PUB480: Making Knowledge Public

A photo of a large university library, featuring lots of students at work

Welcome to the home page for the SFU course on Making Knowledge Public

This course is the first “regular-class” iteration of the Fall 2018 edition of SFU’s President’s Dream Colloquium by the same title. The colloquium was both a public speaker series with leading thinkers and a seminar course open to students from the across the university. This course will attempt to recreate the unique opportunity to gain exposure to a cross-disciplinary network of academics, citizen scholars and government officials through invited public lectures and in-class guest instructors.

Making Knowledge Public provided a broad overview of the ways in which research makes its way into society. Through the public lectures, readings, and discussions, the course pushed emerging researchers to not take for granted the public value of their work. The course was premised on the belief that, in today’s climate, it is more important than ever for universities and researchers to assert themselves in the public sphere in more purposeful ways.

Course Outline

Week 1: January 9

Introduction to the course

This class will introduce the major themes covered in the course What is the role of research in the public sphere? To what extent should (and do) parliamentarians use (or misuse) research in designing legislation? What is the role of open access research in building the public capacity for engaged discussion? By answering these and related questions, students will gain an understanding and appreciation of how many different uses there are for research, as well as a basic understanding of how research is communicated.

Week 2: January 16

Calling bullshit on fake news

The 2016 election in the United States brought to the fore the concept of “Fake News”—the use of online articles that look like news to further individual and political agendas. These articles—generally filled with misinformation and suspect facts designed to stimulate online readership and advertising revenue—also drove much of the political dialogue in the U.S. election. This public dialogue looked at the issue of fake news and the role research can play in combating fake news, as well as the ways in which research is used by think tanks and special interest groups in ways that may contribute to the epidemic of “fake news.” The lecture explored how the public’s understanding of facts is being influenced by special interest groups, the role of think tanks in (mis)informing the public, and some ideas of how academia and ordinary citizens respond.

Watch the talk

Speaker: Dr. Jevin West, Assistant Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington, and co-instructor of the course Calling Bullshit


Try the first assignment of the Calling Bullshit Course. Try to keep A bullshit inventory. How much bullshit are you dealing with, anyway? Keep track of your encounters with bullshit over the course of a week and be prepared to discuss them in class next week.

Week 3: January 23

Defining the public’s right to know

With so much circulation of fake news and a diminishing capacity for citizens to discern real and fake news, this week’s class will help us understand the role that public knowledge, especially knowledge generated within universities, can play in the public sphere. We will have our first of several introductions to the argument that granting access to research is not just a nice thing to do, it is a responsibility that we have because the public has a right to have access.

This week we will also have a workshop from Alice Fleerackers, a PhD student and science communicator, on how to blog about research so that it is of interest to the public.


Assignment 1 (due Feb 2nd)

  • Create an infographic for a paper published in the last month
  • Write a blog post to go along with your graphic

Week 4: January 30

The Future of the Public Mission of Universities

Public universities are under constant pressures to operate more like corporations. Moreover, their role is being reduced to being the training ground for industry. Under such conditions, what is to happen to the central mission of public universities to serve the public to which they belong? Can open practices, including open access to research, open educational resources, and open pedagogy contribute to our efforts to articulate the public mission of the university?

Watch the talk

Speaker: Dr. Robin DeRosa, Professor of English and Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University.


Week 5: February 6

University-Community Connections 

Universities are increasingly looking to engage with the communities they are embedded in. Nowhere is this more explicit than at SFU, where the mission is explicitly to become Canada’s most engaged research university. Engagements can take many different forms, but in the idealized model of community-engaged research, researchers and community partners form mutually beneficial partnerships that both produces and applies knowledge. What can these partnerships look like? Despite being sought after by universities, are there appropriate incentives for faculty to do them? What is the evidence that community engagement benefits both academia and society?


Assignment 2 (due Feb 16)

  • Comment on an online news story

Week 7: February 13

Collaborating with indigenous communities in research

Indigenous communities have long been central to the creation of academic research, but often this involvement has been limited to acting as a source of data with little agency over how community data is collected, represented, circulated, and used. Calls to decolonize and indigenize research practices have prompted initiatives to foster community-led collaborative research, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing into research design and cultural protocols into the curation and circulation of research results, cultural heritage materials, and traditional knowledge. This public talk invited the audience to consider: What best practices exist for engaging in reciprocal and collaborative research between Indigenous communities and researchers? What are the benefits to communities, faculty, and the public of participatory research? What affordances do online technologies provide to support digital repatriation of indigenous communities’ cultural heritage materials? How is access to traditional knowledge managed within and beyond a community?

Watch the talk

Speaker: Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School in British Columbia

Citizen and Community science

Guest (to be confirmed): Kurtis Baute, Whimsical Scientist Youtuber

From identifying galaxies to fighting bacteria and everything in between, crowdsourcing has proven to be an incredibly effective way to getting citizens involved in research. As the internet and commons-based peer-production enable the public to participate to research, it is imperative that citizens and researchers alike critically the relationship between the professionals and the amateurs to ensure that the public’s is empowered to make meaningful contributions in the work and in setting the research agenda. This talk talked such questions and more, allowing the audience to explore the benefits and challenges of citizen science, community science, and social science, and encourage us all to do more.

Watch the talk

Speaker: Shannon Dosemagen, Director, PublicLab.


Week 8: No class (reading week)

Week 9: February 27

Value of research in public policy

Guest speaker: Dr. Nancy Olewiler, Professor and Director, Public Policy Program, SFU

Despite the attacks on evidenced-based policy making, research, we hope, continues to play a vital role in shaping public policy. But how exactly is research used? How are researchers engaged? Where are there gaps in the process? And where can we find opportunities to strengthen the place of research in public policy? Dr. Olewiler will address how public policy is informed by research, and on how government and the academic community work in tandem to bring about social change and community development.


  • Cairney, P:  Webpage and related articles, e.g., “To Bridge the Divide between Evidence and Policy: Reduce Ambiguity as Much as Uncertainty” or “Evidence-based policymaking is not like evidence-based medicine, so how far should you go to bridge the divide between evidence and policy?”
  • Sheikh, M. (2016) Evidence-based policy development: A framework and its application, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, Policy Brief. (optional)
  • Townsend, T. & B. Kunimoto (2009). Capacity, Collaboration and Culture, The Future of the Policy Research Function in the Government of Canada, Policy Research Initiative. (optional)
  • Juntti, M. Russel, D. & J. Turnpenny (2009). Evidence, politics and power in public policy for the environment, Environmental Science and Policy 12, 207-215. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2008.12.007
  • Strassheim, H. & Kettunen, P. (2014) When does evidence-based policy turn into policy-based evidence? Configurations, contexts and mechanisms, Evidence and Policy, 10, 259–77. DOI: 10.1332/174426514X13990433991320
  • Tangney, P. (2017). The UK’s 2012 Climate Change Risk Assessment: How the rational assessment of science develops policy-based evidence”. Science and Public Policy 44(2), 225-234. DOI: 10.1093/scipol/scw055 (optional)

Assignment 3 (due March 1st)

  • Public Contribution proposal

Part III: Research in the public sphere

Week 10: March 5

Understanding the public’s use of research through social media

Academics have been increasingly integrating online platforms and social media tools into their everyday practices.  As the process of dissemination begins to take place on these public platforms, there is enormous potential to capture and analyze their digital traces. Within academia, these traces are making their way into the evaluation of researchers, as social media metrics (also known as altmetrics) are made available for scholarly publications. But beyond evaluation, what can we learn about the circulation of research among the public by observing social media platforms?


Assignment 4 (due March 8)

  • peer reviews of proposals

Week 11: March 12

Why access matters

Almost half of the research that is published today is freely available to the public. Now that a substantial proportion of the research literature has been made freely and publicly available, we are in a position to assess the extent of public uptake of this body of work. Assumptions about the public utilization and benefit of such access have always been a part of the open access model. But does the public actually use the research? Where? And how? This week will let us explore the extent to which the public wants access to research, helping students understand the importance of open access to community-engaged research and to citizen-informed public policy.

Assignment 5 (due April 9):

  • Final project Presentation and submission

Week 11: March 19

Global participation in knowledge production

Giving free access to research does not just provide access to the general public, it is also enables new opportunities for participation in the global knowledge exchange. Researchers from the Global South are able to have their research available next to research for the Global North, and everyone has the opportunity to read everyone else’s work, without the financial and logistic constraints of subscriptions. As research circulates freely and without borders, who sets the global research agenda? Who is able to participate? And on whose terms? How does open access amplify unheard perspectives?


Week 12: April 2

Critical approaches to open access

The benefits of openness were made clear throughout the course. However, we must also question whether openness on its own is enough to achieve the goals of a publicly engaged university. What about issues of ownership and control of scholarly publishing and academic technical infrastructure? Is open access threatened by cooptation from major commercial publishers who are adapting to open models but developing business models to preserve their oligopolic control and high profit margins? Is open always open, or is it sometimes merely “openwashing”, where only minimal levels of openness are being achieved? Are predatory publishers threatening the long-term viability of open access? And finally, are there circumstances when some information should not be openly available, such as to protect artifacts of vulnerable cultural groups.


Week 13: April 9

Bringing it all together

This final session discussed the value of making knowledge public. Are there any down sides? If not, why is it not a priority? What is holding us back, and what can be done about it? Students will present their public contributions as well as the challenges and successes of making their own knowledge public.

Evaluation of Student Performance

photo of a notepad lying open on a desk

If we wish to make more knowledge public, then we must begin with our own work. During the course, students will be required to attend lectures, participate (both online and in-class) in the course material, and produce several pieces of public scholarship to obtain first-hand experience with making their views of the world public.

Students can choose to share their thoughts and perspectives on a variety of topics of their own choosing through blog posts, podcasts, youtube videos, op-eds or other public contributions to knowledge such as news comments or Wikipedia edits. All materials will be available in the natural place on the web, as well as in the course journal, Making Knowledge Public 

Evaluation Method:

Your final grade for each component of this course will be determined by a combination of you and the instructor, sometimes with feedback from your peers.

Peer evaluation comes in when students give each other feedback to help their classmates form and express their ideas. All assignments will receive written feedback. Every student will be in a position of peer-grader at least once this semester.  Giving and receiving feedback is one of the ways in which we learn together, and it is also one of the most valuable life skills you can take away from this course.

As it will become clear throughout the term, grades are somewhat antithetical to the way we will discuss the value and purpose of education in this course. Here is some reading to help us think through what we think about evaluation.

All assignments should be submitted to the course journal. They may also live elsewhere on the web (for example, in a comments section of a new story).


(1) CLASS ATTENDANCE/PARTICIPATION (includes reading/viewing/listening to all assigned readings)

Class attendance is required.  You may miss at most one class without an official (doctor or pre-approved) reason.

Excused absence requires a doctors note or equivalent. If you are missing for a non-medical/emergency reason, you have to have approval in advance and, at that time, state your plan for making up the missed work. You are still responsible for the readings and any assignments that are due.

Participation requires you to be present. Not just physically, but mentally. Graded through negotiation with the instructor out of 10.


In this course we will use an online annotation tool, This tool serves several purposes, most of which help you learn. At the very least, they will shine a light on how each of you does critical reading. (We will talk about this more in class).

To participate online, install the Chrome Extension or bookmarklet. Then join this group and start making annotations (you’re encouraged to add tags as appropriate).

Good participation (both online and in-class) includes (but is not limited to): inserting new ideas for discussion, responding to other’s ideas, posing questions, highlighting interesting passages, explaining a tricky concept, offering an informed opinion, and bringing in additional resources.

You can see this rubric to give you an idea of how one might look for and consider about annotations, but in this course, annotations will be graded through negotiation with the instructor (out of 10).


Description to come in collaboration with Alice Fleerackers.

Infographic and blog post graded by the instructor each out of 10 (total 20).

Due: February 2nd.


Online comments can be an awful place, but they don’t have to be. It can be difficult to rise above the vitriol that often exists online, but how can that happen if we do not at least try? For this assignment, students are asked to find something online that is meaningful to them and then to leave a public comment—somewhere—that responds or otherwise contributes to the conversation. In the simplest cases, this will look like an online comment on a news story, but it could also take the form of an op-ed, a blog post, or a social media post. The goal is to add a substantive response, with at least two references to credible sources, to the conversation on the topic or issue of your choice. There is no fixed length, but comments should aim to be above 500 words. You may consider a shorter response online if you think it is more appropriate, supported by a “read more” link to a longer version on our course website.

Graded by the instructor out of 10.

Due: February 16th


Describe what you intend to work on for the public scholarship final project. Your proposal should describe, in 1-2 pages, what you intend to work on, what your plan and timeline is to achieve it, your intended audience, and the expected impact.

Graded as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory by the instructor for 5%. You will receive feedback from your peers and instructor on this assignment, which will help guide your final project.

Due: March 1st


Graded as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory by the instructor for 5%. Giving and receiving feedback is one of the ways in which we learn together, and it is also one of the most valuable life skills you can take away from this course. Your review should comment on any aspects the person/team could improve, including (but not limited to) the feasibility of the plan, the likelihood it will have the intended impact, and suggestions for how the project could be more ambitious.

Due: March 8th


There is no fixed format for your final piece of public scholarship. You may look at the Contributions section of last year’s course journal for some inspiration, but you should not limit yourself to what others have done. Your contribution could be a researched blog post, but you will be given credit for trying something more ambitious like a podcast, a video, the creation of a Wikipedia page, a small research project, or something you come up with yourself! The goal is to let you use your creativity to gain first-hand experience at making your views of the world public. Topics are of the your own choosing, as is the style and form (as long as it is publicly available). Students must discuss with instructor to determine what is an appropriate contribution (or series of contributions), and you will receive feedback after you submit your proposal earlier in the term (see 5 and 6 above). Contributions should contain, in whatever form is appropriate, at least two references to outside sources.

Final presentation: Graded by instructor out of 10.

Final project: Graded by the instructor out of 30.

Due: April 9th

University Policy

The program expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will follow Policy T10.02 with respect to “Intellectual Honesty,” and “Academic Discipline” (see the current Calendar, General Regulations Section).