1.5 How the digital scholar contributes
If we consider public engagement from the perspective of the individual academic, then we can think of a continuum of possibilities. At one end would be relatively small-scale events such as a public lecture. This has a small, limited audience, but the filter is relatively open, in that many academics can at some point have an opportunity to deliver such a lecture. It is relatively low cost, with the venue often being provided free (as part of the university) and some refreshments. In the middle of our continuum we might place a general interest book. This will reach a larger audience, cost more to produce and have a stricter filter in place, in that publishers will determine who writes such a book. And at the opposite end of the continuum we can place broadcast activity, which is high cost, reaches a large audience and has a very fine filter with only a very small number of academics becoming broadcasters. The level of compromise or generalisation can also be seen to increase across this continuum, where with a public lecture the academic may speak in detailed terms about their subject, but with a general interest programme they are often required to ‘dumb down’ to an extent.
If we now consider the sort of digital outputs listed above, they have some similarity with these but also some areas of difference. They can be classified as follows:
- Low cost to free – if we assume they are by-products of activity which is already costed.
- Small but unpredictable audience – the long tail typically has small audiences but unexpected hits can occur.
- Open filter – anyone can publish.
- No compromise – with no associated cost the academic can be as general or detailed as they like.
- High reuse potential – the reuse potential of most other forms is low, either because they are in a format that is not reusable or copyright prohibits it, whereas small online artefacts can be easily aggregated into different contexts.
- Different distribution – such outputs are often distributed through search and social networks, so having a pre-established network is an important factor in seeding their uptake.