INF537 Digital Scholarship Discussion Paper


What is digital scholarship? How can it enhance education in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research? What is scholarship? We cannot define digital scholarship without understanding what scholarship is. Scholarship has traditionally been seen by many as “research and study on a specific topic related to their academic field or professional concerns” (“Defining Scholarship,” 2003). This has broadened in time to include the following four functions of scholarship: discovery, integration, application and teaching (Scanlon, 2014). Wikipedia considers digital scholarship to include “both scholarly communication using digital media and research on digital media” (“Digital scholarship,” 2015). According to Pearce et al (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b, p. 767), digital scholarship is

more than just using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate, but it is embracing the open values, ideology and potential of technologies born of peer-to-peer networking and wiki ways of working in order to benefit both the academy and society.

The key points to digital scholarship are openness and sharing and participating with peers. While these ideas are seen to be readily taken up in many industries and commercial areas, education at many levels, has taken slow steps to embrace these ideas (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009; Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Kinsley, 2010; N Selwyn, 2010; Neil Selwyn, 2013). Some of these slow steps, particularly at a primary and secondary level, can be seen as ensuring that students have an equitable access to materials for study and scholarship (Rochester, 2014; Neil Selwyn, 2013). However, Lee (2015) in his article Why schools have to go digital to remain viable, does highlight that the time is coming when education will need to be digital and accessible 24/7/365, to allow open access to students for their learning. This is in turn, impacting on the tertiary education sector by requiring university lecturers to incorporate technology into their courses allowing openness and connecting with students and peers to improve their course offerings and research. Both can be seen as driving the other in different aspects of the digital uptake in scholarship.

While going digital may include just offering materials online, it should go further than this to enhance knowledge growth of students, teachers and researchers. Learning and scholarship is not limited in a geographical sense as it once was, it is becoming borderless through technology (Rochester, 2014, p. 1008). Scholars can interact and collaborate with others in many different countries and regions of the world by using digital means including blogs, YouTube, twitter, wikis and personal websites, to name a few (Pearce et al., 2010; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b; Weller, 2012).  Using social networking sites in a professional scholarly sense is still under-utilised by many due to cultural expectations (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a).  However, using a number of these tools has allowed scholars to enrich their research and permit a faster access to their materials by others instead of publishing in a traditional scholarly journal. It also incorporates a social aspect of learning to allow a deeper understanding to be gained through online conversations to demonstrate a clearer meaning for those interacting with the scholar. Dabrowska (2015) highlights a few ideas in this, particularly within the explaining a concept and gaining feedback when preparing to teach an idea.

There are issues with fostering an open and online digital scholarship in tertiary settings at this stage. Veletsianos & Kimmons (2012b) and Weller (2011) have noted that there has been resistance to incorporating aspects of digital scholarship. This appears not to be from the overarching university level, but by the various disciplines within the university, particularly when considering tenures and promotions. This is more of a problem for the social sciences rather than the hard sciences. The hard sciences have distinct data sets that can be shared as it saves duplication by others of the same data when published. Social sciences use secondary sources and there are limited established frameworks for evaluating the legitimacy and quality of the work if shared in non-traditional formats. This is an area still to be developed within the social sciences arena. However, this does not stop scholars in the social science area from reaching out to others for feedback and collaboration on different areas of interest before publishing their work in a more traditional format.

This leads discussion towards Open Educational Resources (OER). While there is no overriding definition of OER, they are digital resources that are in the public domain, and may include creative commons works.  It can include open data. OER works allow anyone to access them. Open access journals are also a part of OER. As part of digital scholarship, some are interested in publishing in open access journals to permit others to access their materials in a speedier fashion than the traditional journal format, which can have lengthy lag times between submission and publishing of articles and restraints from print publications that have transferred to online publications which do not appear to be required anymore (Pearce et al., 2010). Open publishing enriches scholarship in the wider community and may lead to benefits for society from the resources that can be accessed. Scanlon highlights that

[c]urrent changes in the academic landscape driven by moves towards open publishing and open educational resources are accelerating (2014, p. 21)

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) often use OER and are incorporated in digital scholarship by many people who are not attending institutions for a formal degree. Others may access MOOCs for part of their degree. Some of this may change in the future. MOOCs are a form of Open Education, continuing the openness of scholarship. Jurenas notes that originally

the intended purposes of such courses were to provide material for direct student access without the necessity of enrolling in a university and to make such material available to educators to use for their own professional purposes (2014, p. 18)

However, more recently, they can be defined as a way of bringing interested people together where they are facilitated by one or more experts in the area offered by the course (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010). According to Jurenas (2014), there are two main approaches of a MOOC: cMOOC which is a connectivist MOOC using a facilitator and requires students to interact with each other; and xMOOC which is a traditional format of learning transferred online engages in a behaviourist learning process. MOOCs often use mastery learning as part of their online course structure to assist in student success (Shelton, Mason, & Cummings, 2014). Online learning should include the opportunity to reflect on knowledge development and should include active participation by the student and teacher or facilitator. Some universities are offering their own MOOCs while others are not with some concerns over the impact on professional duties of professors (Jurenas, 2014).

A part of scholarship is teaching. As time goes by, it is likely that many, if not all universities will require some blended learning experiences with students by tenured scholars. Torrisi-Steele highlights this as a major challenge for some university teaching staff as they start to adopt technology as required by the need to adapt to the expected connected learning environments of students.

Many students coming into university are immersed in new technologies and live in a highly connected social network and there is an expectation that the technologies with which they interact with on a daily basis will also be in their learning environment (Torrisi-Steele, 2014, p. 807)

There is an influential role in scholars who use technology and digital means to share their learning and are held up by peers and others in their academic area as champions of the use of technology in a blended learning environment. As part of this environment, they may not just be using online resources, OER or otherwise, but they may require students to interact using social networking sites to reflect and build on their learning. By being held up as a champion, they can encourage others in their academic field to engage and use digital means to increase their scholarship and teaching. This championship of scholars to embrace digital teaching and learning can also foster an attempt to begin using digital means to teach and, with time, an ability to interact with students in an engaging manner in which they have come to expect by being connected. It also can allow students, as scholars to reflect and build on their learning using Web 2.0 technologies, which are participatory and collaborative (Greenhow et al., 2009). Greenhow et al also note that

Validity of knowledge in Web 2.0 environments is established through peer review in an engaged community … knowledge is decentralised, accessible, and co-constructed by and among a broad base of users. (2009, p. 247)

Web 2.0 allows learners to connect with others to create and share independently developed information, presentations of all sorts of media and applications in a world wide scale. This creation and sharing can include re-mixing of content which can sometimes blur the lines for scholars looking at particular knowledge field, posing a problem for those looking at primary and secondary sources of data (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). Web 2.0 is interactive, particularly considering such formats as blogs, wikis, media sharing sites which allow comments and discussions to be held with the creators of the content. This interactivity allows participation by nearly anyone who is interested in the content produced. Some formats can be locked from public access to more localised, private access. This may be a way that some scholars can share their work before a formal publication with others in their field if needed, as it can allow collaboration across a significant geographical distance.

Greenhow et al (2009) also develop the concept that academic lives online and social scholarship is potentially a vital part of a scholar’s livelihood in the connected world of today. A reason that the digital scholarship idea has not yet been taken up by many, is the fact that they have not had it modelled to them by their teachers and instructors. With modelling, it would not be such a big concern for more to take up aspects of digital scholarship. Greenhow et al suggest that this may “allow scholars to distinguish among the hype, fallacies and the appropriate and educative potential of this new participatory technologies (2009, p. 252). Web 2.0 allows a connection between traditional formal scholarship practices with informal social Internet-based practices. It welcomes the openness of the digital space and allows collaboration between potential colleagues much more easily than traditional lengthy and potentially difficult to arrange collaborations offline. Web 2.0 allows the scholar to create content that can be used again and again with easy access if stored and linked online, eg podcasts and vodcasts of lecture materials. These materials may add to their students’ learning or it may act as a recording of their scholarship for others to access much like a journal article or conference presentation may once have recorded their scholarly endeavours.

Digital scholarship may be considered to be a continuum at this stage of implementation and online interactivity, similar to the idea of an open science spectrum as raised in Scanlon (2014, p. 18). Some scholars are willing and readily engaging in digital scholarship practices while others are still beginning to explore the idea, without yet venturing further than the required teaching components of using online resources.


Reference List

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