Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Digital Scholarship

Friday's Chronicle posted this article suggesting that web sites should be reviewed and certified by scholarly organizations so that they can be "counted" by tenure and promotion committees. I was bristling as I read this, thinking that Olson missed the point of electronic scholarship entirely. And, as it turns out, Barbara Fister at ARClog expressed what I was feeling much better than I could:
The fact is, these are two entirely separate issues. The quality of websites can be evaluated - and peers already do that. Whether academics are willing to broaden their notions of what counts as scholarship and to consider electronic projects as serious work is another matter altogether. Replicating a cumbersome print-based peer review mechanism, flaws and all, is not the solution. Doing the real work of evaluating a colleague’s scholarship - without relying on university presses and journals to do the vetting for them - is what’s called for. Oh, and a more imaginative and open-minded definition of what scholarship is.
I was thinking all along about stories of abuse in the peer review system, one most egregious case outlined at Adventures in Ethics and Science. The proposal for evaluation assumes a lot of things. First, that these scholarly organizations would know a good web site when they see one. And two, that they'd be unbiased in their review process. Given that the problem trying to be solved is the "generational bias" that may exist on T&P committees, are the faculty sitting in positions at scholarly organizations any different?

On the plus side, it could provide validation for work that isn't getting validation right now. If a stamp of approval is what it takes to move us toward that validation, then maybe it's the right way to go.

I guess what I don't want to see is the same old scholarship being the only thing that gets "approved." There is some interesting work being done in other forms that deserves attention. The latest Kairos issue, for example, includes video and powerpoint slide decks. And Kathleen Fitzpatrick is putting her work that discusses this very issue on her blog. There is a place for both kinds of work, I think, and it may be that one wins out over the other, 20 years from now. However work online gets validated, we really do need to take some steps in this direction. Otherwise, we risk becoming irrelevant.