“On Scholarship…” (narrative)

I have written quite a bit about “scholarship,” making my views on our current system of scholarly communication quite well known. In particular, I wrote a piece for the UCEA Review called, Scholar 2.0: Public Intellectualism Meets the Open Web. Subsequently, on my blog, I posted a follow-up called Scholarship 2.0: Rethinking “impact factor”. Rather than reproduce what I wrote there, I strongly encourage you to read those pieces. Below, I borrow liberally from what I have written in other spaces, and add to it as I write about the modern, engaged, digital scholarship

Why the Modern, Engaged, Digital Scholar?

In a recent lecture before the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Harvard law professor Larry Lessig argued that the current infrastructure for scholarly communication is not consistent with the objectives of The Enlightenment. Rather, the system is more consistent with the reality of the “elite-nment.” That is, for the most part, knowledge created by academics is placed mostly in outlets that can be accessed only by “the knowledge elite.”

The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge from lessig on Vimeo.

Lessig goes on to speak about medical research specifically, and implies that there is potentially great consumer demand for medical research. That is, medical research is produced by and shared within the medical community, but medical professionals are not the only potential “consumers.” Virtually anyone who has ever been treated for even a slightly complicated medical condition can imagine the benefits of having access to medical research.

This stands in contrast to scholarship in the humanities, for example. Bauerlein (2011) argues that there is an abundance of literary research that is well conceived, but of little to no import; it may well get read, but it has no impact as documented by a lack of references or citations to the work. He proposes cutting down the supply of literary research. Davidson (2011) replies by stating that:

Academics have no requirement, or indeed incentive, to read the articles their system demands they produce… Put another way, there is no market for academic research in the humanities. Well, aside from grad students forced to do literature reviews.

Thus, instead of cutting the supply, Davidson argues for increasing the demand. Specifically, she suggests instituting a continuing education requirement for humanities faculty members.

In making a similar argument, again for the humanities, Berlinerblau (2012) writes:

There are many compelling explanations for the sorry plight of the humanities in 21st-century America. I have little interest in expounding upon them here, other than to observe that we, as a guild, are fanatically and fatally turned inward. We think and labor alone. We write for one another. And by “one another,” I mean the few hundred or so people who inhabit our fields—hectares and patches of scholarly specialization.

Education, as a discipline, is much more akin to medicine than the humanities. That is, there are tens of thousands of practicing educators (like medical professionals) and millions of parents of school-aged children (like patients) who could benefit from access to educational research. In other words, there is no demand-side problem facing educational research. We must take advantage of the modern Web and engage with the public on globally important issues around education.

The Modern, Engaged, Digital Scholar

The modern, engaged, digital scholar commits to, at the very least, two core activities. First, (s)he publishes to and for the Web, and when publishing in academic journals, only publishes in open access (though still peer-reviewed) journals. Second, the modern, engaged, digital scholar takes advantage of the newest and most wide-reaching forms of information and communication technologies.

The argument for open access publishing is quite simple. The Access Principle, as Willinsky (2005) refers to it, is that:

A commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it (Willinsky, 2005, p. xii).

That commitment entails adopting a firm stance to publish scholarly work only in open access, peer-reviewed journals. The growth in open access publishing, both in the “gold” form ( publishing in a journal that is open access) and in the “green” form (archiving non-open access journals in open access repositories) is well-documented (see e.g. Figure One below). Also, new research suggests that “…In medicine and health, open access journals founded in the last 10 years are receiving on average as many citations as subscription journals launched during the same time.” In July 2012, the British government announced radical plans “to make publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read for free by 2014.” The Access Principle is finally taking root.

Figure 1. The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009.


The modern, engaged, digital scholar also enthusiastically adopts various forms of social media to engage with diverse communities of learners and scholars. For instance, I use my blog, Educational Insanity, to reflect on current educational topics and as a space for writing my way through complex thoughts and ideas. The comments I receive on those posts are often a strong form of pre-publication peer-review. In arguing for why academics should blog, Casper (2011) writes:

Scholars and scientists need spaces to debate, to exchange the pleasures of discovery, and to communicate with each other. They need places to talk about books, articles, experiments, and technologies. Such spaces foster rigor and discipline and openness. And for those of us who teach many courses every year, blogs additionally provide us with a place to give writing its required diligence, persistence, and above-all continual practice.

That continual practice is essential for me. And, the combination of open access publishing and adoption of social media is the real power play. Dr. Melissa Terras, from the Department of Information Studies at University College London (UCL), wonderfully documents the amplification effect of social media. After posting a paper online, she then examined the number of downloads before and after tweeting about the paper. The results, seen in Figure 2, are powerful.

Figure 2. What happens when you tweet an open access paper.


Ultimately, given what is possible in the digital information age, I am in complete agreement with Dr. Gideon Burton from BYU:

I don’t want to be complicit in sustaining a knowledge economy that rewards its participants when they invest in burying and restricting knowledge. This is why Open Access is more than a new model for scholarly publishing, it is the only ethical move available to scholars who take their own work seriously enough to believe its value lies in how well it engages many publics and not just a few peers (Burton, 2009, para. 7).

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