Digital Scholarship Interpretive Paper


We are living in a world of abundant information that flows through global and social networks with relative ease and low cost to individuals. Gone are the pre-digital days where information was scarce and difficult to access (Weller, 2011). Increasingly people are using social networks and participatory internet technologies in their everyday lives for entertainment, to connect with others and to learn (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Digital technologies, web 2.0 tools and dynamic networks have the potential to alter the scholarly practices of academics and teachers. It is argued that “the foundation of academic life – the scholarship on which everything is built – remains surprisingly unaltered” (Ayers, 2013 p. 27), however there are signs that “scholarship is opening, and with that openness comes new ways of working” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 2). Digital scholarship is an emergent concept, where the scholar employs digital, networked and open approaches to their work (Weller, 2011). The cultural change from traditional scholarship to digital scholarship is not without tensions and barriers that include, but are not limited to, the legacy model of publishing, entrenched institutional policies, and the traditional epistemologies of academics and teachers who lack network literacy.

Scholarship and Digital Scholarship

According to Boyer, scholarship is the generating and acquiring of knowledge through research or teaching and involves four functions: discovery, integration, application and teaching (Veletsianos, 2012b). Unsworth describes the basic functions of scholarship as discovering, annotating, comparing, referring, sampling, illustrating and representing (Weller, 2011). These activities can be carried out in a traditional analogue manner or enacted using digital tools and workflows. Contemporary scholars are using technology, to varying degrees, to undertake the scholarship activities that Boyer describes. It is important to note that the mere use of digital technologies does not equate to being a digital scholar, a commitment to social practices of openness and connectedness is required (Goodfellow & Lea, 2013). Scholarship practices are not confined to higher education, many secondary school teachers are connected educators (Nussbaum-Beach, 2012) that engage in the activities described by Boyer (Greenhow, 2009). The cultivation of a scholarly life online is an empowering choice that some academics and teachers are making (Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes, 2009) but the entrenched norms and policies of academia (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010) can make it difficult. The concept of digital scholarship is relatively new and “the contemporary academy is buffeted by two contemporary tendencies: commercialization and democratization” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 8).

“Abundance and openness are the context of contemporary scholarship, and Boyer’s typology is the guiding principle for how we think about impact” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 121). Boyer’s functions of integration, application and teaching are impacted by the key trends of open publishing, open educational resources and open scholarship. Digitisation and the production of digital manuscripts facilitate open publication (integration), public engagement and open scholarship is enabled by social networks (application), and open educational resources and open approaches have the potential to change teaching (Scanlon, 2014). Katz also asserts that openness “presses in a strong and positive way on all of the scholarships named by Boyer” (Katz, 2010). It is “argued that open practices contribute to more equitable, effective, efficient, and transparent scholarly and educational processes” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a, p. 167). However the debate over open scholarship “bears the certainty of messy understandings” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, p. 75) and tensions between past practices and emerging open practices (Lupton, Mewburn & Thomson, 2018).

Integration and Open Access Publishing

Alternatives to the traditional academic publishing model are now possible, firstly with the digitisation and amplification of print journals and secondly with the development of open access publishing. The traditional model of twentieth century scholarly publishing is still firmly entrenched (Weller, 2011). While the business models of newspapers and music have been disrupted in the last decade, no such revolution has occurred in higher education publishing (Weller, 2011). Academic publishing is big business and relies on academics providing free labour (research, writing and peer review) and relinquishing copyright in exchange for publication. Scholarly publishing began in the twentieth century when information was printed, scarce and restricted to the academy (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016). A small number of scholarly publishing companies now dominate the print and digital market and make big profits (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016). Commercialisation of knowledge is one way of re-establishing scarcity and exclusivity (Weller, 2011) in an age of abundant information sources.

The scholarly publishing business model has survived because of the following factors: scholars have been acculturated into it, the journals are considered high quality, a scholar’s publication record is tied to tenure and promotion, dissemination is ensured and curation occurs through libraries (Weller, 2011). Traditional publishing outputs are valued more highly by institutions and a cultural shift is required so that additional digital scholarly outputs are recognised for recruitment and promotion purposes (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010).

Increasingly, secondary schools are demanding that teachers engage in professional learning that involves research and the gathering of evidence to substantiate practice but “paywalls make it almost impossible to engage with scholarly writing” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 84). With printed journals, secondary school teachers could visit academic libraries to do research, however licensing restrictions are placed on digital journal databases that prevent anyone outside of the institution accessing them. The current publishing model does not encourage lifelong learning, with secondary school teachers, university graduates and any other independent learners locked out of accessing scholarly literature (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016). The control over scholarly information and knowledge by universities is being challenged by the digital age (Katz, 2010). Open access literature is freely available on the public internet, free of most copyright and licensing restrictions and provides an alternative source of scholarly literature for academics, secondary school teachers and the general public (Weller, 2011). While access is free to readers, ‘author pays’ models exist for some open access journals, which are less than ideal, but due to economic factors in this time of transition to openness (Weller, 2011).

A number of issues are placing pressure on the traditional publishing model. Digital technologies provide lower barriers to the publishing and distribution of scholarly literature, whereas traditional publishing is a very slow process. Publishers make substantial profits from the voluntary labour of academics and then sell the material back to them via their academic libraries. Despite efficiencies gained from technology, subscription costs have increased and titles are bundled together leading to costly duplication and budgetary concerns for libraries. The sum of the aforementioned issues is known as the journals crisis (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010). Also being questioned is peer review, a long-standing quality control mechanism. Other networked-enabled avenues for assessing quality, such as post publication review, are being tested but scholars must be prepared to challenge the status quo for them to gain momentum (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). Early adopters of digital scholarship, who are often self-taught (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016), are challenging publishing conventions and “sharing their work more freely through online avenues” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a, p. 169). Evidence from numerous studies indicates that open access journals receive greater readership and more citations (Weller, 2011). Research bodies are changing their policies and “have set out mandates relating to open access” (Weller, 2011, p. 146). Governments who fund universities from taxpayers are also calling for greater transparency and access to knowledge created by academia (Veletsianos, 2015). “OA [open access] demands a collective and inventive redefinition of the ecology of scholarly publishing” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 69).

Application and Social Networks

The internet and information communication technologies have provided scholars with the ability to engage in local and global networks to extend their communities outside of the institution (Katz, 2010). Tools such as blogs, wikis, social networks, social tagging sites and content-sharing sites are part of the ecosystem of participatory learning (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). By leveraging social networks and social tools for scholarship purposes, academics are finding “new ways of engaging with publics beyond the walled-in academy (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 8).

Informal publishing does not have the lag time of formal publication and because it is open, access is democratised (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). For digital scholars, blogs “function as a way of disseminating content, expressing opinions, keeping up-to-date and remembering, writing, interacting and creating relationships” (Kjellberg, 2010, para. 54). Informal publishing can also be achieved using social bookmarking tools. Educators (secondary or tertiary) can provide carefully curated multimedia resources to their students whilst also establishing an online identity and modelling digital scholarship practices to their students (Greenhow, 2009). These tools are also social and encourage interaction and collaboration; something that traditional publishing cannot do easily (Wesch, 2014). Therefore, social scholarship is the connection of formal scholarly practices with informal web 2.0 tools to share, collaborate and converse (Greenhow, 2009).

Scholars and educators have appropriated social network tools such as Twitter and Facebook to build personal learning networks and communities of practice. Academics and secondary teachers can participate in conferences remotely through Twitter feeds, Slideshare presentations and recorded sessions on YouTube. Skype and Google Hangouts allow for low cost communication and global connections over vast distances. YouTube and Flickr provide academics and educators with content, as well as the capacity to create their own content freely. Fast and cheap technologies that are outside of the university or secondary school’s control are increasingly being utilised in education and research because they are flexible and personal (Weller, 2011).

The transition from traditional scholarship to digital scholarship requires new skills, competencies and a willingness by scholars to engage in new practices. Depending on the individual, learning new digital skills can be either exciting or intimidating. Even academics that have always known the internet do not necessarily know how to use it for scholarly activities. Many early adopters of digital scholarship practices have been self-taught and have been willing to experiment. Some institutions provide workshops but for many scholars and teachers but formal training opportunities can be difficult to find (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016) thus a participation gap exists with some scholars and teachers able to navigate networked spaces and others without the required literacies to do so (Veletsianos & Kimmons. 2012b).

Teaching and Open Educational Resources

“It is arguably in Boyer’s fourth function, that of teaching that we see the biggest impact of digital technologies and open approaches” (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010, p. 40). Openness in teaching is being facilitated by open educational resources that rely on authors and creators (who may be digital scholars) being generous and sharing their intellectual property (Wiley, 2010). Open educational resources are free and use licenses (usually Creative Commons) that allow users to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute while also acknowledging the intellectual property of the creator (Wiley, 2010) or are in the public domain and free of copyright restrictions (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b).

In 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open CourseWare (MIT OCW) initiative made course materials available online and from this the open educational resources movement grew (Weller, 2011). Open educational resources are diverse and include curriculum, courses, textbooks, videos, podcasts, multimedia and any other materials designed for teaching and learning. Open educational resources reside in dedicated repositories and on the open web (Butcher, 2015). Higher education, K-12 education, cultural institutions, public broadcasters, not-for-profit organisations and individuals contribute to a growing pool of digital open educational resources. The quality of educational learning resources can vary. Weller (2011) categorises open educational resources (OER) as big and little OERs. Big OERs are created by institutions with a teaching aim for a project or course, located using a portal and of high quality. Little OERs are low cost resources created by individuals that may or may not have educational intent and are hosted on various web 2.0 platforms, thus little OERs require more time and effort to both find and assess for educational quality (Weller, 2011).

The lecture hall or classroom is just one node of learning available to students in a participatory network age. Lecturers and teachers are not the only source of knowledge for today’s students (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010). Academic content is available in different modalities freely and openly online. While universities and schools currently hold social capital and the prestige of degrees and certificates, they are being challenged by informal digital, networked and open approaches to learning (Weller, 2011). Will this challenge lead to significant pedagogical change or minimal adjustments in teaching practice?


Technology alone will not transform scholarship, “the ideal of openness is intrinsic to digital scholarship” (Daniels & Thistlewaite, 2016, p. 8). Current and emerging information communication technologies and network effects enable academics and teachers to use “a bricolage of digital practices” for scholarly purposes (Daniels & Thistlewaite, p. 132). However, entrenched institutional policies can make the transition from traditional scholar to digital or open scholar difficult. “Paradigmatic shifts in the ways that we think about education, knowledge, learning, teaching, and research” (Veletsianos, 2012b, p. 181) are required so that the best elements of openness can be realised in an ecology of abundance.


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2 Comments on Digital Scholarship Interpretive Paper

  1. lnash
    September 17, 2017 at 6:03 am (8 months ago)

    So many interesting points to think about Karen from your discussion. Firstly your point about being locked out of scholarly information due to paywalls. It is problemtatic for openeness that while technology can increase access, commercialisation interests have also reduced access and you can see this in access to articles and also if I look at in other areas like audio books for schools there is a similar issue. Years ago an audiobook CD could be borrowed by many students with visual impairments but now that is more difficult due to licensing restrictions on MP4. So it is not always the great democratising platform that people often think it is.
    Your discussion on the participatory gap resonates with the focus of my paper, where I feel that navigating and utilising participatory networks are another literacy that we need to develop for true digital scholarship. Even for many of us in this course where we are quite open to experimentation this opening up of your work to others online is a new ecology with new cultural learnings needed. New language, interactions with people you do not have a deep connection with, navigating the nuances of written online feedback which don’t provide the same nuances of face to face. It is a brave new world for all of us. Exciting too.
    I can see too where your interest in open education resources have now fed into your case study research and I will really look forward to that.

      September 18, 2017 at 12:00 am (8 months ago)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Lisa, I really appreciate your thoughts. I have enjoyed exploring the concept of openness and the arguments around it because it is an emerging area that has significant implications for education. I agree that our discussion papers complement each others with your discussion of participatory networks and the skills and attitudes required to be a digital scholar. It is an exciting brave new world to work in.


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