Digital information everywhere. Digital books. Digital images. Digital videos. Digital…but not in the academy. In the academy we still place extraordinary attention to print media as the basis for tenure and promotion. We ignore the digital revolution that has occurred all around us.
Instead, the structures of universities often fail to reward and champion digital innovators, particularly in guidelines for promotion and authorship that privilege traditional scholarship.
If we do not create mechanisms that reward faculty and students who form digital-research communities, then innovation may bypass universities entirely, putting us at risk of falling behind institutes, private companies, and even individuals.
Randolph Hall, Vice President for Research at USC, made this point in a recent article titled Scholarship, Liberated from Paper at Last in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He notes that after discussion with faculty at his institution, the faculty agreed to include revise the process for tenure and promotion to include recognition of the value of a faculty member’s digital research.
Change occurs slowly in academic institutions. I’ve made that point in other posts. You would think academia would be at the forefront of forging new directions and new research areas. You would think that academia would be the first to devise new ways of thinking about how people learn and in fostering an environment of analyzing tradition and also challenging tradition. If you thought that, you would be wrong. Academia is tied down to traditional methods despite the progress in the rest of society. For example, information forwarded for academic tenure and review at my university is still wedded to paper documents. The process includes, for example, instructions on how the faculty member should label his or her [paper] binder. So, even though all the documents are created electronically, they must be converted to paper for the review. ePortfolios (see .e.g. Trent Babson’s ePortfolio links) or programs like LiveBinder could allow for that same information to be provided in electronic form.
Why are academic institutions wedded to paper? Paper is perceived as more permanent; however there are ways to preserve electronic documents. And if the courts permit electronic filing of documents (see e.g. e-filing of electronic briefs) where finances and other matters are at stake, then our University should recognize the value of electronic documents. Also, if the concern is the rigor of the scholarship, public exposure and peer review can help to increase rigor. Research that is available to the public helps to promote additional learning for the public and for the researcher. It could also lead to additional research and creative use of that research.
So, as noted in the Hall article, academia must recognize the value of digital research. Hall notes that Universities like Harvard have created ways to disseminate research to the public more quickly so that others can read and comment on it. My own experience in posting on SlideShare and on this blog has allowed me to present research findings, (e.g. results of using Twitter in the classroom) to many others. I have had 80 views on a presentation on plagiarism-far more than attended the actual presentation. And with more exposure, I have more opportunity to learn more, test my research and work to make it better. That’s much more exposure than posting the article in a paper journal that requires that people go to a physical library to access it.