Topic 5: Summary

Open access to online materials for all- utopian dream or unstoppable force?

The topic of open access to information has sparked much interest with my peers and I, and there was much debate about what content should be freely available online and what shouldn’t.

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In this digital age, consumers have plenty of free resources to choose from but I don’t believe publishers should be pressured into providing content at no cost. We need to realise that if we want quality content, whether on the Internet, in our cinemas or on our TVs, we have to support the people who produce the content we enjoy. Some business models suit open access, some support limited and others should be pay-walled. Fundamentally we discovered that whether or not content should be open access depends on its nature and its provider.

We all agreed, however, that open access to education should be freely available. The chancellor of Cambridge University described the current academic publishing process as a broken system and, after researching this topic, I must say I agree.  If our taxes are funding research, we should have the right to access it freely. A report published by the UK Wellcome Trust (2004) argued that “the benefits of research are derived principally from access to research results”, and therefore that “society as a whole is made worse off if access to scientific research is restricted”.  Open access will encourage data sharing and collaboration, which could save both time and money.

I do not know what the answer is, but ultimately I think that a Reddit style system that is peer reviewed would work. The rating system could take into account the credibility of the reviewer, based on their academic profile (highly rated academics would have more influence).

None of this, however, can reach its maximum potential until the Internet becomes accessible at affordable prices worldwide.  Open access to education and information could most benefit those in underdeveloped countries. Farmers in rural china could learn how to get a better yield from their crops, school children in Nigeria could gain access to a first class education and medical diagnosis.  Thus, it is vital that governments focus on making this a reality and not just an ideal.

  1. Costs and business models in scientific research publishing, Wellcome Trust (2004)http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/images/costs_business_7955.pdf
  2. Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University speaks out on Elsevier and Open Access, Sal Robinson (2014) http://www.mhpbooks.com/vice-chancellor-of-cambridge-university-speaks-out-on-elsevier-and-open-access/

Topic 5: #UOSM2008 Open access to online materials for all – utopian dream or unstoppable force?

Explain the advantages and disadvantages to a content producer of making their materials freely available online: 

Open access to information is a tricky subject to tackle; primarily as the advantages and disadvantages of making content free differ significantly  between industries. The music and film industry have lost vast amounts of money due to illegal downloading, and are fighting hard to stop sites that freely distribute their content.

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The Financial Times  is a pay-to-view news service that prides itself on producing content that is objective and unbiased. This quality reporting could not survive if it relied on advertising and gave content away for free. I feel that as a society we need realise that if we want quality content, whether on the Internet, in our cinemas or on our TVs, we have to support the people who produce the content we enjoy. We are willing to pay for the medium: our internet broadband, TV licence or TV streaming, so why are we so against paying for subscription only content. According to a new study by the GFK Group, Internet users do not want to pay for online content, ever, no matter the content. We need to stop taking free content online for granted. A recent study by Simon-Kutcher & Partners, a global pricing community, found that 90% of online content is likely to be held behind a pay wall in the next three years. Get ready to see your access reduced.

Alternatively, with the subject of open access to educational material I have to take a very different stance. Over the last few years, a number of open educational resources have been developed with the aim of giving the opportunity of education to the masses: Udacity, Coursera, MIT’s Opencourseware etc. This has great potential to help young people across the globe and especially in undeveloped countries. Although Internet access is not widely available, (only 3 in 5 people worldwide have access) there are a number of on going projects to make this happen. According to Claudio Pinhanez, access to educational material can help underdeveloped countries to evolve economically. The advantages of free access to education worldwide are endless.

I, while studying at university, have found these websites invaluable. As a mature student, coming back to the classroom was quite an overwhelming experience, particularly when I found myself faced with A-level statistics. Unfortunately, in my early teens I had not grasped the value of a good education, and my frivolity resulted in a less than poor attendance in maths classes. I soon realised I had no grasp of the basic principles of mathematics, which made understanding the more advanced almost impossible.  With a Udacity course (College Algebra) I was able, within a couple of days of dedicated viewing, to understand the material fully. In school, I had always been intimidated by maths,  up until recently I would have proclaimed I was awful, but as it turns out I’m not too bad.  The one-on-one experience of an online course allows learners to go at their own pace in a comfortable environment. With the help of the course I was able to quickly catch up to the level of understanding necessary to excel in my exams.

Furthermore, with the costs of tuition fees rising, students are expecting more from their university experience. Open access university resources can add significant value to the educational process, allowing students to get more from lessons and lectures and also allow them to learn topics which are of interest to them.

Open Access

Within the academic community, the real topic of conversation regarding open access to information regards research papers.  Here, the content creators are funded by the taxpayers and so surely their research should be free for us to read, it’s not. If I were to produce a research paper and submit it to a journal, the journal editors would send it to other academics to be reviewed without remuneration. The editor will, based on the review, either publish or reject the paper. If I agree for it to be published it will cost the taxpayer further money in the form of a publishing fee. More than that, any tax payer that wishes to read my paper will have to pay to do so. Surely with the advent of the Internet there is a better way for this to be done. According to Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eise prices have outgrown inflation. This is a huge hindrance to scientific progress and the spread of knowledge. Students’ and academics’ research depend on access to literature.

The only disadvantage of the open access of research papers is that certain Journals are regarded more highly than others. This way of judging the quality of research could be easily amended through, a Reddit style rating system for academic research perhaps.

For further reading on the issue of open access to research this is a great paper, ironically it is closed access. Open Access: An Evolving Alternative-by Lorraine J. Haricombe, L. Ada Emmett, and Perry Alexander

References:

  1. Lepitak, S. (2013). 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests. Available:://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/04/12/90-online-content-be-held-behind-paywalls-three-years-media-company-survey-suggest
  2. Yoskowitz, A. (2009).People don’t want to pay for content online, ever. Available://www.afterdawn.com/news/article.cfm/2009/12/15/people_don_t_want_to_pay_for_anything_online_ever
  3. Pihanez, C. (2013) http://research.ibm.com/people/p/pinhanez/publications/netbrasil.htm
  4. Shockey, N. & Eise, J. (2012). Open Access explained. Available:https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=L5rVH1KGBCY
  5. Haricombe, L.J, Emmett, L.A, and Alexander, P. (2012) Open Access: An Evolving Alternative. Availablehttp://incoming-proxy.ist.edu.gr/stfs_public/cs/msc/7FEN0101-PI/Assignment/refdocs/Open%20Access%20-%20An%20Evolving%20Alternative.pdf