This semester we are working on a faculty initiative in collaboration with UMW’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation run by Mary Kayler. We have 29 faculty on board who have committed to getting their own domain and hosting through the Domain of One’s Own and building out their digital presence as well as exploring what it means to be a digital scholar. We will meet with them 6 times over the course of the semester to provide guidance on the technical aspects of this but also to reflect and discuss the process and implications for academia. As part of this we will be reading Martin Weller‘s book The Digital Scholar which aligns perfectly with the goals of the initiative. I can think of no greater place to take notes and reflect on the readings than right here on my blog and so this series of posts will do just that. If you’re interested in following along you’ll find it easy to do so. Weller’s book has an open license and is available to read in its entirety online (but I’d also encourage you to buy a copy because he’s awesome and the book is excellent and one you’ll refer back to often when talking to faculty about this stuff). We will be posting our syllabus and curriculum for the initiative and the faculty involved will be blogging their reflections over here.
What is Digital Scholarship?
Rather than attempt to define the complex idea of digital scholarship, Weller poses a series of questions that I anticipate will resonate with our faculty as they take this journey. Whether it be blogs, wikis, or even domains and spaces of their own to control and build out digital identities, these concerns exist and I look forward to unpacking them in the coming weeks:
- Do they represent ‘proper scholarship’ (however that might be defined)?
- Are they central or peripheral to practice?
- Are they applicable to all domains?
- Are they more applicable for some scholarly functions than others, for example, teaching?
- How do we recognize quality?
- Do they complement or replace existing channels?
- Should we reward them through official routes such as tenure? (this is a big one I’m sure is on the mind of many in this initiative)
- Should bloggers use institutional systems or separate out their blogging and formal identities?
- What is their impact on academic communities?
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
Weller references Brian Lamb‘s mantra to define technology that allows for easy engagement with a low level of risk in comparison to enterprise-style systems like the LMS or SIS systems of educational institutions. Funny that just yesterday I was reading D’Arcy’s post on enterprise systems and how they can coexist with low-cost startups like UMW Blogs. I have to admit I’ve often had reluctance at the “Cheap” part of the equation, wondering if we in edtech sell ourselves short by constantly trying to find the lowest common denominator and occasionally balancing the usability and stability of systems in the process. But I think Weller is right in that the beauty of these low cost systems is the permission for experimentation not normally granted at institutions (“Hey, if it fails we haven’t wasted a ton of money on it, so let’s go for it) and there’s no obligation to keep a poorly-implemented system running due to large costs involved in implementation. As an instructional technologist with a background in graphic design my eye is always on how I can help usability play a role to make these systems shine in a way that faculty don’t hesitate to jump in headfirst.
How many times have I heard an educator say “It’s not the tool!” or “We need to focus on the learner, not the technology”. Weller appropriately tackles the theory of technological determinism in Chapter 1 by pointing out the high-profile examples of emergent use taking shape where people have defined the use of the system rather than letting it define them. He quotes Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake saying:
“Had we sat down and said ‘Let’s start a photo application,’ we would have failed. We would have done all this research and done all the wrong things.”
I’m reminded of the emergence of ds106 in the same regard. Consider this tweet from Martha Burtis just as it was clear the open online section of ds106 was spreading like wildfire:
— Martha (@mburtis) January 20, 2011
As a result of not overanalyzing and architecting the quasi-perfect experience for ds106 we saw such things emerge like a radio station, an assignment bank, an area for daily creative activities, a television station, and so many great and wonderful assignments that took on a life of their own. You can’t predict these things and if you try to prepare and build for them you’ll do more harm than good. That’s the power of the experimental nature of what we do and a good reminder of why it’s important to empower faculty to embrace that uncertainty.