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The term scholar may, for some, conjure up an image of an academic situated within the walls of a university. This scholar may have gained tenure on the basis of past and continuing teaching and research undertaken in the field. Others may expand this view to encompass a studious youth studying at a university or possibly even a school. The emergence of the term digital scholar may add some confusion to one’s image of a scholar. One may be excused for thinking that a digital scholar is simply one who incorporates digital technology into their work, given the ever-expanding digital landscape within which we live. Digital scholarship, however, is much more than this. This paper will explore the changing nature of scholarship within the context of blogging as digital scholarship.
Scholarship has been in a state of transformation due, in part, to the emergence of new digital tools, social behaviours, and cultural expectations associated with participatory technologies (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011, p. 766). Digital scholarship, as defined by Weller (2011) includes the use of digital, networked and open approaches that demonstrate specialism in a field. Veletsianos & Kimmons (2011, p. 766) refer to Networked Participatory Scholarship in which scholars ‘share, reflect upon, critique, validate and further their scholarship’. Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Kinsley (2010) argue that simply using technology in their work does not constitute digital scholarship; academics must be open to the particular affordances of new technologies that make possible open, networked collaboration between scholars for the purpose of benefiting not only the academy, but also society generally. Cohen (2007) discusses social scholarship that embodies openness, conversation, collaboration, access, sharing, and transparent revision. Whilst subtle differences may exist, the terms digital scholarship, Networked Participatory Scholarship and social scholarship all point to a shift in thinking about scholarship in a digitally rich society. Digital scholarship is increasingly being used to refer to the use of social software in academia and research (Heap and Minocha, 2012). Whilst the term may have different interpretations, including the curation and collection of digital resources, this discussion will focus more broadly on digital scholarship as it refers to the various scholarly activities that are afforded by contemporary technologies (Weller, 2011).
Boyer (1990) identified four functions of scholarship:
• discovery – the creation of new knowledge in a specific area or discipline;
• integration – the creation of knowledge across disciplines;
• application – engagement with the wider world outside academia, but still based on the scholar’s disciplinary knowledge and background;
• teaching – a central element.
These functions have been somewhat extended by the impact of digital tools, open data and open educational resources which make possible more open ways of working, although this is not inevitable (Pearce et al., 2010). Boyer’s framework now needs to be considered within the context of using blogs and other social, participatory, collaborative and dynamic affordances of the available software (Heap & Minocha, 2012; Pearce et al., 2010; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011).
Whilst Boyer’s focus was on the individual, Borgman (2007) focuses her interpretation of digital scholarship on the work of teams and the capacity of the internet to ‘facilitate distributed, data and information-intensive collaborative research’. The Internet has also fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs (Seely Brown, 2008).
The concept of digital scholarship can be explored through the practice of blogging. In the past, academic writing consisted of peer-reviewed, published communications that were, and possibly still are, staples of academic scholarship (Hank, 2013). The publishing of a peer-reviewed journal is traditionally the most respected means of contributing to a body of knowledge (Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012). What constitutes valid academic writing is now being challenged as blogging, along with other Web 2.0 tools, enter the academic landscape. The affordances of these tools for collaboration, interactivity, connectivity and social rapport, content creation and aggregation of knowledge and content also contribute to, and stimulate, the development of a participatory culture (Kirkup, 2010). As blogging becomes more popular and widely understood, one must now ask what place, if any, it should hold in scholarship.
Despite some criticism of blogging as a valid form of scholarly writing, it is gaining more acceptance as a scholarly practice (Kirkup, 2010) as more scholars become known for their blogging that, in turn, develops their professional reputation. At the same time, blogging can enhance the identity of their associated organisation. Kirkup (2010) found that almost all of the bloggers in his study continued to use traditional print publication channels as well as other online media.
Academic blogging is becoming a particular form of academic writing, a genre through which academics ‘engage in knowledge production and become public intellectuals’ (Kirkup, 2010, p. 83). Maitzen (2012) believes that blogging should be recognised for its contribution to the intellectual and institutional goals of universities but cautions that it will not suit every academic or academic purpose. Weller (2011) raises questions that may be asked in relation to blogging that are true for all digital scholarship. These questions explore scholarship in terms of centrality to practice, applicability across domains and function, quality, tenure, impact on academic communities, replacement or complement to existing channels and whether or not bloggers should separate their blogging from formal institutional systems.
Returning to Weller’s (2011) suggestion that digital scholarship includes the use of digital, networked and open approaches, one can see how blogging addresses these three critical components. Blogs, by nature, are digital and networked and have the capacity for openness. As a digital tool, inclusion of other digital media, such as video, image and sound can be incorporated into blogs to enhance or, at times, replace print. Whilst it is possible to keep a blog private or limit exposure, it is the capacity for openness to the public that is critical for blogging to reach its potential as a practice of digital scholarship. Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes (2009) state that the use of blogging to expand professional connections and build networks may transform their responsibilities relating to teaching, research and service whilst enhancing their scholarly practice. Whilst it may not be appropriate to state that participatory technologies such as blogs are catalysts for changing scholarly norms, a state of change is reflected in the growing practice of academic blogging (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011). Regardless of social or institutional structures and the 20th century paradigms of scholarship, some recognise how such tools have the power to support, amplify, or transform their scholarship in positive ways (Katz, 2010). Maitzen (2012) refers to blogging as a practice where all parts of intellectual life converge and coexist – reading, writing, teaching and research.
Powell et al. (2011) and Hank (2013) agree that blogging can support the traditional goals of higher education institutions by serving as tools for teaching, learning, research and outreach. Mewburn & Thomson (2013) provide the example of some UK research grant applications which now require identification of the expected impact on audiences other than academics and maintain that blog advocacy sits neatly with official discourses of appropriate academic behaviour and performance. Advantages identified in the use of blogging include the rapid sharing of research methods, results and conclusions in an open, transparent manner (Powell et al., 2011) where information and ideas are instantly available to peers and the broader community and real time interaction and collaboration is possible. Immediacy is restored to scholarly discussion and logistical roadblocks are removed, opening up exchange of ideas and the stimulation for refining, reconsidering or expanding ideas (Maitzen, 2012). Further, Maitzen posits that quality of content is not determined by the form or platform.
The process of peer review is well established in academia and some may argue that this element is absent from blogging. Hank (2013) challenges the thinking of peer reviewers and their role as gatekeepers by suggesting that, though not beholden to the same parameters or rigour of peer reviewed journals, blogging can be seen to be subject to critical review from a wider gate, though reasonably less expert. It is not suggested that blogging will necessarily replace the more formal practice of journal production at this point in time; it may, however, be seen as an important complement to the practice. Kirkup (2010) sees the possibility for engagement in critical ideas that may not have been accepted in a peer reviewed publication but still find a place in scholarly discourse where one may engage a much wider audience as well as those with common interests. Academics may need to adjust their writing style somewhat when writing for a wider audience. Writing less obscurely may be beneficial for promoting scholarly discussion on a global scale (Mewburn & Thomson, 2013). Blogging can certainly complement and contribute to traditional forms of scholarly publication. Powell et al. (2010) stress that referencing is critical if blogging is to become an acceptable form of scholarship accessed by government, organisations, industry and consumers. Rights management is also an important consideration for the digital scholar to ensure that legitimation and dissemination functions are not impeded (Borgman, 2007).
An area of concern for academics regarding blogging is the conservatism regarding digital scholarship being recognised towards tenure, promotion and funding (Weller, 2011). Whilst blogging may complicate the notion of publication, Borgman (2007) states that publication occurs when a document is made public with the intention it is read by others. It is suggested that if blogging is considered for promotion and tenure decisions, it is the category of service rather than scholarship to which the practice is associated (Borgman, 2007; Hendricks, 2009). Hank (2013) agrees that blogging may not be seen as an opportunity for promotion but it contributes to scholars’ personal sense of other intrinsic rewards and elementary recognition, including greater visibility as a scholar, as well as institutional recognition, through invitations to publish, present and provide service and collaborate.
When discussing digital scholarship, is it necessary to distinguish between an academic blog and a blog written by an academic? Mewburn & Thomson (2013) suggest that for a blog to be academic, the writer must declare affiliation with a recognisable institution, professional purpose and be connected to other academic blogs in some way. Weller (2011) however, states that a well-respected digital scholar need not be recognised as an academic nor affiliated with an institution, thus opening up scholarship to a wider group. Likewise, a digital scholar does not include just anyone who writes online. Blogs range from personal and ephemeral to theoretical and substantial, so it depends on how the scholar defines blogs themselves and how they elect to incorporate it within their own professional and academic life that may determine the place of their blog in scholarship (Hank, 2013).
Blogging is an emerging academic practice that can promote the intellectual identity of a professional academic and their engagement as contemporary “public intellectuals” (Kirkup, 2010). For some, however, this practice may not be one that they are drawn to or feel comfortable with. It is important, however, for academics to model lifelong learning by identifying effective uses of technology for educative purposes and for sharing scholarship with a wider audience (Greenhow et al., 2009, p.254). The development of the necessary skills and dispositions for digital scholarship may begin in K-12 education and continue into post secondary education. Writing for an online audience through the use of blogging can support learning (Downes, 2004), academic identity creation (Kirkup, 2010) and public writing and presentation skills (Heap & Minocha, 2012). Reflective writing in response to learning experiences, conducting conversations outside of the physical classroom and aggregating notes, references and resources relevant to study are ways in which students of any age can begin to develop as bloggers whilst building their online identities, gaining more experience writing online for an audience. As students develop their skills and use of technology in education, they bring new skill sets and attitudes to post secondary education; reading and reflecting online, as well as engaging a community, brings learning to life (Downes, 2004). For this to be authentic, students must have purpose for their writing and be unconstrained in sharing to a wider audience beyond the classroom.
A new approach to learning using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools can provide students with access to rich, often virtual, learning communities and promote passion-based learning, motivating them to become members of a particular community of practice or ‘just wanting to learn about, make, or perform something’. (Seely Brown, 2008). Learners are now using the web in ways that require further exploration to understand current and potential implications for education (Greenhow et al., 2009).
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It is evident that technology is creating new environments for learning which ‘changes the relationship between knowledge and knowledge provider’ (Powell et al., 2012, p. 275). The emergence of digital scholarship has opened up academia to new, more open ways of working that makes collaboration beyond the academy a valuable addition to the nature of scholarship. Those who embrace the open values, ideology, potential and often challenges of technologies available through Web 2.0 understand the benefits to the academy and society (Weller, 2011). Whilst embracing the use of various technologies, such as blogs, may not yet serve the same function (or provide the same rigour) as the peer reviewed journals held in such high esteem by the academy, they do represent another way for sharing ideas, methods and research findings to a wider audience (Powell et al., 2012) and can have a significant role in all four types of scholarship identified by Boyer (1990). Cloud computing, social operating systems and the vast potential of virtual networks, will increasingly influence both education and research and will likely intensify the participatory and creative practices associated with digital scholarship (Greenhow et al., 2009). Digital scholarship is becoming an increasingly significant aspect of scholarship and may, in the future, be so integrated within scholarship that the word digital no longer becomes necessary to describe contemporary scholarly practice.
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