10 Digital Scholarship Lessons in 10 Videos

I've given a talk with this title 3 or 4 times recently, so thought I'd best get around to blogging it. In the presentation I caution that you shouldn't really trust people who give lessons about the future – they're usually trying to sell you something. But lessons is a nice way to frame it, so treat them more as opinions I've come to over the past couple of years.

Lesson 1: It's not just for geeks

It is easy sometimes to get bogged down in conversations about the latest technology, API calls, RSS feeds, linked-data, etc and it seems very technical. Sometimes this has the effect of making academics think 'it doesn't relate to me'. But we shouldn't let the geeky talk (which is necessary sometimes) cloud the fact that we are looking at changes to very fundamental scholarly practices.

Lesson 2: Researchers are in a dilemma

Researchers are caught between the potential of new approaches and operating within a conservative context. A range of studies have shown recently that researchers are often cautious in their use of new technology and rather risk adverse. 

Lesson 3: Interdisciplinarity is in the network

While many people point to the importance of interdisciplinary work, it is actually difficult and costly to realise. The 'light' connections we have and ease of republishing means that interdisciplinary results can be achieved easily with low cost.

Lesson 4: We're all broadcasters now

Broadcasting and large scale public engagement used to be the reserve of those on TV or radio. As I've argued before, scholars produce a lot of content, which with minimal effort can be converted into shareable, digital resources.

Lesson 5: We're operating in an attention economy

When content and connections are abundant, then we lose the monopoly on attention. I think playing the attention game doesn't come easily to academics and is viewed as somewhat beneath them. But nevertheless this is the environment the digital scholar operates in. It can be quite subtle things such as a good title, or using interesting images in a slideshare presentation, or making use of different media, posting at a favourable time of day, utilising the network, etc. But increasingly we are competing with an excess of demands on everyone's attention and merely assuming the quality of your research or teaching will win out may not be enough.

Lesson 6: We can rethink research

I covered this in an earlier post, but to reiterate, we are often operating within a mindset of how research is performed, funded and disseminated which doesn't take into account new possibilities.

Lesson 7: New skills will be required

I didn't want to produce a checklist of digital literacies, but the following are the types of skills that will be useful (but not essential to have all of them): video creation, site analytics, curation/filtering, writing for online, liveblogging/amplifying, data visualisation.

I would probably have an entirely different list next year, but just looking at this set you appreciate how few academics are really adept at most of them, and also how unrepresented they are in formal recognition systems. But nevertheless they will become increasingly significant I'd argue, for instance research councils will be looking for alternative means of disseminating research findings, or the use of analytics to inform teaching or research.

Lesson 8: It'll impact even if you ignore it

Here I replayed the network weather argument, using the academic conference as an example of a fundamental practice that is changing because of the impact of technology, regardless of whether you personally use them or not.

Lesson 9: It's about alternatives

I can't stress this one enough. It is tempting to portray it as a case of the old model dying, being replaced by the sexy new one, and hey, if you're not on the bus with the hipsters, you'll be swept away. But the real picture is much more subtle and complicated than that. It is not the case of existing practices being killed off, but rather of us having a richer set of alternatives to choose from. The monopoly of the incumbent forms may be killed off, but not necessarily the forms themselves. Peer-reviewed journals are a good example here – they're no longer the only game in the scholarly communication town, but they still have a role.

Lesson 10: Don't focus just on risk

According to Tversky and Kahneman, we are programmed to focus on risk, but not so good at seeing benefits. In his book from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, John Naughton has this quote from James Boyle, which sums it up:

“We are very good at seeing the downsides and the dangers of open systems, open production systems, networks of openness. .. Those dangers are real… we are not so good at seeing the benefits and the converse holds true for the closed system.”

So people often think of all the bad things that might happen, for example if they post stuff online someone might pinch their ideas, or it might take time, or there may be issues around rights, etc. But they're not so good at imagining positive outcomes, such as it might connect you with more peers, lead to new forms of collaboration, improve citations, be a useful teaching tool, or just be fun.

I used a video to set off each lesson, so here is the slidedeck, with the videos removed but a link to each one. 

UPDATE: And if you want to see me doing it live, then here is the presentation with videos at LSE.


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