Digital Scholarship Essay

Provide an interpretive discussion that examines digital scholarship in education, in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research.

Opening statement

An examination of digital scholarship in education reveals a complex system of knowledge networks that utilise the affordances of Open and networked technologies to interact across disciplines in connected approaches that lead to innovations in theory and practice (Harvard University, 2015; Rosling and Rosling, 2014; The University of Leicester Social Sciences, 2015). Weller (2011, p. 98) suggests that Openness is such a significant principle and practice of digital scholarship that the characteristics of Open and digital scholars are synonymous. Innovative approaches toward characteristics of digital scholarship such as the discovery, comprehension, evaluation and creative integration of new knowledge are a direct result of socio-cultural developments toward values of Openness (Weller, 2007; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012a; Pearce et. al., 2012). Discussion about values of Openness in digital scholarship have highlighted their conflict with formal, more conservative social traditions and this has resulted in cultural trends toward recognition systems that reward participation in Open digital communities as part of tenure and promotion procedures (Borgman, 2007 p. 240, 2015; Harley et. al., 2010; Sinclair, 2011; New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2007, p. 4). Open communities of knowledge such Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) represent a ‘sweet spot’ in interdisciplinary approaches to digital scholarship because they form a ‘collective’ where innovation is nurtured through a democratic praxis of peeragogy that is free from the restrictions of capitalist political economic education policies (Winn, 2015; Picciano and Spring, 2013; Selwyn, 2014; Monahan, 2005; Wenger, 2011).


An interpretive discussion that critically examines digital scholarship will need to demonstrate a comprehension of the synonymous relationship it has with Openness. Digital scholarship is a relatively new form of Openness (Peter and Deimann, 2013) that can be analysed through the socio-cultural contexts of Open participatory culture, data scholarship and communities. The synergistic relationship between socio-cultural and technological aspects of digital scholarship is a significant area of focus for critical analysis where improvements in learning outcomes are sought by local and global institutions (Selwyn, 2010).

Open and digital scholarship

An examination of digital scholarship in education that critically discusses the theories and implementation of Openness in teaching and learning is difficult because there is no widely accepted and consistent interdisciplinary definition of digital scholarship (Borgman, 2015; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012a; Pearce et. al., 2012). Burton (2009) suggests that an Open scholar “makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible [, …] invites and encourages ongoing criticism [, and use] of their work […] at any stage of its development”, however, Harley et. al., (2010, p. 13) highlight the large variation in values related to the traditional culture of sharing among scholars across a range of disciplines. Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012b) suggest that many “scholars hope and anticipate that Open practices will broaden access to education and knowledge, reduce costs, enhance the impact and reach of scholarship and education, and foster the development of more equitable, effective, efficient, and transparent scholarly and educational processes”. Critically analysing the socio-cultural benefits of Openness in education requires a holistic interrogation of the assumptions made by advocates of Open scholarship (Selwyn, 2010, p 66) and this introduces further complexity when defining Open scholarship because as Davidson and Goldberg (2009, p. 24) argue, our society has been politically and economically conditioned toward a cognitive bias that creates an aversion toward Openness.

The messy realities of Open scholarship in education are evident in recent evaluative studies of Massive Online Open Course (MOOCS) where critical questions are being asked about a failure to deliver on their original aims of providing equitable access to education (TheLip, 2014; Jordan, 2015; Veletsianos and Shepherdson, 2015). The principles and practices of discovery, integration, application and teaching (Boyer, 1990, p. 24) that inform Open scholarship are demonstrated in the disruptive technologies of MOOCs because they are designed with a more democratic praxis that resists the traditional capitalist political economic model of education (Weller, 2007, p. 2). In this way Davidson and Goldberg (2009, p. 1) highlight that the history of Open scholarship can be directly related to the Open philosophies of ‘disruptive’ digital pioneers such as Tim Berners-Lee. Open scholarship principals are disrupting the implementation of education practices across disciplines from local to global communities of learners, teachers, institutions and communities (Ren and Montgomery, 2015; Gregson et. al., 2015, p. 21).

Open Participatory Culture

Scholarship has traditionally been viewed as a monastic pursuit to discover, interpret, evaluate and create knowledge that can be internalised (Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012, p. 770; Davidson and Goldberg, 2009, p. 14). Developments in constructivist learning theories (Vygotsky, 1978) have become a focus of participatory Internet technologies such as Wikipedia that facilitate collaborative environments where meaning making is nurtured through the development of local and global social capital (Rennie and Morrison, 2013, p. 66; Zhan et. al., 2015; Bourdieu, 2011). Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012, p. 770) argue that the resulting complex relationship between participatory culture and technology is causing a cultural shift in scholarly behaviours that is resulting in a new form of Networked Participatory Scholarship (NPS). NPS is characterised by the unanticipated methods of using social networking technologies such as Youtube channels/ subscriptions, Facebook groups, Google+ communities/ circles/ hangouts and Twitter hastags to create communities of knowledge and Openness as well as participation (p. 769-70).

The characteristic of Openness in NPS social networks is a significant element for maintaining an integrity through peeragogy (Connected Learning, 2012) because a critical analysis of digital scholarship can assist in the implementation of future visions in more practical, equitable and sustainable ways (Selwyn, 2010, p. 68). The Open nature of NPS is an important characteristic for digital scholars because Gregson et. al., (2015, p. 16), Zittrain (2008) and Castells (2011) highlight that these developments in Internet technologies can also result in ‘closed’ networks that promote a digital divide between rich and poor. Rennie and Morrison (2013, p. 2) argue that the use of social networking platforms for education are not a paradigm shift in practice but rather a natural organic development of technological tools that further harness participatory culture and the power of collective intelligence. Open practices such as social networking, blogging and online community contributions are not just a ‘new trend’, but are rather set of organic cross disciplinary approaches toward NPS that increase the quality of knowledge networks and innovative outcomes (Harvard University, 2015; Rosling and Rosling, 2014; The University of Leicester Social Sciences, 2015).

Open Data Scholarship

The important contribution of Open scholarship to education in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research is evident in the influences that Open participatory culture has had on formal social institutions at local and global levels. The NSW State government have embraced Open values by publishing a list of datasets on their Open Data Portal with the aim of stimulating innovative approaches across service delivery areas such as environment, heritage, economic finance, health, education, housing and transport (NSW Government, 2015). The role for Open scholarship in education is to utilise these data to justify propositions that lead to innovative uses of technology in interdisciplinary contexts. The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s (CESE) ‘What Works Best’ report (2014a) is an example of Open scholarship principles that utilise NSW State datasets on a local level. CESE (2014a, p. 27) have identified the development of teacher’s professional networks and learning communities as an important aspect of developing NSW schools for a future of sustainable improvements in student learning outcomes (p. 2). The use of interdisciplinary datasets to develop innovative approaches to the professional development of NSW teachers’ learning communities by CESE (2014b) is an exciting step toward the implementation of Open scholarship in education because they are publicly available for everyone. This Open approach to the use of data by CESE is innovative because members of the public are also encouraged to help manage or customise the data through the provision of free mobile applications (apps4nsw, 2014). Parents and community members as well as students and teachers can analyse CESE’s data sets using their mobile ‘apps’ to help evaluate the performance of the NSW public education system (CESE, 2014b).

Borgman (cited in Harvard, 2011) explains the historic development of Open communities (such as CESE) from the closed networks found corporate business structures. Borgman suggests that an associated growth in Big Data (2015, p. 287) is the main challenge faced by digital scholars in sustaining improvements with interdisciplinary approaches to education. Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes (2009) argue that socio-cultural approaches (Vygotsky, 1978) to the scholarship of teaching and learning through interactive digital environments provide participatory ecologies that bridge formal boundaries and in so doing, provide opportunities that enhance meaning making through increased autonomy. The publication of Open data by the United Nations (2015) is, in this way, being used by Open scholars such as Rosling and Rosling (2014) who utilise the affordances of Web 2.0 applications to create interactive socio-cultural approaches that enhance meaning making in education at the global level. Rosling’s Gapminder (2009) website is an exemplar of participatory socio-cultural principles of Open scholarship and learning in interdisciplinary contexts that offers the potential of increased meaning making and improved educational outcomes by providing more autonomy through interactivity for learners.

Open Communities

Openness in NPS has led to the development of interdisciplinary communities of practice that utilise the affordances of the participatory web to share knowledge, educate and innovate in connectivist learning communities (Wenger, 2011; Peter and Deimann, 2013; Siemens, 2005). Weller (2007) argues that communities are a natural ‘end point’ for educational networks because the Internet’s robustness is partly a result of the democratic infrastructure where decentralised networks are consistent with Open values and ideas. A more structured approach to both professional online identities and collaboration may be found in communities rather than social networks where Veletsianos and Kimmons (2013) suggest that interactions generally take on a ludic, unpredictable form that are not clearly focused upon professional goals and so are in turn less desirable for pursuing professional goals (p. 6). Godwin, McAndrew and Santos (2008, p. 4) suggest that the affordances of Web 2.0 environments with the capacity to support individualised and community approaches are learner centred and afford peer based assessments that encourage the development of meta cognitive reflection. Google+ communities such as Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education [VWBPE] (VWBPE, 2015) and Virtual Worlds Teacher Network [VWTN] (VWTN, 2015) demonstrate the principles of NPS in education across interdisciplinary contexts. VWBPE and VWTN demonstrate NPS by utilising a range of technologies such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to form a distributed network of knowledge about interdisciplinary approaches to the use of virtual worlds in education.

Peter and Deimann (2013) suggest that Openness has been a significant characteristic of scholarship since the late Middle Ages and is therefore part of a natural approach toward new forms of ‘digital’ scholarship. While peer review and collaboration have arguably always been a feature of civilised approaches to scholarship, digital resources are creating an economic cognitive dissonance with their traditional print based counterparts (Weller, 2011, p. 54). Harley et. al., (2010, p. 409) suggest further that scholars seeking tenure were advised to avoid forms of NPS such as blogging and non traditional forms of electronic dissemination. Agile responses to these challenges by Open communities such as the Peeragogy in Action Google Plus Community (2015) demonstrate the robust nature of Internet socio-cultural movements. The development of organised data repositories (OpenDOAR, 2015) and organisations such as the Public Library of Science (PLOS) exemplify the innovative socio-cultural efforts of Open approaches to NPS.


An interpretive discussion that critically examines digital scholarship in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research demonstrates that Open approaches toward NPS are redefining education environments toward a democratic praxis that nurtures innovation through knowledge communities and organised networks (Winn, 2015). Open scholarship that values sharing, socio-cultural complexity and equity has nurtured participatory cultures (Weller, 2011) and utilises the affordances of digital technologies to create artefacts of local and global social capital (Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012, 2013). Further critical socio-cultural analyses (Selwyn, 2010) that interrogate micro, meso and macro level decision making processes in digital scholarship are needed to identify hidden bias that is a result outdated traditions toward teaching and learning (Rosling and Rosling, 2014).


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