Tag Archives: UCT

The other end of the telescope

Judy Breck has acted as guest editor for a special issue of Educational Technology magazine on the theme of Opening Educational Resources. This issue has been mailed to the print subscribers, and is not available thus far online. However,
the publisher has given authors permission to reprint their own articles included in the issue. My article can be read here:
The Other End of the Telescope: Opening educational resources in a South African university.

This article explores the question of opening educational resources in the context of an educational technology unit, the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa. It describes the impact of a high level of policy intervention for the transformation of higher education and of a diverse, multilingual student body, many with apartheid-inherited deficits in academic preparedness. In this context of very particular needs, the article questions the appropriateness of a focus on content alone, rather than educational process as it addresses particular contexts. Where content does become important is in the need to grow the volumes of Africa-relevant content, something that is inhibited by traditional publish-or-perish policies.

Our new project – OpeningScholarship – launches at UCT

We have just posted the first blog for our new project. Funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation it will run for the next year in the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. The OpeningScholarship
project, with myself as the Strategic Project Director and Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams as Research Manager, will explore the transformative potential of information and communication technologies in the context of the University of Cape Town, selected for this project as one of South Africa’s leading research universities.

Through a series of case studies at UCT, the project will explore the ways in which new and interactive information and communication technologies are impacting on communication patterns between researchers, lecturers and students and between the university and the community. The project aims to identify ways in which
these new technologies can expand research and learning in the institution beyond the narrow walls of the curriculum to engage the university community with important cross-cutting issues and the convergence of traditional disciplines.

Some of the research questions that we will be asking are:

  • How can an institution such as UCT best build collaboration for scholarly communications across the institution?
  • What could an ICT system such as that at UCT offer in terms of new and opened up communications in teaching, learning and research?
  • How can the ICT systems that are in place help deliver much greater intellectual capacity, allowing the university (and by extension, the country) to rely on its own intellectual capital rather than on imported content?
  • What lessons can be learned from those departments making effective use of ICTs and new approaches to research dissemination?
  • How can existing projects – both departmental initiatives and donor-funded projects – be coordinated to achieve an effective and collaborative institution-wide scholarly communication system?
  • What policies and practices would need to be encouraged if the university is to achieve the maximum impact for its scholarly communications for research, teaching and learning, and outreach?

The intervention will aim to explore the potential of the full range of formal and informal communication strategies available to UCT in the 21st century, from formal scholarly publications to repositories, blogs, wikis, mobile technology, podcasts and video streaming.

We look forward to lively discussion in this blog, in wikis, meetings, workshops and seminars, about the changing dynamics being brought about at UCT through the use of ICTs for communications between researchers, between lecturers and students, and between the university and the communities it serves. It is going to be a lively year!

A new draft bill on IP rights in publicly funded research

We have known for a while that there was a bill in the offing on the management of IP in publicly funded research and this Draft Bill is now available for perusal on the website of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. The Deputy Minister of Science and
Technology, when he visited CET, said that there would be a period for comment on the Bill and, as this draft Bill does affect
universities and researchers in universities, I am providing a heads-up for those of you who have a particular interest in the
management and ownership of the IP in the research that you carry out.

I was half expecting a Bill on the rights of public access to publicly funded research, along the lines of discussions in the UK,
the USA and the EU, among others, for access to research publication. South Africa is a signatory of the OECD
Declaration on Access to Knowledge from Publicly Funded Research
, so probably needs to enact provisions of this kind at some stage.

This Draft Bill is not along those lines at all. It appears to be about institutional and government control of the commericalisation of research and provisions for any research that is potentially patentable. I have not had time to peruse it properly nor think through its implications – these in any event probably need to be teased out by an IP lawyer. However, it would be interesting to get reactions from researchers at UCT and other universities as to how they perceive this Draft Bill and how it might affect them.

The Australian government’s Productivity Commission has recently undertaken a major exercise on returns from public investment in research and there is much discussion in the 800-odd pages of its report, issued in March 2007, about the kind of issues faced in this Draft Bill. From my perspective, as someone who deals in copyrights – the dissemination of research – rather than in patents, the following statement struck a chord:

Ultimately, in terms of community well being, it is the transfer, diffusion and utilisation of knowledge and technology
that matters. The social return from public investment in R&D depends on: whether knowledge and technology are transferred out of universities (that is, whether they see the light of day); how fast and widely the knowledge diffuses among potential users; whether the knowledge and technology is developed into some form of practical application (that is, whether it is taken up in some form or other that is welfare enhancing); and how widely the resulting innovation is utilised. There
are multiple pathways for achieving these benefits (p.280).

African Universities Leaders Forum proceedings now online

A lot of interest was shown among my colleagues in a variety of organisations in the Frontiers of Knowledge Forum hosted by the University of Cape Town last November – another sign of the increased activity in African higher education and the particular interest in the role of ICT in African higher education. The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA), which sponsored the forum, has now put the Forum documentation online, so that there is a full record available of the proceedings, the papers delivered, and the recommendations of the Forum. The documents also include a commissioned paper by Dick Ng’ambi of the Centre for Educational Technology at UCT on ICT and economic development in Africa; the role of higher education institutions.

This was the inaugural meeting of the African University Leaders Forum at which Vice-Chancellors of fifteen African Universities met in Cape Town to discuss the role of higher education in promoting economic growth in Africa. They focused in particular – to quote the website – ‘on the immense potential of information and communication technologies to transform the teaching, learning, and research environments in African universities, and the capacity of those technologies to stimulate large changes in Africa’s growing economies.’

The Forum took an aggressive line on the need for connectivity and broadband access in African universities as a basic requirement for national advancement – rather than a luxury. There was general agreement on the need to grow the level of African research output and to disseminate it better. In the in the final recommendations, the recommendation for the management of African knowledge contains an implicit endorsement of communication technologies open access:

African higher education institutions can play a leadership role in developing new institutions and business models for knowledge dissemination at the African and global levels. Some of the existing North American and European institutions can act as barriers to realizing the potential of African knowledge, and are under severe pressure themselves from the advance of open source and open access approaches.

Another recommendation was that African universities should ‘also develop new ways to take advantage of the increasing availability and quality of open educational resources at the international level.’

These are the challenges identified by the vice-chancellors at the close of the Forum:

  • Africa’s greatest asset is its human talent
  • Harnessing this talent will require new and large investment at all levels of education
  • Information and knowledge are the greatest contemporary levers of sustainable development
  • This recognition underscores the cardinal role of higher education
  • The
    fullest benefits of higher education will be in greater equitable
    access, high quality teaching and research infrastructure, greater
    institutional autonomy within a framework of public accountability
  • Greater
    economic growth will occur in a more participative human environment
    and in more deregulated economies which allow for greater social
    inventiveness
  • A key historic feature of modern Africa is the emergent and increasingly vibrant African private sector
  • African higher education must engage closely with this emergent sector
  • Working
    with government, the private sector, and civil society, higher
    education must press for a high intensity information and communication
    technology environment across the African continent
  • Networked African universities must consolidate their role at the centre of a new and changing continent

Ensuring access to your scholarly publications – practical steps for authors

South African academics are encouraged by national policy for publication reward to publish in accredited journals, with overseas journals considered the most prestigious. Leaving aside for a moment any critique of this policy, how can the successful authors ensure that the knowledge they have generated is not
priced right out of the market for their colleagues and fellow-citizens? This is a real issue, given that the subscription prices of the big commercial journals have risen at about double the rate of inflation in the last decade. Even large and well-endowed universities are struggling to keep up their subscriptions to the
leading journals (let alone all 24,000 journals out there), so it is no surprise that South African universities don’t subscribe to a number of the journals in which their academics publish.

This came home to me when a colleague, Dick Ng’ambi, emailed to his department the other day ‘Maybe Eve Gray has a point. I’ve just received this alert from Springer alerting me on the electronic publication of my article. The cost of accessing this article is US$30 otherwise UCT has to pay(subscribe) to read its own output – are we being short changed?’ The Springer announcement reads: We are very pleased to be the first to congratulate you on the electronic publication of your article “Influence of Individual Learning Styles in Online Interaction: a Case for Dynamic Frequently Asked Questions (DFAQ)” published in “IFIP International Federation for Information Processing”. If your institution has access to this journal, you may view your paper at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-34731-8_14
(you may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser).
Well, UCT does not have a subscription, so how do Dick and his colleagues get to read his article, short of paying $30 a view (the price of a thick hardback book in this part of the world, or around 15 hamburgers on the ‘hamburger index’)?

There are in fact some practical things that academic authors can do to ensure that they have maximum access to their own publications. The most important would be to publish for preference in an Open Access journal if there is one in your field.
(And yes, they ARE peer-reviewed and there are high quality publications among the 2,000-odd OA journals, as well as one OA author who has recently won a Nobel Prize.) Next, it is advantageous to secure the right to archive a preprint or postprint of an article on your personal or institutional website. A preprint is the article in the form submitted to the journal, before peer reviewing. A postprint is the article revised according to peer reviewers’ recommendations, but without the journal’s editing and typesetting.) What is clear from research conducted on the impact of archiving, is that the availability of a pre-or postprint increases the downloads of the journal article and can have a significant effect on the citation levels of your work. It also means that yourarticle can be made available to your colleagues, or more generally, depending on the policy of the publisher.

What local authors do not all seem to know is that most journal publishers – some 90% of them – including the major ones, do allow this practice. In Dick’s case, Springer allows for both pre-and postprint archiving.

So how do you handle this if you are submitting or publishing an article? To check the policy of the journal you are thinking of publishing with, go the the Sherpa/Romeo website, where you can search on journals and publishers to establish their policies. The next step is to use one of the toolkits available through the Science Commons Rio Framework on Open Science (blogged in an earlier blog), which includes links to the Copyright Toolbox produced through a joint UK/Netherlands university collaboration. Then negotiate a contract with as much access as you can, using the sample clauses set out in the toolkits, which
by now must be pretty familiar to the journal publishers, seeing that they were created by major university bodies. These include retaining copyright (if you can get away with it) or at least being able to archive your article in some form and being allowed to use your own article in teaching and further research.

The really important thing, though, is that we need to lobby for policies in South Africa for the creation and mandating of research repositories in our universities. This is vital, given the increased access to and impact for our research that this could achieve. But more about that in another blog….