digital scholarship,  higher ed

Don’t be excellent

There is an understandable focus on quality and excellence in higher education – we have centres of excellence, the Research Excellence Framework, the Teaching Excellence Framework. Excellence or death is the unwritten motto. And I get it, a Centre for Mediocrity might not make the same splash in a prospectus. As an aside, can we _all_ be excellent, it implies to me something above the ordinary, and if excellence becomes the norm, then that is then ordinary, and therefore not excellent?

But philosophical semantics is not the point of this post, rather the continued pressure to always be excellent or striving for excellence can be counter productive. The message that if it’s not excellent then don’t bother can be limiting and intimidating. The appeal of the web early on was that it removed the barriers to participation, and the same with social media. You can publish, broadcast, curate and cultivate. And you can do it how you want to, not how it has been prescribed. Key to this is the space to not be excellent – this is amateur hour.

The appeal was to be experimental, unpolished and, well, a bit crap. You may get better and become excellent, or at least proficient. If I may, I think I’ve become a decent blogger over the years. But my podcast is terrible. I don’t say that with false modesty and wanting you to say “no it’s fantastic”. Compared with pros it is recorded in one take, no post-production, I don’t have a great radio voice, I repeat myself, it’s not regular enough, etc. But I don’t care. It’s fun. And I’m not sure I want to get better at it – striving for excellence is not the only way to be.

The benefits to being new and unaccomplished at something are (at least) twofold I think. First, it gives you a space to explore and develop new forms of communication, and scholarly activity away from the defined approaches. This can be beneficial ‘back at the ranch’, as we saw with research dissemination, say, but it may not always be. Second is a more personal benefit, in that it’s refreshing to be the noob at something, to find your way again. The freedom from the increasing number of restrictions elsewhere in your professional life can make those restrictions more bearable also.

So, yeah, strive for excellence by all means, but leave yourself time to be fabulously sub-par also.

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