Digital scholarship

Week 3 and I’m already falling behind… Not so good, but I’ll try not to worry and carry on!

Martin Weller talked about digital scholarship this week. A subject open to a lot of debate, because it changes the classical view people have on scholarship. A scholarship used to be about learning something at some kind of university, taking courses thought by teachers and professors who had “all” the knowledge about a subject and would distribute that knowledge to their students. Some of them got the chance to do research on a particular topic of the course and get published, “sharing” their outcomes of the research. Maybe there is nothing wrong with this picture, but does it stand the sands of time? Is this model of learning/sharing “the way” of interacting with knowledge in 2011?

I think the classic way described above served its purpose, but in todays world it won’t anymore. First of, the all-knowing professor simply doesn’t exist anymore. Off course you have people who are considered an authority in a certain field, because they worked with it for a long time and gathered a lot of good info, but the number of people who have something important to share is growing. So instead of an all-knowing teacher, one has to look for multiple professors/teachers/experts that will share information. The best example that I’m gonna steal from George Siemens is what he says about the SARS virus. The way the SARS virus was researched was not in 1 lab, with 1 team of specialists that took care of it. There were multiple teams and a great number of people who helped with the project. George says that this is the way future problems will be solved, not by 1 specialist, but by multiple people! It’s in the sharing of information and connecting with each other that the solutions will be found.

Digital scholarship can/should use this! The number of blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. is growing so fast, there’s bound to be some valid information to be found for everyone of us. So using digital sources in a scholarship should work too. The internet is providing us with alternatives to publishing a book, making a movie, presenting a gallery , etc. We can create tons of stuff online without anyone telling us how to do it. We can be our own masters and choose to create what we want. In doing so, we’d like our stuff to be read/watched and be liked/+1-ed/recommended to others, so even more people will engage with our work. Social networks are already entering the classrooms! I recently learned that a group of teens I teach have created a Facebook group to share their (school)work. Not only distributing homework, but also sharing information about courses, what to learn, etc. Interesting!

We have come to a point where we expect everything to be open and (especially) free. We should be able to access without the cost of giving something in return. I worked with this all week, but never seem to reach a conclusion. I think openness is fine, it creates a lot of freedom and even more possibilities to be able to do something. On the other hand, is it not “normal” to pay (maybe not always by means of currency) for something, to compensate the author of what it is you gather? Is it not normal, in order to receive, one must give away as well? I’m still puzzled with this but I think that some form of control, maybe guidance is a better word, is not always bad. Wikipedia for instance started out as something completely open and free, but in time changed/refined its view on the working structure of the online encyclopedia by installing some sort of “group of the wise” that can intervene when things get out of hand. Wikipedia is still a great product, but I think it stayed strong because it adapted to the needs of the system.

In scholarship it should be the same, I think. If you bought a book published by Oxford University, you know that you have a descent book on the subject. Oxford stands for something it is more than a university, it has almost become a brand, something that expresses value. In a way this can be a good thing. It’s a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. On the other hand, who says John Doe’s blogpost about the subject isn’t as good, or even better? Maybe we should try and join forces to create a network of “good” sources. Share what we’ve learned and pass it on! But off course, this creates the problem of control! Because, who will be in control of this? Who will decide what is “good” and what is “bad” information. Who will make a lot of money out of choosing for us, what we should read/watch. There are companies out there who will pay a lot if their source is at the top of the list… We all know this.

So how do we find middle ground, where’s the line we shouldn’t cross? How can we create, share en learn from each other without the nasty consequences off power institutions telling us what to create, share and learn? I’m not pretending I have the answer, I’m not even going to guess! I do think, that if enough people worry about this, if they will try to get their word out, learn, share with others, somehow we will find our middle ground. We shouldn’t be to hasty looking for rules and regulations that will direct our way of life, but try to embrace common sense, debate about it and share what we’ve learned.

Digital scholarship can be a wonderful way of learning. A digital book isn’t better or worse then a paper one. They should be able to co-exist. As long as we remember that the medium is not the content, I think we’re pretty safe!

Take care.

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