Course: Making Knowledge Public

President’s Dream Colloquium

To those not registered in the class: Welcome! In the spirit of Making Knowledge Public, we invite you to join us for each of the public lectures and to discuss the readings with us online. Please join us by coming to the public talks (register: they are free!) or watching them online (they will be live streamed on the SFU Grad Studies Facebook page and on this page). We will be discussing the readings (see below) using a tool called There is a nice “Quick Start Guide” to help you get going, and a good series of “annotation tips for students” that will help. This syllabus is in flux, so please come back to it regularly for updates.

Course Outline

The President’s Dream Colloquium on Making Knowledge Public is both a public speaker series with leading thinkers and a seminar course open to students from the across the university. The course offers a unique opportunity to gain exposure to a cross-disciplinary network of academics, citizen scholars and government officials through the invited public lectures and in-class guest instructors.

But what is the course about? Making Knowledge Public will offer a broad overview of the ways in which research makes its way into society. Through the public lectures, readings, and discussions, the course will push emerging researchers (i.e., you, student!) to not take for granted the public value of your work. The course is 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.

The course alternates between in-classroom weeks with attendance at the public talks. Meetings will take place at all three SFU campuses, and will generally take place on either Tuesdays or Thursdays. All classes and public talks begin at 5:30pm. That said, the schedule changes from week to week, so please review the following carefully.

Colloquium Outline

week 1 – in-class  – sept 6 – HC 2290 (West Fraser Timber Conference Room)

Introduction: Defining the public’s right to know

This class will introduce the major themes to be covered in the Colloquium. 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 – public talk – sept 13 – HC Fletcher Challenge Theatre

Calling Bullshit on Fake News

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

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 looks 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.” This public lecture will explore 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.


For fun, 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 come up with a way to visualize your results.

Part I: Research and Government

week 3 – in-class – sept 20 – TBA (downtown)

Value of research in public policy

Guest Speaker:  Dr. Nancy Olewiler, Acting Director, School of Public Policy, 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? Invited speaker will engage the audience on how public policy is informed by research, and on how government and the academic community work to in tandem to bring about social change and community development?

Like so much of the scholarly literature, the following two papers are not publicly available. While university students have access through their libraries, researchers without a library have to do things like search Sci-Hub where you can search for the DOI (begins with “10.”) for access to a “less than legal” version.

  • Juntti, M. Russel, D. and 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. and 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)

week 4 – no class – moved to oct 1

week 5a – public talk – oct 1 – KEY Presentation Studio

Knowledge Sharing and Social Responsibility

Confirmed Speaker: Dr. Mario Pinto, President, NSERC

A case will be made that the next revolution will constitute knowledge sharing on an unprecedented scale. Global challenges dictate the value – and arguably the urgent necessity – to build linkages between research, policy, and civil society to start a new revolution. Diversity of stakeholders, open dialogue, vision, and creativity will be critical to bring different points of view and increase the power of the line-of-sight. National and international collaborations will drive good science. New modalities for knowledge storage, access, and dissemination will also be essential, as will science literacy in the general population. Greater inclusion and equity, we maintain, will achieve the ultimate goal: To produce transformative knowledge and the social responsibility to apply this knowledge to global challenges and contribute to a greater good.

Part II: Engaging the public in the research process

week 5b – in-class – oct 4 – SUR 3040

University-Community Connections

Confirmed Guest: Dr. Luke Terra, Director of Community Engaged Learning and Research (CELR) at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

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?

week 6 – public talk – oct 10 – KEY Presentation Studio

Collaborating with indigenous communities in research

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

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 with invite 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?

  • Snyder, E., Napoleon, V. &  Borrows, J. Gender and Violence: Drawing on Indigenous Legal Resource. 48 U.B.C. L. Rev. 593. Available at:

week 7 – in-class – oct 16 – HC 2520

Understanding the public’s use of research through social media

Guest (remote): Dr. Stefanie Haustein, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

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?

week 8 – public talk – oct 25 – KEY Presentation Studio

Citizen Science

Confirmed Speaker: Shannon Dosemagen, Director, PublicLab.

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. Tackling such questions will allow the audience to explore the benefits and challenges of citizen science (and social science), and encourage us all to do more.


Part III: Research in the public sphere

week 9 – in-class – nov 1 – HC 2290

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 look at the uses of public access to research will help students understand the importance of open access to community-engaged research and to citizen-informed public policy.

  • Piwowar, H., Priem, J., Larivière, V., Alperin, J.P., Matthias, L., Norlander, B., Farley, A., West, J. & Haustein, S. 2018. The State of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ.
  • Alperin, J.P. The Public Impact of Latin America’s Approach to Open Access. Doctoral Dissertation, Stanford University. Available at: Chapter 5.

week 10 – public talk  – nov 8 – KEY Presentation Studio

Global participation in knowledge production

Confirmed Speaker: Dr. Hebe Vessuri, collaborating researcher at CIGA (Centro de Investigación en Geografía Ambiental), UNAM in Mexico; emeritus researcher from IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research)

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?

  • OCSD Network. (2017). Open Science Manifesto: Towards an Inclusive Open Science for Social and Environmental Well-being.
  • Vessuri, H., Guédon, J. C. & Cetto, A. M. (2013). Excellence or quality? Impact of the current competition regime on science and scientific publishing in Latin America and its implications for development. Current Sociology, 62(5), 647-665. Available at:

week 11 – in class – nov 15 – HC 2290

Critical Approaches to Open Access

The benefits of openness have been 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 12 – public talk – nov 22 – KEY Presentation Studio

The Future of the Public Mission of Universities

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

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?

week 13 – in-class – nov 29 – HC2520

Bringing it all together

This final session will discuss 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 share stories of the challenges and successes of making their own knowledge public.

Evaluation of Student Performance

In this course, we will be practicing what we preach. If we wish to make more knowledge public, then we must begin with our own work. Students will be required to attend all lectures unless they have a justified absence, produce several pieces of public scholarship, and participate (both online and inclass).

PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP: This can be a blog post, podcast, youtube video, op-ed or other public contribution to knowledge through comments or Wikipedia edits that will give students a first-hand experience at making their views of the world public. Topics are of the student’s own choosing, as is the style and form (as long as they are publicly available). Students must discuss with instructor to determine an appropriate number of contributions, which will vary depending on their nature.

PARTICIPATION: Participation in this course comes in two forms: in-class and online, through online annotations of course readings. In both cases, the goal is to make meaningful contributions to the class discussions. Participation online will be done using the

All assignments will be graded on a “complete/incomplete” basis. Instructor may ask students to revise their submission before considering it complete.

Final Grading:
Undergraduate students: Pass/Fail
Graduate students: Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory

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).