Where text meets tech
Common Ground sets up a printing press in former horse stables at the back of Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis’ house. The story begins with the Social Literacy project, eventually a series of twenty-something experimental books for primary and secondary schools developed as part of the Australian Government’s Multicultural Education Program. Then, as the eighties went on, ‘genre’ literacy materials, created with linguists at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney. And from this conjunction, our first conference—hosted by the Literacy and Education Research Network at the University of Technology in 1989. In these founding years we also begin our relationship with cutting edge, accessible publishing technologies—the means of production and distribution of meaning. We first connected an Apple II computer to a daisywheel printer to typeset the books we were printing. Later, we purchased a secondhand Linotron typesetter. We employed designers who were too innovative for ordinary ‘commercial art’ jobs. Eventually, we ended up with a four-color printing press, and found ourselves printing all manner of edgy books and magazines that people brought to us to make.
Reaching out through the social web
Common Ground is now located in the most beautiful office in the world, a semicircular space that we built down the road from the Altona oil refinery, but overlooking Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. Our conference program grew, now extending beyond Australian shores and to become truly international. Our conference proceedings became journals. Here, we also created our first web publishing software, CGPublisher 1 (2000-3), and CGPublisher 2 (2004-2009). CGPublisher had self-maintainable personal webpages three years before Facebook. Then we won large grants from the Australian Department of Industry to investigate technological futures for the publishing industry. This provided us an opportunity to push forward with the theory as well as the practice of ‘semantic publishing’. Melbourne is also where we began the Learning by Design project, applying our web publishing tools to e-learning.
Building research networks and developing social knowledge media
Common Ground moves to the Research Park on the campus of the University of Illinois. Now we have 24 annual conferences scattered all around the world. These conferences have taken us to some of the world’s best known universities including Cambridge, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Shanghai, Witwatersrand, Oxford, and UCLA. Our plenary speakers have changed the scholarly world—Jack Goody, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Juliet Mitchell, Graça Machel, Rom Harré, Tariq Ali and Tom Nairn, to name just a few. We have 90 journals, including 13 in Spanish, with a backlist over 20,000 articles. We have published over 200 books. The legacy is a remarkably rich body of knowledge, with a focus on cross-sectorial and interdisciplinary studies in education, the arts and design, sustainability and environment, humanities and social sciences. In this period, we moved into third major phase in the development of our digital publishing infrastructure—the Scholar platform, built with the support of funding from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Scholar is both a platform for Common Ground and a place where learners from Grade 4 to University can write their works, offer and receive feedback, and have that work published to the web.
Re-designing the shape of research networks
Then, in 2016, another metamorphosis. Common Ground changes its organizational basis as a publishing company to Common Ground Research Networks, a not-for-profit corporation. This change better reflects our organizational model and our core principles. Moving forward, Common Ground Research Networks will have intellectual ambitions as expansive as ever, addressing critical pivot-points in an agenda for a humanly livable world.
Meanwhile, we push forward with the development of Scholar as a social knowledge platform. Beyond its immediate applications in scholarly publishing and e-learning, we have larger longer-term ambitions for Scholar—to become a semantically aware environment for knowledge working and learning and to develop a “help economy” where peers are credited for their mutual contributions in Research Networks. In 2016, we received funding from the National Science Foundation’s “Cyberlearning” program to extend this work by developing deep learning and knowledge analytics for Scholar.
In these and other ways, Common Ground aims to extend the legacy of its first decades well into the twenty-first century—as an organization deeply engaged with the critical questions of our time and as a media innovator creating the spaces and technical conditions in which, collectively, we can address these issues.