Textbooks as wikis

The idea of producing school and university textbooks as wikis (i.e. as free and editable online texts) is slowly starting to gain momentum. Dave Cornier lists some pros and cons. The great thing about publishing a textbook as a wiki is that users (e.g. students and lecturers) can contribute to the text and so help to improve it and keep it current. Direct editing of the text need not be completely open (as is the case with wikipedia) – there could be different types of contributors, such as editors, chapter authors, box authors, and people who are allowed to comment or add margin notes. One way for textbook authors to make some money out of this form of publishing would be to sell printed copies of the book to those who don’t have good internet access, or who prefer to use a hard copy.

Research as a Subversive Activity

drp logoThe theme for the 5th Discourse Power Resistance conference is “Research as a Subversive Activity”. It will be taking place at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK from 20 to 22 April 2006. Keynote speakers are Frank Furedi, Bob Lingard and Griselda Pollock. Here is part of the blurb:

Does research always need to know exactly where it is going, and why? Under what circumstances should research resist the demands for accountability, certainty and scientific ‘rigour’ that dominate policy discourses worldwide? How can researchers subvert their own assumptions in order to contribute more meaningfully to the needs of learners, teachers and policy-makers?

DPR is increasingly drawing upon the insights of the creative and performing arts. The 2006 conference will take advantage of the superb exhibition and performance spaces offered by the Geoffrey Manton Building at MMU. We are hoping that creative and performance artists will help to show why – and how – research can be profoundly, and brilliantly subversive.

We encourage a range of presentations on the theme of research as a subversive activity: papers, posters, symposia and workshops, together with work for exhibition and presentations in the visual and performing arts. Exhibitors will be encouraged to lead discussion of their work. Proposals should be in the form of abstracts of between 150 – 250 words, making clear the intended format of the presentation. The closing date for the first call for papers is Friday 13 January 2006. Abstracts should be submitted in Word format via disc or email, to dpr at mmu.ac.uk

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Open source textbook

Preston McAfee of the California Institute of Technology is a little unimpressed with publishers:

“Academics do an enormous amount of work editing journals and writing articles and now publishers have broken an implicit contract with academics, in which we gave our time and they weren’t too greedy. Sometimes articles cost $20 to download, and principles books regularly sell for over $100. They issue new editions frequently to kill off the used book market, and the rapidity of new editions contributes to errors and bloat.”

So he has made his book “Introduction to Economic Analysis” available as a free download under a creative commons license. For those wanting a hard copy (but not the hassle of printing out the pdf), it is also available for $11.60 as a print-on-demand book from lulu.com. Plus there are sample syllabi and powerpoint slides available online.

McAfee invites comments and corrections and says he will make regular updates. Sounds like a good deal to me.

[image by Christopher Vasquez]

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The Late Age of Print

Will Richardson of weblogg-ed has an interesting post on hypertext inspired by Jay David Bolter’s book Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print (another one for my must-read list.) Sample quote:

“Publishing is fundamentally serious and permanent; a scholar or scientist cannot even retract his own previously published argument without embarrassment. A dialogue, on the other hand, speaks with more than one voice and therefore shares or postpones responsibility. A hypertextual essay in the computer could in fact be fashioned as a dialogue between the writer and her readers, and the reader could be asked to share the responsibility for the outcome.” 

Our knowledge2go book will obviously in part be another sort of introduction to the world of hypertextual knowledge making, but as importantly we will have to find ways for our readers to talk back at the text and with one another. [pic by Christophe Grébert]

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Review of Ian Parker (2005). Qualitative Psychology: Introducing radical research. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

The problem with research methods textbooks is that they are so utterly boring.  Not only is there a stifling monotony as one flips from one to another – saying the same thing (not plagiarized, of course) in umpteen different ways – but they manage to challenge the wakefulness of even first time readers. The problem is that they all set out to tell the reader how to do good research. This turns out to be an exercise in rule following: this is how to construct a measure; don’t collect samples like that; here is how to set up a good and bad experiment; follow these steps to conduct ethical research – and don’t forget to have your proposal screened by a ethics review committee. No wonder students find the subject mind-numbing.

Parker’s irreverent little gem breaks this mould. Qualitative Psychology steps out of the didactic genre. In the place of an edifying list of the rules of method Parker values innovation, participation and debate. Innovation may mean flaunting the methods and ethics of conventional science. Participation may mean that the researcher needs to adopt a different standing vis-à-vis, and forms of interaction with, co-researchers (formerly research participants). And, researchers are encouraged to enter into debate with the theories and methods of the psychological literature. These values underpin an unrelenting commitment to radical research: a form or activity that seeks to challenge institutional hegemony (especially capitalism), promote change and give voice to people.

Qualitative psychology is a tool chest. On one level, Parker appropriates familiar traditions of qualitative inquiry for the purposes of his radical research agenda: Chapters are devoted to ethnography, interviewing, narrative, discourse, and psychoanalysis. Don’t expect to find the usual ‘how to’ chapter you’d expect of one of the plethora of recent edited methods texts. No, each chapter retools the method for the practice of radical research. You’ll be surprised, for example, to see how Parker is reformulating discourse analysis for this project of participation, innovation and change. He is taking discourse analysis in a very different direction to the technicist reworking that some other discourse analysts of his generation have undertaken.

At a second level, the tool chest offers two broad strategies for researchers: Identifying standpoints, and engaging reflexively. To know your standpoint is to know your location or position in manifold theoretical, methodological and institutional fields of dispersion, structured by power, serving the privileged and marginalizing the oppressed. This is the starting point for the radical research agenda: knowing where you are and what you are doing. The strategy that guides practice from this starting point is reflexivity, which is “a way of attending to the institutional location of the historical and personal aspects of the research relationship” (p. 25). Reflexivity takes its bearings form our standpoint, and it helps us understand the broader nature of the action we are undertaking by means of our research.

In constructing and stocking this tool chest, much common sense in qualitative psychology is discarded. Boxes give warnings against community psychology, grounded theory, ethics committees, interpretive phenomenological analysis, conversation analysis, and the free-association narrative interview. In their place are a smorgasbord of radical resources with affiliation to feminism, Foucault and Marxism; peppered with references to radical work being done in interesting places such as South Africa, Colombia, Italy, Manchester and New Zealand.

Qualitative Psychology has definitely broken new ground. It treats the reader as a (potentially) creative thinker and radical practitioner. Rather than rules, it provides tools. While it provides a much wider and more flexible definition of ‘research’ than you’ll find in standard textbooks, I believe that there is still room to expand the category. The limitations of the book are evident in its (implicit) addressee: a psychology student in the developed world. This subject, presumably, is already infused with the traditional experimental and other paradigms which hold sway in this context. In a place like South Africa, in contrast, where .01% of the population hold PhDs (as opposed to 1.8% in Germany, for example), people need training in the pragmatics (know how) of diverse kinds of quantitative and qualitative research which can variously be put to service of a transformation agenda. The addressee, is not necessarily a university students, let alone a psychology undergraduate (future players in the knowledge economy), but any citizen interested in participating in the knowledge society. Qualitative Psychology has taken the first steps in the direction of a new genre of methods textbook. knowledge2go can learn many lessons from this text as it tries to provide researchers with the nuts and bolts for innovation, participation and debate.  

Reviewed by Kevin Durrheim

Rip-off 101

A new report, Rip-off 101: How The Current Practices Of The Textbook Industry Drive Up The Cost Of College Textbooks, by the US consumer body CALPRIG has been causing quite a stir. Some highlights from the report (which is available as a free pdf download):

* Textbooks are expensive and have been steadily getting more expensive
* “Bundled” materials such as CD-ROMs significantly increase textbook prices, but are rarely used by students or lecturers.
* Publishers create new editions with very few content changes – making cheaper used textbooks obsolete.
(photo credit: Paul Keleher)