Monday, June 9, 2014

Open scholarship and vulnerability

I recently read Open Practices and Identity: Evidence from Researchers and Educators’ Social Media Participation by George Veletsianos. I was fascinated by the arguments presented in the paper mainly because they accurately describe my experience with open scholarship. Here is a brief excerpt from the article where Veletsianos talks about how he felt when he first started sharing his work openly online:

At first, I often struggled with the notion of public participation on social media, of “putting myself out there,” publishing draft ideas and sharing details of my professional and nonprofessional life that I assumed others would find incomplete, dull or irrelevant. In retrospect, the source of this struggle was partly the training and scholarly enculturation that I received during my graduate degree. This training, implicit as it may have been, highlighted the notion that researchers: (1) can be “scooped out of ideas” if they share ideas prematurely and (2) are experts, knowledgeable in their field of study, confident of their work and should present themselves as such.

Let me include in open scholarship all teaching and learning activities that are publicly enacted. How do learners feel about publishing drafts online, reflecting on their learning openly as it happens?

Veletsianos has also written about vulnerability in open scholarship arguing that academics often experience vulnerability in online spaces. Vulnerable is a peculiar word, something I don't use in everyday language or even think about. So what is vulnerability?
English is not my first language, so I had to consult Google first:
Wikipedia defines it as "the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment."

The Free Dictionary offers 3 definitions: (1) Susceptible to physical or emotional injury,  (2) susceptible to attack, and (3) open to censure or criticism.

So we feel vulnerable when we expose ourselves to others knowing we might get hurt because of that. Does opening up ourselves online, entering an environment with no clear cut boundaries mean that we may become subject to, and must be ready for, harsh criticism, disapproval, and ridicule? Yes, of course that is a possibility in a public space (like being hit by an egg thrown from somebody in the crowd), but I don't think this is how a learning community can thrive. "Exuberant" discoveries in a community of mutual care, support, encouragement, and respect [challenge: add other nouns with a positive vibe here], that is what (ideally) learning should be all about.

This is not to say that I'm against critique, quite the opposite, as Jesse Stommel says "our work (as both teachers and researchers) is to build networks that facilitate discussion and critical engagement." Critical engagement--questioning, challenging, extending, and refining one another's work and ideas-- should be central to all scholarly practice, which is something significantly overlooked in higher education, almost non-existent in many graduate level classes, at least in my experience. Let's be honest, how many graduate students experience a mild shock when they receive feedback from a blind review for the first time?

I think I'm getting somewhere here... We may feel absolutely comfortable putting ourselves out there when a) we are  indifferent to the impact of our work on others or b) when we are ready, and willing to, engage in critical discourse. I don't think we necessarily need to feel vulnerable to experience the latter. A strong sense of wonder is probably all that is needed: I wonder what they'll think about this? I wonder if there is something I haven't considered? I wonder if they will respond... When we share our work online, as Alex Reid says, we "must begin with skepticism and allow [ourselves] to be open to persuasion." We must wonder, we must be critically engaged. 

I'm curious to know how much of what I've discussed here applies to learners who openly share their work and thoughts online in the thoughtvectors community. Do they feel vulnerable, do they feel a strong sense of wonder?

And what is happening in the thoughtvectors community? I don't quite know how to make sense of a community of this scale. I quickly realized that I got myself into something quite amazing and extraordinary here. My documentation plan will be the subject of my next post.

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