digital scholarship,  innovation,  openness

The role of respectable idiots



I gave a talk at the Higher Education Academy 'New Places to Learn' seminar yesterday about openness and the institution. I was proposing that in order to facilitate openness you need a combination of a top-down and bottom-up process. So for example, OER projects such as OpenLearn, combined with creating the space for academics to generate and share their own content (eg by recognising digital artefacts in promotion).

One aspect I raised for creating the environment within which academics engage in openness of their own free will is the role of the 'respectable idiot'. This is a person who has a degree of respect within the institution as a 'proper' academic. This is crucial, they can't be someone who is seen as 'out there' and unlike other academics, as they'll just be dismissed as 'not like me anyway'. So they're respectable, but they're also prepared to engage in some of the experimentation and playfulness that exploring new media requires. This may mean messing around with video, or keeping a part-personal blog that doesn't use the academic voice, experimenting with format, etc. They're prepared to put a bit of their reputation on the line. The role of these people then is to act as bridges between the more radical experimenters and the main body of academia. By being respectable they demonstrate that this is a legitimate activity.

Perhaps immodestly, I think I'm a bit of a respectable idiot in the OU. And many of the people I like and follow on-line would fall into this category too. So, if you're looking for ways of encouraging uptake of new forms of scholarship in your institution, then you can do worse than finding and then shining a light on, your respectable idiots.


  • Jj27vv

    I am unfortunately not even suitably qualified to be a respectable idiot, just ‘idiot’ or ‘clown’ will have to suffice. As I give ‘The Digital Scholar’ a third read I am reminded how you suggest the importance, in contrast to Boyer, of traits that may seem ‘unscholarly’. The digital reality will be that only with hindsight will we see what scholarship is produced and then discover how it came about rather thsn thinking that wearing scholarly airs and graces of any kind will deliver the goods.

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