Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reward and/or Recognition - for digital scholarship?

This morning I attended a workshop on Promotions Relating to Teaching and Learning as part of the ReSULT (Research and Scholarship Underpinning Learning and Teaching) research theme. The meeting considered evolving institutional criteria for teaching related promotions. Many aspects of best practice were discussed, including peer mentoring, evidence, portfolios, etc, but at one point the discussion veered to towards the nature of scholarship, which immediately brought to mind Martin Weller's new book The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice:

Recognising and rewarding digital scholarship is significant for two reasons. The first is the message it sends to individuals within the university. Because they operate in an open, digital, networked manner, digital scholars are often well known in their institution (e.g. many of their colleagues will read their blogs). If a well-known digital scholar struggles to get their work recognised, then it sends a message to the rest of the university that this is not the type of activity that is likely to be rewarded, with a subsequent decline in its uptake. The reverse happens if that digital scholar is rewarded; it sends the positive message that academics should engage in this type of activity.
The second reason to recognise digital scholarship is to encourage institutional innovation. For example, universities are beginning to explore the use of Facebook to support students, or the use of blogs to disseminate research findings to the public, or new models of course development based on third-party content and crowdsourcing. There are very real benefits to the institution from these approaches, for instance reaching new audiences, increasing the university's profile without advertising, increasing student retention through improved peer support, lowering the costs of course production, developing new research methodology and so on.

... the resistance to recognising digital scholarship reflects a more intractable problem – one has to experience the use of these technologies over a prolonged period to appreciate their value and the nature of interactions. In short, you have to do social media to get social media. Given that many senior managers and professors in universities are not people who are disposed towards using these tools, there is a lack of understanding about them at the level which is required to implement significant change in the institution. The membership of promotion committees is most likely to be drawn from senior academics, who have largely been successful with the traditional model of scholarship. Although these academics will have a wealth of experience, they come from a background that may have a limited understanding of the new forms of scholarly practice that utilise different media and technologies.

Weller goes on to describe a number of metrics operated by universities and organizations by which contributions via digital scholarship can be recognized. Reward is, of course, a matter for the employer.

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