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Posts Tagged ‘research

There are many things that could be said about research.

As a former academic, I share just three truisms:

  1. Publish or perish.
  2. To steal from one is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  3. Practice without research is blind. Research without practice is sterile.

I share a variation of the third truism as an image quotation I created some time ago.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

Most young academics learn the first truism as a graduate student by being mentored or observing professors carefully. If they end up in Research I universities, publish or perish is a constant mantra. Their jobs depend on how much and how well they publish.

The second truism is sneaked in various contexts and said half in jest. It is the recognition that we stand on the shoulder of others, be they giants or not. Combined with the first principle, research can often be a dog eat dog world.

The third truism and couplet is something some researchers ignore. In order to build and stay in ivory towers, no doubt funded by generous research grants, it helps to spout rhetoric that the research adds to the pool of knowledge. It does not have to actually make a larger impact.

Research that is based on practice and informs practice is vital, but it is still sorely lacking particularly in education. Some experts play the old game because they are far removed from the ground.

If you are a practitioner, do not be tempted to ignore research as a result of this. Set up conditions and demand for research that informs practice instead.


Yesterday I reflected on the moral dilemma of playing the research game because it benefits only a few stakeholders. Today I continue with the processes of publishing research.

Most academics review articles and serve on editorial boards because it looks great on their CVs. For a few, this also provides power to lord over others by rejecting papers in the name of “objective” reviews. The same might be said of committees that determine disbursement of funds for research.

But all that is child’s play when compared to the ruse of publishers.

With one hand they pull in reviewers of journal papers for free (it is a service academics provide for one another after all). With the other, the publishers collect money by charging top dollar to libraries, organizations, and individuals who want journal collections or specific papers.

What I have reflected on is not news. In 2002, Frey compared the publishing process to prostitution. PhD Comics had an amusing take on this in 2011.


The open movement is a disruptive process that threatens the membership and rules of the game of research as currently played.

Open practice champions like Martin Weller do great work in this respect. His recent blog entry on the benefits of being open is a must-read.

Influential bodies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are insisting that research data and publications be shared with the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

A few local universities and agencies have shared some materials openly, but they are an insignificant drop in the research bucket.

Not only is the rest of published research is not so freely shared, researchers are complicit by playing to the rules set by publishers, universities, and grant bodies.

If you are not an academic, you should be morally outraged. If you are, you should reflect critically on the state of the playing field.

There is a game that university academics play. The game has a strict selection process and the chosen must play by the rules.

However, like casinos, the house always wins, the players think they win, and the players’ stakeholders tend to lose.

Casino Velden Panorama by geek7, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  geek7 

The game is called research and publishing. It is a game that academics play because they are expected to. Very few seem to challenge its rules and the ethics of playing the game the same old way.

Anyone can conduct research without getting a grant or by paying out of pocket, but why would they? They get more points in their appraisals if they successfully apply for grant money.

The money comes from a corporation or a government body or the university itself, and there are often stringent demands when applying for funds. That is a good thing because the money ultimately comes from the taxpayer and layperson.

What might be less clear is how the money benefits these stakeholders even if researchers have to justify their research. Leaders and managers of universities and funding agencies recognize this ethical issue and take administrative and policy measures to address it. There are strict review processes, rules to protect human subjects, regular reporting processes, expectations of social responsibility or scaling up, etc.

But with the way the game is played in reality, the benefit to stakeholders seems tertiary, if at all. The research money primarily benefits researchers and journal publishers, and secondarily benefits a research ecosystem.

Research money helps some academic staff publish papers and get promotions. If enough of them do these, they raise the profile and international ranking of the university. Research outputs go to journals and publishers profit from the work of researchers. These are the primary beneficiaries.

In order to conduct research and publish, academic staff need to buy equipment, hire staff, outsource some services, arrange for conference travel, and so on. This could benefit some stakeholders by providing employment and creating a demand for assorted services. These are the secondary beneficiaries.

But research is typically funded over only two or three years. This means that funding cycles are tight and a researcher needs to be creative with resources and/or apply for multiple grants if s/he wants to sustain the research.

Sustaining a study is particularly important in educational or social studies type of research because of the subjectivity and complexity of human factors. Such studies also might have interventions like technology use which take time to develop, implement, and revise.

Sometimes researchers move from one grant to another (and therefore from one research topic to another) like slash-and-burn farmers move from plot to plot. Both leave damage in their wake. In the case of educational research, it might be schools, teachers, and students who have no support after the study team pulls out.

Closed circles are created when researchers team up with one or a few partner teachers or schools. If there is harm, it is contained. If there is good, it is highly contextualized and difficult to generalize.

The process of publishing the results or impact of research is also closed. More thoughts on that tomorrow.

When the opportunities come my way, I make it a point to compare the importance of informal learning (as revealed by research) and the perceived importance of formal learning.

I normally use this graphic by the LIFE Center to illustrate.

Image source

But those are the numbers. How about a narrative?

Thanks to a Flickr user, here is an excellent graphic that tells an informal learning story.

Informal Learning Poster by jaycross, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jaycross 


Click on the image above to see the poster in all its glory!

Video source

Some things in this video probably got lost in the Portuguese-to-English translation. There also seemed to be three smaller stories in this TEDx talk. But the messages were clear.

First, I was mildly surprised to learn when people stop watching or paying attention to online videos (4min 15 mark). According to the study that Gustavo Reis cited:

  • 11% of viewers have stopped watching just 10 seconds into an online video
  • a third of viewers leave the video 30 seconds in
  • half the viewers will not stay beyond the first minute of the video (no matter how long the video is)
  • only 9% will watch a 5-minute video

I wish I had a link to that study!

Second, I like how the speaker likened blind Googling to “infinite search, zero knowledge”. If learners cannot make connections between the information they find and what what they know (or need to know), they have learnt nothing.

Third, I agree that, above all else, teaching is about being generous. Generous with your time, your effort, and what you know. Roughly in that order.

Teaching is not about transmitting packets of knowledge. After all, if learners cannot make connections between those packets, they learn nothing.

No, teaching is about putting in the effort and investing the time to help learners make connections between people, values, concepts, and skills.

My guess is that if you opt to share generously via videos, you should make the first 10 seconds riveting and the video no longer than a minute long!

Today I share a longer video that was created in the style of RSAnimate. The topic is open access which is a critical component of open learning.

The video focuses on research, specifically on open access to data and journal articles.

Video source

It makes sharp point bluntly: Very smart people (researchers) and libraries pay princely sums to get journal subscriptions. Some even have to pay to get their articles published. The journal publishers get all the money but the researchers do all the work: Writing the articles, arranging for peer reviews, doing reviews, serving as editors, etc. This is dumb.

The closed and costly nature of journals severely restricts access to people. People who need it most or could be impacted the most by the implementation of ideas or principles locked within the journal tombs. (Yes, the high-sounding language of the articles might be beyond the comprehension of lay folks, but that is another issue that is related to creating this exclusive club.)

We do this because “it has always been done that way”. But that does not make it the right way to do things.

The creators of the video make the argument that the research is already funded in some way. This could be by a private individual or group, or by the government, which in this case means that taxpayers fund research. In either case, why not let the results of the studies be free to access and free to reuse?

Why allow reuse? To cite the video, this is to allow other folks to “build new tools that can interact with the articles and uncover new relationships”. We know there is a lot of information out there. We now need to connect the dots.

How might we break the cycle that is fueled by conservatism, exclusivity, and prestige?

One way is to appeal to the continued survival of researchers. If the mantra is “publish or perish”, then highlight how being more open helps you publish and get cited more. If journals are closed, it is hard to publish. If journals are closed, fewer have access and cannot cite your work.

Another way is to fear-monger. If researchers do not challenge current practice, someone will come along and offer a better system. To cite the video: “scientists and publishers are slow to change… some are going to be left in the dirt because openness is the future… and the creative ones are going to survive.”

This is a snapshot of a Digital Life article (11 May 2011) reporting how often people look at their phones. The gist of the article: The new marketing medium is the mobile phone.

Those in advertising would certainly sit up and take action. Those in education? Sadly, not so much.

If on average a user actually looks at his or her phone 150 times a day, why don’t we take advantage of that for teaching and learning? And if we want to take advantage of that contact time, how do we change the way we teach so that they learn in meaningful microbursts?

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