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Open Source Scholarship: GitHub for Academics – Next Steps

Musician and digital pedagogue Kris Shaffer has written multiple articles on using GitHub for scholars and academics. Check out his post Push, Pull, Fork: GitHub for Academics, or his presentation and video, or his article on using GitHub pages for open publishing. If you are interested in using GitHub as a tool, I suggest the ProfHacker page GitHub 101 as a good place to start. And in case you missed it, I strongly suggest using SourceTree as an app for managing your repos on the desktop (if you aren’t going to use the command line).

All of this work is premised upon his conceptualization of Open Source Scholarship, a practice I support and promote. And while Kris begins to develop powerful reasons for working as an Open Source Scholar, and even reasons why it is natural to the work of academia, I find it challenging to figure out how to really be a practicing open source scholar. To me, Open Source Scholarship is not just about our research, but about our practice as academics–a practice of research, inquiry, teaching, learning, dis/un-covery, and engagement. Practically, politically, ethically, and socially, we face many barriers in opening up our processes as scholars. As a teacher, I’m limited from opening up my syllabus and course online because it is owned by my school, or owned by my department, and is therefore proprietary. As a graduate student, if I begin to publish my half-baked ideas and thoughts as I work and invite criticism as I go, I am breaking out of standard academic norms, and am therefore “endangering my future career.” Some of my work in progress I cannot publish because I have agreements with the people and communities I work with to protect confidentiality and privacy. Socially, I may face accusations that I’m spending my time in the wrong places, that I’m publishing work that is not rigorous or reviewed or thorough.

Open Source Scholarship is a massive attitude and orientation change change for scholars. What’s it really about, in my mind? It is about transforming a history in academia of using secrecy, privacy, and private ownership of ideas into one of shared, participatory, co-designed and developed, public, and free work. It is about–especially because I’m at a public institution–helping to build a commons, while simultaneously attempting to dismantle the histories of oppression that knowledge generated in universities has been used to promote and the limited knowledge systems we’ve propagated. Open source scholarship is a radical transformation in the universities relationship with ideas, in scholars relationships with students and colleagues, in relationships with communities. It is an explosion of the concept of “inside” and “outside”, of “expert” and “lay”, of privileged knowledge and everyday knowledge. Whether or not academics and universities want it, this is the coming world. More and more people will be empowered to use and conduct research, it will be available and evaluated more broadly, and the state of knowledge will be opened up in new ways we can’t yet even predict.

In open source scholarship, we are working in the open, making our work–whatever work we are doing and in whatever state it is–public, allowing  and inviting real connection, collaboration and co-creation. We are accepting these changes as the new state of the world and we are actively promoting them because they are more ethical and promote better research.

So, practically, I’ve been trying to figure out my way past some of the barriers I listed above. I’ve been trying to figure out how to post unfinished ideas on websites and not feel bad about the “lack of rigor”. I am trying to throw new ideas up on Twitter and get responses. I’m using my GitHub page to start new projects. Some of them I am programming for #opendata projects, some of them are presentations, others are manifestos, and some are writing projects I am working on. Now I’m wondering: What else can we start to opensource and how?

All these projects, like most scholarship, are slow work that require consistent attention in order to grow. But the fun is that others can pick them up, build on them, and/or contribute back if they want to. It isn’t just on me to keep them moving. And on GitHub, your usage, changes, and even thoughts as you work can be recorded and displayed in useful ways, so you can learn more about your own projects as they unfold.

I invite your feedback and collaboration on my projects. And I’d love to see and be part of yours.

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