As part of Open Access Week, the University Libraries and the Graduate School offered a travel scholarship to OpenCon 2017, a conference for early career researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. From a pool of many strong essay applications, we chose Alexis Villacis, a Ph.D. student in Agricultural and Applied Economics. Alexis attended the conference in Berlin, Germany on November 11-13, and sent the report below. Be sure to check out the OpenCon 2017 highlights.
Alexis Villacis writes:
The progress of science and access to education varies widely geographically, and sometimes are very limited due to economic, cultural and social circumstances. Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data are key to support those who are left behind and bring empowerment to the next generation. OpenCon brings together the worldwide champions who are working towards the advancement of the Open Movement. Students, early career academic professionals, and senior researchers all come together under one roof to share their initiatives. Participants hear their inspiring stories, from Canada to Nepal, of sparking change during a three-day conference; a conference I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of, as a representative of Virginia Tech.
Over these three days, participants showcased how Open is being advanced around the world. The discussion centered on how often higher education models (knowledge access, research questions, and research funding, among many others) marginalize underrepresented scholars and students. It was thought-provoking and sometimes shocking to hear how our western ways of knowing have colonized access to information and how this has impacted the progress of R&D in other parts of the world.
Sharing with participants from other countries and hearing the challenges they face every day made me contrast our everyday realities and the privilege we have at VT. A privilege we take for granted in our everyday lives, where access to all types of tools, research, and content is one click away through our computers. We, as an institution of higher education, promote and share access to knowledge and new technologies throughout Virginia and beyond. The impact of these transfers is what keeps our society thriving every day, but where would we be if this access were restricted to us? Perhaps, VT as a Land Grant Institution would not exist at all, the state of Virginia would not be what it is today and neither many other parts of the US.
As I walked through the halls of the Max Planck Society, where the conference was held, I kept wondering: is this not what we are doing today? What changes are we withholding from the rest of the world by limiting access to data, knowledge, and education? The essence of this and the significance of Open Access clearly goes beyond journals and data, and it is also about social justice, equity, and the democratization of knowledge. We Hokies can make a difference in Open Access. More importantly, we are the key players called to work towards its advancement.