The shifting ecology of online scholarly communication

The expansion of the Internet as well as other digital technologies has brought a great deal of interest as well as new opportunities to our society, one clear example of that is how open access initiatives have already diversified the alternatives to access and share academic peer-reviewed scholarly information (papers, reports, books, data base, etc.) more readily available to all who might benefit from it across the globe. The interest in open access is highly influenced by other practices which promote more diverse and inclusive mechanisms of production, consumption and socialization of knowledge, such as open source, open science and open education. The open access (OA) literature can be understood as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions”(Suber, 2010[1]).

The “nature of openness” as described by Conole (2013) in higher education is understood as: “Openness is becoming a trend, both in terms of the production and sharing of educational materials, as well as making research publications (and even research data) freely available.“ The promoters of OA usually refers to concepts such as: e-science, digital scholarships and digital humanities, science 2.0 as well as open scholarship or open science. Here, Burton (2009) emphasis on the notion of open scholar:

 “…is not simply someone who agrees to allow free access and reuse of his or her traditional scholarly articles and books; no, the Open Scholar is someone who makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it — at any stage of its development.“

An example of the current concern of how academic knowledge is commodified can be found on ‘The Cost of Knowledge’ (, where almost 15,000 academics protested against the business practices of the academic journal publisher Elsevier. The protest was materialized in a massive rejection to publish, participate as referee or doing any editorial work with “any Elsevier journal [~2,000] unless they radically change how they operate”. This digital movement simply illustrates the increasing interest of incorporating higher levels of “openness” in science and the dissemination of knowledge.

 Evolution of the ‘open science’ references  in Google Books,

Image: Evolution of the ‘open science’ references  in Google Books, between 1960 and 2000, according by Ngram Viewer (Source)


Source: Cope, B., & Phillips, A. (2014). The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos Publishing.

In the last few years the number of open access publications as well as the volume of studies about this topic have grown notably (see DOAJ[2]). There is an increasing amount of publications explaining and analyzing the importance of adopting open access publications as a form of knowledge dissemination. Although, not always broadly understood, the different positions in this field somehow illustrates the current transitions that exist regarding how to access and consume knowledge in this (changing) digital era.

For instance, the guidelines of the EC in this field activated an interesting debate about the consequence of adopting green and golden[3] routes of (more) open publications[4]. This initiative has been considered as a possibility to increase and accelerate the pressure toward open access and more liberal licensing opportunities that could change the landscape of publishing. Although the emerging business models behind the academic publication in open access (i.e. direct cross-subsidies; the three-part market; freemium; or non-monetary market) are by no mean consolidated[5].


Today the mechanisms of pre-print and post-print publication[6] in open access are certainly more diverse. That can be associated with a large number of alternatives in the digital ecosystem: self publication; open repositories, adoption of open licenses as well as the increasing appropiation of platforms for knowledge dissemination such as Wikipedia, SSRN, and the growing acceptance of more flexible licences like Creative Commons. Jackson and Richardson[7] argues that open access has moved firmly into the mainstream of academic publishing, and in some cases it can be even profitable at least within some disciplines (see cases of PLOS or BMC).

 The promoters of OA publication suggest that it expands the access to high- quality and up-to-date contents; stimulates the exchange (and combination) of knowledge (disciplines); generates reputational benefits like visibility, recognition or traffic; accelerating feedback and open peer review and facilitating networking and engagement with a wider community (transdisciplinarity). Some of these benefits can be summarized as reuse, redistribute, revise and remix (Hilton et al., 2010)[8]

However, not everyone sees the clear benefit to move to further technological means and particularly new open practices. There is a number of challenges and constraints that individuals and institutions need to be prepared to deal with (i.e. current institutional rules for rewarding, dissemination and quality measurements) before embracing the openness in publication as the way to move forward. According, to previous research these constraints could be associated with institutional and cultural resistance to give up the traditional model of academic publication (well embedded in the culture of the Higher Education), others are suspicious with the idea that open publication (self-publication, for instance) and its reliability in terms of quality assurance in contrast to the ‘traditional publication’ practices. At the same time, there are technological challenges that affect at least a segment of the academics who are not familiar with the current digital media ecosystem and the possibilities behind these tools. In addition to the already mentioned challenges, the sustainability of open access publication is still under development in the best of the cases. The business models and the economic strength of open access it is by no mean an exclusive challenge for the academic publications but it also affects other sectors such as mass media, art and culture industries.

Summary of key barriers to foster OA initiatives: lack of awareness; digital proficiency limitations; change resistance in the culture of the academic institutions (policies and practices); copyright issues (reproduction, derivative versions), concerns for the quality-reliability and information-quality control; legal limitations; lack of business models (securing economic sustainability); pedagogical challenges (OER); others.

 As Meyer and Schroeder suggested (2009)[9] even if open access somehow succeed and a large volume of scientific products are published under OA license offering more flexible avenues for accessing knowledge it is possible to foresee new problems and challenges such as: the predominance of gatekeepers (such as academic search engines) that will “shape the online visibility” combined with the limited span attention from individuals exposed to an information overloaded Internet.

 Although the future of copyright as well as academic publication might be difficult to predict it is tempting to venture that the new changes for academic journals and publishers will come, affecting for good or for bad the academic community and their institutions. The digital ecosystem is continuously evolving and it is important to understand its momentum.

For more infomation here: @cristobalcobo or here

Images used by Times Higher Education

Image used by Times Higher Education


[1] Suber, P. (2010). Open Access Overview. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from

[2] Heather Morrison » Open Thesis. (2012). Retrieved from

[3] A gold open access model: with the article processing charges paid up front and not by the reader.

[4] For instance, in 2012 both the European Commission and the British Economic and Social Research Council announced that they would be adopting policies to facilitate and accelerate the open access to scientific knowledge (cf. ‘gold’ and ‘green’ schemes of publication) Van Noorden, R. (2012). Europe joins UK open-access bid. Nature, 487(7407), 285–285. doi:10.1038/487285a.

[5] Income models for Open Access: An overview of current practice. (2009). Retrieved August 20, 2014, from


[7] Gold open access: the future of the academic journal?∗ Rhodri Jackson and Martin Richardson. In Cope, B., & Phillips, A. (2014). The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos Publishing.

[8] Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., Stein, J., & Johnson, A. (2010). The four ‘R’s of openness and ALMS analysis: frameworks for open educational resources. Open Learning, 25(1), 37-44.

[9] Meyer, E. T., & Schroeder, R. (2009). The world wide web of research and access to knowledge. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 7(3), 218-233.

Strategies to foster (virtual) collaboration

Roschelle & Teasley (1995) explained in their well known research (see open access version*) that collaboration: involves group-directed negotiation and construction of shared goals and meaning. A better understanding of collaboration (face-to-face and/or online) becomes a critical factor in today’s society.

As known, the OECD has been working on a new assessment to test student performance in creative problem solving, which measures students’ capacity to respond to non-routine situations in order to achieve their potential as constructive and reflective citizens (see summary). The idea is not only testing student’s skills but also to explores the role of formal education in fostering problem-solving skills (see draft).

The following presentation focus on different mechanisms, tools and practices that can be adopted in order to enable distributed and collective collaboration.

Disclaimer: The presentation is pretty big (but worth it I hope) if problems, try here.

(*) Roschelle, J., & Teasley, S. D. (1995, January). The construction of shared knowledge in collaborative problem solving. In Computer supported collaborative learning (pp. 69-97). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

The social platform for learning is changing


‘Karen McCoy’ from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB Global Centre) interviewed me a few days ago, here its transcription.

Question 1: Could you tell us a little more about your key ideas?

Lately, I’ve been focusing on three key ideas in education.

  • First of all, moving more into context rather than content. Proper context will stimulate different synapses and connections between people.
  • Secondly, I have really been inspired by the work done by George Siemens. The value of information is changing in a dramatic way and has a different flavour than when we tried to access knowledge 20 years ago. This network of knowledge challenges the structure of learning.
  • Last but not least, the idea of entrepreneurial driven initiatives within schools. This can be socially driven and creates new business.

Question 2: Who have been the key educational thinkers who have influenced your own thinking on teaching and learning?

  • John Seely Brown is a senior promoter of innovation.  He originally comes from the industry world, but switched to new forms of learning. His work brings up challenges in thinking about knowledge.
  • Larry Cuban is a researcher and academic from the Stanford University. His contributions are on the incorporation of technology in classroom. He gives a thought provoking critical voice to the matter.
  • Neil Selwyn has a comprehensive approach on how knowledge has been brought into the classroom and addresses failures that have been replicated systematically.
  • George Siemens and his ideas on connectivism. I was a little suspicious of connectivism, I think it’s challenging, but it has lots to do with the amount of information that kids have to deal with these days.
  • Ivan Illich gives harsh criticism to school, but is a thought provoking read on highlighting  the combination of formal and informal education.

Question 3: If you could recommend one book for our Diploma Programme teachers to read, what would it be and why?

I would recommend the book Knowmad Society. ( Moravec . J. 2013. Knowmad Society. Education Futures LLC) It focuses on one of the key ideas I mentioned in the previous question – integrating entrepreneurship initiatives in formal education. It focuses on the idea of knowledge workers by Peter Drucker and talks about permanent flowing not only in terms of territory but flowing in terms of knowledge and highlighting the relevance of resilience and adaptability in students. It is linked to “Flat World” knowledge by Friedman.

Question 4: What do you think is the biggest difference between education today and education 30 years ago?

My criticism would be that we are increasingly more obsessed with assessment. Every time we want to explore potential innovation in the classroom, the concern that we will fail in national and institutional assessment comes up. Innovation suffers because of concern we may fail.

Positively, we are beginning to open the door from formal venues of learning into informal learning venues and the hybrid approach to learning. By hybrid I mean formal and informal, individual and collective, and online and offline.

Question 5: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing teachers today? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing students today?

Teachers are knowledge workers or “knowmads”. Knowledge is becoming a commodity, and if you have the proper switch activated then you will always find valuable knowledge to be learned from.

The challenge is how to deal with information that is always changing. Knowledge is liquid – it is always going to be moulded or reshaped. For example, we use books but updating them is not the fastest way to update our learners. The analysis of how difficult it is to update contents in comparison of how knowledge flows means finding other currencies and recognizing teachers that are doing good stuff in assessing.

As for students, the world is complex and no one understands well where we are going. We tend to talk about the future because we don’t know what is going on in the present. This puts a lot of pressure on our students, because we have no idea which direction they need to go. They need to decide early on different strategies and mechanisms beyond formal education. They need to know that what they get from school is not going to be enough – that grades will not be enough. Students have to be their own engineers of their own learning path, to dedicate as much time as possible in laboratories of innovation out of school and within school, to embrace social entrepreneurship initiatives, and to promote ideas of lifelong learning.

Look at the “geek” community and the way they collaborate on the internet. Their collaboration is based on “digital badges” (flexible competence-based systems),  as a way to recognize the achievements of others within the community. There is an increasing agreement that the social platform for learning is changing.

Delivering higher education in the digital age


See also the great report from By Simon Knight.

The workshop for the Oxford Internet Institute, “What does it mean to be an ‘expert’ in the web age”, took place on Wednesday 28th May at Oxford University’s Research Centre in the Humanities. Here the members of the panel:
- Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw from The Mozilla Foundation.
- Hannah Gore @HRGore from the OpenLearn at the Open University.
Ken Skates @KenSkatesAM from The Welsh Government, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology.
- David White @daveowhite from The University of Oxford,

The workshop comes against the backdrop of new ways of engaging with higher education, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The panel discussion reviewed and discussed these new emerging learning opportunities, exploring how the Web influences our understanding of what it means to be an ‘expert’, and the manner in which universities and disciplines should respond to the opportunities offered by the Web.

Particular attention was given to understanding how traditional and novel forms of education, as well as non-traditional forms of certification, presented a more complex future for higher education.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology from Welsh Government, Ken Skates presented on the findings of the Online Digital Learning Working Group which published its report for the Welsh Government in March.

The Group was set up to advise the Welsh Government on the potential opportunities offered by new technologies for the Welsh HE sector; the extent the sector is working together to maximise these opportunities; and to what extent technological developments would increase participation in part-time and full-time education.

The Group made a number of recommendations, namely using open and online resources as a way of improving skills of learners and practitioners and to encourage Welsh higher institutions to use MOOCs as a means of widening participation and promoting excellence within the sector.

The Deputy Minister said, “I would like to thank the Oxford Internet Institute for inviting me to take part on this Expert Panel and I look forward to hearing the views of the other panel members. I’m sure that there is much that we can learn from each other.” [Press Release Excerpt]

Event: #Unplugging > Beyond Hyper-Connected Societies

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 22.24.53

Workshop on 20 June 2014 at the University of Oxford, led by Dr. Igor Calzada (Research Associate Future Cities, COMPAS & InSIS - University of Oxford) and Dr. Cristobal Cobo (Research Fellow Oxford Internet Institute- University of Oxford). 

Technology is never neutral, it has the potential and capacity to be used socially and politically for quite different purposes, argued Raymond Williams in 1983. Indeed, recently we both watched #HER, the newest movie by the filmmaker Spike Jonze, and we realised that this hyper-connected future is already not either as neutral or as far away from our current human interactions. Are we already living at present in such hyper-connected societies and cities as Jonze describes in his film? It sounds surprisingly contradictory how a film that makes you feel anxious about the self-deterministic way technology is dominating our lives can at the same time tele-transport us to the future of the technologies and their impact on our human emotions. Moreover, we could argue that is not that unrealistic a science-fiction storytelling. Could you imagine yourself falling in love just with a voice even if it belongs to an artificial operative system?

The real truth seems to be that the impact in our lives is occurring without us being aware of it. Shall Mr Jonze provoke a reflection on the consequences of the quick, risky (Beck, 2013) and liquid (Bauman, 2013) real-time cities (Kitchin, 2013)? This notion brings us to the so-called debate on the suitability of the Smart Cities (Greenfield, 2013) and their applicability. Are we altering our social relationship because of the new technologies? Moreover, one of us did even not know about the existence of Siri, the real device embodying what #HER represents in the fiction movie. Moreover, that could actually be perfectly believable! Another example of the trend on the techno-determinism consequences is the bookThe Circle by Dave Eggers who reflects on questions about privacy, democracy, and human fragility in the technological broad realm. What happens to us if we “must” be online all the time? To live entirely in the public realm can be a form of solitary confinement. Is there any added value in the possibility of remaining voluntarily #unplugging?

Thus, being conscious about this novel trend and subtle notion for the 21st century societal challenges and their research in societies and cities, we have both organized a workshop the next 20th June in Oxford supported by The Oxford Research Centre of the Humanities (TORCH). This event aims to gather scholars from different disciplines to debate open and critically about #Unplugging. The idea is to better understand the social and cultural implications of hyper-connected societies and the possible research agendas associated.

Even though we note some dark side effects of the technology (Ippolita, 2008). Our purpose is to draw on a critical social innovation pathway as a transition towards alternative digital humanities practices for our daily life. Nevertheless, there are plenty of pending questions about this subtle notion, that we have clustered as #Unplugging.

For instance: Will unplugging be a right or a privilege of a few? Will being constantly plugged improve our wellbeing and happiness as a society? In addition to the digital divide’s effect on the information society structure, is hyper-connectivity stressing another extra social divides between a few privileged unplugged people and a large plugged crowd (online almost 24/7)? Are we heading towards an individualistic society? Or simply, does it seem that this is the natural way the world will be ruled in micro-communities (in bubbles) in the future? Who designs the technology that we consume? Will devices serve citizens more than the citizens serve the devices? Therefore, are there real alternatives to the technocratic business-led dominant top-down governance model in the Smart Cities? Or, in contrast, is this still wishful progressive thinking?

Is the idea of big data, an empty buzzword? Is it possible to combine an open access civilian deliberative system within a confidential and espionage-obsessed paradigm? Will we see changes in which context-collapsed information will be contextualized to enhance social interactions? Will technological devices be designed based on peoples needs more than on corporate or infrastructure interests? Will the socio-political establishment suffer any shift towards free and community-driven processes? Or by contrast, is the myth of digital democracy (Hindman, 2009) the one debunking popular notions about political discourses in the digital age? Has the Internet neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens? Finally, can we anticipate any relevant change in the Smart City practices as a consequence of changes among stakeholder interactions in the definition of a new political economic balance?

To sum up, what are the societal challenges in the current hyper-connected societies? How to explore new policy strategies as well as new research agenda by focusing on the implications of hyper-connectivity? If you are interested in discussing these issues come along and join us in the #Unplugging workshop.

For more information on how to register, please visit the #Unplugging website or view SIE’s event calendar.


[cross-post from here:]



What does it mean to be an ‘expert’ in the Web era?

We are delighted to extend an invitation to our next workshop which will bring together interested parties from Oxford and other organisations to critically analyse the tensions between traditional and new-modes of delivering university level education .
When: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 11:00am to 4:00pm
Where: Radcliffe Humanities, Seminar Room (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).


In recent years many new ways of engaging with higher education online have been developed.  Some of these educational initiatives known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), led by major universities such as Stanford, Harvard or MIT are generating a great deal of interest for a large volume of learners online (millions of users in some cases). Interestingly, MOOCs and other Open Educational Practices (OEP) are also becoming a good test bed for universities to experiment new pedagogical models; as well as new forms of assessing and certificating the knowledge and skills acquired by learners.

This phenomenon has already brought to the fore a number of questions around the role and purpose of traditional institutions in the context of the global adoption of ‘virtual’ and open forms of teaching. This in turn is creating a tension between the values of traditional forms of institutionally based knowledge and new forms of online learning.


The event will offer the opportunity to analyze and better understand with different stakeholders, relevant dimensions of the future of higher education as a platform that can foster innovative educational practices and knowledge transfer.

The understanding of the future of higher education is increasingly tied to the Web via novel forms of knowledge generation and exchange. Particular attention will be given to understanding how traditional and novel forms of education, as well as non-traditional forms of certification, are generating a much more complex and diversified higher education horizon.


During this workshop, experts in higher education and technology will be engaging with different stakeholders such as social scientists, economists, policy experts, and other individuals to discuss to what extent the latest open educational practices are influencing new socio-economic realities.

A panel discussion will review and critique emerging learning opportunities and the value of new forms of knowledge creation, exploring how the Web influences our understanding of what it means to be an ‘expert’ and the manner in which universities and disciplines should respond to the new currency of the Web.

Thematic panels will be arranged to discuss: formal and informal continuous learning experiences; new forms of academic visibility; new means of knowledge recognition/certification; and open access and open educational practices.

Please click here for the programme


Participation is free, but space is limited and registration is required. Please click here to register.


David White, researcher at Department for Continuing Education – University of Oxford

Cristobal Cobo, research fellow Oxford Internet Institute – University of Oxford


Education, complexity and Internet

Above an excerpt of the presentation given during my last talk at the Universidad Europea, in Spain. The text is cross posted from the institutional website - and here.

Universidad Europea has launched the second edition of the discussion cycle Education. Educate to Transform with a lecture given by Cristóbal Cobo, a researcher at the University of Oxford, on the opportunities technology offers education.

During the session, Cristóbal Cobo set out his vision of how technology has revolutionized society to the extent it has exerted an increasingly greater impact on the field of education: “The value of knowledge and the way in which we learn has been redefined. If we made a tower out of all the reference books there are in the world, the tower would stretch from here to Pluto 20 times over”. The challenge, as such, is no longer having access to information but lies in the possibility of having sufficient time to handle it.

There are those that insist that the problem of education using new technologies is the same as those of the ice makers when the fridge was invented. However, we do not offer ice, but cold. We, as educators, teach how to learn“, continued Cobo.

To conclude, the researcher emphasized how new technologies enhance education: “I believe that we should not fight technology, because it brings together many interests, not only the educational. We have to introduce technologies into the classroom, at the same time as developing a methodological change in the way the professor is trained so that they use technologies without fear”. As a result, in this new educational context, the professor has to become “a driving force, putting forward challenges so that the student learns to learn using the tools they have to hand. In this highly complex ecosystem that is the Internet, a greater level of learning is achieved by the student and greater dedication and effort by the professor”.

Cristóbal Cobo is a researcher affiliated to the Oxford Internet Institute and collaborates on different projects undertaken by the European Commission. He is co-author, together with J. Moravec, of Invisible Learning: Towards a new ecology in education, among other works. His speech marked the start of the second edition of Education, a forum that this year will be attended by experts including the former Minister for Education, Ángel Gabilondo and Adrian Kearney, director of the International Baccalaureate Foundation for Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

[More information available in Spanish here]

digital badges: new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent

The Higher Education Achievement Report Introduction from The Higher Education Academy on Vimeo.

Learning takes place in a variety of settings as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. With the growing popularity of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, Cristóbal Cobo makes the case for more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition. The challenge is to create more versatile ways of recognizing uncertified forms of learning – both for formal qualifications of informal learning as well as wider social recognition of uncertified knowledge. [Cross-post from LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog]

Drawing on comparative and historical analyses of education, sociologist Randall Collins argues, “The expansion of education can contribute, under certain conditions, to the aggregate economic well-being on the population” (2000, p.237). It’s hard to disagree with that statement, but as always – the devil is in the details and those details refer to ongoing, rapidly changing conditions.

Take for instance, the credentialization of knowledge. Between the 14th and 17th centuries universities faced extreme bureaucratization. Collins highlights how this circumstance created a “credential inflation”, which affected the trustworthiness of universities at the time:

There have been several episodes of expansion of universities [in Europe], with accompanying formalization of examinations sequences, interspersed with periods when the demand for education collapsed in favour of informal alternatives to schooling (…) Between 1300 and 1500 half of all university foundations were failure. The market for educational credentials was expanding explosively, but at the same time such credentials were flooding the market, raising risk of failure and losing its former prestige (…) By the Enlightenment period of the 1700s, in the eyes of self-conscious progressive intellectuals and educators all over Europe, the university system was a medieval anachronism best left to die on the vine (…)


The so-called “inflation of educational credentials” also came after the rapid European expansion of higher education around 1970. The inflation of educational credentials differs from inflation of a monetary currency; printing more money is relatively cheap, but minting new degree-holding persons requires a huge apparatus of teachers, administrators, testers, buildings, etc. While monetary inflation reduces the value of currency, credential inflation reduces the value of the college degree. Because so many people have it and/or are getting it, the degree qua degree is giving up its scarcity, and thus its relative value. There is no sign whatsoever that runaway credential inflation is about to slow down any time soon. The next couple of decades are likely to demand an increasing credentialization expected to escalate still further (Collins, 2000 and Scanzoni, 2005). Trow (as early as 1974) with visionary clarity foresaw that higher education was going to face a process of expansion and massification. He described after World War II only the elite had access to education (0-15% of population), later a larger portion (16-50%), subsequently, with information technologies becoming a vehicle for universal access he predicted a “universal higher education” (with more than 50% of the population).


Though, as a large number of authors pointed out (NonakaPolanyiWengerBenettFreire, among others) learning does not only take place in formal settings. The claim for lifelong learning should not be understood as hanging around at University for ever but “learning to learn” as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. Colardyn and Bjornavold, (2004) explained that validation of non-formal and informal learning become a key aspect. Lifelong learning requires that learning outcomes from different settings and contexts can be linked together. “As long as learning, skills and competences acquired outside formal education and training remain invisible and poorly valued the ambition of lifelong learning cannot be achieved,” they added.

Nowadays, we are living times where (almost) everyone seems to be dazzled by  flashy style of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, such as CourseraUdacity or Edx (now with “local” players inGermany or Brazil) but also Khan AcademyTED-Ed and a growing number of lifelong learning initiatives (see the Edupunks’ Guide). Instead of an over-bureaucratization of these learning initiatives (some more promising than others), and as Colardyn and Bjornavold proposed, more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition are required (i.e. signature track, skills passports, competency based credentials, independent examiners, portfolios, open badges, etc.).

cristobal credential inflation

Image Source

As the illustration shows the challenge is to create more versatile forms of recognizing (and making visible) uncertified forms of learning (informal or non-formal). It is understandable that this flexibility might not be applicable to all the activities and professions (I wouldn’t want to fly with a DIY pilot, for instance). However, there is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers. Interestingly, the recent report published by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: The Maturing of the MOOC (pdf) suggest that concerning MOOCs, “In the UK environment, the accreditation issue is not as pressing” (p.79) but this lack of interest is not applicable in all contexts. There is much to explore in this area:

  • Formal qualification of informal learning: In 2013 Coursera started offering ‘signature track’ services to earn a verified certificate. In other words, a soft certification validated by identity verification (proof of ID and unique typing pattern) as well as sharable course records (with employers as previously done with Yahoo!, for instance). Now, Coursera has gone further widening the field providing “official” verifiable electronic certificate by offering more academically rigorouscredit-bearing versions (which include a fee). Here, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service has evaluated and recommended and accredit some of the non-traditional courses offered by Coursera.
  • Social (peers-based) recognition of uncertified knowledge: A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, competency, or interest. The Mozilla Foundation has promoted the adoption of online Open Badges (likewise that can be used to represent online and offline achievements, communicate successes, and set goals. These Open Badges can support learning that happens beyond traditional classrooms (today particularly relevant for promoting Computer Science’s skills in UK schools). Badges can illustrate a wide set of achievements providing evidence that be shown in the “places” (or spaces) that matter. Similarly, LinkedIn invites users to endorse people’s skills.

The cases suggest different equivalencies and currencies: while US ACE CREDIT College Credit is providing formal accreditation, the Open Badges initiative is promoting a greater social awareness and recognition of skills.

However, the bottom line is that conditions have changed (i.e. progressive mobility worldwide, as well as the increasing need for recognition of migrants’ qualifications). While some authors warn about the risky “inflation of educational credentials” others go even further claiming that “The university has already lost any claim to monopoly over the provision of higher education” (Duke, 1999). The initiatives described here are still in an embryonic stage but at the same time are promising in terms of new possibilities for more flexible tools and, as @daveowhite suggests, they provide new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent (find more in UNESCO UIL or the EU ESCO).

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Cristóbal Cobo (@cristobalcobo) is a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. He coordinates research on open knowledge initiatives, emergent learning practices andalmetricsCristóbal is an active promoter of open access. Further information: blogspresentations,talks.


Can Coursera or Mozilla Foundation provide new methods of recognizing informal learning?

Despite the fact that the concept of ‘knowledge society’ is broadly adopted in our days, the management of knowledge, experiences, skills and capabilities is still something not necessarily easy to manage. Similarly the recognition of learning (assessment, accreditation, validation) can also become something extremely challenging, specially when the learning process occurs outside the structure of the formal education system (i.e. schools, higher education, e-learning, etc.).

Having said that international organizations such as: the EU (via Education and Training 2020), the OECD or UNESCO are constantly claiming for the need of new instruments and tools for a better recognition of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, as drivers of either mobility, migration or life long learning.

This presentation was given at the seminar: ‘New forms of provision in education’ in Barcelona (jointly organized by the University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, GIPE), and it discusses to what extent initiatives such as the accreditation given by the the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) to some non-traditional courses offered in MOOC (Coursera) or the Open Badges (Mozilla Foundation) should be taken into account as alternatives mechanisms of knowledge recognition outside formal education.

* Delighted to see that the University of Washington and HASTAC will continue this discussion in the US.

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 09.12.30
As the recently launched Oxis (2013) Internet is increasingly used as a platform for informal learning.

Digital Humanities and (a more) Open Science

state-of-dhDigital evolutions are increasingly affecting humanities research and education particularly since the final quarter of the twentieth century. Online resources, data sets, electronic teaching environments, open access publishing, data visualisation and data capturing have become ubiquitous.

In this context, the KU Leuven Faculty of Arts decided to organize a digital humanities summer school last week in Leuven (Belgium). The event was a great opportunity to learn more of all the transformations (and the lack of it, in some cases) that are currently taking place in the academic world.

The buzzword  was ‘open’ (i.e. o-science, o-education, o-learning, o-resources, etc.), as Erik Duval suggested there is also room for other areas of openness such as ‘open accreditation’, something that we would like to see more ubiquitous.

Here you will find my presentation also discussing about openness in academia (the video of the lecture might be published soon-ish). The subject of my presentation was Open Publication and Authority 3.0 (enlighten by Michael Jensen works).

Summary: Digital Identity is the virtual reflection of how data referring to a person are created, managed, verified and used by themselves and/or others (individuals, businesses or government) in life and death (EPSRC, 2013). Despite having such a ‘digital identity,’ academics and their research outcomes and impacts are more usually assessed using bibliometric techniques (H-index, data citation, journal impacts, etc.).

A number of initiatives have highlighted the importance of recognizing different and equally effective means of assessing academic outcomes (i.e. ACUMEN, WISER, EICSTES). For instance, the EU research framework ‘Horizon 2020’ and the 1st EU Digital Humanities Manifesto (2011), are clear examples, the latter stating: “The diversity of digital media and publication genres need to be accepted as genuine means of scientific communication”, including “ repositories, publication platforms, social media networks and blogging”, where “Peer-reviewed texts in print journals can no longer be the only publications to be considered in application and proposal procedures”. Terras (2012) adds that academics need to work on their digital presence to aid the dissemination of their research, to both their subject peers and the wider community.

Assessment of the performance of individual researchers is the cornerstone of the scientific and scholarly workforce. It shapes the quality and relevance of knowledge production in science. However, there is a discrepancy between the criteria used in performance assessment and the broader social function of scholarly research (Wouters, 2010). Peer review and citation counting measures are useful but not sufficient anymore (Priem et al, 2010). It is therefore necessary to design a comprehensive set of “citation data” that simplifies and stimulates the recognition of academic contributions in the digital world (i.e. measuring social engagement, web base indicators, digital outreach).


Many thanks to Dr. Fred Truyen (Research Unit Cultural Studies, KU Leuven) for organizing this summer school as well as for inviting me there.

(*)The image posted at the top of this blog was borrowed from Northeastern University.