Blog Post

New Criteria for New Media

Academia's goal may be the free exchange of ideas, but up to now many universities have been wary--if not downright dismissive--of their professors using the Internet and other digital media to supercharge that exchange, especially in the arts and humanities. Peer review committees are supposed to assess a researcher's standing in the field, but to date most have ignored reputations established by blogging, publishing DVDs, or contributing to email lists.

In a signal that some universities are warming to digital scholarship, however, the winter 2009 issue of MIT's Leonardo magazine--itself a traditional peer review journal, though known for experimenting with networked media--has published a feature on the changing criteria for excellence in the Internet age. To make its point as concretely as possible, the feature includes the recently approved promotion and tenure guidelines of the University of Maine's New Media Department, together with an argument for expanding recognition entitled "New Criteria for New Media."

Rather than throw time-honored benchmarks for excellence out the window, "New Criteria for New Media" tries to extend them into the 21st century. To supplement the "closed" peer review process familiar from traditional journals, U-Me's criteria recognize the value of the "open peer review" employed in recognition metrics such as ThoughtMesh and The Pool. As the name suggests, open peer review allows contributions from any community member rather than a group of experts, and all reviews are public; when combined with an appropriate recognition metric, the result is much faster evaluations than possible via the customary approach. "New Criteria for New Media" also urges academic reviews to reward collaboration in new media research; valuable roles include conceptual architect, designer, engineer, or even matchmaker (e.g., introducing two other researchers whose collaboration results in a publication).

Because the University of Maine hopes other institutions will adopt these criteria and adapt them to their own needs, it is releasing them under a Creative Commons (CC-by) license. (Due to a misprint by MIT Press, the Leonardo article highlights the authors' copyrights rather than the CC license; it's surprisingly hard to give things away in a print economy!) The new criteria have already been sought after by individual tenure candidates and cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education. You can find them in Leonardo's winter 2009 issue (vol. 42 no. 1) or online at the links above.

For more information, please contact the Still Water lab at the University of Maine.



This is such an important issue, and it's good to see that universities are beginning to build best practices for how to handle academic digital media.


This is fantastically interesting. Thank you for posting this!