INF537 Digital scholarship interpretive discussion paper

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Assessment

It is interesting in a time when we are championing networked education, the ethos of networked educators and the need to grow from traditional teaching methodologies to blended teaching approaches, that we are still in a relative dark age when it comes to academia accepting the scholarship of a digital scholar as authentic work (Cross, 2008; Weller, 2011; Heap, & Minocha, 2012; Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Kingsley, 2010). Technology makes connecting and collaborating easier than never before (Nussbaum-Beach, & Hall, 2012). It makes sense to reach out and seek peer review and input from a wider audience as there is a finite amount we can learn by ourselves, especially if academic endeavours are hidden under a bushel open to only the select few (Fullan, & Hargreaves, 1991; Nussbaum-Beach, & Hall, 2012) in the case of ‘possessive individualism’ or the lone scholar (Rosenzweig, 2007; Pearce, 2010).

Before investigating digital scholarship and the role it plays in the modern scholar’s life it is first important to understand the term scholar and for this paper it is best defined by Weller (2011) as a learned or specialist in a given division of knowledge. A scholar may gain tenure through a strict set of parameters that include (but not limited to) past and continued teaching practice and more importantly research undertaken within their field of study that is published in peer reviewed publications (Costa, 2015; Cross, 2008; Wolski, & Richardson, 2014; Weller, 2011; Veletsianos, & Kimmons, 2012). Unlike the images of dusty academics working by candle light it highlights that society needs to reimagine its collective image of academics, as reality is far from this outdated vision. In the realm of academia there has been an ongoing division as to what is deemed to be a scholarly pursuit. This is not new debate and has been discussed for decades (Wolski, & Richardson, 2014; Weller, 2011; Heap, & Minocha, 2012; Veletsianos, & Kimmons, 2012; Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Kingsley, 2010). Scholars working in academic institutions such as universities, even now are using social media and new technologies not prescribed by the institution on an ad hoc basis to encourage discourse around their work with peers and the general public (Pearce, 2010; Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Kingsley, 2010).

Boyer (1990) in his work “Scholarship reconsidered” suggested that society needs a more inclusive view of scholars that includes an understanding of how their knowledge is acquired through discovery, integration, application and teaching. Boyer’s work (1990), though a solid place to start (Weller, 2011) is now over two decades old (Heap, & Minocha, 2012) and primarily focuses on the individual, there are other conceptual quality frameworks that could also be used in the argument to support the growing need for digital scholarship to be recognised. Borgman (2007) considered three categories to reflect on the process of digital scholarly communication: legitimization, dissemination and access, preservation and curation, which focuses on the scholarship outputs of teams (Hank, 2013) and when applied to Kjellberg’s analytical framework for scholarly blogging (Kjellber, 2009) it is possible to see that there are synergies to be drawn across all these frameworks that can support the recognition of digital scholarly research outputs of both individual and teams.

The research for authentic online learning model outlined by Herrington and Parker (2013) Herrington, Reeves and Oliver (2007) and Cua (2014) is aimed at authentic online learning experiences for students, however, this could be used to form a basis of a capability quality framework, in conjunction with the frameworks of Boyer (1990), Borgman (2007), Kjellberg (2009) and Heap and Minocha (2012), for how institutions can authenticate digital scholarly outputs by scholars, especially regarding research. This can be easily explored through the concept of participatory Web 2.0 tools such as blogging by scholars. A new language must be developed about how scholars’ multi-modal and participatory outputs are considered in terms of publication and tenure (DePalma, & Alexander, 2015).

Salmon (2005) in her work regarding strategic frameworks for e-learning encapsulated the role of digital scholarship being one of flapping and not flying and suggests more needs to be done to support scholars in the development of skills to ensure that digital scholarship can be recognised by institutions as valid. Digital scholarship can leverage the affordances offered by mobile technology (Cochrane, & Bateman, 2010; Laurillard, 2009) while not creating a digital divide for scholars (Costa, 2015) by revisiting the terms of what is scholarship and relate it to digital born outputs. Weller (2011) put forward that outputs for digital scholarship need to be (1) digital, (2) networked and (3) open. The term digital scholar, and indeed for a scholar to become one, implies the need for a cultural change as the engagement with new technologies means that scholars who are using participatory Web 2.0 tools are causing a wicked problem for recognition of scholarly activity in a digital format (Costa, 2015).

The term digital scholarship is more and more being used to refer to the use of social media and participatory Web 2.0 software in academia and research (Heap, & Minocha, 2012), blogging is a useful output to frame the discussion about scholarship in the digital format. In the past formally published items such as peer reviewed journals and manuscripts formed the backbone for what was considered academic writing (Hank, 2013). This view is being challenged by the participatory Web 2.0 tools and the affordances they provide scholars (Luckin et al, 2011; Bower, 2008; Laurillard, 2009; Martindale, & Wiley, 2007; Sappey, & Relf, 2010; Sheffield, 2015; Cochrane, & Bateman, 2010). The affordances that blogging offers academic scholars are varied, but can encompass collaboration, interactivity, connectivity and social rapport, content creation and curation (Kirkup, 2010).

Blogging can be argued to be the conversational scholarship and have made scholarly work accessible to those outside the hallowed halls of academia (Gregg, 2006; Kirkup, 2010). Walker (2006) identifies three types of academic blogs (1) public intellectuals (2) research blogs and (3) pseudonymous blogs about academic life, but it’s only the first two types of blogs that hold a place in the discussion of digital scholarship (Gregg, 2009). It is critical that the distinction be drawn between scholars writing an academic blog and a blog written by a scholar (Mewburn, & Thomson, 2013).

The key problem with traditional academic writing and scholarship, though it develops the reputation of the scholar and likewise associated institutions, is that it is writing that never leaves the institution (Brett, 1991; Gregg, 2006). However, academic blogging on the other hand makes the scholarly work accessible and accountable to a wide readership and opens the content up for deep scrutiny from others outside of the learning area and supports the emergent practice of networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos, & Kimmons, 2012). Blogging enables scholars to share early research results and gives them the ability to debate and discuss results with peers prior to formal publication and they are also able to seek input with experimental issues (Powell, Jacob, & Chapman, 2012). By leveraging the affordances of blogs researchers can disclose details of method design, data collection and initial results and the affordances also offer the researcher the ability to provide links and embed media to support their research (Bower, 2008; Costa, 2014; Heap, & Minocha, 2012). Blogs can be tools that support scholars in facilitating their research, collaboration with a wider audience and sharing their knowledge which supports the openness of being a digital scholar (Park, Heo, & Lee, 2011).

If scholars are using Web 2.0 tools to support their pedagogy and to model lifelong learning principles then it is imperative that exemplars are created of high quality scholarly work to support the context of concepts and to provide points of reference for students (DePalma, & Alexander, 2015; Goodfellow, 2013; Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009; Heap, & Minocha, 2012; Kirkup, 2010), currently this is not the case for many teaching areas. The ability to demonstrate effective use of the multi-modal design of a blog is important for scholars to come to terms with, but also forms an integral part of providing authentic learning experiences for students (Herrington, & Parker, 2013; Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2007; Cua, 2014). For outputs to be considered as exemplars the scholar needs to blog under their real name rather than a pseudonymous, as this will lend authenticity to their work, and enable them to use this digital scholarship as part of their discussions around tenure where academic outputs are to be demonstrated (Walker, 2006; Weller, 2011; Kirkup, 2010; Heap, & Minocha, 2012).

The need to develop the necessary skills around digital technologies could conceivably be started in the K-12 education space, the VET environment, as well as post-secondary. Skills for writing for an online audience can be developed through blogging and academic blogging (Walker, 2006; Gregg, 2009; Kirkup, 2010) with the thought the more you blog the better you become at it being paramount. Reflective writing in a blog can form an important part of authentic online learning and to ensure its authenticity students must have a specific purpose for their writing (Herrington, & Parker 2013; Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2007), equally reflective blog writing could form another dimension to research projects that have been funded as it adds a level of openness and dynamisms to the project as it has a key purpose of reflecting about the research process (Heap, & Minocha, 2012).

The practice of peer review in academia is well-known to form a critical part of scholarship, but many feel that this is absent from academic blogging (Cross, 2008; Gregg, 2006; Powell, Jacob, & Chapman, 2011). Though there is the ability to add comments to blogs, the key point is that this is not true peer review (Sheffield, 2015; Cross, 2008; Weller, 2011). Hank (2013) challenged this point by observing that the peer review process does form a gatekeeping function and that the use of comments on blogs could free an academic from this locked-step approach of formal peer review and thus open a scholars work up to scrutiny from a wide audience, though admittedly less expert. This could then reasonably be used as part of the discourse around scholarship of academics.

The discussion around how to quantify the scholarly output of a scholar in light of digital scholarship is always problematic. Metrics are used regarding publications and citations that are then linked directly to performance and funding, however, currently there is little acknowledgement of the digital scholarship that many scholars create. In a world of big data and user analytics it should become standard that digital scholarship is accounted for. Frameworks that can incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to investigate digital scholarship could be created to capture information about digital scholarship using, for instance, in blogs monitor link analysis, usage statistics such as page views or comment analysis and blog posts citing articles (Veletsianos, & Kimmons, 2012; Wolski, & Richardson, 2014; Kjellberg, 2010). This could help scholars and institutions to understand the impact that digital scholarship and subsequently the outreach it is having (Veletsianos, & Kimmons, 2012).

Though the affordances of blogs are varied there is a concern about the longevity of them in terms of accessibility, duration and digital preservation (Walker, 2006; Pearce, 2010). Unlike traditional journal articles that can be housed in curated collections within a library or publishing house there is simply not the same robust set of preservation strategies around digital outputs, especially if they are created ad hoc and not within an institutions supported ICT (Pearce, 2010). Gregg (2009) identifies blogs as short term, which lends support to the need for institutions to capture important academic information from scholar’s academic blogs (Cross, 2008). With-out prudent, timely intervention of preservation strategies traditional forms of scholarly output will continued to be favoured (DePalma, & Alexander, 2015; Walker, 2006).

Scholars work in the genres of their time (Walker, 2006) and with the advancements in technology and the fast pace of adoption institutions are moving at a glacial pace to recognise and accept the scholarship outputs in a digital space such as an academic blog. It is unmistakable that technology is creating new situations for learning with digital scholarship opening up scholars to new and different ways of working that needs to be valued by academia. There are those who will embrace new technologies and new ways of working and understand its benefits to both society and academia (Weller, 2011) and will lead at the forefront. Whilst these scholars have embraced the new, they have become hamstrung by the lack of acknowledgement for scholarship contained in these tools, such as blogs (Sheffield, 2015; Cross, 2008; Weller, 2011). With usage analytics it is possible for universities and institutions to track the activity of the academic blog and can be tied to the carefully constructed metrics that are currently employed against publications rates that result in funding. Powell, Jacob and Chapman (2012) eludes to blogs not replacing traditional forms of scholarship, but blogs and Web 2.0 participatory scholarship should become part of the body of evidence to demonstrate scholarly activity and discussion as blogs can and do complement as well as contribute to traditional forms of scholarly publication.

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