Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Getting paid in exposure...not!



One of the items I've wanted to comment on for a while was a blog post posted by friend and colleague Rebecca Hogue.  Rebecca writes that she teaches courses (similar, or the same courses as I do at UMB anyway) and these courses would be well served by a decent eBook that is published (and updated) for the course.  I wholeheartedly agree!  For the past half a decade I've been thinking about trying to put together an edited volume for the introductory course in instructional design†, or just write the book myself.

I've been thinking that this should be open access, given my philosophical leanings toward open access for education, however - just like Rebecca - I am not paid to teach full time. I teach because I like it, and I like to mentor others. Writing a book (or putting something edited together) takes up a lot of time and effort, and of course that needs to be maintained.  Expecting that someone will do it for free is not realistic.  It's a good thing that I was too busy to write about this topic before, because some of my artist friends recently also posted on their facebook feeds on a related matter: artists being asked to do creative work for free and the only benefit to them is "exposure".  Exposure you will get anyway once your work is out there, so the client is basically getting a free ride.  Just as artists should not work for free (ahem...for "exposure"), so too academics should not be working for free.

Now, this doesn't mean that you - as an academic - should give up on open publishing! I do think that employees need some level of permanence in their positions, and their evaluations need to reflect his open ethos as well.  For example, when an adjunct is considered "full time" when he or she teachers 4 courses per semester, mathematically that breaks down to each course counting as 25% time‡.  If you are being compensated only for teaching, then there is no expectation of creating resources that would be valuable to others.  For the tenure track folks, open publishing should be valued the same as closed publishing♠.  What's valued in annual faculty reviews (from my own experience) are publications in "high impact" journals. Those journals are usually closed access. There is a lot of academic labor that goes into publishing, reviewing for, and editing for journals that don't pay the authors (or their institutions for that matter) for their academic output, but rather expect to be paid in order to access the work done by those faculty members. This is nuts to me. The moral here is that in order to have this type of open academic output done by faculty members there need to be appropriate mechanisms within the institutional organization to make it happen.

This aspect of payment - and who's producing OER, brings me to Rebecca's concluding questions:

Does the OER movement create/promote some of the disparities that it is trying to break down? Does it mean that only scholars who are paid by institutions have the freedom and ability to participate in creation? What about those living in developed countries? How do they participate in the creation of open scholarship? Is it just another form of colonization by the well off academy?
I think that in order to actually create OER you need to have certain prerequisites taken care of.  As a person you need to be able to support yourself before you're able to give away all of the fruits of your labor.  You can give away some things for free (and get exposure that way) but those need to be strategic and calculated. For example, publishing in open access journals costs you nothing (to publish), it's free for others to access, and you are losing no money because you wouldn't be paid for a journal article even if it were in a closed access journal.  Journal articles also take less time (comparatively) to write than books.  Books on the other hand can be sold, and some money can be made from them.

The question of colonization is interesting to ponder, and I don't have an answer.  To some extent it reminds me  of the old riddle: if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?   Let me explain my framing here:


  1. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book then they don't read it.  What is the net impact?
  2. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book but they read it anyway through the library or through some book "piracy" site.  What is the net impact
  3. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can't afford to get to a venue where that book is available (i.e. online)  What is the net impact?
  4. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can read it.  What is the net impact?

When an author writes a book they write from their own perspective, whatever that perspective might be. I think it's up to the reader to determine what the impact is for them. Do they take and assimilate the author's perspective? Or do they take it as initial data and formulate their own results and outcomes from it?  Not knowing how things work on the other end (the reading/consuming end of things) makes it a little hard to decide whether OER can be considered a colonizing force.

As far as how people in developing countries participate in open scholarship - I am not sure. I think that we are in a privileged position  to consider issues of open scholarship.  If I worked for minimum wage (or less!) and needed to work 60-80 (or more!) hours per week to make ends meet I (personally) wouldn't be thinking of open scholarship. I think this is where things like Universal Basic Income start playing a role in what we do as societies. If certain basic needs are met we are free to explore other areas (good ol' Maslow). Until then, we grind along to live another day.

Your thoughts?


NOTES & SIDEBARS:
† something I've reconsidered in light of recent experiences trying to get pieces for edited volumes!
‡ 25% time for those keeping score at home means 10 hours per week - which seems crazy to me since I end up spending more time with my learners than that...
♠ personally argue that open publishing should count for more since that is much more accessible to others than closed publishing
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