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Discussion: What does being open in research terms mean?

Debate on openness and research

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Gráinne Conole
25 July 2010

Reflecting on the process of writing the book 'Designing for learning in an open world' has made me wonder a little more about what 'open' really means in current research terms. It seems to me we are still in a state of flux and their are conflicting agendas, so I have set up this Cloud as a space to discuss some of these issues. 


  • What are the benefits of adopting a truly open approach to sharing research ideas and work?
  • What are the potential drawbacks of being open, how do current structures and systems restrict openness?
  • Are we likely to see a shift away from traditional processes and metrics for research (such as publishing in established peer reviewed journals and books) to use of social mediating tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networking sites?


Extra content

I think this notion is  well captured by this quote:

Spreading information about who knows what is a powerful way to keep ideas alive. Edison was renowned for his ability to remember how old ideas were used and by whom. The most respected people at IDEO are part pack rat (because they have great private collections of stuff), part librarian (because they know who knows what), and part Good Samaritan (because they go out of their way to share what they know and to help others).

Hardagon, A., & Sutton, R. I. (2000). Building an Innovation Factory. Harvard Business Review, 78(3), 157-166.

Chris Bigum
21:57 on 30 September 2010

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Yishay Mor
8:55am 4 August 2010

Worth taking a look at the work & discussions of the open knowledge foundation, particularly their open science mailing list. Interesting stuff there about the virtues and challenges of open research. 

Leon Cych
9:40am 27 November 2010 (Edited 10:47am 27 November 2010)

Quite simply, for people such as myself, who are not in the least academic but interested in reading around ideas of others so that I can formulate some sort of mental map of what those activites others are engaged in, this can then help me to reflect on activity and research related to my business.

I work in the field of innovation in education - my role changes day by day. One day I am a practitioner (I am working with primary school children forging the use of Web 2.0 tools in a Creative Partnership project) - the next I am putting together a communications hub for a Comenius project inovolving the use of Immersive worlds and teachers from six countries. Another day I may be constructing a business community social media marketing strategy at "hyperlocal" level. I work in-depth with the tools mentioned and am always searching for new innovative and highly practical solutions for different communities of practice and "clients". I do not hold dear any one tool so long as it fulfills what I need it to do and I constantly upskill myself with tools and processes I see fit for purpose or have others model for me through informal networking.

So I do not appreciate the lack of transparency with online journals. Most of the information I pull down from the web is via RSS feeds and key word searches - that is how I fetched up here. As part of my pro bono work for the Open Source Schools site this drilling down has led me to these pages and your blog. So yes, I appreciate a culture of Openness. I see this as vital tool - it gives me an agency I would not otherwise have to pursue what I do as effectively as I do. I shall be following this blog and the book with interest.

Part of the problem of point of delivery of traditional research is that it is too slow and often the research is buried in some online journal to be referenced by someone else years later working in an allied field. Wouldn't it be better to have a more dynamic community of purpose where allied projects and research can feed into each other.  The journal system seems so sluggish and little research can be applied quickly. I would love to see the model of action research using such methods as this :

This is a primary teacher who is part of the TeachMeet movement in the UK sharing his ideas about peer learning and annotation of work with others through his blog using the Web 2.0 VoiceThread app.

He presents at TeachMeets :

for video examples see here :

But he is only one of a growing ad hoc, informal group fo teachers, who are, in effect, experimenting with Web 2.0 and other technologies in their classrooms and pulling distributed resources together to share and to, critique, at times. This group is growing in numbers across the country and there is a map of individuals across the world involved in these activities:

They are part of a growing number of different communities of practice (MirandaMods are another - there are several "tribes") that are flocking together socially and their sudden rise can indeed be attributed to two factors. The use of Twitter and the posession of a smart phone.

These communites are also devising other ways of using Web 2.0 tools for online CPD in creative ways such as:

Where teachers vote on a subject and then proceed to debate that on Twitter at a pre-arranged time. The entire conversation is then instantly archived into an interactive Session Summary booklet using ISSUU online:

I am sure you can see the immediacy of this makes it a very attractive CPD tool for those participating. Interested teachers suggest an activity and, if practical and useful, is taken up immediately and put into practice.

I guess my point is that this is highly dynamic activity based around practitioner experience and is far more rapid in terms of feedback loops than traditional research or could be if someone were to put a process of research that could capture and process the data from this activity as quickly as it happens - aggregation of data and reflection on what that means could also be speedier at scale I should imagine. I have been filming this activity for over three years and think this is an excellent model of how people are using Web 2.0 and other participatory and open tools in education - they are free, they are collaborative they are extremely engaging and useful in day to day practice.

I'm afraid traditional research that can be applied, in this case, pales into insignificance for this group of practitioners although they would be more than receptive to research around their activities. It is highly dynamic is my point - something traditional research and "closed" research is definitely not in terms of the feedback loop of application. Obviously for me, this is a highly practical concern and feeds directly into my business.

What is interesting about this activity is that there is no central spine of admin other than a few initial ideas - activities are mooted  in creative and innovative ways, agreed on and then put into practice all online in many cases. Where you see the outcomes, the physical meetings - the social inflections as I like to call them, the co-opting of traditional agencies and organisations who have a more creative and innovative and more malleable role comes into play to instantiate the virtual in to the real. My business is based around this concept so I find such activity and the ways in which it happens fascinating.

What is immediately noticeable about all this activity is the notion of changing identities and roles in both the real and virtual spheres. So changing metrics yes but changing practice and professional development far more so because of these more immediate feedback loops - I would say that this fasttracks modelling and scaffolding of practice. Having tracked the above activity for a few years it has been noticable that the teacher paractitioners have often been working in isolation in their own institutions but have a wider community of like minded individuals in virtual space. The ability to change the institutions and the practices that go on within them has been fairly limited up until recently. However now management has begun to enter into the arena and these processes are beginning to be modelled at management level with the CPD process in particular leading to variants on teachmeets - I have video of the planning process and there are plans to have "learnmeets" where pupils are encouraged to adopt these models of "show and tell" and to reflect transparently and share strategies for learning and celebrate outcomes and process. Obviously the numbers of teachers engaged in such activities are extremely low but they are growing often leading to those communites meeting for CPD both on and offline (I live video broadcast a lot of these TeachMeets simultaneously "virtually" over the web or even in Second Life ) where they will not for traditional Local Authority CPD.

Because I work in the commercial/ non-profit world I see this as highly advantageous to the work I do as it gives me a rapid overview of activity in my field. I hope this helps give you one perspective but probably from left field as usual ;)


Antonella Esposito
4:16pm 6 February 2011 (Edited 4:24pm 6 February 2011)

Being an apprentice researcher, my view is limited to a few early experiences and reflections on a possible open approach while conducting a research study. In particular, I consider the relationship between an open research approach and research ethics, just at the beginning of my dissertation work about research practices in transition, which will engage me in an interview project in an Italian university. Currently I am waiting for a formal approval of the ethics form, that proposes the use of a public blog as a research journal and a web space in Cloudworks as many ‘loci’ to experiment an open approach during the research process. In the very next days I will know if the arguments endorsing the open approach are reasonable enough to receive institutional approval. In the meanwhile, to date I identified some issues related to over-exposure of participants and enhancement of some aspects of the research process.

Over-exposure of the researcher

A researcher willing to share her/his own ongoing research work should be self-confident to expouse oneself to any criticism. This can not be easy to be accepted when you are a new scholar , and your weaknesses are likely to be more apparent than your strengths (at least, this is what I think of me).  In addition, this entails to carefully protect your privacy (i.e. setting up a devoted email account for research purposes). However, you learn to shape your mode of ‘being researcher’ just observing how other researchers interact with you and review your ideas/work. Moreover,  ‘in the open’ you are expoused to a number of models, with respect to those ones you are able to observe in a specific ‘in site’ research department. (Indeed, to what extent 'external' models can be really applied in a specific context with specific traditions, it is another issue...).

Over-exposure of informants

An open approach implies the opportunity of disclosing research data while data gathering process is still underway. This requires a cautious attitude, not only for obvious reasons of appropriateness (not to disclose data that are not yet analyzed), but also thinking of paricipants’ vulnerability. For instance, the use of quotes from interviews in a public space could affect the principle of anonimity and confidentiality.  On the other hand, too strict rules to preserve vulnerabiity of participants would make any disclosure (and then discussion) impossibile. This suggests that an additional negotiation of permission is to be undertaken with research participants, so that it is clear where the discussion is being conducted and in which terms data are being used.

Over-exposure of the context being researched

In my study I will select informants in a unique university context (the same in which I have been working!) and will interview them about their digital/open scholarship practices. However, contextual factors are likely to emerge from interviews: these ones are just elements to be shared in an open approach, but the specific university – in which ‘openness’ is not widely endorsed and even seen under suspicion – could feel itself threatened by such a discussion. In this case, asking for a permission could imply the risk of subjection and even censorship: the transparency of conduct together with gaining trust of a number of gatekeepers could keep from this drawback.

Iterative debriefing process

Using an open approach, the debriefing process is not limited to a final phase, but can constitute an integral part of a continuing dialogue with research participants. The risk for a newbie is too much relying on participants' statements and not keeping that analytical distance that distinguishes research in its own right.

Practice of peer debriefing

An open approach provides an apprentice researcher with a unvaluable opportunity to debrief findings with a wider research-savvy audience than a reserved circle of an online class of research students. This add complexity to a challenging experience of writing a dissertation, but I think it can give you an habitus of critical thinking that it is worth acquiring.

However, I realise that in my current learning path as a researcher I am living in a ‘limbo’, in which a number of good practices are to be acquired, but relatively a few institutional constraints are to be fulfilled.  Researching in ‘real life’ could dramatically change my ‘open’ practices, as Ferguson et al. (2010) report in their study about blogging as a research practice. For now, I can’t wait for starting my very first ‘open’ research study and reflecting on it.

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