Our Vice Chancellor gave a talk on Digital Scholarship the
other day, a topic that is often on my mind (read: trying to legitimise all
this messing around I do). Scholarship, or rather ‘having your scholarship
recognised’ which is what people really mean, is all about reputation.
In the pre-digital world this reputation could roughly be pegged
to other filters. Publication in journals, books, keynote appearances, research
grants: all of these require other professionals to have filtered your
contribution, so your reputation could easily be established by the quantity,
and quality of these measures. Of course, it meant people learnt to game the
system – how to get publications out, how to network so you got invited for
keynotes, etc., but on the whole it worked reasonably well if you played along.
But the very nature of the digital world is about the
removal of the filter. Anyone can blog, produce a video, podcast, and generally
express themselves. So, reputation becomes much harder to verify. This is a
problem if we want to start rewarding digital scholarship. Put simply, 100 peer
reviewed journal articles probably means you are a decent scholar – 100 (or
10,000) blog posts doesn’t mean anything. So we need to find new ways of
establishing someone’s online reputation.
Let’s take Tony Hirst as an example. I think we’d all agree
Tony would qualify as a digital scholar. So how would we go about demonstrating
this? There would be traditional contributions too, such as developing courses,
giving talks, involvement in university projects, etc but let’s focus on the
online element. Here are some thoughts:
- Quality of output – Tony, or colleagues, could be asked to
nominate significant contributions (blog posts, videos, etc). Personally, I've always liked the Feedistan post.
- Appearance on independent rankings – e.g. Technorati, Jane’s
100+ Elearning Professionals to follow on Twitter, or the Wikio UK blog
rankings. I take Matt Lingard’s point that, especially with Twitter, these
lists don’t really mean much, but if we were trying to establish an overall
ranking of reputation, then collectivelythey add some weight.
- Quantity, or variety, of output – maybe being able to show
the range of online activity is important, e.g. blog posts, videos, mashups,
- Impact – being able to demonstrate that what you have done
has been used by others. For example, Tony’s work with the OpenLearn material
inspired Jim Groom and David Wiley to incorporate openlearn units into blogs.
- Testimonials – quotes from others about your work, eg Jim
Groom saying “over in Great Britain there is the legendary Open University, rich with
an unfair advantage of knowledge and innovation represented by cats
like Tony Hirst"
I think any one of these is easy to cheat or game, e.g. by
getting into blog wars you can get your technorati rating up, or by publishing
very small posts you can increase your quantity, but when taken overall they provide
an indication of reputation.
Which brings me on to George W. Bush. Reputation, online or
otherwise, is something that it takes a long time to establish, but only a
second to destroy. Bush’s failure to twice get the Paulson agreement through
congress seems to me less of a failure of the Bill itself (I have no idea if it’s
the right approach, and let’s face it, no-one does), but rather a failure of
reputation. Put bluntly, the Iraq
chickens have come home to roost. Dave Winer first pointed this out, saying:
Flash back to the United Nations on 2/5/03. An impressive almost Presidential Secretary of State, Colin Powell, delivering
some chilling news, not coming right out and saying it, but definitely
leading you to believe that Saddam has nukes and chemical weapons and
stuff even more horrible and is getting ready to use all of it in some
unspecified horrible way. .. Well, I did what a lot of Americans did that day, I
sucked it up and got behind my government. And they suckered me. And
I'll never forget it. I got fooled, and used, and a lot of people died,
in the name of freedom, and it was all a lie.
So Bush is suffering from having sacrificed his reputation
in order to legitimise the war in Iraq. And if you are going to
sacrifice your reputation you had better be sure that a) it’s worth it and b)
you aren’t going to need it again.
An awful lot of what us online folks do is not very
easily quantifiable. Exactly how does
sending a joke message on Twitter contribute to our bottom line? In the long
run what we are doing is establishing our own, and by association, our
institution’s online reputation. Given Bush’s reputation collapse the next time
someone asks you how much is reputation worth you can answer ‘ooh, about $700