salsa dancing into a SSHRC proposal

The process of landing on a broad topic, let alone a more focused research question, for my (fake) SSHRC proposal was tough. I’ve come across many topics in various classes that have sparked my interest, but because I’m not doing a thesis and I haven’t had to write a major research paper for any of my courses yet (on a topic of my choice…ahem INF1001 and 1002), I hadn’t had the chance to think about them enough to formulate a clear question – until now. All I knew at the beginning was that I wanted to use this assignment to explore in detail an area that is relevant to the LIS profession, preferably a hot topic that I should have a current awareness of once I’m out there in the field. So I sifted through my notes and my thoughts and library-related blogs and journal articles and other assorted things until I had the “aha” moment when I stumbled across the words “open access” again. Then I recalled something one of my professors said recently in class about the debate over whether open access is good or bad, and I think it’s a fascinating issue, and ohyeahthiswouldmakeaperfecttopic.

Next I started working through Luker’s exercises to narrow down my focus. These steps were really helpful in establishing some direction for my SSHRC proposal. Here are the results…

1/2. Research question (rough outline): There has been a great deal of debate over the open-access model among researchers, librarians, publishers, and other stakeholders. It tends to be perceived as either good or bad, depending on the stakeholder. But the voice of one group is not typically heard in this debate: that of students, particularly undergraduates, in higher-education institutions. The discussion is usually centred on the benefits/drawbacks for scholars who publish in these journals, for publishers who have a lot at stake financially, and how libraries do/should treat OA materials, etc. I want to know what students think about all this and how it affects them, whether they plan to be academics or move on to a different profession. How are open-access resources perceived and used by students? What, if any, value do students attach to OA versus traditional publications? Are they aware that they exist? Are academic libraries promoting OA resources to them? Does the great debate over OA affect them as a whole, or is it only relevant to aspiring professional scholars who want to publish?

Obviously I still have some narrowing down to do.

3. How a canonical social scientist would design this question, and why that way is inadequate: I’m not sure I completely understand all the characteristics of canonical social science yet, but I’ll take a stab at this. I think a canonical approach would design a survey that measures students’ responses to very specific questions about their use and perception of OA materials compared to traditional publications, in order to provide a measurable result. In order to prevent bias and all that, the respondents would be very carefully selected to be representative of students everywhere. The results would look something like this: x % of students prefer open-access digital resources; they prefer them because of a, b, and c; this subset of students thinks OA is good because they have no vested interest in academic careers, while this other subset thinks the traditional model is best because it is seen as ideal for the scholarly profession.

This approach would not be sufficient because I’m not trying to test a hypothesis. My question is open-ended and exploratory; I’m trying to define the variables as a result of the research rather than compare a predefined set of variables.

4. Frame: I think this question fits well into the existing conversation about open access that is happening in the literature. The conversation touches on the debate over OA pros and cons, the current state of OA in academic institutions, how libraries are working with it, etc. I can “slide right in” to the conversation with the hook that my research explores a perspective that has previously been little or not at all discussed.

5. My bedraggled daisy:

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