A parallel, even shadow, scholarly system
This just in: My book, Networked Scholars, is (mostly) complete. It’s out of my hands – as much as book that hasn’t yet been printed is out of anyone’s hands – and I am happy that I have had the experience of writing it.
One of the conclusions/implications of the book that I believe deserves more conversation is the fact that a parallel, even “shadow,” scholarly environment is arising – this is the environment in which networked scholarship is operating. It behooves scholars and institutions to make better sense of it. Shadow educational systems are not new – the private tutoring industry in Cyprus is a prime example of how such systems operate. However, “shadow” or parallel systems take many forms. Siemens argued that a shadow education system has arisen, one in which individuals use the Internet to learn without the support of educational institutions. He argues that this has occurred as a result of institutions of learning having failed to recognize the demand for the unique needs of complex contemporary societies. While this argument focuses on learners, a similar situation is occurring in terms of scholarly practice: The shadow education system that Siemens sees arising encompasses a scholarly environment that runs parallel to the traditional one. This environment, facilitated and encouraged by online social networks, serves scholarly functions and features and supports the development, sharing, negotiation, and evaluation of knowledge. It also functions as an environment where scholars do scholarly things that have little to do with knowledge creation. In this parallel environment, scholars have,
- supported peers and students regardless of hierarchy and institutional affiliation;
- provided advice and care in time of need;
- commented on peers’ in-progress manuscripts;
- delivered guest lectures or have taught open courses, and
- created and shared videos and other media summarizing their scholarship.
Many of these activities have occurred with little or no institutional support and in many instances with little or no institutional oversight.
This is not to say that the emerging parallel scholarly environment is always effective and fair. Many of the power relations and inequities that exist in the traditional scholarly environment are reproduced in networks. For instance, replacing citation/journal metrics with social media metrics does little to resist reductionist agendas.
This parallel environment also appears to encompass (some) alternative signals of influence, prestige, and impact: Follower counts. Presence. But, as Stewart notes, recognizable signals – such as Oxford – are still powerful.
Will this environment replace the traditional one? It’s doubtful, but scholarly environments evolve with the cultures that house them, and as such, I expect that both the traditional environment and this parallel one will converge.