Open what? Searching for a ‘doable openness’ in my dissertation work

Indeed the current year 2011 is really ‘the year of living dangerously’ for me: completing a two year online MRes in Educational and Social Research by the Institute of Education, University of London, and starting a doctoral programme in e-learning area, delivered by the IN3 – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. The topic of my MRes dissertation is:

“Research practices in transition: investigating the relationship between emerging digital scholarship and open scholarship in higher education settings”

It is a small scale qualitative study, namely a project interview carried out at the University of Milan, where I have been working in an administrative role. So, I planned to interview 12 full/associate professors, young researchers and doctoral students, working in the area of Humanities, Social Sciences, Physics and Medicine. I thought that it would be both a moral obligation and an inquiry challenge to pilot an open research approach as an apprentice researchers, while investigating digital scholarship’s practices and any related open approaches among faculty. I have just received a ormal approval of my ethics forms and then I am allowed to proceed on making these good intentions real. I have already written down some notes on open approach and research ethics, but now my concerns focus on how can an open approach be applied to my research study in a ‘doable’ way. For ‘doable’ I refer to the following features:

sustainable: ‘being open’ should be an effort to be maintained over time, so it can not be too time consuming. And of course neither to steal time to the research conduct;

productive: ‘being open’ should be worthwhile for the researcher. For instance it should allow a supplementary opportunity for reflexivity, to reveal and question any prejudices, to se up a space for a continuing debriefing with participants and non participants;

useful to others: to a degree ‘being open’ should imply some advantages for any readers who occasionally are willing to spend time on your ‘open’ notes. Firstly thinking of the research participants themselves, who can gain additinal information about the study. For instance, I could publish an abstract of the study, adding references of previous empirical studies on the topic, a map of literature review, a draft of an early annotated bibliography, etc. I will try to evaluate if to disseminate a certain resource is more or less appropriate. Anyway this committment will induce me to better organize my research instruments.

That said, my take is to reserve more method-focused reflections to this blog and to deploy more informative notes and the topic-related material in a public web space I am going to create in Cloudworks. According to the negotiated ethics rules, for sure I am not allowed to publish in any from quotes from (anonymyzed) interviews, until the dissertation will be submitted and hopefully approved. Moreover, intermediate findings can not be disseminated due to obvious reasons to preserve integrity of research.
However, the open approach I intend to adopt in the research conduct can make sense in at least two different ways:

1) Using a blog as a ‘research journal’ enables me as an apprentice researcher to practice reflexivity in a systematic way and experience forms of the open practices I aim to investigate.
2) A cautius disclosure of the ongoing study in an edtech digital environment such as Cloudworks can help me to better understand digital and open practices, in a perspective of research process intended as a learning process, in which researcher have skills as required to participate in the activities described. So the web space in Cloudworks could have the function of an ‘open notebook
’, in which to a degree I should to make the research process visible.

To tell the truth, my expectations about an open approach in Cloudworks are even more ambitious, but…it is worth keeping it simple for now. Any suggestions?

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