Today marks the second day of the MLA 2012 Convention, and one of the largest events happened yesterday morning: a 3 hour workshop called Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates. The workshop was quickly filled to capacity and the wait list has been full for months. It is one of the first large-scale and inter-institutional workshops on this topic, and it comes at a time when many universities are trying to develop best practices for considering digital work while hiring new professors, evaluating digital dissertation projects, considering how to make these works accessible in library systems and how they can be published and developed. With the acknowledgment that academics are committed to producing digital scholarship, the question has shifted from "Does digital scholarship even count as academic publishing?" to “How do we evaluate, publish and support digital work?” The latest issue of MLA's Profession announces that there is "a growing consensus that humanities disciplines must find ways not simply of evaluating but also of valuing digital scholarship as part of hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions."
Four years ago, in 2008, two Scholars hosted a HASTAC forum called Academic Publishing in the Digital Age. The conversation was extremely fruitful, and it touched on important topics including expertise in an open access world, the economics of electronic publishing, the fast pace of online scholarly conversation, collaborative authorship, making it "count" for promotion and tenure, the logistics of citing URLs and much more. As a starting point, we recommend everyone re-visit that conversation:
- How are traditional methods of academic publishing being changed by digital and online avenues?
- What advantages or disadvantages do these new forms of publication have over conventional means?
- What are some of the challenges involved in translating academic research into interactive digital platforms?
- What new possibilities for intellectual and creative work are made possible by such platforms?
- Should published scholarship be freely available, or is restricting access a necessary evil?
- How might we increase the academic credibility of emergent forms of scholarship and publication?
- How do you envision digital platforms transforming academic research in the coming years?
Instead of simply updating answers for 2012, perhaps we can consider the questions we are asking today that we didn't ask in 2008. Today, the academic and public awareness of open access and digital scholarship has vastly expanded, but to what effect? Do we feel like anything is actually different? Are these questions still the topics of active debate? Or have new, more pressing questions about digital scholarly publishing supplanted them?
What has changed since 2008? We notice the boundary between informal scholarly communication and formal scholarly publishing becoming ever more porous. Social media such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter become increasingly more important avenues for keeping up with existing scholarly communities and building new communities across disciplines and universities. Where do blogs fit in? Can they count as "scholarship?" What about Twitter? Tweet 4 Tenure?
Several interesting and provocative works have engaged digital scholarly publishing, both in content and in form. Two that come to mind are Kathleen Fitzpatrick's book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy, and Hacking the Academy, a crowd-sourced digital volume that has also been edited and published as a traditional book form by MPublishing.
In Planned Obsolescence, Fitzpatrick critically engages the traditional system of scholarly publishing and proposes several alternatives. One of the interesting ways she accomplished this was through her active cultivation of a discursive community around the online, comment-able pre-print of the book, subsequently published by NYU Press. Using the CommentPress publishing platform, Fitzpatrick posted chapters of her book online as in-progress works. Interested members of the public as well as invited scholars could add comments to those works, even down to the paragraph. What emerged was a pre-print peer-review of sorts, Fitzpatrick was able to incorporate the feedback she received into subsequent iterations of the project. Her success has demonstrated new ways to author and collaborate in the production of digital scholarship.
During the week of May 21-28 2010, Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeld from the Center for History and New Mediaput out a call on blogs and twitter for submissions for a rapid, crowd-sourced volume entitled Hacking The Academy. The project was a resounding success garnering over 300 entries in one week! The energy from that digital project lead to a curated selection soon to be released as a traditionally printed volume. Is this a new model for scholarship or simply a one-off experiment? What insights might we glean from Hacking the Academy to apply to other electronic publishing endeavors?
That works like these might be moving into the mainstream is evident in the most recent issue of MLA’s Profession, which contains a section on "Evaluating Digital Scholarship." It is also one of the first issues to include Open Access work. The section includes work by Bethany Nowviskie, Tara McPherson, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Geoffrey Rockwell, Jerome McGann, Steve Anderson, Susan Shreibman, Laura Mandall and Stephen Olsen.
Finally, our recent HASTAC 2011 conference was organized around the theme of Digital Scholarly Communication; many of the sessions were liveblogged, and the keynotes are now available on video. Many more sessions revisited afterwards - this conference blog round-up contains a number of references to specific digital scholarship projects, details on how other academics have made the transition from merely “considering” digital work to embracing its unique contributions to academic scholarship.
We'd like to offer a few questions to jumpstart the conversation:
- How have you engaged with digital scholarship? Have you published your work digitally?
- How do you see your academic work in relation to your blogging, or participation with other online spaces for writing and conversation?
- How are the various university presses dealing with digital publications?
- Which digital projects are most often taught in university classes? Are there some projects which have become canonnical examples of digital scholarship?
- Has one specific project sparked some change in your department? If you could show each professor in your department one digital project, which one would it be?
- Is the language of 'peer-review' still relevant to digital work?
- Collaborative projects inherently challenge the humanities' notion of "the author". Yes, despite the author being dead, we still reference specific authors on c.v.'s, book jackets, bibliographies and databases. Yet, many digital projects are inherently collaborative: how can these projects be evaluated? Is the format used in many sciences of First Author, Second Author, etc., useful here?
- How is your university handling digital scholarship? UCLA has put together a working document developed by faculty for the Academic Review Committees and university administration, and Todd Pressler has shared this draft with us for comments.
A warm welcome to our Forum Guests:
Sidonie Smith, Professor of Women's Studies and English, University of Michigan; 2010 President Modern Literature Association
Shana Kimball, Head of Publishing Services, Outreach and Strategic Development, MPublishing, University of Michigan
Holly Tucker, Professor of French and the History of Medicine, Vanderbilt University
Adeline Koh, Assistant Professor of Literature, Richard Stockton College; recently blogged A Report on the MLA Preconference on Evaluating Digital Work for Promotion and Tenure as a guest poster on Profhacker.
This Forum is Hosted by:
Korey Jackson, CLIR Fellow at the University of Michigan MPublishing
Matt Burton, Graduate Student at the University of of Michigan School of Information
Mariah Cherem, Graduate Student at the University of of Michigan School of Information
Join us! You are invited to register at HASTAC.org and join the conversation below.