opportunity must appeal to at least a few of them.

Update

After a run of 8 months or so I have deactivated Open Science Daily. I still think it’s a worthy project, but I have other projects right now that need more focus than I was giving them. In the end I evaluated 177 open-access journals for this project, and tweeted about 137 of them.

Categories: Open access, Science and such | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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