Openness and Research

In an interesting recent post Stephen Downes  has pointed once again to the four elements that  ‘distinguish a knowledge-generating network from a mere set of connected elements.’  – Diversity, Openness, Autonomy and Interactivity and Connectedness.

I have been thinking about the question of  ‘Openness’ quite a lot in relation to research networks. Currently I am involved in a community of e-learning researchers – ELESIG and have co-authored a paper which explores the issues being faced by the community following withdrawal of funding. This paper has just been accepted (subject to amendments based on the reviewers comments) by the International Journal of Web-based Communities.

I am also currently working with John, Matthias and Roy Williams  from the CCK08 course on a research project to investigate learner preferences for communicating in blogs or discussion forums.

In his post Stephen wrote the following about the need for ‘Openness’ in a network

Openness – does communication flow freely within and without the network, is there ease of joining (and leaving) the network? In a community, this means, are people able to communicate with each other, are they easily able to join the community, are they easily able to participate in community activities? In practice, what one will observe of an open community is that there are no clear boundaries between membership and non-membership, that there are different ranges of participation, from core group interaction through to occasional posting to reading and lurking behaviour. If a community is open, then it sustains a sufficient flow of information to generate new knowledge, but if it is closed, this flow stagnates, and no new information is generated.

I’m wondering just how open is open, particularly in relation to researchers. The problem is that too much openness could invalidate the research, couldn’t it?

For the paper that has just been accepted, my co-author and I have worked in isolation from the ELESIG community. I think only two other members of the community (403 members) even know that we have done some research based on the work of the community. As yet nothing has been shared, despite the fact that the community has been set up with the explicit purpose of sharing research.

In the research that John, Matthias, Roy and I are working on, related to the CCK08 course, we startedoff with very good intentions. John set up a community wiki on the Community Ning site and invited others to join us. Currently we are designing a questionnaire and we quickly realised that we would not be able to openly discuss this design process with the community for fear of invalidating the research – the community is the very group that we hope will respond to the questionnaire. So we have moved to another wiki, in order to design our research. We intend to post our findings to the community wiki and hopefully stimulate discussion.

So I’m wondering if ‘Openness’ just doesn’t work in research communities, or have I misunderstood what Stephen meant. I seem to remember reading somewhere (although I can’t find it now) that Stephen was encouraging more ‘Openness’ in research communities, but how exactly would this work?

Dilemmas, dilemmas!

6 thoughts on “Openness and Research

  1. Sui Fai John Mak March 5, 2009 / 3:26 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Great that you have summarised what we (you, Matthias, Roy and I) are up to in the research project. If you think that it is appropriate, would you mind posting your post here onto our Ning Network as well? (And my comments?) Or do you think I could post it there?

    I agree with your views that research may need to be conducted with a certain degree of “openness”. I think it is not just to ensure the validity of the research, but to ensure that any data collected from respondents are kept in confidence.

    Researchers are also required to conduct themselves in a professional manner – (a) by preventing and minimising any risks that may be associated with the research process, in order to protect the confidentiality and interests of the stakeholders (researchers, respondents, and even the instructors) involved, and (b) by behaving in an ethical manner throughout the process.

    Like you, I am still pondering on how “open” it should be when it comes to learning and research projects in professional communities or social networks.

    As for some professions such as lawyers or doctors, a breach of professional conduct could lead to litigation, especially if it is relating to some complaints or serious misconduct that may be due to the negligence or ignorance of the professionals, or the copyright (or copyleft) issues arising out of the research practice.

    Besides, in a global network and community ecology, I think it may be especially difficult to come up with some agreed protocols on learning and research, that relates to the professional standards.

    So, I share your interests in raising those questions.

    Renewed thanks Jenny for this great post.


  2. Keith Lyons March 5, 2009 / 6:57 pm

    Jenny, what if your research embodied the essence of Action Research? The dilemmas you face may be redefined by including the community in the development of your research questions. Rather than protecting a pristine moment of response you may find a treasure of ideas that develop with the research tools you use.

    The Action Researchers faced the same dilemmas and overcame them (I believe) by their empowerment of those with whom they researched educational practice.

    Sharing with your colleagues is a wonderful act of trust. You, John and Matthias have great experience of sharing.

    On a separate note I am delighted your paper has been accepted.

    Best wishes


  3. jennymackness March 8, 2009 / 7:03 pm

    Reply Keith – Hi Keith – thanks so much for your comment. I am still thinking about it and need to do a bit more reading before I could respond sensibly!

  4. Keith Lyons March 8, 2009 / 9:54 pm

    Jenny, I did not mean to send you off on another journey! What you do is remarkable. You have a very distinctive voice. My encouragement to you is to construe research and research reporting in a way that is in harmony with how you view and live in the world.

    Many years ago I read Helen Roberts’ Doing Feminist Research (1981). Ann Oakley’s chapter transformed my thinking and moved me excitedly to a qualitative world of research,M1

    Best wishes from early morning Australia


  5. jennymackness March 10, 2009 / 6:17 pm

    Reply to Keith – I welcome all the advice I can get Keith – so many thanks for your comment and for the link to Helen Robert’s book which I will look up.

    Thanks for your best wishes from Australia, a country I have never visited, but it looks as though you have a wonderful life there.


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