My last post was quite critical, which is fine sometimes, but I prefer to shape my energies in more proactive directions. Clearly one of the challenges academia faces is to figure out a productive use of networks in terms of research practices. Usually I write more about the teaching aspects of the university and clearly there are many ways universities will employ networks. But I want to think specifically about the use of the web for research with a few goals in mind:
- to enhance collaboration between academics
- to publish and share research
- to share knowledge with a broader audience (students, governments, industries, non-profits, the general public, and so on)
One might say that these have been answered, but the real challenge is that as the web continues to evolve and now converge with other networks, the practices we have established need to change as well. That is, from the inception of the web, one could find the appearance of academic journals: genuine, rigorously reviewed, academic scholarship available freely online. There were (and are) listservs that might facilitate collaboration. Similarly individual faculty and faculty organizations built websites where they offered information, policy statements, and so on (NCTE or MLA for example in English Studies). But how are we moving forward?
Clearly the folks at the Insitutue for the Future of the Book are doing interesting work. Collin and his collaborators have done good work with CCC Online. There are many others, but not a critical mass. The real challenge lies in rethinking how one would do intellectual work–and not simply b/c we can but b/c we could be more productive AND do things we cannot do now. Like what? I’m not exactly sure, but there’s probably only one way to find out…
Conventional academic discourse lies with journals and conferences. For all the advantages of these modes, neither offers an ongoing, dynamic interchange. Listservs offer that, but, in my experience anyway, they don’t really create a productive, collaborative space. Sometimes there are debates on listservs; sometimes there is sharing of information (e.g. does anyone know a good article about x"?). But there isn’t a sustained building of knowledge there. I suppose there could be, but there isn’t, probably b/c we all go off to write our individually authored articles and conference presentations.
In any case, the listserv is too large a community for collaborative work. Yes, tens of thousands contribute to Wikipedia, but they don’t all work on the same article, right? So I don’t know what the magic number is, but let’s say I was looking for a dozen scholars in who were interested in the same things I’m interested in:
- mobile networks
- virtual worlds
- audio/video production
- public, collaborative learning
It’s unlikely that we would all work on the same research project at once, but there would be a handful of project undertaken by individuals or small groups. There would be a public face to the group and a private project management site, like Basecamp. The public face would offer a steady stream of information as we shared what we were doing, what was going on in our teaching, what we were reading and writing. We’d be assembling streams of information from our blogs, twitters, flickr, YouTube, and so on–wherever we were post information. The result is a collection of information that is hopefully useful groundwork for more formal investigation and also a mechanism for fruitful collaboration between our classes.
Meanwhile, in a more private space we might be orchestrating collaborative classroom projects and sharing research, drafts, and other media: constructing our scholarly work. When it’s complete, we publish it in traditional venues and republish it on our public site as well.
I guess the bottom line is that it seems like there’s unnecessary wasted energy in some of the ways that I work. I know I like my autonomy, as all academics do, At the same time, I realize that my work gets much better when I get feedback from others, when I allow myself to take some advice from readers I trust. It seems to me that this kind of collaboration and public sharing of the knowledge produced from these collaborations is something we really need to explore more.