Digital Scholarship

When you picture a scholar or try to visualise scholarship, what do see? A graduation cap? A lecturer with tenure, sitting in an office? A dusty old library? A meeting of bearded men, sitting around a darkly stained oak table, quibbling over which papers should be included in the next journal publication?

 

Scholarship is “learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar.” The term does have a bit of a stuffy reputation though. It has a knowledge-in-physical-books feel; it has teacher-as-guardian-of-knowledge feel; it has write-a-paper-to-show-you’ve-mastered-the-content feel. Much of academic scholarship has indeed, and still does, suffer from these afflictions:

 

  • Knowledge, as defined in reputable journals, is slow to be produced
  • Once it is published, it’s published
  • It’s expensive and locked away behind paywalls
  • As such, it’s disseminated / read by not enough people
  • Data sets / information from different sources cannot be cross-referenced easily

 

Enter Digital Scholarship.

 

Digital Scholarship seeks to enhance the scholarly work that researchers and students take part in by leveraging the affordances of three foundational pillars: digital, networked, and open.

 

“Digital scholarship is more than just using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate; it also includes 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” (Weller, 2011).

 

A Digital Scholar:

 

  • Publishes freely to a blog or other online space
  • Is altruistic with knowledge, creating open resources and using Creative Commons licenses
  • Seeks (and gives) formative feedback (informal peer-review)
  • Connects with other Digital Scholars in social networks
  • Uses efficient strategies for discovering, searching for, and curating information
  • Integrates previously disparate sets of information, connects dots, sees the bigger picture
  • Has a strong online identity, and considers how to best reach a wide audience
  • Can collaborate online with diverse populations

 

Digital Scholarship is in its infancy – it’s not quite an accepted approach to scholarship in academic circles yet. Its critics cite:

 

  • Reliability and legitimacy of information issues because it hasn’t been through a long period of verification and review
  • Author rights are eroded as knowledge becomes “open-game”, able to be parsed, remixed, and commented on
  • Digital does not nesseasrily mean open – lots of universities and companies are making money off content which has just been duplicated online and locked behind a paywall
  • Academics get little recognition for their boundary-pushing Digital Scholarship effort – network building, blogging, and social network connecting – so why do it when they could be doing other things more likely to get them tenure

 

Scholarship is just another sector going through change brought about by the digital – open – networked triad. Hospitality (AirBnB), transport (Uber), music (Spotify), entertainment (Netflix), mapping (Waze), media… financial services… the list goes on. Sectors which do not respond are likely to fade out, slowly but surely – sorry video rental stores, music stores, travel agents, newspaper reporters, and accountants.

 

Is education another of these sectors on the fade?

 

No way, but it’s hard to defend the argument that the education sector has been very slow to innovate. There are pockets of innovation in many schools (primary, secondary, higher education) around the world now, but nothing systemic seems to have taken root. The promises of Digital Scholarship have not yet, in any case.

 

The question which I am exploring over the next few months is how might the digital – open – networked triad might be effecting education, particularly in the K-5 bracket. Is it effecting it at all? Should it be?

 

How might our youngest students become Digital Scholars: what hard skills, what soft skills, what scaffolds, what learning experiences, what modelling, what assessment is required to help them take advantage of working, learning, and living in our growing participatory culture. Is this important for them? For us as educators? Or are there other priorities?

 

Lots of juicy questions and areas of inquiry to delve into.

 

Please leave your ideas down below – your resources, or readings – any leads you may think may be useful.

 

References:

Weller, Martin. “The Nature of Scholarship.” The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. 41–51. Bloomsbury Collections.

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