The Open Knowledge Program Creating Space for Digital, Public Scholarship

1. Abstract

DH2020 Proposal

Caroline Winter

Randa El Khatib

Alyssa Arbuckle

Ray Siemens

The Open Knowledge Program: Creating Space for Digital, Public Scholarship

In Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University (2019), Kathleen Fitzpatrick argues that academics must reconsider themselves within the “larger ‘us’ that we together form,” rather than holding themselves apart from the wider community (8). How to enact more open, public work is not always obvious, however. Researchers often face barriers to engaging in open and public-facing scholarship, including lack of training, infrastructure, and technical and community support. The Open Knowledge Program at the University of Victoria’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL) facilitates intersections between the scholarly and public communities by supporting university and community researchers in creating open knowledge: “what open data becomes when it’s useful, usable and used” (Open Knowledge Foundation n.d.). In this paper, we discuss the trajectory of the program so far, share examples of participants’ contributions, and invite feedback and discussion about adapting the program for other contexts and its next steps.

The Program

The Open Knowledge Program is based in the ETCL, a collaborative humanities research lab with a focus on open scholarship and a mandate that includes research, training, and service.

The Program comprises three initiatives: the Open Knowledge Practicum (OKP), the Open Knowledge Practicum at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (OKP@DHSI), and the Open Knowledge Residency (OKR). The OKP is a term-long program that welcomes researchers from UVic and the wider community into the lab to work on an open knowledge project, including contributing to Wikipedia. The OKP@DHSI supports the ETCL’s global community by inviting DHSI students and instructors into the lab for a condensed, three-day version of the OKP. The OKR offers graduate students in any discipline at UVic an intensive, week-long residency in the lab to conduct thesis or doctoral research and share findings in an open venue.

The Intervention

Just as digital scholarship has moved from the periphery of the Humanities towards its centre, open scholarship is increasingly recognized as the new scholarly mode. This transition from closed to open is driven partly by necessity — the costs of the current subscription model of scholarly communication being unsustainable for many research libraries — and partly by researchers driven to engage with the broader community and universities striving to fulfill their public missions (CARL–ABRC 2010; O’Gara 2019; Suber 2019). It is also driven by opportunity, since digital technologies have made it possible to share scholarly work widely with academic and public readers, greatly extending its “reach” (Maxwell 2015, 2).

Digital tools allow researchers to engage with new types of research materials, new tools and methodologies, and new modes of communication, but require skills that are not part of traditional Humanities curricula, including collaboration. These digital skills are increasingly recognized as essential for scholarly work and beyond, particularly for emerging scholars (Brier 2012; El Khatib, Arbuckle, and Siemens 2019; IPLAI 2013; Jakacki and Faull 2016; Lewis et al. 2015; MLA 2014; NEH 2016; Reid 2012). The Open Knowledge Practicum draws on the pedagogical model of the practicum, in which skills and knowledge are applied in practice. Practicums are common in Education and professional fields including nursing and clinical psychology, but much less so in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Although practicums are usually part of a larger curriculum, the OKP employs this model as a standalone program, in which researchers plan, develop, and create their own research projects. In doing so, participants put their subject matter expertise and digital skills into action by creating open knowledge resources while gaining experience working in a DH lab as part of a research team. Participants develop their own projects in consultation with the lab team and our colleagues in the Library and across campus as needed. The lab team also provides just-in-time collaborative learning as needed in the use of specific software applications, digital tools, and project management. Honorariums for participants comprise registration in a DHSI course, providing further opportunity for learning, putting learning into practice, and building community.

In its focus on open scholarship as praxis, the Open Knowledge Program complements the “apprenticeship model that dominates graduate training and socialization in the humanities and elsewhere across the university,” which focuses tightly on skills necessary to institutional frameworks (Bartha and Burgett 2015, 33­–4). These frameworks, however, leave little space for digital and public scholarship: review, promotion, and tenure guidelines, for example, tend to discourage open scholarship in favour of more traditional forms of scholarly communication (Alperin et al. 2018). In their study of best practices for supporting digital scholarship, Lewis, Spiro, Wang, and Cawthorne note that physical space in which to work, collaborate, and learn is key (2015, 2). Lewis et al. also find that “collaborative competencies” and “learning mindsets,” comprising “creativity, curiosity, and an enthusiasm for learning” are as important for digital scholarly work as technical skills (2015, 2). Building regular lab hours into the Program’s structure provides participants with a shared physical workspace as well as a highly collaborative community of practice that facilitates social knowledge creation (Burke 2000). Participants in the Program determine the subject and scope of their project, pursuing interests that intersect with their academic work or study, or not. In this way, the Program creates intellectual space and scheduled time for curiosity, exploration, and creativity, space that is often difficult to find within a university’s institutional structure (Bartha and Burgett 2015). Many projects focus on social justice issues such as wealth inequality, Indigenous knowledge systems, international LGBTQ rights, and histories of oppressed groups (ETCL 2020; El Khatib et al. 2019).

The Open Knowledge Program has evolved over the past few years to support standalone projects as well as multi-term endeavours and components of large, grant-funded research initiatives with faculty partners and their student research assistants. We anticipate that describing the structure and goals of the Open Knowledge Program and highlighting the work of its participants will open a discussion of the Program’s future directions and provide a model for other digital scholarship centres that are invested in public scholarship and open knowledge production.


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Caroline Winter (, Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria, Randa El Khatib (, Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria, Alyssa Arbuckle , Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria and Ray Siemens , Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria

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