Access denied or granted?

There is an ongoing dialogue about whether work published online could and should be more freely available, expressly to those in education and those wishing to contribute to current research. Open access describes a situation where anyone anywhere in the world can access, read and build upon research content found online (Shockey and Eisen, 2012).

Open, adj. generous, sharing, giving (Wiley, 2010).

Those in support of open access argue that restricting material with pay walls can stifle creativity and the human desire for a shared culture as well as hindering educational goals and even global issues (Waters, 2017):

Without openness across global digital networks, it is doubtful that large and complex problems in areas such as economics, climate change and health can be solved (Hall, 2014).

So what does this mean for those wanting to post new material?

Fig. 1: Advantages to a content producer of making their materials freely available online

It is easy to get swept up in the talk about open access being the future of digital and to heartily agree that publishers who charge users to view content online make large profits and add little value.

even the richest institutions can only afford to subscribe to a fraction of [journals] (Harnad, 2012).

Publishers argue that such accusations are unfounded and that without appropriate fees they would not be able to edit work to the same scholarly standard nor distribute it so effectively (Brown, 2012). This short film shows us the perils of being a publisher.

As a university student I am frequently made aware of the extent to which online material is restricted and am left feeling frustrated and disappointed when I am denied access to some of the best journal articles for my assignments. This topic has helped me to realise how much I am enjoying the research process for this module which encourages use of widely available sources and the sharing of those sources with peers for an enriched and supportive learning experience.

There is a new trend for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which form a way of widening access and tackling the spiralling cost of education (Coughlan, 2012). I first became aware of a these a few weeks ago during this module when I was asked to speak to camera about my views on online identity for Future Learn MOOC ‘Learning in the network age’. I was interested to learn that these represent a fantastic learning resource for a limitless audience.

Word count: 409


Brown, K, A. (2012). Open access: why academic publishers still add value. Guardian.

Coughlan, S. (2012). Gates Foundation funds online university open access. BBC News.

Hall, M. (2014). Why open access should be a key issue for university leaders. Guardian.

Harnad, S. (2012). There’s no justifying Research Council UK’s support for gold open access. Guardian.

JustinG4000. (2008). A Shared Culture: Creative Commons.

Lepitak, S. (2013). 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests. The Drum.

Shockey, N. and Eisen, J. (2012). Open Access Explained! Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD Comics).

Waters, S. (2017). The educator’s guide to copyright, fair use, and creative commons. The Edublogger.

Weller, M. (2013). What Sort Of Open Do You Want? The Ed Techie.

Wiley, D. (2010). Openness and the Future of Education.  SlideShare.

Wiley, D, Green, C,, and Soares, L. (2012). Dramatically Bringing down the Cost of Education with OER. Center For American Progress.

Figure References

Featured Image: courtesy of Pexels.

Figure 1: Self-produced using Microsoft PowerPoint with information from Weller (2013).

Film: Self-produced using Powtoon.


12 thoughts on “Access denied or granted?

  1. Hi Catherine, I really enjoyed your post this week!

    Whilst many blogs looked at the pros and cons of open access, yours also added in a publisher’s perspective which particularly drew my attention. I was wondering, what is your stance on the issue – do you agree with the publishers that their pricing is justified, or is it extreme and restricting scientific progress / discriminatory in terms of access?

    I wanted to explore their claims further and stumbled across this blog post: it discusses the huge diversion of money away from scientific research by the big established scholarly publishers (£826 million diverted by Elsevier alone in 2013), and even though PLOS (an open access publisher) has high profit margins, these are ploughed back into their mission of ‘transforming research communication’. Similarly, even with ‘big bundle deals’, Elsevier charges 3 times as much as non-profit publishers!

    Surely profits can be reduced for the sake of research accessibility and scientific progression? What’s your take?


    Word count: 165

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Scott, thanks, I enjoyed reading your comments.

      I was particularly interested to explore a publisher’s perspective as an English student with friends aspiring to a career in publishing. In answer to your question, with only surface knowledge of the issue it is difficult to say fairly whether publishers’ pricing is justified. I think the post you linked helpfully shows that certain publishers such as Elsevier cross the line and are pushing their profit margins at the expense of shared academia/open access. It seems to me that this is an ethical issue (linking back to topic 4), publishers are simply businesses so I feel it is society that perhaps needs to change the rules and then publishers will adapt accordingly.

      Let me know your own thoughts.
      Thanks again.


      1. Hi again Catherine,

        Fair enough – it is impossible to truly know where or who is exploiting their position, or when the expense is worth it! For example, I have since found this reading of a publisher who stands up and justifies the costs of publsihing, so clearly the debate is wide open.

        I do agree with you however that as publishers are businesses, they have every right to enhance their profits, and so if researchers want change to happen, they’ll need to pressure for changes in the rules, or do as many are doing so now by advocating for open access! Whether open access can challenge conventional methods of article access without the big publishers changing their ways or adopting new policies, is yet to be seen!


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Catherine,

    The PowToon visual element was engaging, exploring Open Access issues around research being universally understood and mobile adaptable, through a Mission Impossible theme that made me chuckle!

    You mentioned MOOCs provide means for Open Access, insightful in implying delivery and content format changes provide Open Access. However, Kermida suggests terms underpinning MOOCs definition are unclear and Konnikova suggests ‘the problem with MOOCs… They’re massive and open’ but Baggaley argues ‘little about the MOOC is actually new’

    MOOC criticisms are not necessarily MOOC issues, but broader open access issues: Dunn discussed format changes making content accessible, Wiley and colleagues cite format changes propagating OERs:

    Do you think academic work formats need to change to make content ‘freely’ available, by replicating prior working practices (transferring offline to online) or changing materials nature (transposing offline to online), perhaps to overcome publishing constraints Scott highlighted?



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wil, thanks for your detailed comments.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the PowToon. Ironically for this topic PowToon did not allow me to design my own animation for free so I had to choose from their limited selection of templates.

      It was helpful to read about the complications surrounding MOOCs and interesting to observe that these were largely connected to their scope, which is also what makes them so productive.

      Yes, I do think more content should be freely available and I think academic work formats are currently in a stage of evolution so we will see how this manifests. Could you please explain your last points? I don’t quite understand what you are suggesting.

      Thanks again.


      1. Hi Catherine,

        Thank you for your reply,

        As you highlight with PowToon, while the platform itself is ‘open’ and ‘free’ at the point of initial use, the data within PowToon is restricted by a paywall. This raises an interesting debate about Open Data, which can be a proxy for Open Access as I discussed in my post: An Open Access that provides no cost at point of use but costs through usage. This represents the ‘freemium’ model there is an interesting trade-off and debate around MOOCs in this regard, which relates to my last points:

        I meant to suggest that MOOCs criticisms relate to other Open Access formats, thus are not MOOC-only issues. For instance, Dunn highlighted in the Forbes article that, to make material more open and accessible, it was not enough just to provide computer access and expect self-education, but it was necessary to make the material on the Web more accessible: like introducing educational dashboards and leader boards at the Khan Academy to incite and encourage younger learners to access content. To promote Open Access, it seems changes to the format of the material were required, opposed to just making material available.

        In light of the above, I was curious in my last point as to whether, in your view, making materials freely available online would require changes to the format of material, or not: can we take pictures of a textbook and share it online without charging anyone to open it, thereby it’s ‘open’ and free at point of use’, or do we need to change the textbook content and format (from a physical paper-based text to an eBook with hyperlinks) per the 5 stars of open data: to provide freely available material?




  3. Dear Catherine,

    I have truly enjoyed your post for the final topic. It was a critical analysis of the subject and I appreciated how you integrated the quotes along the article.

    Figure 1 is illustrating in a comprehensive way the advantages to a content producer of making their materials available online. I think you did a really good job with it, as it easily resonates with the reader.

    Building on the point you made by paraphrasing Harnad’s article, that “even the richest institutions can only afford to subscribe to a fraction of [journals]”, what do you think that the solution for this is? You mentioned that in some cases you struggled to find some articles that you needed for your research. This happens in a context where tuition fees in countries as USA and UK are increasing. For extensive knowledge on the subject I would definitely recommend this article.


    Word count: 151 words

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Andrei, thanks for your kind comments and I’m glad you found my post accessible.

      I found the article you linked really useful for summarising the key issues for students needing to access academic journals. It’s interesting that you highlight the extortionate tuition fees as a related issue. For my thoughts on the problem, see my reply to Scott above.

      Thanks again,


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