September 28, 2011 § 3 Comments
A question in the chat box of the MOOC session asked Martin Weller, the author of Digital Scholarship, a) whether too much focus on digital scholarship can undermine the quality of scholarly work and b) whether digital scholarship requires academics to switch codes.
On the danger of digital scholarship
In thinking about the first point, one doesn’t need to be a conservative evangelical to imagine that if scholarship is recognized and tenure and rewards are assigned on the basis of webometrics (as measured by the number of visits and links and etc to a particular site), the quality of scholarly work may suffer. While one can call this a democratization of the knowledge evaluation process, others may say that webometrics enables market mechanisms to erode academia; whereby the same forces that lead to the sensational, shallow content in the media will now invade the academia, undermining scholarship.
And yet, it may be too early to attempt to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, as we are only thinking hypothetically and don’t have sufficient items on the scale for weighing. In the spirit of not engaging in either-or type thinking and of mediating between the evangelicals and the revolutionaries, we should perhaps remain as skeptical as we are adventurous, applying our critical thinking skills whenever possible.
A literary theorist , Edward Said defines an intellectual as one who challenges power wherever she finds it. This may be a principle that guides our critical thinking skills in both recognizing the potential of the democratization of knowledge as well as guarding against the danger of the eroding forces of the market mechanisms.
On code switching
“Code switching”, which I presume refers changing the use of language when one is blogging vs when one is writing for scholarly publications, or when one is speaking to the public vs to the academics, can be cast in two lights – positive or negative.
In the negative sense, one may talk of code switching as dumbing down the content for the masses, and in the worst-case scenario, sensationalizing it, in order to boost ratings or drive traffic, which is something that should be kept at bay.
On the contrary, one may see “code switching” as building bridges between the ivory tower and the real world. This further gives weight to the teaching leg of the professorship, balancing out the research leg which seems a bit overweight at the moment.
Moreover, at the time when the funding for arts and humanities is being cut around the world, perhaps digital scholarship, serving the purpose of building bridges, does have much to offer.
Philosopher Michael Sandel is an example of a successful professor and digital scholar who maintains a good balance between research and teaching. His lectures at Harvard http://www.justiceharvard.org/ are delivered in a theatre to a mass audience and are openly available on Youtube; making philosophy, which some may consider an abstruse, navel-gazing discipline a “sensation”.
Likewise, Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago Law School, whose lectures and interviews are available as audio and video podcasts in iTunesU http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/the-university-chicago-law/id391191097 and youtube is another example. Perhaps digital scholarship has much to offer to arts and humanities.