Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Digital Scholarship - does it quack like a duck?

OK, so I finally was able to listen to the digital scholarship podcast for CCK11 the other day (man, I cranked those speakers up quite high in some spots!) and I have to say that it was quite interesting (click here for MP3 link). I have to say that the concept of digital scholarship isn't new or alien to me, having listened to Dan, Tom and Mills on digital campus for the last few years (great podcast by the way, you should subscribe to if if you don't already).

In any case, what really struck me about the blog posts of fellow CCK participants was the question of "who is a scholar?" I think Weller (the presenter in the elluminate session/MP3 recording) had mentioned that blogging was one of the tools that digital scholars could be used. This seemed to me to bring about the question of who counts as a scholar and who does not. Is Paris Hilton a scholar? Is Sarah Palin a scholar? Well, of course not! Those people aren't scholars, but the important question is not WHO is a scholar but rather WHAT constitutes scholarship.

This to me seems to be a problem inherent in our society; we look for credentials first and then evaluate what we see in front of us. Sure, if you have a PhD and you are teaching at on the subject of chances are that you know something about that subject. That's your job. Looking for a credential is the quick and dirty way of establishing a scholar's credentials, but that's also the lazy way. Just because someone has a PhD, it doesn't mean that they are a scholar - they might be producing popular magazine articles that bear no resemblance to something scholarly.

Also, just because someone does not have a doctorate, it doesn't mean that they aren't a scholar, they might be interested in a certain subject and have searched the world far and wide for resources on that subject that they then have consumed and mulled over in their heads. They might be part of a group with other people that are interested in the same subject. These people have been called hobbyists in the past, often denied the title "scholar" because their scholarly pursuits have not been vetted by someone already considered a "scholar".

So who is a scholar? That's simple, someone who produces scholarship! And scholarship can be measured, scrutinized, commented on, expanded and sometimes in the end proven wrong!

What is scholarship then? Well, that's a tricky question. Are you talking about scholarship in general? Or are you talking about what counts as scholarship for the purposes of tenure attainment and promotion of professors? These two can be different! Perhaps this is a topic for a future blog post.

In any case, if we can define scholarship, then digital scholarship is extended to the digital realm, utilizing technologies and exploiting the benefits that those technologies provide toward producing scholarly work. We could just use a blog for example as paper replacement and just type out our scholarly work, complete with citations and a references "page", but then we don't have the option for footnotes! (I like footnotes, I dislike endnotes) In a hypertext environment however you can link to your sources (in addition to providing a references page), you can link out to external resources, you can have popup windows with footnotes, you can embed multimedia, and so on. In other words you can do things that you can't do on paper.

So, it's not really important to define the scholar, but rather to define the work produced. For example a carpenter is not defined by the ability to use a chisel, but rather on his ability to create a wooden stool that is visually pleasing and won't break.
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