Opening Up Access to Educational Research

I posted the list of journals with rss feeds to the ITFORUM, and people discussed the problems with journals being closed, subscription-only access.

Creating open access journals is of course a worthy goal. Of course who wouldn’t want everyone to be able to read about their own research? And when newspapers post misleading summaries about educational research findings (which seems to happen quite often nowadays), people can view the original reports themselves. Researchers in medical and scientific fields are taking the lead. The education field is lagging behind. Virtually none of the top journals in educational research are open access. Of course the problem is money. How do journals sustain an open access publishing model? The most common solution I’ve seen so far is to charge the authors of research articles, rather than the readers. And that seems an okay compromise, although at the rates they charge (typically a minimum of $1000 per article), it just creates a whole new dichotomy between richer and poorer researchers and insitutions that has its problems as well. I for example am working on an article with colleagues for the Journal of Engineering Education, but having not started my new job yet, and at their rate of charging $100 per page, I’m either going to have to shorten the article considerably, or more likely, postpone submitting the article. J of EE doesn’t even offer open access to their journals either, although does post crippled versions of the articles online (full text, but no formatting or figures or tables).

But I would add something else that seems to be missing from the open access debate. Many of us tech-centric folks think that opening access or building a tool is all you have to do to fix things. It’s the age old belief that “if you build it, they will come” (the Kevin Costner fallacy?). They won’t come, at least not very many. Not many people in the public read or want to read research articles. Even for those that do, it’s a tedious or expensive process of visiting the library or paying for subscriptions. There are over 100 open access educational e-journals, yet virtually none of them offer RSS or Atom feeds, or even email table of content alerting, including popular journals like Education Next and First Monday. Open Journal Systems is an open source tool used by many journals to manage the peer-review process and online publishing, and yet I have not seen any journals using that tool that offer rss feeds, even though OJS does support that feature (not enabled by default though I would bet).

So, open access isn’t enough. You need open participation and easy access as well. It’s like open sourcing a software program, but not allowing anyone to contribute bug fixes and not having or allowing any good documentation about how to install and use the software (a more common problem than you might think in the open source world, but of course the commercial software world suffers the same problems).

I think, again with the lead of science and medical researchers, this situation will change. In 5-10 years perhaps, any research journal which isn’t open access and doesn’t have an RSS or Atom feed will be considered fairly useless.

Of course by then though, we will be complaining about why journal articles don’t include their original data or videos about their research. We’ll be clamoring for video-based research papers, such as this one included on CD in a special 2004 issue of Educational Studies in Mathematics (which is the top journal in mathematics education if I am not mistaken). That was created using the Video Paper Builder tool from the Concord Consortium.

Another factor driving more open access to research is impact. We do and publish research to impact on the field and change and improve education. According to these stats, the Journal of the Learning Sciences is one of the top research journals in the field of education. At its #1 spot, it averages just about 9 citations per article. Perhaps an open access, multimedia-rich educational journal with rss feeds can beat that one day.

Posted in opensource, research

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