Opening the Dissertation

This reflection is prompted by a few research articles I’ve recently read, and a presentation done by Helen Crump at the OER19 conference. It’s bringing back into focus this notion of hupomnemata and writing my ‘self’ into the open, and how sharing my ‘self’ is an ‘opening act’ for my dissertation.

First, Covey (2013) writes about the need to break open from “cultural calcification and agoraphobia” (p. 543) in order to change current PhD processes and products to better suit current needs and advance scholarly work in the age of digitization. She writes about the PhD as a process of stewardship of a discipline, in terms of generating new knowledge, acknowledging prior work, and transforming knowledge through creative application. This third element of stewardship is where digital media can enhance communicative messages and expand audience understanding and reach. Covey (2013) describes stewardship as both competence and principles, acquired through skills, roles, and moral compass. She describes the dissertation process and product as a ‘hub for ongoing conversation’, one that is not solitary or restrictive, in the true spirit of the historical notion of ‘disputatio‘ or the oral defense of ideas through debate. With digital and media tools and resources, PhD candidates can break open the dissertation from the “cultural calcification of print literacy habits” (p. 550). With this in mind, the PhD process and product needs to be infused with skill (competencies), role (identities) and moral compass (citizenship) with media and digital literacies. As Covey (2013) identifies, this includes how to use & reuse information, awareness of copyright issues, socially constructed writing, and ’empowered orchestrations of collaboration’. Covey sees the solitary dissertation author as an endangered species.

If that is the case, how do I, as one of those solitary PhD authors, maintain my ownership and authorship as I write my ‘self’ into existence in the open web spaces in which I share?

This links to a blog post written by Jim Luke (@econprof) titled OER, Care, Stewardship, and the Commons. Luke describes the CARE framework for open stewardship, where stewards contribute, attribute, release, and empower. This notion shifts my thinking about the practice of creating ‘self’ in the open since it requires more than just contributions and attributions. It requires empowering others to become open when sharing (releasing) my contributions, and my ‘self’ into open spaces. Something to think about as I reluctantly release my literature reviews into sheltered and enclosed spaces. What is interesting in Luke’s post is the notion of economies of the ‘commons’, described as a verb, not a noun. I’ll take liberties and quote Luke “Teachers who engage pedagogies and activities that result in student agency or transformation can still be viewed as a production process in the abstract even if it’s artisanal, unpredictable, and unmeasurable.” Luke continues thinking about the economies of open in his OER19 presentation (see reference below).

Does this mean that my creation of ‘self’ in open discursive spaces, where I share my thinking as I write, is part of a commons economy? By giving my ‘self’ freely, have I contributed to the sharing economy? This will require more thinking, but ultimately links me to Helen Crump’s OER19 presentation about the value of openness by sharing.

This presentation, and the readings I’ve already done will prompt some deeper thinking and may lead me down a path as yet unexplored. This will be supported by another resource published as an OER through Athabasca University Press, by Kumar & Dawson (2018) titled An Online Doctorate for Researching Professionals: Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation. With chapters covering building an online community of researchers, fostering scholarly thinking online, dissertations in the online environment, and online mentoring, there is sure to be much to learn from this book.


Covey, D. (2013). Opening the Dissertation: Overcoming Cultural Calcification and Agoraphobia. tripleC 11(2), 543-557,

Crump, H. (2019, April 10/11). Enacting the Value of Openness by Sharing. . Galway, Ireland: OER19. Retrieved from (

Luke, J. (2018, March 17). OER, CARE, Stewardship, and the Commons. [weblog]. Retrieved May 2, 2019 from

Luke, J. (2019, April 10/11). Can we see the real open? Critical and economic analysis of open as commons. Galway, Ireland: OER19 Conference presentation. Retrieved from (

Tracy, F., & Carmichael, P. (2017). Disrupting the dissertation: Linked data, enhanced publication and algorithmic culture. E-Learning and Digital Media, 14(3), 164–182.