In order to begin a meaningful discussion on digital scholarship, it must be defined. I prefer this definition: “Digital scholarship is the use of computer or electronic technology for intellectual work that is created, synthesized, applied, and communicated AND is validated by one’s peers.” The last part of that sentence is key for those of us in academia. Peer-review is the building block upon which our careers are constructed. Of course it is a flawed system as it currently exists, especially where Extension is concerned.
Speaking from a faculty perspective, the acceptance and recognition of what constitutes satisfactory scholarship has yet to reach consensus among our colleagues. Nowhere is this more evident than with digital scholarship. Just a few years ago, the internet was “new” and anything that showed up there was liable to be removed without warning. Flash forward to the present and this fear is (and really always was) unfounded. In fact, there is a scary permanence to what is presented in the online world, so the argument of that information being ephemeral is moot. So, what are the hang-ups? I have some theories and suggestions that will be addressed in a 5-part series.
Problem: The recognition of what constitutes scholarship is coming from persons who neither use nor create digital technologies.
Solution: Those who reside on promotion and tenure committees are there because they have done the work and paid their dues. There is no arguing that; however, the issue lies in exposure and practice. If those persons have never created or been exposed to digital works how can they know the value? Does creating an infographic mean a synthesis of information and an effective communication of that material? How does it stack up against a traditional publication? What we need is something that persons sitting on those committees will understand to back up the work – peer-validated data. If studies can be cited that show digital work has the same level of scholarship and impact as traditional work, then minds can be changed (this is an assumption, perhaps a naïve one, but one that I believe in).
Next time, universities are thought to be bastions of liberal thinking. Right? Right?!? Well, thinking and practice are two different things.
Eric T. Stafne
Associate Extension/Research Professor
Mississippi State University