On the danger of digital scholarship and code switching #change11

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.

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3 thoughts on “On the danger of digital scholarship and code switching #change11

  1. If you succumb to a being driven by webometrics then, apart from the fact they can be gamed, I don’t think many would deny there is the risk of eroding academic rigour. What is harder to know, given that people turn to education to provide critical frameworks for making sense of content (Weller, 2011), is how education will respond when there is a radical abundance of information sources available to consume the attention of learners.

    There is an incredible opportunity here for education, arts and humanities especially, to recast itself as the new sense-maker in a world of abundant information. You’ve provided some good examples of people that are doing this well. The new model digital scholar perhaps?

  2. I really appreciate your insight, Louise, about the promise of code-switching for “building bridges between the ivory tower and the real world.” It’s a bit of a coincidence that when I posted the question about code-switching that I was thinking about my linguistics professor, Walt Wolfram, who is one of the most successful code-switching academic scholars I know. In fact, he’s risen to the level of one of the best-known and respected public intellectuals in our state through his frequent radio appearances — http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/sot0728abc08.mp3/view

    Walt has always served as a model for me of a scholar who can slip from the writing and speaking as one of the most influential linguists in the country to someone who can reach out compellingly to a general audience and share important messages from his field. He began using documentary video years ago and that’s been a tremendously successful medium for him to share with the public.

    I have high hopes that digital scholarship can build those new bridges that will bring more respect for the work of the universities and whittle away at the openly anti-intellectual sentiment that we often find.

    Thanks for your post.

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