Preface: As platforms like Zoom and Tiktok have allowed us to communicate our research across more boundaries, Enabla is bringing teaching and science education out of the lecture halls and onto an open, inclusive, and interactive platform. We asked Anton from Enabla about what it’s like to make our lectures available online, and learned that Enabla is creating a future where science education includes everyone, regardless of spoken language, geography, or the ability to enroll at a university. This interview is part of our ongoing series on innovative companies building support for your research!
Can you tell us about yourself and what led to you starting Enabla?
I developed a deep interest in science back when I was a twelve-year-old high-school student. Now, I am a condensed matter physics theorist writing my thesis at TU Dresden, Germany, and working as a postdoc at the ICTP in Trieste, Italy. During my studies, I regularly faced learning challenges which I shared with several friends and colleagues, and eventually, we came up with our own online solution, now called Enabla. By gathering lecture notes and presentation videos on any scientific topic, we believe that Enabla will starkly improve not only spreading of freely accessible graduate- and post-graduate-level educational materials, but also their quality – thanks to the possibility for our users to interact with each other. Our post-publication in-time and in-line discussions feature is the key improvement of the platform over traditional learning materials.
Do you see Enabla’s open, interactive lectures as being geared more towards public engagement or more for students and researchers to access science from great teachers?
Enabla is oriented around three main axes – learning, discussing, and publishing – that may involve anyone coming to science with an open mind and a certain curiosity. Naturally, students would form the largest community, but the open access nature of Enabla also enables anyone else to join the fray for constructive discussions. In its current state, Enabla is undoubtedly geared towards providing open access to lectures from top scientists: we want to make high-quality scientific education available to everyone, regardless of their background or current situation. On top of that, our main objective is to facilitate engagement between learners and lecturers, as we believe that asking questions and discussing lectures with the authors, other researchers, and fellow students is just as crucial as simply accessing the material. Science thrives on feedback, debate, and the exchange of ideas, and we see Enabla as a platform for promoting this interactive and dynamic approach to learning and research. By facilitating direct online decentralized discussions built around open access scientific publications, we aim to create an inclusive and collaborative learning environment that promotes scientific development.
Right now, most of the available lectures are on physics concepts. Can researchers from any field upload lectures or courses?
Yes, of course; Enabla is open to researchers and educators from any field, also outside pure science. The only reason physics is now dominating on the platform is our team’s origin; being physicists ourselves, it was much easier to reach and invite other physicists to publish their lectures. However, we are now expanding the range of topics and actively inviting Schools from Biophysics, Medicine, Machine Learning, and Data Science, so there will soon be much more content diversity on Enabla. The platform thus slowly broadens its spectrum, and we hope to see a wide range of topics represented on Enabla in the future.
Are there any restrictions on who can upload lectures or talks?
Currently, there are no such restrictions, and anyone can submit their talks and lecture notes for publication. We don’t do a traditional peer review; after minimal skimming to ensure the content complies with basic principles of scientific publishing, we publish the lectures and rely on the open post-publication reviews and discussions arising around the published material to guarantee its reliability. For now, we don’t think there is a need for more sophisticated quality control mechanisms: most of our publications come either from researchers we invited personally or from scientific schools and conferences, which provides the necessary quality filter by itself. However, if we see the need for additional filters, everything is already prepared for implementing them from the technical point of view.
Putting ones self publicly into the online world can sometimes be intimidating – is there some sort of moderation or curation of the open discussion that can be had on Enabla’s lectures?
Given the generally selfless contributions of the scientific community, our future motivated but shy lecturers should keep in mind the great benefit of receiving feedback about the content, pedagogy, format, or motivation of the audience. Unlike on arbitrary social media, registered users tend to provide constructive interaction for themselves and the lecturer. Being a self-funded, free, and open project implies a lot of responsibility for what we do and what we don’t: any new feature requires resources, and we should always be cautious with our planning. That is why we decided to only impose additional moderation mechanisms once we see an actual need for them; this principle works both for the pre-publication peer review and for the post-publication discussions. So, except for the standard reporting button any Enabla user can click to report inappropriate behavior in the comments, there is no other discussion moderation. Being in the early stage of development allows us to review everything manually, and until now, no cases have required our special attention.
Can you explain how making my scientific lecture available with a Creative Commons license works?
I see that autotranslation of the science lectures is something that you’re working on. Can you tell us a bit about why this is important for you?
It is not a secret that top science is mainly communicated in English, which may create a language barrier during the learning stage for non-English-speaking students. Moreover, English is sometimes seen as a colonial language in a few parts of the world, which makes our efforts a part of the Open Science movement for more inclusivity. The automatic translation should then ensure that science speaks a universal language also for top-level scientific knowledge. We believe developing tools for hosting a multilingual communications hub is crucial to improving diversity and inclusion, particularly for people from developing countries. When incorporating autotranslation into chats and discussions, as is already available on several social media platforms, we also enable the richness of each language to be most conveniently formulated for each interlocutor without creating misunderstandings. Autotranslation also holds much power for research as it introduces spontaneity in people’s genuine interactions without having to go through the filter of a foreign language.
What is your vision for the future of Enabla?
Over the last two months, Enabla doubled the number of its open-access lectures largely because of our first official collaboration with a Winter School from Nordita, Sweden; a few more upcoming PhD Schools have already agreed to publish with us, so we will continue expanding in this direction. New publications from diverse scientific fields attract new students with different backgrounds, creating, in the long term, an active international network with rich communication dynamics between students and active researchers. This network will improve the quality of high-level education in a world where the information itself may be available, but critical thinking and productive discussions are scarce. This horizontal networking will also reduce the inequality gap due to global or local resource imbalances in science, offering new possibilities to talents in non-Western countries. Naturally, this idealistic vision requires us to scale up our means, so we are now looking into new partnerships with publishers and universities who wish, for instance, to make the transition to Open Access, develop their multimedia publication platform, or increase the engagement of their readers. Enabla’s Open Science features, such as interactive peer-review, open post-publication context discussions, or peer-reviewed video publications, can be easily integrated with existing journals, and we expect increased interest in them from OS-oriented publishers.
We would like to thank Anton for sharing his insight! Anton would like to thank all members of Enabla for their selfless contributions, and in particular, Aidan Wastiaux for assisting with the interview answers, and Alexander Pinchuk and Valeria Daylova for designing the images used in this blog feature!