Digital Scholarship: An Interpretive Essay

Digital Scholarship as Constructivist Leadership

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If teachers want reform in education, they will need to be directly involved in this journey, rather than simply be objects of study (Lierberman, 1992). This paper, therefore, positions digital scholarship in the secondary school setting as an emerging practice that has the potential to transform education, learning and teaching. The wider context is one where “experts” spend a lot of time talking about teachers and their work, yet, often exclude the voice of teachers themselves and their lived experiences in classrooms (Ryan, et al., 2017). With the intent of liberating scholarly practice from “the academy” (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016, p. 15), an inclusive view of “teacher as scholar” (Ryan, et al.) is presented. This inclusive view is supported by a perception that “in a digital, networked, open world people become less defined by the institution to which they belong and more by the network and online identity they establish” (Weller, 2011, p. 12). Emerging technologies and practices are those “not defined by [their] newness, [are] coming into being, not-yetness: and [have] unfulfilled but promising potential” (Veletsianos, 2016 p. 7). Furthermore, digital scholarship in the context of secondary education is also interpreted as “constructivist leadership” (Lowery, 2016).

Networked Participatory Scholarship
Tensions exist in literature as to how to describe and define scholarly activity that builds a reputation via social media tools typified by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Voicethread and blogs, thereby building a “nimbus of social” around scholarly impetus (Educause, 2014). Exploration of this scholarly Web 2.0 enabled activity drives us towards concepts of digital scholarship whilst encountering terms such as “social”, “conversational”, “open” as well as “Networked Participatory Scholarship” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012 p. 778). Furthermore, depending on the context of discussions, we discover that individuals who employ digital tools in their scholarship are described as social scholars, open scholars or digital scholars (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). Digital scholarship includes a range of scholarly and emerging practices, such as digital, networked and open (Weller, 2011). However, Veletsianos and Kimmons’ (2012) description of the emergent practice of Networked Participatory Scholarship is intriguing as it goes “beyond digital scholarship in both scope and value” (p. 768). This discussion takes ownership of this term as it encompasses the scholar’s “use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p. 768). This critical approach appears to explicitly support an approach to digital scholarship as a way of academically informing practice.

Teacher as Scholar
The concept of teacher as scholar is not without precedent (Parsegian, 1976; Worrell, 1965) but a rekindling of an older view of teacher as scholar and researcher (Chall, 1986) that rests on the assumption that teachers can transform the scholarship of teaching (Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes, 2009). There are many different interpretations of what constitutes scholarship and how to describe it (Weller, 2011, p. 50) and therefore, the ensuing exploration is anchored in the Boyer model of scholarship (Boyer, 1990). This model, often perceived as institution-centric, is known for its clarity in identifying four separate but overlapping scholarly functions, namely Discovery, Integration, Application and Teaching, also described as the DIAT structure (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2011). This dynamic and capacious view of scholarship as offered by Boyer acknowledges that “knowledge is generated and acquired not just through research but through teaching as well” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p. 767). This is an essential idea to hold onto while exploring digital scholarship in the secondary education setting. The following discussion journeys through Boyer’s framework, as shown in Figure 1 below, so as to provide a lens to provide clarity to digital scholarship in secondary schools.

Figure 1 Boyer’s Scholarly Framework

Scholarship of Discovery
The scholarship of discovery is about research and commitment to freedom of inquiry in a disciplined fashion. It is about thinking freely and seeing propositions of every kind in ever changing light (Boyer, 1990). How might digital scholarship be interpreted in this context of discovery, to liberate lived experiences of education?

Educational research has been democratised so that research is not just the prerogative of the university. By participating in descriptive, interpretive and change-oriented research (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016) the teacher is able to participate in “scholarly responsible [work]… [to discover new] “ways of seeing”…[and to] “test and/or seek verification of established knowledge” (p. 5). This is potentially liberating work in a school setting where teachers are often called to adopt evidence based and data driven practice (Punch & Oancea, 2014; McMillan & Schumacher, 2014) whilst also not having access to scholarly work that is held in journals hidden behind paywalls. In this realm of knowledge discovery, we can interpret Networked Participatory Scholarship as a potential framework to support the burgeoning tradition in education for critical and democratic analysis (Selwyn, 2010). Teachers-scholars in this context should support context-rich research of the often compromised and constrained social realities of technology use “on the ground” in educational settings (Selwyn, 2010).

The context of educational research is one where “today’s technologies are most significant in terms of the ways in which they alter people’s relationships with information and knowledge” (Selwyn, 2016, Loc 1867). Furthermore, in this context the ontological separation of teachers, learners and knowledge is giving way to postmodern views and net-aware theories of learning such as connectivism (Anderson & Dron, 2011; Siemens, 2004; Wheeler, 2012). This renegotiation has significant implications for how knowledge from research in the school setting is encountered. The digital scholar can once again provide transformational leadership by encouraging descriptive and interpretive research (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016). However, as a constructivist leader (Lowery, 2016) they also promote reflective and reflexive practice by exploring ideas that “knowledge is inexorably socially bound” (Lowery, 2016, p. 49).

In schools now typified by comprehensive digital learning environments (Veletsianos, 2016), which themselves are an emerging technology (Martindale & Dowdy, 2016), knowledge constructed from classroom based research, can be disseminated via social networking tools and distributed into networks of practice (Brown & Duguid, 2000). Findings can be quickly published on teacher personal web pages, blogs or open access journals and “join the emergent practice of scholars’ use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate and further their scholarship” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). The digital scholar, as constructivist leader and researcher, in this instance contributes to the collective knowledge (Downes, 2012) of digital networks.

According to theories of social constructivism (Anderson & Dron, 2011; Anderson, 2016) new ways of seeing may also emerge from such social online interaction. Therefore, in the school system, the digital scholar is a leader who is aware that learning can take place through interaction, in both physical and digital spaces, and where learning is dialogic; with an emphasis on co-creation of knowledge with others (Selwyn, 2016, Loc 1920). These are emerging but potentially significant changes in how a learning community might generate new knowledge, call upon contemporary accounts of technology, knowledge, learning and pedagogy. In this context, digital scholarship can be interpreted as a community endeavour.

Scholarship of Integration
“By integration we mean making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way, often educating non-specialists, too” (Boyer, 1990, p. 18).

The University of Adelaide describes the scholarship of integration as “what you know + what I know can = new paths to new knowledge” (University of Adelaide, n.d). This is about enabling knowledge to be opened out by networked effects and used in an inter-disciplinary manner (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2017). This interdisciplinary practice is driven by a desire and ability to share (Weller, 2011) and with attitudes of openness can result in production and publishing of open education resources (Weller, 2011). These digital artefacts can be published with permissions to be reused, redistributed, revised, remixed and freely shared across digital networks. This ethos of openness is about sharing and being generous (Tedx Talks, 2010). It is interesting to note that these digital strategies mirror Boyer’s call to “move beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, communicate with colleagues in other fields, and discover patterns that connect” (Boyer, 1990, p. 20). Once again, the networked and participatory scholar does this by making use of digital networks, and enacting relevant open education literacies (Kimmons, 2014). As a co-creation activity classroom students would also be called into this creative process by making use of these OER resources or publishing remixed versions; and thereby practicing visible scholarship.

Within the context of Scholarship of Integration, the digital scholar therefore pushes interdisciplinary approaches to learning to the centre of teaching practice. In this context Digital Scholarship takes place in “overlapping [academic] neighbourhoods” (Boyer, 1990, p. 19).

Scholarship of Application
Also known as scholarship of engagement, this third element asks “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?” (Boyer, 1990, p. 21). This form of scholarship is not just about citizenship nor is it about knowledge “first ‘discovered’ and then ‘applied’ (Boyer, 1990, p. 23). It is about reflective practice and making knowledge useful, moving from theory to practice, and from practice back to theory. (Boyer, 1990; Boyer, 1996). Boyer talks about building bridges and building better lives. For the digital scholar, this can be seen as a metaphor for building digital bridges and again manipulating digital networks as a democratic process to serve the interests of the larger community (Boyer, 1996).

This is a call for action to the Networked Participatory Scholar to activate digital skills and pedagogical knowledge to improve global communities. Such an approach is exemplified by a number of collaborative projects. For instance, The Flat Classroom Project (Lindsay & Davis, 2010) brings middle and senior high school students together in a global collaborative effort. As a clear example of the application of knowledge of digital literacies and networked practices, this project aims to transform learning through global collaboration. A second example is the ‘Code the Future’ global community that brings together educators and technology developers to assist with students with coding (Code The Future, n.d.). In this application of knowledge, the Networked Participatory Scholar again acts as a constructivist leader by embracing “new spaces for democratic dialogue and acts of social justice” (Lowery, 2016) and that theory leads to practice and practice also leads to theory (Boyer, 1990).

Scholarship of Teaching
“[I]nspired teaching keeps the flame of scholarship alive.” (Boyer 1990, p. 24).

 This is a site of an “uncertain pedagogical adventure characterised by novel modes of subjective engagement” (Atkinson, 2015, p. 43) and where the networked participatory scholar may push past dominant conceptions of pedagogy. We began within a context of teaching practitioner as researcher that broke down the false dichotomy between practice and research, that still influences our education system (O’Toole & Beckett, 2010). So, it is too at this site of teaching where pedagogy can promote “subjects/entities [to] emerge from the relationship that do not exist prior to it” (Atkinson). Thus, in this context digital scholarship promotes teaching as a “reflective dialogic practice promoting learning” (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2011, p. 15) while “participating in the perpetual Beta of knowledge creation through the co-creation of learning” (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2011, p. 15). Atkinson calls this “pedagogies of the not known” (p. 46) and “pedagogical practices as creative encounters” (p. 52). In this context, the networked and participatory scholar advances learning theory through contextual research and practice, brokers new learning experiences and develops open students (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2011).

The assumption here is that the practice of digital scholarship will make use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, critique and improve the scholarship of teaching. The classrooms become the beginning of a journey towards social learning where understanding is socially constructed by participation in “open participatory learning ecosystems” (Brown & Adler, 2008) and learning consists of the ability to traverse these open, digital networks (Downes, 2012).

“We acknowledge that these four categories, and of teaching – divide intellectual functions that are tied inseparably to each other.” (Boyer, 1990)

In the school setting networked and participatory scholars give voice to reform. Working in the space where digital, networked and open approaches to teaching and learning converge they act as constructivist leaders and actively encourage community practice. The digital scholarship that they promulgate bridges theory with practice and pays homage to Boyer’s viewpoint that knowledge is not developed in a linear fashion and teaching shapes both research and practice. The digital practitioner-scholar embodies agile leadership in new cultures of digital learning whilst venturing into the realm of knowledge networks and digital innovation.


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