The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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The digital scholar

Digital equivalents

Described image
Figure 3 Digital equivalents

An improvement on this is to seek digital equivalents for the types of evidence currently accepted in promotion cases. In making a case for excellence in one of the three main promotion criteria, the scholar is required to provide evidence. We have become so accustomed to many of these forms of evidence that we have ceased to view them as evidence but rather as an endpoint in themselves. For example, a good track record in peer-review publication should not be the ultimate goal, but rather it is indicative of other more significant contributions including effective research as judged by your peers, impact upon your subject area and scholarly communication. Thus if we examine what each of the accepted pieces of evidence are seen to represent, and assuming these are scholarly values we wish to perpetuate, then it may be possible to find equivalents in an open, digital, networked context which demonstrate the same qualities. For example, the keynote talk at a conference is often cited as one valid piece of evidence of esteem for an individual seeking promotion. The reasons are twofold: Reputation – it demonstrates that they have gained significant standing in their field to be asked regularly to give a keynote talk at a conference; impact – if they are giving the keynote then everyone at the conference hears it, and they can therefore claim a significant impact in their subject.

The important element then is not the keynote itself but what it signifies. What might a digital equivalent of this be which meets the two criteria above? For example, if someone gives a talk and converts this to a slidecast of that presentation, a certain number of views might equate to impact (how many people would hear a live presentation?). If the presentation is retweeted, linked to, embedded, then this might give an indication of reputation.

It would be overly simplistic to provide straightforward translations along the lines of 500 views + 5 embeds = 1 keynote, but by focusing on the existing criteria and considering what it is they are meant to demonstrate, it is then possible to consider online equivalents.

The New Media Department at the University of Maine has taken a similar approach in suggesting a number of ‘alternative recognition measures’ (Blais, Ippolito and Smith, 2007):

  • Invited/edited publications – if an individual is invited to publish in an online journal that is an indication of reputation.
  • Live conferences – they suggest raising the profile of the conference (both face to face and virtual) to a par with peer-review publication, particularly in fast-moving subjects.
  • Citations – they suggest using Google and databases to find a better measure of citations and impact.
  • Download/visitor counts – downloads of articles or visits to an academic site can be seen as equivalent to citations.
  • Impact in online discussions – forums, discussion lists and blogs are ‘the proving grounds of new media discourse’ with significant impact and a high degree of scrutiny and peer evaluation.
  • Impact in the real world – this might be in the form of newspaper references but they also argue that Google search returns can be a measure of real-world impact.
  • Net-native recognition metrics – online communities can have their own measures of value, and these represent a more appropriate measure than one imposed upon the contributor from outside.
  • Reference letters – they suggest reference letters which may counteract some of the difficulty with traditional recognition systems.

The Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] have similarly developed a set of specific equivalents for recognition, including links to the scholar's research, peer review of digital research sites and technical innovation.

Activity 1 Using the alternative measures

Allow about 30 minutes

Looking at the list on the previous page, assess your online reputation or the profile of someone you know – perhaps ‘high-profile’ academics in your field or a field of interest. What have you learnt about the people you have looked at? Is their reputation/profile as you might have expected?

Make some notes and perhaps share them on your blog.

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