The realities of ‘reaching out’: enacting the public-facing open scholar role with existing online communities

Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Coughlan, Tony (2013). The realities of ‘reaching out’: enacting the public-facing open scholar role with existing online communities. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, article no. 21.




A core tenet of the open educational resources (OER) movement has long been that 'the world's knowledge is a public good' (Smith & Casserly, 2006, p.2) and should be available for everyone to use, reuse and share. However, this vision of openness and of the connection between OER and social justice, which McAndrew and Farrow (2013) observe is currently re-emerging, is limited by the fact that OER-provision is typically top-down, driven by higher education suppliers with the needs of higher education (HE) in mind. As a consequence, the OER that are released can be hard to find for potential users outside HE and often fail to meet those potential users' needs in respect of the content, size, format and level of the OER.

Seeking to increase the impact of OER and open educational practices (OEP) beyond higher education we conceptualised a new role for academics - the public-facing open scholar. The role involves academics working with online communities outside HE to source OER to meet the specific needs of those communities. Having developed detailed guidelines for performing the role we piloted it within a voluntary sector child welfare community in order to explore its viability. To date, our pilot findings indicate that the role of public-facing open scholar is both viable and well-received by the case study community. However, the pilot process, conducted in a community which requires all participants to be anonymous, has also highlighted the need to be aware of the impact of privacy constraints when choosing a community with which to work. In addition, the pilot indicated that listening to a community's needs involves more than noting requests for advice and includes attentiveness to a community's culture and typical modes of participation. This, in turn, can help the public-facing open scholar to fit in with the community and gain members' trust.

The implications of these findings are wide-ranging. Voluntary sector online communities offer one platform for the public-facing open scholar to realise the transformative potential of open education, raising awareness and increasing the use and reuse of OER by people outside HE. However, the scope for the role is not limited to the voluntary sector and academics could find opportunities to perform the role in many different types of community. Furthermore, whilst we have concentrated on the role of the individual academic, institutional dimensions are also relevant. For example, higher education institutions which formally recognise the public-facing open scholar role as an important component of academic output, rather than an activity which is in tension with the demands of paid employment, may themselves be seen as taking on the role of a benevolent academy that is contributing to a global movement for free and open access to knowledge.

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