The future of libraries, if they have any

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #127, April 2014


Idescat — the Catalan national statistics institute — published in late 2013, the update to the 2012 Library Statistics where it stated, among other things, that in 2012, “the number of users grew up to 4.5 million [the Catalan population is calculated to be 7.5 million], 18.3% more than two years ago”. Almost a month later, Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin stated at the national television that “when the Internet comes, librarians lose their jobs”. This statement was later on developed with more depth in his blog post Internet, Librarians and Librarianship.

Can both statements be true at the same time? Or is someone plain wrong?

Probably the best explanation for these apparently opposing statements, and one explanation that makes them fully compatible, has to do with the present and the future of libraries.

In recent years we have been witnessing how Information and Communication Technologies turned everything upside down, especially (but not only) knowledge-intensive activities. And, among all knowledge-intensive institutions, libraries are no doubt part of the leading group. The Public Library Association explains the whole matter: an increase in the demand for library services, an increase in the use of WiFi networks, in increase in the use of library computers, an increase in training on digital skills. In short, most users are not only going to libraries asking for borrowing books — which they of course do — but they increasingly go to libraries looking for a means to gain access to the Information Society.

But not merely physical access but quality access: what in the arena of digital inclusion has ended up being called the second digital divide. That is, once physical access to infrastructures has “ceased” to be an issue, what is needed is training in digital skills, and guidance in its use. Using an extemporaneous metaphor, once one has a new car, what she then needs is a driving licence.

So, we see there is more demand. But what about staff cuts?

It turns out that, unlike many of the traditional roles of libraries, when it comes to overcoming the first (access) and second (skills) digital divide, many different actors come together to work in the later issue. Both inside and outside libraries. These new actors simply are a consequence to the change (or enlargement) of the roles of the library, a consequence that has now found competitors both in the market as in the public sector itself. A recent study by the European Commission, Measuring the Impact of eInclusion actors shows how, in addition to libraries, many other actors work in the field of e-inclusion (each one in their own way), such as telecentres, Internet cafes, some schools, fee WiFi access points, some bookstores, bars and cafes, etc.

These new actors, indeed, also often operate inside libraries: libraries many times subcontract the services of telecentres or other “cybercentres” — or their personnel’s — either for managing the public computer network or to impart training related to digital skills.

So, summing up, this is what we have so far: the growing need for digital competence does increase the use and demand for training in issues related to information management (and therefore fills libraries with people) but the diversity of functions and (new) actors means that, in the end, it take less ‘librarians’ but more ‘experts in information management and digital skills’.

Yes, some concepts are written between quotation because, most likely, they already are or will soon be the same thing. And thus we enter the topic of the future of libraries.

Empirical evidence tells us that information, the Internet, is increasingly ceasing to be a goal in itself, a differentiating factor, to become a generally purpose technology. If getting to the information ceases to be a goal to become a tool it is because it a (usually ad hoc) tool to be used “passing” in the pursuit of another task. Whatever that is: today it is practically impossible not to find a job, whatever trivial may be, that does not incorporate a greater or lesser degree of information, or of communication among peers.

Thus, beyond getting information it now becomes mandatory learning to learn and managing knowledge: it is not, again, about gaining access to information, but about taking control of the process of gaining access to information, of knowing how one got to a specific set of information so that the process can be replicated it in the future.

Finally, and related to the previous two points, access to information ceases to be the end of the way to become a starting point. Thus, the library and other e-intermediaries become open gates towards e-Government, e-Health, e-Learning… almost everything to which one can add an “e-” in front of it.

That is, information as an instrument, the quest for information as a skill, and getting to the desired piece of information to keep looking for information and be able to perform other tasks also rich in information. And begin the beguine.

Tacitly or explicitly, libraries are already moving in this direction. If we forget for a moment politeness and political correctness, we can say that libraries and the system working in the same field are already leaving behind piling up paper to focus on transferring skills so that others can pile their own information, which most likely will also not be printed. Fewer libraries, but more users.

It’s worth making a last statement about this “system working in the same field” because the formal future of libraries, especially public ones, will largely depend on (a) hot they are able to integrate the functions of the “competition” or (b) how they are able to stablish shared strategies with this competition.

If we briefly listed before telecentres, cybercafés, schools, free WiFi access points, bookshops, bars and cafes as converging actors in the field of e-intermediation, we should definitely add to this list innovation hubs, co-working spaces, fab labs, community centres and a large series of centres, places and organizations that have incorporated ICTs in their day to day and are open to the public.

This whole system — libraries included — is not only working for access but for the appropriation of technology and information management; they have make centres evolve into central meeting places where access to information is yet another tool; and they have become areas of co-creation where the expected outcome is a result of enriched information resulting from peer interaction.

The future of the library will be real if it is able to cope with these new tasks and establish a strategic dialogue with other actors. It will probably require a new institution — not necessarily with a new name — that allows talking inside the library, or cooking, or printing 3D objects or setting up a network of Raspberry Pi microcomputers connected to an array of Arduinos. Or mayble the library — especially if it is public — should lead a network of organizations with a shared strategy so that no one is excluded from this new system of e-intermediation, of access (real, quantitative) to knowledge management.

I personally I think that libraries are already at this stage. I am not so sure, though, that is is the stage where we find the ones promoting a zillion e-inclusion initiatives, the ones promoting modernizing the administration, educational technology, smart cities and a long list of projects, all of which have, in essence, the same diagnosis… but that seemingly everyone aims at healing on their own.

Originally published on March 28, 2014, as El futur de les biblioteques, si és que en tenen at the Fundació Jaume Bofill blog at El Diari de l’Educació). All the articles published in that blog can be accessed at the original site in Catalan or here in the English translation.

Open Social Innovation

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #123, December 2013


Innovation, open innovation, social innovation… is there such a thing as open social innovation? Is there innovation in the field of civic action that is open, that shares protocols and processes and, above all, outcomes? Or, better indeed, is there a collectively created innovative social action whose outcomes are aimed at collective appropriation?


It seems unavoidable, when speaking about innovation, to quote Joseph A. Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.

In the aforementioned work and in Business Cycles: a Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process he stated that innovation necessarily had to end up with existing processes, and that entire enterprises and industries would be destroyed with the coming of new ways of doing things, as the side effect of innovation. This creative destruction would come from, at least, the following fronts:

  • A new good or service in the market (e.g. tablets vs. PCs).
  • A new method of production or distribution of already existing goods and services (e.g. music streaming vs. CDs).
  • Opening new markets (e.g. smartphones for elderly non-users).
  • Accessing new sources of raw materials (e.g. fracking).
  • The creation of a new monopoly or the destruction of an existing one (e.g. Google search engine)

Social innovation

Social innovation is usually described as innovative practices that strengthen civil society. Being this a very broad definition, I personally like how Ethan Zuckerman described social innovation in the Network Society. According to his innovation model:

  1. Innovation comes from constraint.
  2. Innovation fights culture.
  3. Innovation does embrace market mechanisms.
  4. Innovation builds upon existing platforms.
  5. Innovation comes from close observation of the target environment.
  6. Innovation focuses more on what you have more that what you lack.
  7. Innovation is based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis.

His model comes from a technological approach — and thus maybe has a certain bias towards the culture of engineering — but it does explain very well how many social innovations in the field of civil rights have been working lately (e.g. the Spanish Indignados movement).

Open innovation

The best way to define open innovation is after Henry W. Chesbrough’s Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, which can be summarized as follows:

Closed Innovation Principles Open Innovation Principles
The smart people in the field work for us. Not all the smart people in the field work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside the company.
To profit from R&D, we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves. External R&D can create significant value: internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to the market first. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas. We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our business model.

Open Social Innovation

The question is, can we try and find a way to mix all the former approaches? Especially, can we speak about how to have social innovation being open?

In my opinion, there is an important difference between social innovation and innovation that happens in the for-profit environment:

  1. The first one, and more obvious, is that while the former one has to somehow capture and capitalize the benefits of innovation, the second one is sort of straightforward: if the innovation exists, then society can “automatically” appropriate it.
  2. The second one is the real cornerstone: while (usually) the important thing in (for-profit) open innovation is the outcome, in social innovation it (usually) is more important the process followed to achieve a goal rather than achieving the goal itself.

Thus, in this train of thought, open social innovation is the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society. I think there are increasingly interesting examples of open social innovation in the field of social movements, of e-participation and e-democracy, the digital commons, P2P practices, hacktivism and artivism, etc.

I think that open social innovation has three main characteristics that can be fostered by three main actions of policies.


  • Decentralization. Open social innovation allows proactive participation, and not only directed participation. For this to happen, content has to be separated from the container, or tasks be detached from institutions.
  • Individualization. Open social innovation allows individual participation, especially at the origin of innovation. This does not mean that collective innovation is bad or avoided, but just that individuals have much flexibility o start on their own. This is only possible with the atomization of processes and responsibilities, thus enabling maximum granularity of tasks and total separation of roles.
  • Casual participation. Open social innovation allows participation to be casual, just in time, and not necessarily for a log period of time or on a regular basis. This is only possible by lowering the costs of participation, including lowering transaction costs thus enabling that multiple actors can join innovative approaches.


How do we foster decentralization-individualization-casual participation? how do we separate content from the container? how do we atomize processes, enable granularity? how do we lower costs of participation and transaction costs?

  • Provide context. The first thing an actor can do to foster open social innovation is to provide a major understanding of what is the environment like, what is the framework, what are the global trends that affect collective action.
  • Facilitate a platform. It is not about creating a platform, it is not about gathering people around our initiative. It deals about identifying an agora, a network and making it work. Sometimes it will be an actual platform, sometimes it will be about finding out an existing one and contributing to its development, sometimes about attracting people to these places, sometimes about making people meet.
  • Fuel interaction. Build it and they will come? Not at all. Interaction has to be boosted, but without interferences so not to dampen distributed, decentralized leadership. Content usually is king in this field. But not any content, but filtered, grounded, contextualized and hyperlinked content.

Some last thoughts

Let us now think about the role of some nonprofits, political parties, labour unions, governments, associations, mass media, universities and schools.

It has quite often been said that most of these institutions — if not all — will perish with the change of paradigm towards a Networked or Knowledge Society. I actually believe that all of them will radically change and will be very different from what we now understand by these institutions. Disappear?

While I think there is less and less room for universities and schools to “educate”, I believe that the horizon that is now opening for them to “enable and foster learning” is tremendously huge. Thus, I see educational institutions having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called learning to learn.

What for democratic institutions? I cannot see a bright future in leading and providing brilliant solutions for everyone’s problems. But I would definitely like to see them having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called open government.

Same for nonprofits of all purposes. Rather than solving problems, I totally see them as empowering people and helping them to go beyond empowerment and achieve total governance of their persons and institutions, through socioeconomic development and objective choice, value change and emancipative values, and democratization and freedom rights.

This is, actually, the turn that I would be expecting in the following years in most public and not-for-profit institutions. They will probably become mostly useless with their current organizational design, but they can definitely play a major role in society if they shift towards open social innovation.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “Open Social Innovation” In ICTlogy, #123, December 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

e-Supervision (VII). Concluding Session

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #121, October 2013


Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How can e-supervision be implemented on a large scale?
  • What measures should be taken?
  • What resources would be needed?
  • What incentives should be offered (if any) to the supervisors?
  • Are supervisors able – in terms of skills and competences – to go on with e-supervision? What skills/training should they have?
  • What different roles can be identified campus-wide when putting up an e-supervision programme? What actors?
  • How do we assess e-supervision itself?
  • How do we assess the outcomes of e-supervision (i.e. research)?
  • How do we make sure quality of research stays at its highest level?
  • Can e-supervision “distract” researchers from their original work (i.e. focus in the forms and not the ends)?


  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by higher risk of plagiarism?
  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by requirements of original/unpublished work now undisclosed by e-supervision itself?
  • Do you think that e-supervision can put any especial concern on intellectual property rights, privacy, or other rights related to authors or works in general?

Concluding Session

Hilligje van’t Land, Director, Membership and Programme Development, IAU

How can e-supervision be implemented?

Let’s start with the basics and see how we can move on.

Let’s think about how to do the research, how to change the mindset of doing research, about networking, about the internationalization of the process.

What measures should be taken?

Leadership truly is key to the whole process of implementing e-supervision.

What are the incentives?

Is money the right incentive? does it scale? is it sustainable?

Universities could share their initiatives and experiences at

A very important issue is to create a community. A community within the team, the department, the university, across universities… a sense of community of e-supervisors and people interested or working on e-supervision.

Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

We need a framework to guide universities through e-supervision.

One of the major concerns is quality. Maintaining a standard of quality.

Related to quality, there’s monitoring, to guarantee that the whole process is working smoothly.

What modalities are there? What methodologies?

How frequently people should communicate, when, how… some guidelines that are just illustrative, but that can provide a framework that everybody understands and agrees upon.

What is the balance between traditional supervision and e-supervision?

Josep M. Vilalta, Executive Secretary, Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

A need indeed for a framework and guidelines to effectively implement e-supervision.

e-Supervision does not necessarily have to be 100% online, but can also explore a blended or hybrid approach, where traditional and e-supervision models can complement each other, as it is already happening at the undergraduate and master levels.

e-Supervision can also be very interesting in “industrial doctorates”, which consist in enterprise-university agreements to develop research that can lead towards the completion of a PhD.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “e-Supervision (VII). Concluding Session” In ICTlogy, #121, October 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

e-Supervision (VI). How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #-24045,


Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • What are the main challenges for quality MSc/PhD supervision in Africa?
  • Are they more of a technological, financial or cultural nature?
  • How is Africa different from e.g. Europe in this sense?
  • Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world?
  • How can ICTs in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can e-learning in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can ICTs and e-learning be translated into e-supervision? …in Africa?


  • What is the hottest topic/challenge in supervision in Africa?
  • How could e-supervision address it?
  • What is the most emerging topic/challenge of e-supervision in Africa?
  • How should it be addressed it?

Round Table: How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

Itir Akdogan, Social Research/Media and Communication Studies, Helsinki University (via videoconference)

Access to technology, not only infrastructures but cultural: lack of habit to use ICT for academic research, preference for face-to-face.

Lack of access to information.

Lack of research culture, of pressure to publish.

Role of ICTs:

  • Access to information.
  • Increase of research culture.
  • Improve interaction, not only one-to-one, but collective.
  • Modest is good, simple but effective solutions.

Beware of exclusion because of e-euphoria: need to keep on with face-to-face event important for networking.

Paul Okemo, Dean of Graduate School, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

Importance of development of human resources and knowledge generation.

There is a national commitment to improve the amount of people educated, which has been successful. But now the massive intake of new students, especially at the PhD level, is seriously challenging the system.

e-supervision can help in providing a solution to this challenge.

We try no to go online on expense of quality.

One of the major challenges of e-supervision is monitoring to ensure quality.

Another issue is how to assess all the work that the students are doing.

About the costs, it is likely that connection costs are lower than travel costs to attend face-to-face meetings.

An important challenge is the change of mindset, both for students and supervisors.


  • Learn from others.
  • Try and benchmark what everyone else is doing and share milestones.

Chrissie Boughey and Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

In order to gain a doctorate you have to demonstrate that you are like other doctors.

And in order to do that you have to use language in a specific way. PhD training is about teaching someone to be particular type of knower, in oder to speak, write and act in particular way.

Supervision is about bringing the student in the particular world of the text, the written text.

The danger of e-supervision is what happens that is not tracked, that is not formalized by technology, the lack context, the lack of physical contact. And the formal places where academic stuff happens cannot be substituted by other practices: so we have to learn how to make both worlds be compatible, how to go from e-supervision onto the formality of the academic world. It’s important to translate what has been “e-discussed” into the paper, the communication, the journal, which is the language that the academic world speaks.

Ousmane Thiaré, IT Specialist, Professor, Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis, Senegal

In Senegal as in other places of Western Africa infrastructure still is an issue.

And, again, not only infrastructures, but culture.

Besides, there is also is the fear that technology will replace human beings (i.e. professors) and make them irrelevant.

Necessary to have a work plan, a commitment, a kind of “contract” where roles and procedures are defined in detail.


Ismael Peña-López: Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world? Can e-supervision work towards a standard in supervision? Okemo: e-supervision is going to internationalize supervision and research in general. Whether this is going to end up in standardization, that is not sure that is going to happen. It will sure bring closer different approaches, but merging them or making them converge, that is another thing that does not necessarily will happen. Boughey: this is unlikely to happen among disciplines, especially between sciences and humanities. The gap sure can be bridged, but not closed at all: the objects of research are too different.

Akdogan: when talking about e-supervision, the effort to bridge the traditional and e-research worlds should be shared. On the other hand, it may well be that e-research is more demanding than traditional research, and thus the translation would be much easier and even better than 100% offline students, which are usually less engaged. So, e-research requires more engagement, which is good, and more effort as exposure pushes towards it.

Stephen Nyaga: what would be the most effective way of monitoring e-supervisors and the whole process? Akdogan: don’t think there should be a standard and each university should have their own way. In any case, it should be simple, easy tools, with a clear schedule. Okemo: the same way that traditional supervision is structured, also e-supervision could be structured in its own way. Akdogan: but, of course, adapted to the online world and flexibility.

Ismael Peña-López: about monitoring the e-supervisor, there are two more ways. First, if we believe in a transformative approach to e-supervision, then the whole process of research and of making of the thesis will be open and we can monitor not the e-supervisor, but the outcomes of their supervision in the successes and procedures of their students. Second, if we understand the supervisors as researchers themselves and, thus, as learners, then they will have too open personal learning environments which we will be able to monitor, to follow, to interact with.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “e-Supervision (VI). How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa” In ICTlogy, #121, October 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

e-Supervision (V). From theory to practice: models, experiences, opportunities and challenges of e-supervision

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #-24045,


Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How did e-supervision tools/methodologies help in carrying out/supervising quality research?
  • Was this an exposed way of carrying out research? What was the experience like?
  • Does exposition increase the risks of plagiarism?
  • Can it jeopardize the originality of the research required for a thesis?
  • Can e-supervision contribute to
    • better theoretical frameworks? Why?
    • drafting better research questions and hypotheses? Why?
    • designing better methodologies? Why?
    • fieldwork? Why?
    • better assessment? Why?
    • better conclusions? Why?


  • Can e-supervision be seen as an added burden – in terms of workload – to the process of doing/supervising a thesis?
  • Can e-supervision be seen as an added burden – in matters of new skills – to the process of doing/supervising a thesis?
  • What strategies could be put in place to avoid this extra burden and, instead, leverage the (supposed) potential of e-supervision?
  • Can e-supervision become collective supervision?
  • Can e-supervision become P2P supervision?

Round Table: From theory to practice: models, experiences, opportunities and challenges of e-supervision

Miquel Duran, Universitat de Girona (UdG), Spain

Open knowledge as a must for e-supervision.

Future is mobile, future is video.

Virtualization of supervision is real supervision.


PhD MOOCization.

e-[something else][empathic]-supervision.

Technology should be transparent.

PhD students has to understand their new role as researchers in formation.

PhD students must contribute to local environment: dissemination, public engagement in science, etc.

There should be a contract/commitment between both parties. Likely a reward system.

Good referencing and curation.

e-Supervision, research 2.0, etc. is about attitudes. And attitude is a choice.

And supervision is about EMPATHY (e-supervision: empathy-supervision).

Doctoral course, on-the-spot:

Francesc Balagué, Co-founder of Wonference

Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, Mark Prensky.

A triple interaction approach: supervisor – student – technology.

It is not about 1-to-1 relationships (student-to-supervisor) but about many-to-many, about collaboration, regardless of time and space.

In this change of paradigm, technology is not a tool, but an enabler.

The emergence of web sciences: technology has become a must to understand certain aspects of the world and, more important, to be able to do research about them.

But the change of paradigm may have a trade-off between quality and burden. We have to ensure that this is not an actual trade-off, and that we can go for quality without increasing the burden.


  • Final product vs. co-creation.
  • Individualism vs. collaboration.
  • One-way assessment vs. P2P assessment.

Should we have only one or two tutors as usual?

Are supervisors ready to work as a network?

How can we collaborate with other students/supervisors.

We need new models and strategies to go for this new paradigm.

Ricardo Torres Kompen, PLE- consultant, Spain

PELICANS project: Personal and e-Learning in Communities and Networking Spaces.

It is more important the process than the tool.

e-Supervision and PLE are very related.

Strategies for e-supervision

  • Explore: what tools, what sources/resources, how you discover new sources. Strategies for finding information, applications, etc. It’s about the PERSONAL in PLEs.
  • Ccommunity: PLEs do not stand alone. It is about the PLN: personal learning network.
  • Share: once networks are established, encourage to share, as it creates new channels of communication.
  • Create: fix what is being learned.
  • Flexibility: let the students have their own tools. What is important is not the tool, but the usage.

Training is crucial, but also circumstances and constrains: innovation is born from constrains.
What is important is the process: technology should not interfere in the process, technology should facilitate the process.

Ricard Espelt, PhD student, Universitat Rey Juan Carlos, Spain

There are benefits of publishing the research process, and not the only goal being publishing in journals.

The importance to share your discoveries while they happen, and not only at the end.

Blog one’s research:

  • Accountability, especially before the taxpayer.
  • The importance to keep track of one’s own research.

Technology enables browsing one’s own production in many ways, with different approaches.

Research has to be a forest, not a farm.


Oskar Caquero: will the academia ever acknowledge or provide credit for the work done in blogs, wikis, etc. and not only journals? Ricard Espelt: it may be that the focus of this kind of tools is not to address the academia, but to address another community. Miquel Duran: it is very important to impact. And impacting can happen through journals, but also outside of them. On the other hand, it is likely that in a near future we will be able to set up new ways to assess impact, to assess how value is created for society, etc. Francesc Balagué: new ways of scientific production should definitely be recognized.

Xavier Gabarell: how do one manages so much time in doing “traditional” research and blogging and all other stuff? Miquel Duran: one needs a time management time. But it is not easy. Working as a team, though, helps a lot: thus, there is a distribution of tasks and while some do quantitative analysis others blog it.

Stephen Nyaga: maybe there should be a formal training on e-supervision, with both the student and the supervisor at the same time and sharing the tools and thr strategies. And to have a good strategy to set up new policies that deal with these issues, to convince people to share good practices. Miquel Duran: surely the rewards are not (only) on money, but in many other forms. But some rewards should be put in practice, whatever their kind, and definitely recognized. Ricardo Torres: this is going to take time, but it will pay back in the future… but maybe not in the near future… like learning itself.

Miquel Duran: what about flipped supervision?

Ismael Peña-López: Devil’s advocate: can a non-scholar, a non-supervisor, a non-doctor supervise, help, assess a PhD supervision? Is that “qualitatively” possible?

Ismael Peña-López: How distracting can be “fancy” technology? Is that part of the process?

Sioux McKenna: e-supervision cannot be made compulsory. It is about showing the academic benefits of doing e-supervision.

Olive Mugenda: is everything shareable? can everything be open? Ricardo Torres: the problem with some research is that it is too recent or new that there is nothing published… but there actually is lots of stuff in other platforms. This is definitely a reason for opening up not final research but the whole process.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “e-Supervision (V). From theory to practice: models, experiences, opportunities and challenges of e-supervision” In ICTlogy, #121, October 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

e-Supervision (IV). Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #-24045,


Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How is e-supervision organized administratively and academically at your institution?
  • What kind of administrative frameworks are used to manage e-supervision? University bilateral cooperation agreements/co-tutelle/other formal links to embed e-supervision formally in the doctoral work?
  • How is the time a supervisor spends on e-supervision recognized?
  • What tools have you been using for e-supervision?
  • For what purpose?
  • What was the main area of supervision affected by these tools (e.g. revision of originals, drafting the methodology, fieldworks, theoretical framework and/or bibliography, etc.)?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?


  • Were they difficult to master?
  • Were they technically difficult to implement?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?
  • To what extent did they substitute other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • To what extent did they enhance other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • Did these tools “scale” (i.e. could they be reused or used simultaneously by many other student/supervisor pairs)?
  • To what extent do these tools reshape the contexts in which doctoral education is done?

Round Table: Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

Strengthening Doctoral Supervision ( a course in blended mode to develop supervision capacity.

Technology for:

  • Individual supervision.
  • Programme based communication, programme based use of technology is for two reasons: community of practice, PhD beyond the topic.

Technology: RUConnected – Moodle based program, elluminate, Skype, Youtube, Turnitin, etc.

Do not bring too much technology at the beginning, but little by little.

Need to be structured, not “if you build it they will come”.

Role of the coordinator.

Strong IT support.

eTechnology needs occasional “in person” contact.

Good supervision requires time, there are not technological shortcuts.

eTechnology can enable a rich experience.

Oskar Casquero, Universidad del País Vasco, Spain


  • Mendeley, for reference management, including the Mendeley plugin to embed references into Word documents.
  • Tumblr, for unstructured information.
  • Wiki, for structured information. It came after the unstructured information of Tumblr became more structured. The wiki also fed original content into the final document of the thesis.
  • Dropbox, a word document for each chapter.
  • Gdocs, to write the skeleton of a paper or specific document. Then copy it to a shared Word document in Dropbox.

Selecting the appropriate tools that help. That help in supporting small ideas to the elaboration of complex documents.

It has to support both the writing and the revision.

If tools help, then they become an indispensable element in the user’s daily activity.

Xavier Gabarell, Secretary, Graduate School, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)

Face to face in a traditional university is the base of its work. Everything is based upon presence, and presence is a value.
Students are required to present once a year, so they have to be at the university at least once a year too — plus the thesis defence, though sometimes they are done by videoconference upon very restricted conditions.

There is several people (student, supervisor, co-supervisors, etc.) involved in the whole process, and here there is plenty of room for innovation. Indeed, co-supervision is fostered by the university, including co-supervision during field work.

Increasingly, a PhD thesis includes writing papers, which requires to increase efficiency.

Who owns or who can access my data?

Miquel Solà, Director Graduate School, Universitat de Girona (UdG)

There is not enough regulation for e-supervision, but the current one sure allows for e-supervision.

The student has to, at a given time, prove his identity.

There are some procedures that are now compulsorily offline, and some others that could be done online. Actually, most parts of the steps of the PhD thesis could be done online and just a few would require physical presence.

e-Supervision could be included in the already existing many courses addressed to PhD students.

Universities should equally recognize traditional supervision and e-supervision.

e-Supervision should not be a substitute.

The creation of group research fellows would be handful in some phases of the thesis. e-Supervision could help in that.

It is not good to be alone doing research.

Some disciplines seem to be more indicated for e-supervision than others.

Tool: Evernote.


Oskar Casquero: institutions should offer a toolbox to the students, but the students should be encouraged to look for their own tools, the tools that best fit their needs. ICTs are about being efficient managing information and knowledge: that it, they are not substitutes, but enhancers. In the core of ICTs and e-supervision there also is networking.

Xavier Gabarell: e-library is surely a core tool in e-supervision. And, indeed, access to journals and literature in general is key for any kind of research, especially e-supervision.

Ricardo Torres: what about open access journals? Will the way we publish impact the way we do research, as it will affect (or not) the way we access information? Xavier Gabarell: open journals is a general concept that actually frames many different practices: reviewed vs. non reviewed, indexed or not, pay to publish vs. paid by third parties, etc. So, it depends on the nature of the open journal what the impact will be.

Ismael Peña-López: Can we shift from “hour allocation” to “goal-based assessment” of the supervisor? Miquel Solà: normally the professor has some lecturing hours allocated and the rest is computed in general. Thus, the lecturing load depends on all the other things the professor is doing. Everything has to be counted in any way, all working hours. Xavier Gabarell: at UAB what is counted is percentages of dedication. And supervision is counted with credits, which can be compared with lecturing credits or hours. But it’s difficult to count hours, dedication, etc. Another issue is that supervision is both teaching and research/innovation, thus it makes it even more difficult to make very separate packets. Sioux McKenna: though some organization and planning is required, management should not enter too much in the work of the professor: just check if academics are performing — not if they do more or less hours.

Ismael Peña-López: What about skills? Oskar Casqueiro: the supervisor should provide a list of tools and a sample of “best practices” on how to use these tools. Training in research methodologies should also improve how to develop these methodologies with the help of ICTs. Sioux McKenna: training is important, but enabling P2P exchange of ideas or practices is even better.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “e-Supervision (IV). Innovative tools enabling e-supervision” In ICTlogy, #121, October 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

ICTlogy Review

  • ISSN 1886-5208