Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Scholarly, Digital, Open: An Impossible Triangle?

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Scholarly, Digital, Open: An Impossible Triangle?

Article excerpt

Introduction - the impossible triangle

In the United Kingdom (UK), the government department in charge of universities - the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - has neither 'university' nor 'education' in its title. This is a reflection of a growing tendency for societies across the developed world to value higher education principally in terms of its contribution to economic wellbeing (see the discussions by Orr 1997 and Calhoun 2006). It goes hand in hand with increasingly strident demands for value for money wherever academic activity, including scholarship, is supported from the public purse. Traditionally, university faculties have exercised economic and organisational autonomy over their scholarly activities, reflecting a social consensus on the value and role of scholarship viewed as a 'public good' and necessarily independent of the 'market, the polity, and fashion' (Benkler 2008, p. 55). Characteristic of this broad notion of the university's public mission are social benefits such as an 'informed citizenry' valuing critical enquiry, committed to public service and contributing to the 'continuity and creativity of culture' (Calhoun 2006, pp. 10-11). But the concept of public good can also be applied to the aggregation of private benefits, such as the skills, qualifications and career opportunities that universities are able to offer their students and their future employers (Calhoun 2006; Cowan, Cowan, and Llerena 2008). A national education policy that constructs the public good of the university primarily in the latter terms prioritises relevance and accountability and seeks to ensure these through quality assurance regimes in teaching, and quality assessment, impact and 'public engagement' criteria in research.

At the same time as this instrumental tendency has developed in the funding and administration of higher education, and perhaps partly in reaction to it, a counter-discourse of democratisation and openness has emerged amongst some higher education scholars and practitioners, which seeks to re-model scholarly communication and the practices of research, public engagement and teaching, around the open and 'participatory' practices of internet users (Jenkins et al . 2005).

Digital scholarship is more than just using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate ... it is embracing the open values, ideology and potential of technologies born of peer-to-peer networking and wiki ways of working in order to benefit both the academy and society. Digital scholarship can only have meaning if it marks a radical break in scholarship practices brought about through the possibilities enabled in new technologies. This break would encompass a more open form of scholarship. (Pearce et al. 2010)

The emphasis on participation is not only resistance to the instrumentalism of the corporate university. It also reacts against the hierarchies and elitism of traditional academia, with its gatekeepers and its exclusionary literacy practices and strategies of preferment. 'Digital scholarship' conceived in this way, seeks a wider consensus on what knowledge is valued and valuable and a more inclusive approach to its construction (Anderson 2009; Weller 2011).

Digital technologies figure prominently in both the private benefit and public participation approaches to opening up the world of academic scholarship. Both perspectives tend to promote an idealised view of practice in research and teaching in which digitality and openness converge. A view grounded in the day-to-day experience of academic research communities, however, suggests that there are important variations in the way that the conditions of digitality and the principle of openness shape specific practice contexts, and that the enduring importance given to objectivity and the 'scholarly record' is often in tension with ideas about democratising scholarly knowledge.

This discussion focuses on the concepts of scholarship, digitality and openness, as three principles important to the development of practice in the university of the digital age. …

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