Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Digital Scholarship - Initial thoughts

This of this blog post as a pre-test: my thoughts on Digital Scholarship prior to reading any of the materials (to be fair, I viewed the intro video by Martin Weller last night).  So this week is Digital Scholarship week on Change MOOC (is the "c" in this MOOC for "class" or "conference"? lol :-)  ), and the topic on hand is Digital Scholarship; a topic that's been talked about on one of my favorite educational podcasts: Digital Campus.

Maybe I am just too literal, but isn't scholarship considered scholarship no matter what the medium? Of course the medium can impose constraints, or it can allow the scholar to include or with with things that are unique to that medium and thus scholarship doesn't just become unidimentional (i.e. papers with words, tables and charts in them) but rather multidimentional, including not just words, charts and tables, but also audio, video, 3D worlds (let's not get in Second Life just now - I don't like it much, but I realize that it potentially has places where its useful), still images, and 3D objects. For example isn't a documentary just as scholarly as a peer reviewed paper? There is nothing inherent in the documentary video (or audio) format that prevents it from being scholarly. There are credits to be given (think of credits and bibliography at the end), it can go through a peer review process and add or explain thing that previous cuts of the film didn't address or didn't address adequately, and it can be vetted by being published by the equivalent of a prestigious journal.  It can also be published on YouTube for free and everyone can have access to the knowledge, not just a privileged few.

My main problem with digital scholarship is that the current academic system doesn't give it many (if any) points.  Scholars may be lauded for writing an influential book, or publishing crazy amounts of articles, but they aren't given any credit for regularly posting academic blogs (hey, we NEED public academics and blogs are a good way to get them), maintaining wikipedia articles (who better to maintain wikipedia articles than scholars who specialize in the topic?), creating small "bite sized" scholarly videos for YouTube (perhaps they can be part of a series), and so on.

Now, I am not a faculty member so I am not looking at this from a tenure and promotion lens (well, I aspire to tenure, but that's a long way down the road). I view this from an openness perspective.  My professors (the ones I had throughout my master's level work) were all pretty smart and they published some cool things. The problem is that once those articles take some time to get  into a journal and once they do they are often under lock and key - becoming available to libraries though electronic databases a year or two after they've been published (paper subscribers get first dibs).  That's just a little too late for my tastes.  If academics blogged, maintained wikis, and created scholarly videos on youtube, that pipeline from knowledge creator to consumer would be shorter (and cheaper).

The main problem I see with digital scholarship is archiving - paper archives, digital content is finicky. Who knows if the video formats of today will be viewable in 10-20 years...The same goes for blogs - what if blogger goes bust? We saw what happened with Geocities...
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