Reinventing the Scholarly Article in the Digital Era

This is the third post in a series where we share the conversations between higher education leaders that came together during Everyone a Changemaker Week. They discussed the role of social innovation as a significant lever for the relevancy of higher education in a time when many claim that colleges and universities are becoming obsolete. This series delves into how higher education may be our best bet for empowering society to innovate at the rate the world is changing.

Participating in the Research with Impact Panel at the Ashoka U Influencer event last week, Mike Carroll, Professor of Law at American University and Creative Commons Board Member, called on university leaders and academics to revolutionize the way they think about articles published in their scholarly journals. Carroll asked, “Why are we talking about publishing papers? We need to reinvent what the scholarly article is in the digital era of today.”

From a freshman dorm to the chemistry lab right up to the dean’s office, digital media and mobile devices are changing the way academics access information. Publications are costly for universities not only because of printing and distribution expenses, but also because of the staff required to make it all happen. Couple that with a culture shift towards digital media and it’s safe to say universities could learn a thing or two from Carroll’s Creative Common. Carroll also serves as Director of Program Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University. Creative Commons develops and supports legal and technical infrastructures that maximize digital creativity, sharing, and innovation while protecting content providers, or in this context, scholars. 

Behind setting up the online university

As universities wonder how to make their publications more affordable, most resort to electronic and online sources. In the academic context however, it is also important to provide regulations for online knowledge sharing that not only protect authors, but also the institutions that help developed the publications. Creative Commons provides six types of licenses that have relevance for academics in this innovative space. The most “open” license is designed to allow a work to be shared with the condition of giving credit to the original owner of the work.  A more “closed” license allows a work to be republished so long as it is not used for commercial purposes, or altered in any way. Licensing paradigms such as those established by Creative Commons allow for more democratized access and contribution to research and information. As Bobby Hackett, President of The Bonner Foundation, put it, the question is not how we should generate new research, but how we build an information hub that is accessible to communities worldwide.

Who’s ahead of the curve?

Models such as the University of Michigan’s Philosophers Imprint, whose mission is to promote a future in which funds currently spent on journal subscriptions are redirected to the dissemination of scholarship for free via the Internet, and MIT OpenCourseWare, which works with organizations to publish course materials into Spanish, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Thai, Persian, and Turkish, are already ahead of the curve.  Here at Ashoka, we can’t wait to see who else will step in to collaboratively foster innovation in the field of higher education.