Thoughts on Katz article on Digital Scholarship


Richard Katz has just published an  interesting essay in the Educause Review on Scholars, Scholarship, and the Scholarly Enterprise in the Digital Age. It actually covers a lot of ground that we’ve been thinking about in the digital scholarship project at the OU which is encouraging, in fact our forthcoming article in  in education covers a lot of similar ground, including the idea of how digital tools impact across Boyer’s dimensions of scholarship and lead to more open forms of practice.

“The emerging global technology infrastructure, with its dependence on standards, is thus unlocking scholars and scholarship…Openness, I believe, presses in a strong and positive way on all of the scholarships named by Boyer: discovery, integration, application, and teaching.”

Katz does make some strong claims that I don’t particularly agree with, but I’ll focus here on the main one. He claims that the geographical location and limits of traditional universities will matter less and less as digital content can be freely accessed from anywhere, by anyone:

“Ancient universities were developed in the context of scarcity: scarce talent, scarce capital, scarce source material, scarce space, scarce research instrumentation, scarce surgical theaters, and so forth…But today the Digital Age is turning scarcity into abundance, it is eroding the exclusivity of the scholarly enterprise, and it is opening academic information and resources to all. Could a millennium-old jig be up?”

This is actually something that Martin Weller has recently blogged about where he talks about a pedagogy of abundance. For Katz and I think Martin the HE institution becomes more of a brand, a guarantee of qaulity for final degrees etc. I’m not so sure about this.

The OU has 200, 000 odd virtual students and is moving increasingly towards open and social media (something Linda Wilkes and I have just written a book chapter about) and yet it still has a pretty substantial physical campus, and network of regional offices, which I don’t imagine will change. Katz writes about how the central importance of libraries to universities is undermined by digital content and yet libraries have a big role to play in preserving and providing access to digital content.

There have been a number of other responses to this article, from Tony Bates and the Society for College and University Planning to name a couple that I’ve come across. There’s a lot of people thinking about how new technologies will impact upon universities, but my suspicion is that for most, things will largely remain the same (notwithstanding other pressures such as financial/ political).

There are many exciting technological developments affecting scholarship, but the impact of these will be tempered by the norms and values that have prevailed over a very long time (and many other technological developments). Or am I being too skeptical?

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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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