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UMass Guest lecturers Stuart Shieber and Ann Wolphert promote use of new technology

On Thursday, September 24, the fourth Digital Quadrangle series was held in the campus center of the University of Massachusetts. The discussion, held annually, focused on how universities and colleges can use new technology to make scholarly information more accessible to the student population.

The featured speakers, Stuart Shieber of Harvard University and Ann Wolphert of MIT, are the authors of the recently released report “The University’s Role in the Dissemination of Research and Scholarship – A Call to Action”.

The main idea of the conference is how new research can be spread to the college community using technology such as the Internet. Before, the main process was that new discoveries were publicized through books and journal articles.

However, as stated by the report by Schieber and Wolphert, “print-based distribution system retards the development of new models.”

Shieber and Wolphert argue that nowadays, having research and other faculty work published only on paper is counter-helpful to the students and goals of any university. They argue that it is the most beneficial way to spread information is to use both print and online methods.

In order to accomplish this goal, Shieber and Wolphert have suggested a number of changes that universities should make. For example, publishing laws should be more flexible so as to allow information to be freely distributed without taking the guarantee of protection that comes from publishing with a copyright. Copyright laws have been in effect for about 100 years, and they provide a guarantee for any author, whereas a guarantee can occasionally be lost if placed on the internet. 

Along with copyright issues is the concern of validity. In order for most research to be considered valid, it has to be appraised by other experts within that field. Afterwards it is published in a reputable journal. Wolphert and Shieber suggested that setting up an evaluation system within departments to achieve that same result. These departments would allow for work and research to be evaluated so that the findings can become valid without having to be printed in journals or books.

Wolphert and Schieber recommended that institutions should seek chances to exchange ideas and information with other institutions. By cooperating with other universities, information will be more easily communicated throughout the university and the surrounding communities.

This is exemplified by the local Five College. This system allows for students to take books from other libraries, or classes at other colleges starting second semester of freshman year. Many colleges do not offer this opportunity, and that is one thing that Shieber and Wolphert are trying to change. By having an online exchange of ideas and research, they said, colleges will be able to better share these insights and gain valuable information in return.

Brittany Collentro can be reached at bcollent@student.umass.edu.

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