On June 24, 2014, I had the pleasure to partake the Digital Scholarship workshop organised by Being Digital, a research project leaded by Chiara Carrozza at the Centro de Estudos Sociais of the University of Coimbra. The workshop was held by Martin Weller, professor at the Open University and author of The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice (Bloomsbury Academic, published under Open Access licence).
The workshop was organised in four sessions. It was opened by a brief introduction to digital scholarship through some themes: relevance of digital scholarship; relations with traditional practices (how to “solve” tensions); engagement and dissemination; different ways to understand “impact”. Then, after an introduction of a selection of tools, the instructor asked participants to design and present a strategy for enhancing their digital presence.
Third session presented Guerrilla Research, an approach that makes use of online tools to conduct “just do it” research. Here I was struck by a data given by Martin Weller. In 2006, out of 2800 bids presented at the competition of the British Economic and Social Research Council, 2000 were not funded: it is indeed an appropriate amount in a paradigm in which competition is considered the way for ensuring quality. But, if we consider an average of 12 working days for each proposal (an estimate given by Weller), 65 working years have been spent for designing non-funded bids. Well, although a wider critique of how research is funded nowadays is not the scope of this post, there is a lot to think here. Guerrilla Research, instead, means: have a good idea, look for data that are already available, research and write.
During the fourth session, participants elaborated their short- to mid-term “open scholar” strategy, and presented to debate. Then, we have been invited to a collective discussion about digital opportunities and challenges for academics. In our group, the discussion has touched several thematics and been shaped around the clash between “opportunities” and “risks”, both at the individual and collective level. In recent times, because of some work on surveillance on urban space, I have been thinking to technology more in general, around this double perspective. In times of fast changes, it is hard to try evaluating, let alone forecasting. But, if one looks at potential positive and negative impacts of a given thing, it is easier to discern trends and ways forward.
In general, and as far as digital scholarship is concerned, I would stress two intertwined dimensions: the individual and the collective. On the one hand, digital tools are becoming an instrument for enhancing how one researches and disseminates his/her works. This is indeed an opportunity for those who can best use digital tools, but trends may arise of increased competitiveness and focus on mainstream, short-term, “easy”, and fancy research. I see most opportunities coming from a collective use of digital instruments, for enhancing collaboration and sharing, changing approaches and pushing academe towards the “real world” outside. In a word, I clearly see how technologies may (and to some instance do) democratise research and education – and how the dominance of Anglo-Saxon and Western ideas is fading is a good proof of it.
Indeed, engaging on these thematics is a crucial issue for research and education, nowadays, and projects such as Being Digital are welcome and needed.