learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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February132008

Harvard Faculty Revolt Against Publishing 1.0

In a vote that could potentially rock the publishing world, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) have unanimously adopted a new policy that would allow them to retain the copyright of scholarly research. As a result, students and the public at large could have much greater access to these materials online than ever before.

Traditionally, scholarly publishing has worked something like this. First, you produce your research and make it available to peer review through a scholarly journal. Before the journal publishes your research, though, something important - and very controversial - happens. You turn over your copyright to the publisher. In other words, they become the sole owner of your work. The publisher, in turn, releases the research in various formats - paper journals, online databases and the like - but then charges libraries large sums of money to access it. By large, we’re talking upwards of $20,000 a year for some research journals. Meanwhile, if the researcher or their school wanted to use their work in other ways, they’d have to get permission from the publisher.

Yesterday’s vote by Harvard’s FAS effectively puts a stop to this practice. The professors unanimously decided that they would no longer automatically turn over their copyright to publishers, thus allowing them or the university to publish the work online for free. The new rules contain an opt-out waiver for researchers wishing to stick with the old way of doing business, but many professors are ready to embrace it.

“This can be the first step in the process of increasing access to Harvard faculty’s writings,” computer science professor Stuart Shieber told the Boston Globe. “That’s really the goal. It isn’t to reduce prices or put journals out of business.”

“Harvard is in a unique position to do the right thing in the academic world,” added Harry Lewis, also a computer science professor. “In this case, I think others will be emboldened by Harvard to follow its lead, and the course of collective action will be greater than the course any individual school will take.”

“This is one of the only ways we can break the backs of the monopolists who are currently seriously damaging our fields,” English professor Stephen Greenblatt told Library Journal.

Just prior to the vote, university library director Robert Darnton published an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson supporting the motion:

The motion…represents an opportunity to reshape the landscape of learning. A shift in the system for communicating knowledge has created a contradiction at the heart of academic life. We academics provide the content for scholarly journals. We evaluate articles as referees, we serve on editorial boards, we work as editors ourselves, yet the journals force us to buy back our work, in published form, at outrageous prices. Many journals now cost more than $20,000 for a year’s subscription. The spiraling cost of journals has inflicted severe damage on research libraries, creating a ripple effect: in order to purchase the journals, libraries have had to reduce their acquisitions of monographs; the reduced demand among libraries for monographs has forced university presses to cut back on the publication of them; and the near impossibility of publishing their dissertations has jeopardized the careers of a whole generation of scholars in many fields. It would be naïve to assume that a positive vote by the FAS on February 12 would force publishers to slash their prices. But by passing the motion we can begin to resist the trends that have created so much damage.

Now that Harvard’s faculty has moved in a new direction, it’s probably a matter of time before we see other educators and institutions demanding the same arrangements. Just as MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative served as the Johnny Appleseed for open access curriculum, Harvard is spreading the seeds for a more open type of publishing - one that will hopefully benefit every student who has ever tried to track down a research paper and found themselves facing a firewall instead. Welcome to Publishing 2.0. -andy

Filed under : Policy, Research

Responses

Just a few days ago Danah Boyd had a relevant post on her blog and it sparked a discussion on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list.

Very interesting topic…

Andy, this is great and exciting news. This is yet another symptom of the shifts in paradigms brought about by web 2.0. When books were rare and only a handful of people such as the aristocracy and religious were able to read, information and learning functioned as an exclusionary tool for the elite. I imagine that the powerful did not wholeheartedly welcome the advent of the printing press or the spread of literacy.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what other artifacts of these elitist and exclusionary ideas about learning persist in our modern institutions and curricula.

Bravo Harvard!!

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