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Advance Openness in Higher Education

Higher education would benefit from a culture of openness because closed systems are costly and counterproductive for student success.

Photo of Steven Bell
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While there is a significant open education movement in higher education, there is much to be done to shift from a culture of closed (mostly commercial) systems to one in which educators and students take on more responsibility for the creation of content and sharing it openly. This refers to open access to academic literature and research, open learning materials that can be shared, reused and redistributed and open pedagogy that involves students more actively in their education. Colleges and universities spend significantly to support closed systems. For example, research libraries spend millions of dollars to subscribe to research journals. If we could develop a better publishing and dissemination system, and we have the technology, then this content could be openly shared instead of keeping it behind the paywall of a closed system. It is just one component part of what we need to do to reimagine higher education, but it would dramatically change how students and faculty work together to create and share information.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • A classroom or academic assignment

Tell us about your work experience:

I work as an academic librarian at a research university, and have experience with scholarly communication and other learning content.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Just look at the cost of textbooks and academic journals. Their prices have increased at rates that far exceed both inflation and the cost of tuition itself. Anyone who has to buy textbooks or pay the subscription for an academic research journal knows what the term "sticker shock" means. If higher education can take back control over this content it would have a profound impact.

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Steven!

Thank you for sharing this with us.

I have experienced the pain of trying to access a journal in an obscure publication and finding out that my University did not have a subscription so I could only read the abstract. Also, outside of academe, as a freelancer I wanted access to a journal article but could not justify the costs involved and relied on patent searches to access the information I needed to find.

Do you find that the pressure to publish and to publish first hampers progress?

What do you think of SPARC - http://sparcopen.org/ ?

Photo of Steven Bell

Hi Kate. Thanks for your comment and sharing the frustration you have experienced in dealing with the current system of scholarly communication. It can be annoying when you need to get access to research and everything is behind a costly paywall. Is it no surprise that someone started Sci-Hub, despite how it violates US copyright law or that scholars use underground networks to get and share costly research articles. 

There is no question that the current system of tenure and promotion in higher education is one factor that contributes to the maintenance of the traditional scholarly communications system. Faculty will continue to seek to publish in the much more costly "high impact" publications as long as those journals are the ones deemed acceptable for tenure and promotion. I would hope that a recommendation or strategy that comes out of this process - to improve higher ed - to seek reforms in the T&P process that allows for new types of scholarship practices. 

I think highly of SPARC. It is an organization that provides great leadership for exploring new models for publishing and sharing scholarly research and is a primary advocate at the national and global level for promoting the cause of open access, open educational resources and other open initiatives. SPARC could certainly play a role in IDEO process to improve higher education.

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