“We are all publishers now, publishing has never been so ubiquitous” – Padmini Ray Murray
Earlier this week I was speaking at What I Know Is, an interdisciplinary research symposium on online collaborative knowledge building organised by the University of Stirling’s Division of Communications, Media and Culture, together with Wikimedia UK. It was a completely fascinating and eclectic event that covered everything from new models of academic publishing, issues of trust and authorship, non-hierarchical networks of knowledge, extended cognition, collaborative art and the semantics of open.
Trust was a recurring theme that ran through the event. Symposium chair Greg Singh touched on fundamental issues of digital literacy and trust in his opening talk and Ally Crockford, the National Library of Scotland’s Wikimedian in residence, explored these themes in a talk about tensions and anxieties that persist around Wikipedia and collaborative authoring. Issues of trust persist around Wikipedia partially due to the unfinished nature of many entries, however Ally argued that the evolving nature of Wikipedia is one of its strengths, you can see the history of everything written there. More fundamentally, Ally argued that Wikipedia democratises knowledge and teaches the value of thinking critically. Wikipedia is no longer a resource, it has become a structure for open access knowledge. Ally also picked up on continued anxiety and distrust of open access policies that lingers in academia, and in the humanities in particular, a sentiment that was echoed by many in the room.
Padmini Ray Murray, University of Stirling, picked up on the theme of open access and explored new models of academic publishing including Knowledge Unlatched and the Palgrave Pivot initiative, a novella approach to academic publishing. However she also acknowledged that there is a real danger of an academic divide developing around open access as many authors in developing countries cannot afford article processing charges. Padmini also challenged us all to contribute more to Wikipedia, arguing that it’s our responsibility as digital citizens. Contributing to Wikipedia can challenge the unassailable voice of the academic, and that is no bad thing.
The second session of the symposium focused on extending cognition and agency and we had two proper philosophy presentations from real live philosophers Mike Wheeler and Zoe Drayson. Wheeler introduced the concept of cognitive niche construction; the process of building environmental structures to enable cognition. Humans excel at creating environments that help us to think more effectively and constructively. We embedded cognition by out sourcing tasks outside our thinking brain. Extended cognition suggests that thinking is not bounded by the brain, it is spatially distributed across brain, body and world. Technology can be viewed as an extension of adaptive memory. In the “Google age” the organic brain will now stores the access mechanisms of how to use technology to find information, rather than information itself. Real-time crowd sourcing, as on Twitter or Wikipedia, means that ownership of information is challenged. Mike suggested that one reason people are reluctant to contribute to Wikipedia is that the relation of the information you submit is unstably related to you.
Zoe expanded on the theme of knowledge and its relation to truth and belief.
“Knowledge is true belief (+ something extra) = a combination of what a person believes + true information about the world”
Zoe explored whether wikis challenge the standard account of knowledge because they are collaborative and online, and argued that neither the online nor the collaborative aspect of wikis conflict with the idea that information can constitute knowledge.
The third symposium session explored collaborative community initiatives. Penny Travlou focused on networked communities, creativity and spatiality. She talked about how collaborative art practices have been inspired by the open source computing community and introduced the Furtherfield initiative, a nurturing space where people work in non-hierarchical, network communities.
I spoke about Open Scotland as a collaborative online initiative to raise awareness of the potential benefits of open education practice within Scottish education. I’ve given variations of this presentation several times recently and it’s always interesting to see how aware, or not, people are of open education. In this case only two or three people in an audience of around forty had come across the UKOER Programme and Open Badges, were a similarly alien concept. However, there was a huge amount of interest in the potential of open education and an interesting discussion after my talk about how both academics and students could explore and embed more openness in their own practice.
The day rounded off with a wide-ranging conversation between Toni Sant and Greg Singh. Toni explored the idea of knowledge construction as bricolage, an every day process of putting things together from other things we find lying around. (This rather made me think of the Wombles, but it was getting rather late in the day by that point!) Toni also gave us a lightning tour of the full range of Wikimedia UK activities and introduced their education and outreach programmes. The symposium was drawn to a suitably rousing conclusion with Toni challenging us to
“Be open, collaborative, flexible, global. Don’t be afraid of the future. We can create it together. Be bold…just do it”
Lorna Campbell (Cetis/ Open Scotland/ Open Knowledge Foundation)
Dr Zoe Drayson (University of Stirling)
Dr Padmini Ray Murray (University of Stirling)
Dr Toni Sant (University of Hull / Wikimedia UK Academic Liaison)
Dr Greg Singh (University of Stirling, Symposium Chair)
Dr Penny Travlou (University of Edinburgh)
Professor Mike Wheeler (University of Stirling)
Dr Ally Crockford (University of Edinburgh / National Library of Scotland Wikimedian in Residence)
My Cetis’ colleague Brian Kelly has collated a Storify of tweets from the symposium here.