By Diana Bental
Academics focus on publications as a way of sharing ideas, but we make things too, sometimes real working things, more often demonstrators and prototypes. It’s often easier to share software or electronic versions of things – people can make as many copies as they like with little effort and no cost. In this way, people can interact with what you made: use it, comment on it, amend it, and extend it. Your product (or idea) will come back to you reshaped, in a new form, maybe almost unrecognisable. In a sense it doesn’t matter what happens to your digital creation out there in the virtual world, as you still have your pristine original copy.
A good example of this type of digital remixing is the Scratch community at MIT. Scratch is a visual programming environment for children built on playful constructionist ideals. The designers of Scratch envisaged a creative cycle where children would imagine an idea for a program, create it using Scratch, play around with their program to refine it, share it with others in the online community, reflect on what they made and then start the whole cycle again (Resnick, 2007). Verbs like ‘imagine’, ‘play’ and ‘share’ might seem odd in an academic context but they commonly crop up in creativity theory. In fact, Resnick’s creative cycle has similarities to the scientific publishing cycle where academics think of a theory, create a way to test it, analyse the results, publish the findings to a small set of journal reviewers, reflect on the reviewers’ comments and refine their theories. The next stage in the scientific cycle involves replication and refinement by other academic groups.
Resnick’s creative cycle is more fun, though, and involves less ego shredding! Publishing and remixing in the Scratch community is much quicker than the standard academic publishing cycle, resulting in immediate feedback. It’s free too. Open access journals such as PLOS enable authors to get immediate feedback from other academics once their article has been published. But why not try out new ways of sharing ideas digitally before you publish?