Inspired by the growing Open Access publishing movement, PhD candidates Erik Bauch and Georg Kucsko have developed Open Rev., an innovative online platform that enables users to engage in open, interactive discussion of scholarly works. Operating independently of outside publishers, the free tool inspires a review technique Bauch and Kucsko call “collaborative annotation,” offering an online community where scholars can upload papers and pose specific questions or notes to their peers. “Up until now scientific discussions usually occurred at conferences, in journal club, or in hallways on the way to lunch,” explains Bauch. “With Open Rev. we are trying to motivate people to take some of these discussions online and share their knowledge with the whole scientific community.”
The project took flight after Bauch and Kucsko, both physics scholars, were awarded a Spark Grant through the Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning (HILT). They soon after received second prize at this year’s Bridge@HGSE Education Innovation Pitch Competition. The duo has since tested the tool with great success amid students and instructors in the physics department at Harvard, creating a space to share notes and ideas beyond the classroom.
Since its inception, the platform has evolved substantially and now boasts a number of unique features. While the purpose of the endeavor is to inspire open, public debate, users are also afforded the option to create closed groups—ideal for classes, study groups, or discussion sections. Open Rev. differs from the average online forum in that reviewers are equipped with the ability to reinforce textual comments with imagery, sketches, and LaTeX, a commonly used markup tool for scientific publications with complex coding and formulas. By providing an interactive PDF viewer, comments can also be directly linked to the relevant passage in the text. The site also facilitates the process of cross-referencing, making it easy for users to link to specific passages in other works.
Open Rev. officially launched in August and now hosts approximately 500 active users, with more than 1,500 posted comments. While the site remains focused on scientific research, its creators have no qualms with the idea of opening it up to other disciplines. For now, however, Bauch and Kucsko are intent on building a continuously evolving scientific knowledge base for the modern scholar. “We hope that via such archiving of scientific discussions,” says Bauch, “we will increase global scientific collaboration and provide valuable knowledge to future generations of researchers.”