Scholarship in the digital age

Liveblog from the OU Vice-Chancellor’s speech to Council, 26 Sep 2008

Largish audience heading in – interesting to be watching from outside rather than the inside.

Introduction from the Pro-Chancellor, Chair of Council.

Title chosen carefully – could’ve been “Why the web matters to scholars everywhere”. But the web and enormous computer power does make a serious difference to what defines scholarship – at every level.  For academics and students, and professionals.  Scholarship in each of Boyer’s classification.  Each are weighted differently.  Dr Johnson – scholars are bound for toil, envy, want, the garret, and the jail.  Not sure about the jail but the rest apply. Can you be a scholar and ignore all this?

Stephen Downes – shift is from web being a medium to a platform: remix, repurpose, stuff gets better the more people use it. Web 3.0 – the semantic web – harnessing the power of artificial intelligence.  Community of scholars takes on a whole new meaning, dimension, in this context.

Our students are the net generation: they expect to be engaged, with opportunities for input.  More visual, prefer to learn by doing than telling or reading: discover, not be told.  John Thompson, “Is education 1.0 ready for Web 2.0 students?”

Argue that it’s not possible to ignore this.  The Internet and social changes wrought require us to rethink what we expect of academics.  And reconceptualise policies to respond to that.

Scholarship of teaching and learning

Universities taking this more seriously than in the past. Staff refocused on student learning; students becoming more demanding – e.g.  Curriculum demand too.

We have always known that the process is more important in education than content, but it’s especially so now.

John Seely-Brown and Richard Adler “Minds on Fire” – learning 2.0 is active and passion-based.

The real world is more like this too: the real world doesn’t divide in to disciplines.  Requirement of all students to be able to evaluate research outputs.

There are negatives and positives.  Negatives – erosion of time for reflection.  But we can’t scrimp on pedagogical research: need solid research on what works and what doesn’t.

What can we see happening in HE?

Six technologies – Horizon report – likely to have an impact (very Web 2.0): 

  • Grassroots video – anyone can be a broadcaster with video.
  • Collaboration webs – no longer expensive to network
  • Mobile broadband – dramatic price drop, capability up (pervasive net)
  • Data mashups – large amounts of data with APIs, integrate and transform information
  • Collective intelligence – knowledge emerges when many people interact with much data
  • Social operating systems – next gen social networking systems, around people, not content

Four main responses.

Faculty are often unaware of technologies or unable to integrate them.  (We have a mountain to climb!)

Consequences for staff time.  

Shuster and Finkelstein: The American Faculty. Real changes in roles of faculty staff: including unbundling content preparation from presentation/supporting of learning. Accelerates trend towards teaching-only functions, whatever you think about that.

Faculty role in design of learning experience. Role reduced a bit by the amount of content out there. But libraries have been full of stuff for ages, and nobody argued that there was no role for a navigator through the sea of resources.  And we need training for navigator.

One member of a team can be more expert, but an academic not engaged will not fully understand the implications for learning, and the design will be worse as a consequence.

Impact on research?

Profound. Every stage in lifecycle can be improved and/or complicated by technology.  Can collaborate across the world.  Data as research capital.  Mass digitisation of books leads to all sorts of possibilities. Christine Borgman work cited.

We’ve never had quite to many research questions live at the same time: even the most jaded must be energised.

Consequences for institutions

John Tompson, Clayton Christiansen Disrupting Class – It’s a disruptive technology: asynchronous, 24/7.

But not so disruptive to the OU: we have a short/medium term advantage here, which we must build on. We can remake our leadership on the world stage through our deployment of digital scholarship.

Migrate innovation across the university more effectively – we will stand or fall on our use of innovation.

Need new business models.  Research strategy, IET, Student Support all under review.

Five things we need to look at:

1. Incentives and reward. Financial markets – only counting articles in certain articles may disadvantage web-published academics.

2. Need systematic response; staff development is a strategic priority.

3. Assessment of what students need to know and how they learn.  Move this research to the centre.

4. Look at what constitutes quality. We’ve always pushed the boundaries.

5. Research management. Not just playing RAE game: smart university maximises the potential of research in this new environment.


Argument: Scholarship has to be tied to these technologies. They reflect our (OU) distinctive mission and can enhance it. Staff understand that we need to engage with it, but are a little worried about the impact. And recognise this is a key part of the quality of what we do.  Everyone here strongly identifies with the mission: if technology helps us do this, it’s warmly embraced.  We aim to be the best.  Why not the best? 

The Upside of Down

We can be the leader here, now.

Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

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