Digital Scholarship Debate at #EdMedia 2011: Additional pressures

This year’s debate at the EdMedia conference, focused on the following motion:

This house believes that in the next decade, digital scholarship (in open journals, blogs, and social media) will achieve the same status in academic settings as traditional scholarship

Martin Weller was in favor and has shared his slides (with audio) on his blog (thanks!)

My perspective on the issue is that we, as educational technology researchers and scholars, albeit early adopters and perhaps not representative of the population of scholars, have started paving the way for the recognition of digital scholarship in our discipline. I am hesitant to compare digital scholarship to “traditional” scholarship because I don’t consider “traditional” scholarship to be a monolithic concept, nor do I consider scholarship to be a binary divided between traditional and digital.  But, I agree with Martin that there’s a move towards more digital forms of scholarship, and in addition to the pressures he identifies, I wanted to add the following:

  • Participatory cultures in existence outside of the university encourage us (academics, universities) to move towards a more social form of participation enhanced by digital technologies. For instance, as a society we have found great value in large collaborative projects (e.g., the development of GNU/Linux). We increasingly see such project taking place in academia (e.g., Crowdsourced Video).
  • Scholars as agents of change. Scholars have begun questioning a number of assumptions upon scholarship has been built. Examples include peer review, the value of collaboration, engagement with diverse audiences, etc.

While these pressures do not necessarily guarantee adoption (or reconsideration of traditional approaches), they point to a rethinking of the ways we do things. Conversations around these issues are important and valuable for they allow us to recognize the changing nature of scholarship in the 21st century.


SITE 2012 in Austin, TX


Destination: Cyprus. Purpose: STELLAR Fellowship


  1. Hi George,

    by very virtue of the fact that this conversation is being shaped largely on blogs like yours and on Twitter is testimony to how much digital scholarship is shaping scholarship as a whole.

    I don’t see any value either in viewing it as an either/or proposition, a much more useful way of framing it, as Martin Weller does, is how digital scholarship offers viable alternatives.

  2. Hi Brett,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m not convinced that scholarship is shaped by digital practices or tools. I believe that scholarly practice is shaping how we enact “digital scholarship” while at the same time technological innovations are influencing scholarly practice. Furthermore, we need to clarify who “we” are. “We” are probably early adopters, comfortable with digital cultures and understanding of the principles of the Web (e.g., openness & sharing). We also need to clarify “where” digital scholarship is making a difference in terms of both the types of institutions and departments that would embrace it. I am making this argument because if it is just individuals who are researching digital scholarship are the proponents/users of it, then I am not sure that we are shaping scholarship outside of our own filter bubble.

  3. Is it just individuals who are researching digital scholarship? Are they the proponents/units of it? Are “we” shaping scholarship outside of our own filter bubble? I think it depends on one’s affiliation with institutions, and or that of the networks. I don’t think digital scholarship – with openness, digital and networked is yet fully embraced under a “traditional scholarly environment”. If we were to survey our fellow networkers, scholars and educators, we would be surprised to know the answer to: how many of them would practise scholarship inside/outside institutions? I don’t think we have enough information to draw the conclusion, but I would agree with you that “We” are probably early adopters, comfortable with digital cultures and understanding of the principles of the Web (e.g., openness & sharing).” It may take years to fully assimilate the “practice of digital scholarship” as it is still not yet on the mainstream practice. If the tenure and recognition system is based on the peer-review and publish, and teaching based on “excellence” from an instructivist paradigm, then scholarship is scholarship, and there is not much difference between digital and non-digital when perceived from administrative/institutional point of view. Would this be a value judgment? From an institutional perspective, a digital scholar perspective, or a traditional scholar perspective? John

  4. The emphasis on “digital” may not be where we want to be taking this discussion. The goal of scholarly practice, in my opinion, is impact. It shouldn’t matter whether it is digital or not, as long as it influences practice in a positive manner. Digital ways of dissemination may be capable of reaching more individuals, but it doesn’t mean that because it’s “digital” (whatever that means) or because it may have a greater reach, it will have an impact. I also don’t think that peer-review is necessarily bad or evil: yes, I have misgivings when my papers are not reviewed in a timely manner; yes, I have had papers returned to me because the reviewers did not like my way of writing or way of doing research… but all of my manuscripts have been improved as a result of going through peer-review. Do we need a new system? Maybe. Maybe not. What is important I believe in developing new systems is to take into account the values of all stakeholder, otherwise the systems that we create might be as unequal as the systems that they purport to replace.

  5. “The goal of scholarly practice, in my opinion, is impact. It shouldn’t matter whether it is digital or not, as long as it influences practice in a positive manner.” Well said, agreed. Digital ways of dissemination may not have an impact directly, as any one could now access information with the press of a button – by Googling, by internet and web surfing. The new era of scholarship (whether it is digital or not) relates more with knowledge creation as shared here However, “many academics still dismiss emergent learning and Web2.0 as peripheral or even irrelevant to “real” formal learning because they see no mechanism for validation and self-correction” (Roy et al, 2011) on Emergent Learning. So, whilst validation with peer review is still relevant in research publication, what digital scholarship would encourage us to do is to go beyond the “peer review” by sharing in an open, networked and digital manner, so that knowledge creation becomes an open, transparent and community process, rather than locked inside the institution’s or publisher’s repository after the review, on a pay to read basis. So, in this regard, I fully agreed that we still need a formal review process – that may still be in the form of peer review, in order to assure quality of “knowledge created”. There are however other forms of such reviews, like community reviews, which would also be an emergent practice for digital scholarship. Our research papers on CCK08 research were posted prior to the final publication in the Conference, as we invited the community to review our papers. This may not be a “standard practice” as perceived by formal scholarship, but I do think this would further assure the quality of knowledge creation, when used in conjunction with peer review. The open-networked research approach using Web2.0 – blogs & social media that are inherent in digital scholarship would also provide a role model for other fellow colleagues and scholars to follow suit – in leveraging the affordance due to technology, self-organised learning (research), cloud-based sourcing of information and open collective inquiry that goes beyond institutions. So would there still be values for all stakeholders, if such digital scholarship are not only institutionally based, but networked based? Our conversation here surely is going beyond each of our institutions. But the values derived from understanding could go beyond each of our own views of scholarship. John

  6. Depends on what you mean by “value.” Value in terms of generating knowledge? Perhaps. Value in terms of enhancing institutions’ prestige though widely used measures of success? Probably not. On a side note: I am not convinced that digital scholarship per se encourages us to do anything. Do we blog because we believe in openness? Or are we open because we picked up blogging? The relationship between technology, scholarly practice, and cultural values is too complex to draw any conclusive solutions.

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