Four quick thoughts for higher education faculty

Tivoli CU DenverI had the privilege of participating in a conversation today at my university about how (and whether) the digital work done by faculty should count for promotion and tenure. (I also had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes; here are my slides). Here are four thoughts that are spinning around in my brain after a couple of hours of discussion…

First, if we publish an article in a traditional journal which happens to post that article online and it then gets a few social media shares, that does not make us ‘digital scholars.’ That’s definitely a step beyond traditional analog publishing. But to be relevant to the digital, online, hyperconnected, participatory, interactive, highly-distributed information landscape in which we now live and work, we need to expect more from ourselves. Not all of the time, but sometimes. And more often.

Second, why is it that the faculty who ARE trying to be relevant in our new information landscape are the ones that always have to justify their work to those who are less responsive? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Which side should carry the burden of persuasion regarding relevance and quality?

Third, no one owes us anything, no matter how good the work is that we do. We have to prove ourselves every day. Just because we did good work a decade ago doesn’t mean that we are doing so now. Just because we believe that our work is valuable doesn’t mean that others do – or should. As Seth Godin says, “If [our] target audience isn’t listening, it’s [our] fault, not theirs.” Make the case. Be engaged. Help others see the meaning and value in what we do. All the time. (These digital tools can help…)

Finally, we need to be less dismissive of the public and of publishing for non-academics. We ignore engagement with the public and policymakers at our peril.

With appreciation for all of the complexities behind these fairly simple assertions… let me know what you think.

15 Responses to “Four quick thoughts for higher education faculty”

  1. Richard Bernato Ed. D, Reply November 30, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Far so radical and logical for HE Neanderthals

  2. Scott, it sounds like we are talking about are two different literacies, “bi-literacy” as Maryanne Wolf suggests. Maybe this shift in what it means to be published is causing some confusion regarding what counts in the minds of others. Probably wise to exist within both worlds.

  3. I wonder how stepping away from traditional peer review as the top indicator of expertise might open up more of the other opportunities you mention, Scott. It seems like posting online and in other mediums is looked down upon because of its apparent lack of “fellow expert” filter.

    • Matt, I don’t think we need to walk away from peer review to also be more engaged in and on digital platforms. Sara Goldrick-Rab, for example, is a powerful scholar AND she’s also writing in ways that are more accessible. And there are many more…

      • Scott – Of course there are ways to be a powerful scholar in multiple platforms. Thank you for sharing this example.

        I was thinking that many of the opportunities to be engaged in digital platforms lack traditional peer review, therefore the burden is on us (as you suggested) to justify the relevance and quality. I may be seeing this from a different perspective, however I was thinking peer-review is often viewed as the golden standard, which by default devalues other mediums of disseminating information.

        • Yes, absolutely. Much of our information space is now publish, then filter rather than the traditional filter, then publish. Requires new skills and mindsets for our students AND our educators. 🙂 But the new landscape is our current landscape. Feels to me like we shouldn’t have to work so hard to defend it. Seems like the burden should be on those who aren’t keeping / catching up?

          In other words, if your mental schema and ongoing practices aren’t keeping up, shouldn’t you be the one with the burden of justification?

          • No, the burden of justification should be on the newer idea to prove that it’s actually better.

          • Multimedia instead of ink on paper. Open access instead of locked behind a paywall. Greater reach and visibility instead of view by a few. Ideas make it quicker to researchers’, policymakers’, and public eyeballs. Greater interaction possibilities around ideas and research… Seems the proof points have been there for a long time, now, Ken?

          • @Scott, but you’re ignoring the issue of validity of what is being said, and the bias in the evidence. Look at some of the online “education” writers who are pro-charter, Common Core, NCLB, etc. who look legitimate, often with titles from Academic Institutions, but if you scratch the surface, you find out that they are not in fact working in education, but have a position that is created by funding from Koch Brothers, Gates, Bloomberg, Waltons, or one of the other billionaires who are pushing their flavor of “education reform”. When these are people being published in Education Week, Christian Science Monitor, or the New York Times, who points out the cherry picking of data, or the Potemkin Village schools (90% of graduating students going on to college, great, but what happened to 80% of the students who started at the school but didn’t graduate from it?)

          • Not defending the traditional gatekeepers (since as I said, some of the distortions and outright lies are being published through reputable outlets), but it is often a challenge for even people well versed in an area to identify intentional distortions and propaganda.

  4. I noticed one of your last slides mentioned public intellectuals. Be sure to read Anand Ghiradaras (@AnandWrites) book Winners Take All. Chapter 4 is all about the importance of public intellectuals and how they are being overtaken by “thought leaders.”

    • When folks don’t engage in places where people can see/hear and interact with their ideas, they get replaced by others who will…

      • Yes, that is one of Ghhiradaras’s key points. We can end up with a lot of pseudo-intellectuals who are trying to reach out to MarketWorld and telling them what they want to hear. However, his second point is that it is easy for real intellectuals to go down that path and stop working on and/or speaking about the things that challenge MarketWorld. When we join the public arena, we have to be careful to not only say things that the public wants to hear.

  5. This is not a new problem in our country. The UK has had paid positions for public science/research outreach for a very long time (look at David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Jim Al Khlili, Maggie Aderin-Pocock) while in the US, these people tend to be informal, or have other paid positions (Carl Sagan, Neil de Grasse Tyson). Electronic publication is not the same as peer reviewed research, and comparing them is apples and oranges. What we need is to collectively recognize the value of mass communication and that it should be part of an academic’s job, or a full time job for someone with the skills for it.

    • Richard Bernato Ed. D. Reply December 2, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      Very much agree. Who’s the courage to state the obvious? Most so called peer reviewed empirical research findings rarely find their way to practice. Unless perhaps when the research overwhelmingly supports a given points.

      Why not let all comments and points be part of that critical mass? The ultimate validity of the practice will affirm its worth.

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