Some early thoughts on digital scholarship

I’m currently trying to write an article outlining some ideas around what digital scholarship might mean. I’m basing my ideas of ‘scholarship’ around Ernest Boyer’s influential report from 1990, Scholarship Reconsidered and subsequent literature. In particular I’m trying to think through how his conception of scholarship, might be useful in understanding how new technologies might affect how scholars work.

In the first case scholarship is about discovery, that is the creation of new knowledge in a specific area or discipline. Secondly scholarship includes integration, which is still about creating knowledge, but this time across disciplines. Thirdly scholarship is about application, that is an engagement with the wider world outside academia, but still based on the scholar’s disciplinary knowledge and background. This might include public engagement activities as well as input into policy and general media discussions. Finally scholarship is about teaching.

Now without wanting to suggest that new technologies will inevitably lead to new ways of working it certainly seems likely that new technologies allow for new ways of working, and in particular in each of the kinds of scholarship above it seems that new technologies allow for more open ways of working, and that this might be a useful way of integrating a number of disparate (but well noted) themes within HE. In each case I’m trying to summarise vast areas into a paragraph, so forgive me for being overly simplistic!

In discovery we can see that digital technology makes it potentially easier to share data (if we can resolve ownership/attribution and metadata/documentation issues). Funding bodies in the UK at least are starting to request publication of datasets, and in some cases more publications are linking to the original datasets to allow for re-analysis. I think that some subjects are more emenable to this kind of data recycling and reuse, indeed in some areas the ‘data deluge’ means that data needs to be shared (most obvious and well cited example being the Large Hadron Collider, but also Astronomy and others).

For integration we can think of how new technologies are challenging the traditional models for academic publishing, and how in some subjects open publishing is already a reality (e.g. arXiv). How traditional publishers respond to the threats/challenges of new technologies is still very much an open question.

For application we can think how new technologies allow for an opening up of the boundaries between academia and the rest of society, through blogs, youtube and citizen science (such as Galaxy Zoo or the OU’s very own iSpot). New technologies allow for direct unmediated communication between scientists and the general public, but this is not without its problems.

For teaching there is increased possibilities for open education afforded by new technologies (something the OU is particularly keen on naturally!), which again covers things like using YouTube, iTunes or MITs OpenCourseWare. Similiar to what is happening with data in discovery, the digital artefacts can be taken out of their specific context and freely shared. This development has potentially great benefits, but also challenges the traditional model of univerisities (what are students paying for now?).

There is a fuller draft which I’m happy to circulate (just ask!) but I’d really welcome comments at this stage on these early ideas. Have I been a bit cavalier in bringing 4 disparate themes together, have I been overly simplistic? Is there anything important I’ve missed?

Finally I’m coming to the conclusion that new technologies in each area of scholarship are providing opportunities for an open scholarship, and an open university, but working at the Open University I think I’m going to need a different name for a university characterised by openness in each stream, any suggestions?



About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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5 Responses to Some early thoughts on digital scholarship

  1. Tony Hirst says:

    Probably misquoting WIlliam Gibson: “The futur is already here, it’s just not evenly distributd”, to what extent scholarship provide a redistribution service… eg I blogged a thought yestrday that someonee else could act on:

    My “discovery” made someone else’s “application” possible (disclaimer: one reason I wrote the post was to indirectly prompt people I know read my blog to consieer th API…)

    Not that with so much tech being developed at such a rate, and the corrsponding combinatorial explosion in the number of ways different systems can be combined. this “discovery as redistribution” function is likely to be increasingly necessary. IMVHO, of course…

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Some early thoughts on digital scholarship « Digitalscholarship Blog --

  3. bandsxbands says:

    Seeing these kind of posts reminds me of just how technology truly is ubiquitous in this day and age, and I can say with 99% certainty that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside… I just hope that as the price of memory drops, the possibility of downloading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4 SDHC DS OperaMod)

  4. TSwain says:

    what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

  5. Pingback: Digital Scholarship – missing link between e-research and e-learning? « Digitalscholarship Blog

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