Digital scholarship in education, in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research.
Across millennia, scholarship’s enduring, traditional form has focused on individuals acquiring knowledge from books and lecturers, within single disciplines inside the walls of monolithic institutions which monopolise learning to create and maintain power (Buckley, 2012, pp. 333-334) . Defining scholarship as acquiring scholastic knowledge within learning institutions (The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 1996, p. 969) is, however, currently being challenged. Modern academia is undergoing, but inconsistent, transformation due to opportunities provided by web-based communication and behaviour enabled by twenty-first-century digital affordances (Ayers, 2013, pp. 24-28). Digital scholarship is a term defined as encompassing both scholarly communication and using digital media and research (Libraryowl, 2013), which is increasingly being used to describe this shift, yet it is also a concept with a contested definition requiring deeper investigation (Scanlon, 2011, pp. 177-179).
Understanding digital scholarship, which partially results from economies of information scarcity transforming into profligacies of abundant learning resources, requires examination of the meaning of academia and the measures by which it has traditionally been evaluated (Weller, A pedagogy of abundance, 2011, pp. 85-86). Consideration of its implications, in terms of the future of both higher and school education, should assess whether such changes, are, in fact, desirable, or indeed truly as different as some attest (Baggaley, 2015).
The critical difference between conventional and digital scholarship is connectivism (Veletsianos & Kimmins, 2012, p. 770). Traditionally, academic knowledge generated by staff employed by a single university has formed the largest percentage of an institution’s market value (Buckley, 2012, pp. 333-334). This ideology has been based on individual research, intra-faculty or, sometimes interfaculty across similar institutions, within a culture of monographic orientation; this model has allowed individual practitioners to add to the conversation around their specialty, while protecting them from departing the norm (Ayers, 2013, p. 28). Connectivists, in contrast, view learning as negotiated, inter-connected, increasingly interdisciplinary, and social; they situate it in complex environments, embracing open values and peer-to-peer networking (Veletsianos & Kimmins, 2012, p. 770). This dichotomy poses a challenge to faculty members who perceive such an approach as diminishing the hard won traditions of both scholarship and teaching, and also risky. (Ayers, 2013, p. 30).
Despite existing for several decades, it is relatively uncommon that academics and school teachers engage in connectivism; the majority still need to be convinced of the inherent value such practices offer, let alone their inevitability (Scanlon, 2011, p. 177). There is a philosophical divide between those who have recognised, and are embracing, the potential of technological affordances, and those who are yet to investigate them to any degree (Scanlon, 2011, p. 178). Those who believe that digital scholarship merely implies copyright free or open access to materials, email interaction, online libraries, employing technology and some online tools, present a diametric contrast to participants in communities of practice: those who have invested in developing or participating in Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs); learners who collaborate on investigations; and scholars who publish their research in digital format, either individually or together, and invite comment (Ayers, 2013, pp. 27-28). The former pursue the goal of publishing printed monographs in academic, peer-reviewed journals or theses; the latter consider achieving a doctorate through blogging (Ho, 2015).
Each aspect of digital scholarship at its broadest definition requires examination. Scanlon refers to the seismic shift in patterns of user behaviour, whereby relevant technological and online tools are utilised to lead to new types of collaboration based on openness and interdisciplinarianism (Scanlon, 2011, pp. 178-182). She identifies the skills of collection, curation, collaboration, creation, and publication as those enabled by digital scholarship, and links the need for such skills to both higher and secondary education (Scanlon, 2011, p. 180). These fit well with the twenty-first century skills now considered so vital for school students that they are embedded in the Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, n.d.), and promoted by the International Society for Technology in Education Standards for teaching and learning with technology (International Society for Technology in Education, n.d.).
Scanlon refers to an ecological approach to learning (Scanlon, 2011, p. 179). Ayers promotes similar concepts: ongoing, ever-growing digital environments which generatively enhance the essential aspects of monographic erudition while simultaneously enabling things that could not have been done in print; networking is a prime example of this (Ayers, 2013, p. 34).
Networked participatory scholarship, an exemplar of generative digital ecology, (Veletsianos & Kimmins, 2012) operates within communities of practice (Archer, 2006), using technologies of cooperation (Saveri, Rheingold, & Vian, 2005). It emerges from an understanding that digital scholarship is something that goes beyond using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate; it also embraces open values, ideology, the potential of peer to peer networking and so-called “wiki ways of working” (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Ashleigh, 2010). Such scholarship engages with this emergent scholarly practice of using technologies that specifically favour participation in various forms of social media, not only to share concepts, but also to reflect upon them, invite criticism of them, seek suggestions for improving them, validate their worth, and take scholarship further through publication in media that allows for feedback (Veletsianos & Kimmins, 2012, p. 778). Communities of practice, in this sense, have developed in order to manage and grow knowledge as an asset, enabling knowledge exchange in order to improve understanding (Archer, 2006, p. 67). Archer identifies four classifications of such communities: internal, networked within organisations, formal and self-organising (Archer, 2006, p. 67).
These organisational communities of practice networks differ from personal learning networks in that the former entail a level of company or organisational direction while the latter are established by individuals. There have been a number of examples of open and social learning opportunities for individuals to more formally develop personal learning networks, and many of these have been offered by universities as MOOCs, such as The University of Melbourne’s Coursera on the French Revolution, a subject entailing a blend of traditional and contemporary styles (McPee, 2015). This is very different to the MOOC offered by Regina University: Education, Curriculum and Instruction, taught by Alec Couros, in that the former is content driven while the latter is focused on process (Couros, 2010). This further illustrates the problem of defining exactly what digital scholarship entails.
The formality of organisationally directed networks is very different from the informality of personal learning networks, and perhaps would be better labelled as professional learning networks. The former often occur randomly within social media circles: Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus; they grow and shrink as people join or lose interest and they persist because of the efforts of the passionate; they rely on open access to the platforms on which they depend and often lead to participation in MOOCs (Couros, 2010, pp. 111-112). Couros’ course demonstrated the potential for leveraging education through such courses by its cohort: twenty students registered, but more than two hundred others freely interacted with the material under discussion (Couros, 2010, pp. 109 -110). Digital scholarship, as this example illustrates, enables the collection of information for investment in furthering collective knowledge, involves sharing of appropriate tools for collecting and analysing the information found, and may result in the generation of new creating and authoring tools (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, pp. 42- 43).
Some key issues arise from these new ways of learning: the comparability of digital scholarship with the work of “scholarly primitives”, the comparison of open access and publishing with closed and monographic dissemination; the differing pedagogies or andragogies required to deliver them, and the tensions within academia that these cause (Weller, A pedagogy of abundance, 2011, pp. 41 – 47). The tasks traditionally undertaken by the “primitives”: discovering, annotating, comparing, referring, sampling and representing share some similarities to those of digital scholarship; the biggest difference, however, lies in the greater sense of equality for scholars in the truly digital world (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, p. 42). The integration of the knowledge gained (often referred to as emerging from liberated data), its application to wider circumstances, and the teaching that it enables, are seen as threatening the established understanding of knowledge capital as something residing in published, peer-reviewed articles with restricted circulation within the tertiary sector (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, pp. 43 – 44).
The emancipation of data facilitates unexpected applications (often created in a similar fashion to crowdsourcing) and allows others to integrate the learning in new ways sometimes using new or repurposed tools (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, p. 44) . Opening access to information and publishing the knowledge that is subsequently generated online is a quick and easy process, far removed from the time lag and cost of traditional dissemination of material, especially when subjected to the peer review process (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, p. 45). Speeding up this process offers advantages to universities who can adjust their information generation methodologies, and facilitates an edge in the higher education market (Buckley, 2012, p. 334). Quicker broadcasting of new ideas and ways of collaborating to achieve them, in turn affects application, and all of these processes impact on teaching (Weller, The nature of scholarship, 2011, pp. 45-47).
Possible andragogies and pedagogies in universities and schools intending to adopt digital scholarly practices have been identified as resource-based learning; project based learning; constructivism; communities of practice; and connectivism (Weller, A pedagogy of abundance, 2011, pp. 88 -89); some institutions have also adopted flipped learning approaches, considered to be innovative (Baggaley, 2015). Educators adopting any one of these teaching styles, or a blended combination of two or more, have demonstrated digital resilience (Weller, Digital resilence, 2011, p. 168). Those who are reluctant or resistant are often suffering from techno-angst, risk-averse mindsets, or scepticism (Weller, Digital resilence, 2011, p. 168). Reasons for anxiety around innovative concepts and practices may be found in disengagement caused by ubiquitous learning management systems and virtual learning environments, through their implicit restrictions; and the tenure system, whereby some staff have ongoing employment that they wish to keep, while others are contracted and know that effluxion of time will end their role (Weller, Digital resilence, 2011, pp. 170 – 171). Pressure to achieve publication in the classic form of peer-reviewed journals or theses may be another factor (Weller, Digital resilence, 2011, pp. 170 – 171).
Issues such as these may be resolved by disassociating government funding from teaching practices, institutions, faculties and individuals must be assured of security if they innovate in terms of their knowledge sharing, development and generation (Buckley, 2012, p. 335). The first step in this process is the building of trust, critical for knowledge creation, and the crux of long-term social relationships which enable powerful collaboration to this end (Buckley, 2012, p. 335). Educators in schools and universities need to develop and employ digital age competencies, which requires mastery of information navigation, connectivity in its broadest sense, and critical evaluation of sources within a trusting ecology (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009, p. 249). While tertiary educators such as Couros (Couros, 2010) and teachers such as Gail Casey (Casey, 2013) embrace the concept of communities of practice, and immerse themselves and their students in social and participatory networking, and others engage globally through flat connections (Lindsay, 2015) utilising the full extent of digital scholarship, they are still in the minority. The students lucky enough to encounter such educators at school or university, will benefit from an education that will aid them to develop their digital identity, a recent cultural process made possible by the participatory web (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009, p. 251). The greatest benefit identified by Couros’ student Jennifer, is that such learning is truly life-long (Couros, 2010, p. 127).
Digital scholarship is evolving as the technologies of cooperation increase in number and format, and adoption by universities and schools across the world slowly increases (Saveri, Rheingold, & Vian, 2005, p. 1). More research is required to assess and harness the presumed potential of digital technology, and, ensure that the processes being touted as new really are novel, and not just new terminology for older practices, as identified by Baggaley in his somewhat flippant assessment of flipped learning (Baggaley, 2015, pp. 4 – 5). His identification of self-promotion through registering websites, and copyrighting their own terminology is a clear warning for the need for academic rigour (Baggaley, 2015, pp. 3-6).
More academics need to avoid passitivity (Weller, Digital resilence, 2011, p. 170) and become organised participants, possibly by adopting a commando-style role in correcting errors in Wikipedia (Baggaley, 2015, p. 8). The history of the term digital scholarship in Wikipedia may be an example of such tactics (Libraryowl, 2013). By addressing critical issues of value in relation to risk, and actively engaging in the conversation relating to digital scholarship, academic writers and researchers have the potential to change the politics of educational technology provision and practice (Selwyn, 2010). Once universities endorse the best elements of social participatory networking and its ability to contribute meaningfully to knowledge generation, educators in schools will also embrace a learning ecology perspective, benefitting from the fusion of formal and informal learning, spanning contextual boundaries for self-sustained learning (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009, p. 248) .
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