Sunday, November 29, 2009

Talking about open research at the IRGO unconference

At the beginning of the week I chaired a panel at the IRGO unconference at Otago University. The brief of the panel was to consider how we can be more collaborative in our Internet research in New Zealand.

Our brief
I started off the session by explaining that one of my great passions is to encourage researchers to work more collaboratively together. I see this gaining more and more importance as research funding becomes increasingly difficult to access in New Zealand. In particular, I made a plea for researchers in universities to remember the polytechnic sector because a lot of great research is being carried out by polytechnic staff.

Open research
Wayne Macintosh, member of the Board of Directors of the Open Education Resources Foundation, talked about research in an open environment. Wayne talked about the importance of putting our material in the open domain as a moral and ethical duty to the greater good. At the same time, he did not deny the importance of being able to earn a living from the production of education and research material. The challenge for us as educators and researchers is to figure out how we work in an open and collaborative environment at the same time as fulfilling the demands of our employers.

Wayne also announced the beginning of a new wiki: Wikiresearch. The wiki will work on the same lines as all other wikimedia projects and will be a place where researchers can collaborate, seek funding, plan, conduct and publish research.

Collaborative research in action
I told the story of the Second Life Education New Zealand project as an example of how people from all over the country and many institutions can come together and collaborate on a research project. Every aspect of the project has been openly published on the project blog and the research outputs are available under a Creative Commons license, which means anyone can use the research that was developed in Second Life. I explained this approach to research came about for many reasons, one of which was our responsibility to be completely open to our funders ie the tax payer of New Zealand.

Barriers to open and collaborative research
Cameron Campbell was given the job of playing devil's advocate and outlined the barriers to being open and collaborative. The commercialization of research and government funding of academic institutions based on research outputs are huge barriers, as are the locked-down intellectual property policies of academic institutions.

The group had a lively session of discussion which focused on research publishing. There was a lot of concern about the way traditional journals control the publication of research. At the same time, researchers are forced to comply because of the "publish or perish" attitudes that prevail in universities. Whilst the group consensus appeared to support open publication of research, people were also concerned that this would adversely affect their opportunities for tenure, or ability to make money from their research.

My personal thoughts
We did not really address how we could work more collaboratively or come up with concrete strategies which I was a tad disappointed about. I am thinking that a follow-up workshop may be one way to progress this further. However, from a personal point of view, I appreciated the opportunity to meet people and strengthen networks between Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago. If this panel leads to more conversation and activity between the two institutions in the field of Internet research and education, then I will feel the panel had a constructive outcome. Just little things like making sure each institution is aware of research-focused activities makes a difference.

What suggestions can you make that will help build a more collaborative research environment in New Zealand?

Image: 'Otago University campus' themachobox's photostream

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