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Report: MOOCs Top Open Access for Disruptive Potential

A new report, Open Access, Megajournals, and MOOCs: On the Political Economy of Academic Unbundling, in Sage Open compares the disruptive potential of open access (OA) for academic articles and massive open online courses (MOOCs) and finds that MOOCs are more likely to change the course of higher education.

Richard Wellen, author of the article and associate professor at York University, said in an interview with Sage (to be published at the journal's blog this week), "The open access scholarship movement is often connected to the moral argument that the public which funds the research ought to have access to it. In recent years that has changed. The recent policy initiatives to promote open access in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States have been based not so much on a principled commitment to openness, but rather on a more strategic commitment to the maximization of research productivity."

That motivation simply won't be as powerful for researchers working in fields that benefit less from public-private partnerships, Wellen argues in the paper.

Though tools "blending the functions of peer to peer academic networking and dissemination" such as Mendeley have emerged, according to Wellen, the desire of researchers to have their findings published in higher prestige journals, which creates a second kind of currency and leads to a "two-sided" market, further tempers the disruptive potential of OA.

Wellen also points out that those networks provide transparency into "the behaviors and interests of those researchers" using them, but cautions that " these innovations may come at the price of creating tensions between the market and the academic commons. For example, as academic social networks make researcher behavior far more transparent to publishers it may also encourage the proliferation of greater performance monitoring in a community that prizes its autonomy. As a result, the new system of research communication could involve controversial changes such as increased academic self-promotion and more quantitative approaches to assessment."

MOOCs, on the other had, "have had more of a disruptive impact on the academic community, in part because they define higher education institutions as a barrier to improved productivity and because the content designed for MOOCs has been found to be standardized, homogenized, and safe in order to lower costs and heighten automation," according to a Sage news release.

"I would hope that my article helps members of academic communities see that openness is more than a high-minded principle implicit in academic work and research, or a value implied by treating higher education as a public good," Wellen said in the Sage interview. "Openness in a digital age implies that more academic services and content will be portable and that, for better or worse, this changes the kind of policies and institutional forms which are available to academic communities. It also provides new options for policymakers who, for a variety of reasons, are becoming more interested in maximizing the economic and social impact of higher education institutions and research."

To read the full report, visit sgo.sagepub.com.

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