By: Robin de Lange
Inspired by the Open science movement, among which this Open Kitchen Science approach, I’ve decided to join this movement and find a fitting open approach for the research we do. In this article I explain the motivation behind this decision and give you some background on our research.
I’m a guest PhD researcher at the Media Technology group at Leiden University, which means I have no paid appointment. Prof. dr. Bas Haring is my promotor. In the first year of my research I’ve been lucky enough to receive a small grant from LUF and the Gratama foundation. Moreover, the university pays me for the Honours Class I teach and the occasional guest lecture.
Besides this, my research is funded by the commercial services we offer with the Virtual Reality Learning Lab, which mostly consists of professional courses. Here we share the knowledge we’ve gained in our research in forms that are actually helpful for our clients. Our clients include schools, teachers (from primary school to University), educational publishers, professional training institutions, libraries and other organisations.
Running a company with several people and doing research is a combination I enjoy very much, but it can also be quite a challenge to divide your attention. In our professional courses and online activity I can immediately share my views on the field, with people who are actually active as educators. But for my PhD research I’m expected to write several academic publications as proof of my worthiness as a researcher. This has lead to some frustrations and disagreements:
- Developments in Virtual Realiy happen very fast, much quicker than the time it takes to publish a paper.
- I often collaborate with students who work on smaller projects. Sometimes these projects lead to interesting ideas and prototypes, or maybe a first user test. In any case, potentially interesting for other people to read. For these students however, publishing an entire paper takes way too much time. Because of this we have a lot of interesting unpublished work.
- My research consists of doing broad literature research, thinking and designing prototypes with students. It’s quite hard to find good paper formats and journals that allow for publishing these kinds of research.
- When we publish to a journal, the paper is not readable for 99% of the world. We try to do research that helps educational professionals who are struggling to use VR in their teaching and training. If they don’t have access to our research, you can question the impact the research has. Publishing to an open access journal is a possibility, but quite expensive for a research project without any external funding.
For these reasons I’ve decided to do the following:
- The blog of the Virtual Reality Learning Lab website will be the primary output for my research. All the research posts will be tagged appropriately, will use links to refer to its sources and carefully mention the different people involved in the project. The articles will be shared through various social media.
- In the coming months I will publish bits of my personal research which I have lying around in various stages of readiness.
- I will discuss with students who we collaborated with whether they want to publish their work in this format. Hopefully we can output some of this in the coming months as well.
- Every article will have a comment section (coming soon), which will hopefully get used for discussion. Discussion can also take place on Twitter, Academia or other social media.
There are obvious objections to the way we do research. I wanted to share these two of these objections and my thoughts on this.
As a researcher you need to be objective. Your research is funded by your commercial activities: professional training, consultancy and development. You benefit from findings that suggest that VR is a valuable tool for learning
That’s a very fair concern. The research we do shouldn’t be regarded as the truth and we encourage debate on our findings. Moreover, our research will not include claims that say that VR is an effective learning method and that schools should all buy VR headsets. I’d even say that whether VR is an effective learning method is a ridiculously general question to which we’ll never get the answer. Many tools could be valuable: the question is how to make use of it. That’s what our research is focused on.
By solely publishing on the web, your research is not peer reviewed.
This is a hard problem, which has made me retrieve the different theories I studied for my philosophy of science courses.
My main line of thought here is that I think the disadvantages of peer review outweigh its advantages for my research. Peer review is exactly what makes the academic process so slow, time-consuming, expensive and closed off from the rest of society. Now, for certain fields this rigorous process is essential. If you’re testing a medicine that might get subscribed to millions of patients, it’s vital that your research is carefully reviewed. Or even better: replicated.
But my research is quite far from this type. I’m trying to form a theoretical framework to evaluate the possibilities and possible (dis)advantages of Virtual Reality for teaching and training. I study ideas I find interesting, combine them and philosophize of what they might mean. Together with students we design prototypes to get a better feeling for some of these ideas. I think that our contribution is bigger if we share our research output in the format I suggested in this article.
An extra challenge here is that I don’t have my PhD yet. Sometime in the future, a committee has to decide whether my thesis is worthy of a PhD title. An academic publication means that other scientists have studied my work and decided it was good enough to publish, thereby removing some of the responsibility from the committee. So, will I able to complete my PhD by following this approach? We’ll see, I sure hope so.