Image by Gideon Burton via Flickr
In my previous posts about how scholarly communications must transform, I've focused on ideas such as openness and standards compliance. This post focuses how and why scholarship of the digital age must be syndicated to be significant.
Syndication is associated with mass media like television or print journalism. But a revolutionary web standard has made it possible for almost any kind of content to be broadly distributed across diverse outlets. That standard is RSS (Really Simple Syndication), and it offers a superior method for disseminating scholarship than traditional publication.
Academic publishing is about more than dissemination, to be sure, but scholars would do well to understand this more flexible communications medium whose reach goes further than any top-tier academic or scientific journal.
In addressing how scholarly communications must transform in the digital age, I claimed in my last post that scholarly communications must be open. In this post, I argue that for scholarship to succeed in the digital age it must also be standards compliant.
What do I mean by standards-compliant scholarship?
I am not referring to disciplinary standards, but to the communication standards that have developed to maximize the value of information within the semantic web. The semantic web refers to information being structured for machine readability and interoperability. In short, if you want more human eyeballs to see it, you have to accommodate the computers that are now actively harvesting the Internet in sophisticated ways.
Image by Gideon Burton via FlickrIn this second post in my series discussing how scholarly communications must transform in the digital age, I address the topic of openness -- a concept that includes but goes broader than Open Access publishing.
Openness is a dominant value of online culture, but not of academic culture, sadly. One would think openness to be consistent with the ideals of a liberal education or academic freedom, but those ideals are endorsed only insofar as content is concerned: one can study or research anything; one may not, however, depart from institutionalized formats, venues, or procedures for making or sharing knowledge (that is, if one wishes to receive academic credit for one's efforts).
The sort of openness upon which online culture thrives is at odds with the way academia has structured the authentication and dissemination of information. Yet scholars are relying upon the digital environment heavily (as everyone now does who has any access to it), sensing new opportunities for knowledge just as others see new opportunities online for business or politics.
Academia wants to have the Internet, but not let it change its exclusive knowledge management practices. It wants to exploit the advantages of online communication without letting such communication challenge its expertise model. But you can't have it both ways. You can't participate in a medium fundamentally built around the concept of openness if you insist on a closed model of expertise and knowledge control. You can try (and academia is trying), but knowledge will simply route around the bad nodes. It comes down to this: the more academia wishes to enjoy the benefits of the digital medium, the less it can hold on to restrictive and closed practices in the production, vetting, dissemination, and archiving of information.
So, within an updated scholarly communications system, just what would "open" scholarship be? It turns out there are several kinds of openness, beginning with Open Access publishing.
Academics have been conditioned to believe that they are responsible scholars if their work appears in reputable peer-reviewed journals or comes out through academic presses. Ever since the 17th century, the "advancement of learning" as Francis Bacon called it, has depended upon the way print publications have organized the evaluation and dissemination of academic work. The print medium has been the default scholarly medium.
Well, it's been a good 300 years. But print is no longer the primary intellectual medium, and it is time for scholars to move forward.
In the digital age, scholarship cannot succeed by working upon the assumptions (nor within the formats and procedures) of a communications system based on print publishing. Today's scholarly communications system must transform, setting aside print paradigm restrictions and fully integrating with the networked knowledge environment of the digital age.
This post introduces criteria for a digitally transformed scholarly communications system. But first, let's go back in time for a little thought experiment.
In commenting on my last post ("The Open Scholar") Jon Wallin asked a very fair question:
What would you say to an assistant professor approaching his third-year review? His job and way of life are on the line if he can't demonstrate his contribution to academia in the old, closed-access paradigms (scholarly articles and monographs).
Even if one buys into the open scholar ideals, is it just too risky?Navigating between the old and new paradigms for scholarship is going to be tricky and will depend a lot on the particular discipline, institution, and person involved. Just don't buy into the "compromise" of first getting yourself established within the existing system by publishing conventionally. That is the standard line given to would-be academic innovators; however, this is an insidious proposition, since it really requires a young scholar to withdraw from any serious engagement with any community except that niche peer group who must be satisfied in order to gain tenure. By the time one does attain tenure, he or she is convinced that the public doesn't really matter, and that the only real work of consequence is what that handful of specialists acknowledges as such. In fact, the tenured professor begins to see it as a mark of having arrived that he or she then requires the same thing of the next generation of scholars. You don't end up revising the system; you just become an agent of it, making others "pay their dues" just as you had to. Kenneth Burke talks about "occupational psychosis" (being trained NOT to see, or becoming intellectually disabled, while one is in the process of being professionalized). Academic professionalization (which Burke was outside of as a private scholar) is a classic case of that myopia. By the time academics are in a position not to be subject to their own limits, those limits have been naturalized and are not subject to question.
I don't think it is impossible for someone to take a middle way. One can publish conventionally and also be a public intellectual producing open scholarship and participating in this broader way. But one must choose one's identity and keep that public orientation a priority--no small task in the present environment. It will be all too easy to prioritize one's work according to what gets measured (and right now online work is ignored or discounted). When all the department chair cares about is whether you have another standard, peer-reviewed publication on your CV for the year, it will seem less and less important to keep blogging your research or doing anything public or open in the way I'm advocating.
Since the dawn of the Internet professors have been told not to be wasting time on online endeavors at the expense of the "real" publishing they could be doing. You have to be strong enough to resist that head-in-the-sand approach. Hopefully, the culture of academia will start coming around and this will be less of an issue. But for young scholars, I suggest that at the point of hire one makes clear the type of scholar one wishes to be. And the best way to make a case for being an open scholar in the future is to have been one in the recent past. That's why I urge graduate students not to wait to get their ideas circulating. Imagine what future search committees will be like. They will not simply look at a pile of paper resumes or a CV of traditional publications. Anyone that is seriously of interest to the more enlightened search committees of the near future will be of interest because his or her thinking, acting, and publishing (formal and informal publishing) will be broadly evident online.
If you follow the old model just to play it safe, saving up your ideas to share once they are in a perfected form and then burying them in toll-access publications, you might be visible to those few hundred people who happen to subscribe to that scholarly journal, but you are effectively invisible to the world. I know I would look for young scholars who have not simply published, but who have engaged multiple audiences. Prove yourself by leaving a visible trail of your thinking and of your various projects, formal or informal. As long as you make this a priority--to the point that it is natural for you to be constantly publicly engaged with your thinking--then any traditional publishing you do can complement or supplement this. But if the priority is the opposite, if you buy into the hype that the only real or substantial contributions you can make are through those highly limited and dimmed outlets of conventional peer-reviewed publishing, you will hobble yourself and simply become another agent of the moribund scholarly communications system. I don't think that things are that bleak. I think people are starting to wake up to the dignity of open scholarship. But you do have to take a stand, and you will not be very credible in making that stand if you wait until you have tenure. That will just prove that you were never really invested in being a public intellectual or an open scholar.
I have appreciated the work of danah boyd. You might take a look at her famous blog post in which she talks about rejecting publishing in any non-open access journals. Look at her list of proposed actions, which she gears to people at different career points. I think that is helpful (though I would broaden her recommendations beyond simply publishing in open access journals): http://bit.ly/3OXKr5
In the spirit of my earlier post, "Scholar or Public Intellectual?," I'd like to explore the concept of what it might mean to be an "open scholar." The traditional scholar, like the scholarship he or she produces, isn't open--open-minded, hopefully, but not "open" in a public way. No, a typical scholar is very exclusive, available only to students in specific academic programs or through toll-access scholarly publications that are essentially unavailable to all but the most privileged. In the digital age, the traditional barriers to accessing scholars or scholarship are unnecessary, but persist for institutional reasons.
Image by Kurt Christensen via Flickr
I spend a lot of my time looking into and trying out new media, technology, and software. I used to think this was just a personal inclination; now I think that regularly experimenting with the tools of the digital age is core to literacy today. In fact, I'll take it a step further. I will go so far as to say that anyone in education (at any level) or anyone devoted to intellectual pursuits (in any sector) owe it to themselves and all they work with to be actively trying out the new tools.
I didn't say that everyone should be adopting every gadget or media trend that comes along. Not at all. It isn't that you have to blog, tweet, text message, or be all hooked up in social media networks. But you darn well ought to know what hundreds of millions of people are doing with them and be checking these out--preferably actively. Why? Well, using those new technologies and media tends to answer that question. Their utility and value are somewhat self apparent, or we would not be witnessing the viral adoption of facebook, microblogging, etc. But there are plenty of die-hards out there who now make a point of resisting (and often mocking) new media.
Are you a blogger with a growing pile of draft posts--just awaiting the polish that your thoughts deserve before getting launched? This is my predicament, accounting for the fact that weeks go by, at times, between posts. It isn't that I haven't been thinking or writing; it's that I have the Hamlet Syndrome: over thinking things and so not taking action (hitting that publish button). When the hapless prince of Denmark saw a neighboring prince taking an army to go kick some butt, he chided himself for his "craven scruple / Of thinking too precisely on the event." Hamlet would not have been a good blogger. A good lurker, yes, but I know the difference between sampling broadly and keeping oneself out of the game. I've chosen to be in the game. Now it's a matter of keeping myself there by fighting the polish-or-perish inertia that academia has instilled in me.
In my overview of Scholarly Inquiry Optimization (SIO), I claimed the future of scholarship lies not merely in Open Access publishing but in fitting research methodologies to the new cyber environment. I outlined several aspects of SIO that I would be covering. This post focuses on personally configured discovery in the research process.