Notes from Margaret Hedstrom’s “The Future of Networked Knowledge”

Notes from Margaret Hedstrom’s “The Future of Networked Knowledge”

Overview Announcement:

Dr. Hedstrom is an archivist who is on the faculty of the School of Information at U of M. Her research interest is digital information. She has done some interesting cross cultural empirical research on user response to various methods of archiving digital files. (e.g. “The Old Version Flickers More:” Digital Preservation from the User Perspective. American Archivist http://www.ils.unc.edu/callee/dig-pres_users-perspective.pdf) Not just ease of use but also reliability of stored electronic files.

She is also a member of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. (Their report available at http://er.lib.msu.edu/item.cfm?item=050123)

Notes from the session:

  • Intro
    • Recent feature story from NYT on archiving digital materials
    • We are trying to build networks, facilities, and human capital that takes advantage of the burgeoning world of digital information
    • There are archival questions in every discipline, problems that we encounter in humanities and social sciences, as well as other sciences
    • Today’s talk will be to reflect back on the ACLS Commission’s thoughts on infrastructure for education and the humanities
    • What is the vision and potential of this, as well as the challenges that we experience on a daily basis and others that we can anticipate; then discuss some paths that we can use to move towards this vision
  • The Vision
    • The potential for cyber infrastructure allows for transformative research that were not possible for people to address in the past as well as open scholarship
      • This is the big goal for research cyber infrastrucure
    • Looking from the humanities and social science perspective at a report from science and engineering report on cyber infrastructure
      • What could we do if we had massive amounts of digital data, easy-to-use analytical tools, and networks of repositories, and well-trained people to use it?
    • There must be money out there for the scientists, and the humanists could ride on their coat tails, right? Well… it turns out that when you talk to scientists there are problems with funding for research, and competition is intense, too.
      • Many of us from outside of these science communities think that they are networked and forward-thinking, but there are many questions about what makes legitimate science, peer review, qualifications of researchers, etc.
  • More thoughts on the vision
    • What do we mean by infrastructure?
      • It is about the protocols for moving data, for sure
      • But, it is also about the people who know how to approach these new resources
        • Archivists who are getting data into shape so others can use it
          • There is a lot of technical work in adding metadata that goes unnoticed and, consequently, is different from what has been done in the physical world
        • To take advantage of this potential, we need to learn how to teach and research in different ways, and these are the bigger stumbling blocks that we need to get over
  • There are new ways of addressing research that are happening in a parallel with a move towards interdisciplinarity
    • How do you take ideas that have been historically separated by institutional boundaries that are now coming back together again in a digital convergence?
    • How does an interest in cyber-enabled learning happen in conjunction with this? Is there a dissastisfaction with the compartmentalized visions of scholarship?
    • A goal for cyber infrastructure shifts your way of thinking about research and looking at problems that allows for a new way to think about problems.
  • What would “big” humanities (transformative research) mean?
    • Because of the way that humanities research has been done in the past (single investigator, deep problem, specific set of data resources) — the problems have been scaled down to fit within the scope of work for one human being.
    • Now, we can scale the work across a team of people and apply knowledge to much bigger questions
    • Changing the culture is partly a generational change and partly thinking about not trying to convince those who do not want to change their ideas.
    • Some of the big issues with the humanities is that the early attempts to do quantitative research didn’t fit in with the paradigm of what people were trying to look at.
      • What has happened since then is that the kind of resources available to, say, historians, are richer and more vast.
        • You can get census data, yes, but you can also get images, primary texts, and other items more easily
      • UM and Google’s library project — how does a historian go about mining that data?
  • Resistance
    • You can enable other kinds of cyber science, but don’t take away from my current budget.
    • Is the work empirical? Does it have rigorous tests of validity? What happens when you triangulate it with other kinds of research?
  • Openness in Scholarship
    • Open in both the sense that it is making contributions to research as well as have access to the results
      • The raw materials for the research (documents, data, and even people) are networked and widely accessible
        • In this area, she gives librarians lots of credit for moving forward in this area
        • There are formidable monetary and intellectual property issues to overcome here, though
      • Research becomes much more collaborative
        • It doesn’t mean that the idea of the lone investigator goes out the window
        • Expertise is shared, however, and scholarship is open to new audiences and perspectives
          • Universities have done a disservice by trying to have “quality” through exclusivity
          • What is the line between a free-for-all and a very rich dialogue about the research questions we are trying to pursue?
        • Also, could we engage younger people with a degree of fun? Have we dismissed something that people might find engaging by dismissing it as frivolous?

Challenges

  • Where do you start with all of this?
    • There is a complex set of interdependent variables here.
      • How do we do research without a critical mass of resources and tools?
    • There have been some areas in the humanities where things have changed.
      • For instance, in the classics, you find many early adopters because the primary resources are finite (there are only so many original Greek texts) and you can get it online; it is the base of data that everyone draws there conclusions from the ancient world
      • On the other hand, what happens when you look at 20th century history and the endless amounts of content that are out there?
      • What happens when all the volumes in the world are digitized? Of all the primary sources out there, we only have so much money to digitize though…
        • What do we bring out that is trapped?
      • Within the disciplines, there is lots of room for advice from scholars on this
        • Someday, can we help make decisions about what is important in the field and what needs to be digitized?
        • Can we help develop the analytical tools to look at the data?
          • Can we do massive text mining?
          • Visualizations?
        • What about stimulating the demand for this new kind of scholarship?
          • Who wants to take a risk as a young scholar when it could fall flat on deaf ears or it could be the greatest thing since sliced bread?
          • Is there an in-between space that we can translate the goals of that vision on a reasonable scale?
        • Where does the money come from?
          • Most of the physical infrastructure in this country came in the early part of this century. The point is that we do no, as a country, invest in maintaining infrastructure. Universities do a little better at this, but there is more to do to mobilize these resources.

          How do we build an ethos of openness and the public good, when the culture and legal structure locks data up and attaches ownership to them?

  • Social and cultural challenges
    • Institutional Roles
      • Incentives and rewards for scholars who take the risk to do research in these new ways
      • There are challenges to the ways of doing this work
        • Conservative, traditional modes of funding
        • Finding others to collaborate with
        • Tenure and what counts as legitimate contributions to scholarship
      • These are all ways of thinking in institutions that are deeply held and may not be antithetical to these newer notions, but certainly don’t jive with them either
        • Everyone’s work will change as a consequence of this shift
      • The role of the brick and mortar university will still attract students from a variety of backgrounds and these interactions will not go away
        • But, what is it that distinguishes one place from another, especially with this notion of openness?
        • What are universities doing to attract faculty?
        • What physical resources does the university have (librar, facilities)?
          • What happens when anyone can get access to these materials? What is the value added by the institution?
        • One of the questions also becomes whether or not we are willing to do something different as well as what we were doing before?
          • Can we teach as much and do elaborate research projects?
            • In libraries, for instance, if we are out there cataloging every web page like we do every book, then there are certain things we can and can not do with every resource.
  • Conceptual Challenges
  • If we want to draw a variety of perspectives into looking at the problems, then how do we maintain scientific rigor and have inclusion at the same time?
    • The wisdom of crowds argument
    • What if everyone in the crowd is wrong?
    • How far can we push this from opinion to educated judgment
    • Universities that have resources as compared to those who do not
    • Digital ivory tower
  • How do we convince skeptics of the potential without solid evidence?
  • Avoiding the “trust me” syndrome and making a case for how to spend money

Where to start?

  • Starting in the schools, doing things in a connected way is good, but they are doing things on a superficial level and we have not done a good job of packaging this information
  • Getting info from 19th century and putting it out there for people to gobble up
  • Getting the next generation of scholars being more insistent on this kind of work
  • Encourage the convinced to talk to those who “don’t get it”
    • Don’t want to be dismissive, but there are some who need to at least not stand in the way for others to bring this work forward
    • There are those who place lots of value in traditional kinds of work and we need to convince them that there are ways to do otherwise
  • Look at pockets of innovation and support that work rather than spread things too thin
    • There are things that people are doing, but don’t contribute to the infrastructure
  • We can stop doing some things if they don’t seem important
    • The world won’t come to an end if the pre-prints don’t come to the mailbox
  • Some kinds of work that might seem frivolous might come to be valuable in the end
    • The gaming metaphor and how there is something profound there
    • If you can learn by doing something with a game, we need to embrace that kind of shift in thinking

My Reflections

As I prepare materials for CMU’s online repository, CONDOR, I have been considering many of these same issues. What “counts” for me in terms of creating blog posts, wikis for my class, opening up content that has been published in “locked” journals? I want to be a young scholar who pushes these issues in my department, college, and university, yet I want tenure, too. I think that I am striking a good balance in doing the types of scholarship that is considered as legitimate by my colleagues and publishing in these types of open forums, yet there are still the nagging concerns that my work will not be understood. So, I continue with the both/and philosophy (publish in books and peer reviewed journals as well as in digital formats such as blogs, podcasts, and other forums).

Certainly, these will be issues that I wrestle with for years to come, if not my entire career, so hearing her talk today helped me see my concerns in a larger educational context.

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