When I give talk on digital or open scholarship I often end by highlighting the unpredictable benefits that arise, usually by pointing to some examples of my own practice. I have a new favourite which isn't about me, so thought I'd share.
Katy Jordan is my PhD student at the OU (although none of which follows is at all attributable to my supervision, Katy did it all on her own inititiative). Her research is examining academic networks on sites such as Academia.edu. She is a whiz at data visualisation, and also a serial MOOCer. So she took the Infographics MOOC earlier this year. For her final project she decided to plot MOOC completion rates on an interactive graph, and blogged her results. This was picked up by Phil Hill over on e-literate who blogged and tweeted it.
MOOC completion rates are a subject of much interest of course, and so Katy's post went viral, and has become the de-facto piece to link to on completion rates, which almost every MOOC piece mentions somewhere. She tells me it was even mentioned in Private Eye.
I like it because it's a good example of how openness in different forms spreads out and has unexpected impact. The course needed to be open (or rather, free) for Katy to take it, she was at liberty to share her results, and did so as part of her general practice. The infographic relies on people openly sharing data about MOOC completions, and the format of her work means others can interrogate that data and suggest new data points. The open network then spreads the message because it is openly available. I've encouraged her to write it up as an article, because people like a definitive piece to point to, but really it's a good case of why new dissemination and research methods trump older ones (for this instance).
It's hard to predict or cause these sequences of events (being picked up e-literate was key I think), and so you can't tell people this will definitely occur, but a closed approach anywhere along the chain would have prevented it. We'll never know the lost opportunities of closed approaches, so we should highlight the benefits of open ones.