The students in Whelan’s class are all using the same program, called ALEKS. But peek over their shoulders and you’ll see that each student is working on a different sort of problem. A young woman near the corner of the room is plugging her way through a basic linear equation. The young man to her left is trying to wrap his mind around a story problem involving fractions. Nearby, a more advanced student is simplifying equations that involve both variables and fractions.
At first glance, each student appears to be at a different point in the course. And that’s true, in one sense. But it’s more accurate to say that the course is literally different for each student.
Let’s not portray casual sharing as more heroic than it is, though. A network of friends with institutional connections is not a luxury that everyone has. Emailing papers doesn’t fix a system in which the most cutting-edge knowledge is only available to a few people. If anything, casual sharing of limited-access papers only underscores the problem: limiting access to research keeps knowledge away from people without the same connections and privileges.
Open access isn’t explicitly covered in any of the secretive trade negotiations that are currently underway, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA). But that doesn’t mean that they won’t have a negative impact on those seeking to publish or use open access materials.