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Chris Kelty on OER, Peer Review, and Connexions February 20, 2008

Posted by ficial in IP issues.
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I had a chance yesterday afternoon to hear Dr. Chris Kelty talk a bit about peer review processes and how they interact with internet publication. He approached this in the context of open educational resources (OER) in general, and Connexions specifically.

In brief, OER refers to educational materials (lesson plans, lecture notes, examples, labs, etc.) that have been explicitly placed in the public domain. OER is a fascinating topic in it’s own right. A simple Google search gives lots of decent places to learn more about it, and the Capetown Declaration is also worth reading if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Peer review enters the discussion when trying to validate the resources being shared. The traditional publishing method (send the paper to an academic in the same field) breaks down in the world of internet publishing. The first problem is sheer volume – there’s more material being produced than there are qualified reviewers. The second problem is context – traditionally an article reviewed for a journal would be published in a journal (where it works well) and not a textbook (where it would be bad), but an article published on the internet can be accessed devoid of context.

Kelty mentioned some existing internet systems that deal with similar problems – Wikipedia’s content review/development, EBay’s trust system, and Amazon’s reviews. These crowd-sourced systems work reasonably well, but they have no way of leveraging existing expertise. Any internet review system for academic work should be able to take advantage of the expertise in the traditional system.

Connexions takes an interesting approach that pulls some ideas from various areas:

  • from open source software : versioning and forking and public licensing (though Connexions uses a Creative Commons license rather than a software oriented license)
  • from Wikipedia : the idea that anyone can contribute and that contributions are unfiltered. That also arises in part from DMCA regulations, in which an editor is responsible for content while a service provider has some protections
  • from Amazon, the idea of reviews as a separate object with their own meta-data (pseudonymous author, rating, context, etc.)
  • from EBay, the idea of trusted entities

The result is a system where any one can contribute to the repository and anyone wanting to use the repository can filter it based on which reviewers they trust in the context in which they want to use the content. It’s designed specifically for OER content, but I don’t see any reason the same principles couldn’t be applied to a system for journal-style content as well.

It’ll be very interesting to see where this all goes. I’m especially curious to see how Connexions will deal with an information hostile environment where users deliberately try to add wrong information or skewed information, and to see if and how people try to game the system.

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