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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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Alternative methods

An image of a rusty, disused industrial equipment in a bleak winter landscape.
Figure 8 Changing the model

The last of the approaches to recognising digital scholarship is really a call to encourage new practices which seek to reimagine scholarship. The seven approaches suggested above can be viewed as a continuum of departure from the conventional model. Much of the attempts to gain recognition for digital scholarship seem to be focused around making it behave like traditional scholarship; for example, permitting webometric data for journal article analysis is interesting, but it still foregrounds the peer-reviewed article as the main form of evidence.

Bending new technology to fit existing practice is a common reaction, partly because we are unaware of its potential. Stephen Heppell (2001) declares that ‘we continually make the error of subjugating technology to our present practice rather than allowing it to free us from the tyranny of past mistakes’. There is something of this in the approach to recognising digital scholarship – it is often a case of trying to make everything fit into the pre-existing shaped containers, rather than exploring new possibilities.

Promotion committees can play a significant role in this not only by recognising new forms of scholarship but also by positively encouraging them, either through guidelines or through specific projects. For example, a committee might seek to develop the sort of Web 2.0 metrics mentioned above or to encourage alternatives to the peer-review model. In analysing the peer-review process Fitzpatrick (2009) makes a strong case that we need to move beyond merely seeking equivalence measures:

What I am absolutely not arguing is that we need to ensure that peer-reviewed journals online are considered of equivalent value to peer-reviewed journals in print; in fact, I believe that such an equation is instead part of the problem I am addressing. Imposing traditional methods of peer review on digital publishing might help a transition to digital publishing in the short term, enabling more traditionally minded scholars to see electronic and print scholarship as equivalent in value; but it will hobble us in the long term, as we employ outdated methods in a public space that operates under radically different systems of authorization.

The extract from The Digital Scholar ends here.