Some Keywords: Access, Redlining and Divides

Today is March 8 – International Women’s Day, which is being marked in the US by the #Daywithoutawoman campaign. I’ve struggled to get clarity on my own stance here — I’m especially sensitive to the point that striking is a privilege not everyone enjoys and have settled for the following demonstrations of solidarity: I’m wearing red (glasses), only spending money at my favorite local businesses owned by women, (mostly) staying off social media, reminding the world that we still / will always deserve equal pay and paid family leave, and holding off until tomorrow to post this.

I should also point out that this holiday has deep connections to the Russian Revolution, that women protesting bread shortages in St. Petersburg helped bring on the crisis that toppled the tsar in 1917  (the Bolsheviks implemented calendar reform along with so much else, so the “February Revolution” is now commemorated in March), and that seventy years of Soviet power were not enough to overcome the tyranny of housework, the hegemony of the short-handled broom, or the cultural norms that still tether women to both.

short handled brooms
By Vladimer Shioshviliit’s all about cleanliness, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Moving on to thoughts about yesterday’s Hangout for #Openlearning17:

Maha Bali and Sue Erickson coordinated a rich and diverse discussion of Open Access, which Maha has already written about. (You can also find updates on this and on the week as a whole on the cMOOC hub.) What follows are some not entirely random but far from coherent responses to the hangout:

  1.  On Chris Friend’s overview of the editorial process at Hybrid Pedagogy: I find the (emerging) model of “double open” peer review (using a googledoc) really attractive.  I’m also really encouraged that a journal like Hybrid Pedagogy has managed to do (at least) three really important things in a short time: 1) serve as the incubator and main publishing venue for a new interdisciplinary field; 2) become one of the most prestigious publications in the field; and 3) develop an innovative editorial policy that embodies the main tenets of that field, thus amplifying, fortifying and disseminating them. It’s pretty impressive.
  2. The devil is in the details of Open Access. The premises that contour the details are inflected differently for different audiences (scholars and students) and stakeholders (which include institutions and publishers as well as scholars, students and the public). I keep thinking that discussions of viability and transformation in scholarly publishing have some things in common with discussions of healthcare reform but if I go there now this will not get done today.
  3. I learned a lot listening to Peter Suber and Frances Bell, and we’ve been annotating Peter’s book this week in Teaching (mostly) in the open makes it easy to direct students to high value materials on the open web, but mine still need access to proprietary databases.
    My specific frame of reference here is Soviet History, for which there are many openly accessible, legal-to-use, on-line materials. But for students who don’t speak Russian (so, 90+ percent of my undergrads), translations of primary materials are essential and less abundant. Fortunately we have the “Current Digest of the Russian Press,”  Founded by the ACLS and SSRC in 1947, the Current Digest (published weekly)  makes an overview of the news available to the Soviet (now Russian) public accessible to English-speaking audiences. During the Cold War it was a mainstay of information about life in the Soviet Union, and it remains a valuable source.
    The good news is that our library, which had subscribed (intermittently ) to the print edition of the digest acquired a digital subscription a few years ago (Thank you, Newman Library!). The digital version is much easier to use than the print version (because searching), but also quite expensive. There was a significant upfront fee for the “archive” (which is what my students mainly use), plus there’s an annual fee of a couple thousand dollars to keep our subscription current. My students use and cite articles from the Current Digest on their blogs, but of course they are behind a paywall. You have to be logged into the university’s network to access the database. This is the less good news.
  4. Having read and loved Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik’s article on Digital Red Lining, I wonder if access to materials like the Current Digest might present another inflection of that issue. Chris notes that students become aware of “the line” when they bump up against a paywall as they search for materials.  In my case the students wouldn’t even know the materials were there unless I showed them how to find the database and use it. (The Current Digest is aggregated with other databases we get from the same vendor, so I have to show  students how to navigate the interface so they are search in the right place.) I help them cross the line (pointing out that the library’s subscription to this database makes that possible), but the line then becomes visible in their posts, because they cite articles that readers can’t access unless they also have a subscription.  I don’t know that I think about this. Part of my role as a prof is to filter forward the materials I think will best facilitate learning and spark curiosity. Leaving aside any thoughts I might have about the ethics of the pricing structure for things like the Current Digest, I want my students to know that these things exist and learn how to use them. In their working and intellectual lives going forward, they will be using a range of resources. And they will want to have access to different kinds of information sources. I want them to see the value in paying for a newspaper or magazine subscription, for example. I also want them to be able to afford a newspaper subscription. But at the same time, I want to minimize the obstacles that keep them from reading those things. Especially paywalls. Especially in education.
  5. The kind of red lining Chris addresses speaks to an even greater challenge, and one that we really have to work on if we’re going to transform higher ed in ways that enlighten and democratize rather than creating (more) elites and blurring the boundaries of privilege that protect them.  All libraries are not created equal. As Chris points out, the community college JSTOR is not the same as the JSTOR of the R-1 University.  And students of color and students from economically disadvantaged groups are more likely to be at a community college than at an R-1 University. So it’s hard to make any kind of claim about equal access to library resources – Open Access or otherwise. (And no, I don’t think good, even great Inter-Library loan is sufficient.)
    I tweeted about this during the hangout, but will just note again here, that I was really struck by the resonances between the way digital red-lining works and the historical effects of red-lining that Dale Winling and others have charted in their Mapping Inequality project.
  6. I want to push back against the idea that open access for students means open access textbooks and that it means something different for their teachers. In my field (history, the humanities more broadly), I mainly want us to think about what we mean by “textbooks” (open or otherwise), why we use one (or not), and what the adoption of a “textbook” says about how we think learning happens (or not).
  7. Keywords are multivalent. That’s one of the qualities that makes them keywords.  We started talking about “Fifty Shades of Open” and have already seen how complex the connotations of Open can be even within a particular dimension of Open such as Open Access. So I’m intrigued by the way the ancillary fields are claim and define their Keywords. Two collaboratively authored books are doing this right now:
    The MLA’s curated collection Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities is organized around Keywords, the first one of which is Access. The definition focuses mainly making content accessible and usable to different and diversely-abled audiences. The kinds of ideology and legal underpinnings of what we’ve been talking about this week vis-a-vis Open Access are taken up in the Open section, and elaborated on in the entry on Public.  Meanwhile, Digital Keywords  explicitly invokes Raymond Williams’ classic text to frame a collection of twenty-five salient terms in digital media studies, but neither “open” nor “access” made the cut.* In fact the overlap between the two volumes is pretty limited. The only keywords to appear in both are: archive, community, gaming, hacker/hacking, information, and prototype.
    *Both are, however, in the expanded (200+) keyword index at the back of the book.

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