Today (Wednesday) is Digital Learning Day. I’d do activities in my classes, but this semester is entirely made up of peer-driven learning classes (and one French class with absolutely no tech at all in the classroom – we’re building analogue study guides); my peer-driven learning classes are largely well on their way to building things, awesome things, some digital and some not. As long as they aren’t building a PowerPoint presentation (shudder), then I’m ok with whatever they choose to build. I’m already overhearing some fabulous ideas, and I’m really looking forward to the final presentations, or Show-and-Tell as I am now calling it.
What does this have to do with Open Access? Well, part of the impetus of this day is to share all of the wonderful tools that are available “for free” online in order to build and share various digital things. I put “for free” in scare quotes because it’s hard to get around commercial brands or motivations for many of the tools that are available. Is it open access is you have to login, either with Twitter, Facebook, Google, or some other for-profit social media tool? Is it open access when it is funded by a for-profit corporation looking to extend it’s brand and reputation to the next generation?
You may find these questions exceedingly naïve or even uninformed, but as a parent, looking for cool things to introduce my kids to online, it’s hard to differentiate; I have to balance the “cool tool” factor with the “what do I have to put up with to use it” factor. Something like Scratch, developed by MIT, is awesome, but non-profit tools for kids are hard to come by. This is compounded by the big business that is the education publishing and edtech industry.
And this leads me to the issue academics face with in terms of the open access movement. There was a bit of a debate on Twitter about Academia.edu’s founder Richard Price and his comments about Aaron Swartz’s persecution and suicide. Price maintains that Academia.edu exists to help liberate scholarship. But it is, at the end of the day, a for-profit corporation. I use and continue to use Academia.edu as a place to put some of my essays, as I have found that it makes them very search-engine friendly. And, it’s great because someone else is taking care of that for me. Certainly, users need to sign in, but at the end of the day, they don’t have to pay any money up front to read my essays.
Then, there is the growing practice of publishers charging money for people to publish their research. This is, apparently, common enough in the sciences, where these costs are factored into research grants. But in the humanities, we don’t have the resources to pay for their publications, at least not when one is working off the tenure-track or as a low-paid graduate student. I understand that publishing isn’t free, but if we are expected, no, REQUIRED to publish in legitimate, peer-reviewed sources, then this needs to be taken into consideration.
(Then again, most programs and schools don’t provide financial support to be able to attend conferences, so this is all falling on deaf ears.)
But, you protest, you can make your own website! Share your own research! Set it free! But, again, it’s not free. You need to know how to format your text, proofread (which, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I don’t), code, SEO your work, pay for server space (as having your own domain makes it more likely to be found online), maintain it, etc, etc, etc. I’m not saying it’s not worth it (although, in the eyes of hiring committees and tenure-and-promotion committees, it’s not), but I am saying it’s work that has very real costs attached to it.
For those who have positions of economic privilege and stability in higher education (ie those who have tenure), then publishing there work themselves or via some other open access platform should be a requirement. But for those of us who do not have the money, power, or privilege to be able to give our work away, we shouldn’t be shunned for creating a workable path for ourselves. It is true that large publishing corporations have been making money off of all of our “free” labor for a long time. It is also true that many of us where happy with that arrangement because it earned us jobs, tenure, and promotion.
Information might want to be free, but those of us who are producing it deserve more than zero compensation for our work.