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Digital Scholarship and the Online Learner


As an online student, you are at the intersection of academia and technology. This is an exciting and dynamic place to be as educators across disciplines explore new ways to engage in scholarly pursuits and enhance learning environments. New media and communication technologies allow us to both access and distribute knowledge in changing ways. In a time when there are more questions than answers, your role in this process may be bigger than you think.

A Few Definitions

The concept of "digital scholarship" is relatively new and already evolving with the advent of new technologies and approaches to academic research, teaching, and learning. There is no one definition, but Anthony Vaver, and independent academic author and publisher, gives us a place to start defining a digital scholar as "someone who uses new publishing technologies to publish, distribute, and market his or her intellectual work." This definition speaks to dissemination made possible through the Internet, social media, and e-publishing options. Vaver also points out that these systems allow scholars, including those not working in academic positions, to continue engaging in "the exciting exchange of ideas that universities seemed to monopolize." Access to scholarly research and the researchers themselves can expand through the use of digital tools and systems.

Digital scholarship can also mean the application of technology to conduct scholarly work. The Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL) of the University of Richmond, for example, "aim[s] to integrate thoughtful interpretation in the humanities and social sciences with innovations in new media." The DSL website includes information on recent projects with searchable records and maps, as well as new visual tools and details of their digital research and presentation techniques. The University of Kansas' Center for Digital Scholarship is another example of an institution-led effort to provide services and resources for students and faculty members who want to "understand their roles in the shifting system of scholarly publishing and to share the results of their scholarship openly and publicly using innovative online tools."

Becoming a Digital Scholar

Martin Weller, in his 2011 book The Digital Scholar, helps us to understand what it is that scholars do. Among other sources, Weller cites the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities & Social Sciences' description of digital scholarship practice listed below: 

  • Building a digital collection of information for further study and analysis.
  • Creating appropriate tools for collection-building.
  • Creating appropriate tools for the analysis and study of collections.
  • Using digital collections and analytical tools to generate new intellectual products.
  • Creating authoring tools for these new intellectual products, either in traditional forms or in digital form.

This list presents some of the important tasks related to scholarship. Weller also explains that, "This is a period of transition for scholarship; and the context within which this is taking place." The technologies, activities, and skills required are changing and as an individual scholar you should be part of determining what the future looks like. You may already be involved in some of these activities in fundamental ways in your courses, but there's more you can do to reach beyond your course materials and assignments, and contribute your scholarship via technology. 

Read and Participate:

Add current digital scholars to your reading list. They are often publishing their work, and reflections on technology use, through blogs and other online venues. Take a look at Dan Cohen's digital humanities blog, and collaborative sites such as The Scholarly Kitchen. A recent post addressing peer-review and web-based publications sparked interesting discussion. As you read the work of digital scholars consider adding your perspective and questions through comments.

You can also join existing online communities of digital scholars who are exchanging ideas, working to better define roles, and promoting leading practices in academic scholarship and technology. HASTAC: Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory is one of these groups, with a web-based collection of articles, forums, and events, and a call for content. Academic Commons and MediaCommons also offer opportunities for you to participate in conversations and share resources about digital scholarship.

Write and Publish:

Consider starting your own blog or other website through which you can share your academic and professional experiences. This might include reflecting on your own learning, continued questioning of digital scholarship and your field, and sharing your perspective on a variety of concepts and projects. You can also become more familiar with digital academic journals (e.g., DOAJ) and submit your work for publication. While this is particularly relevant for graduate-level students, who may be interested in academic careers, the experience of academic publishing can be helpful at all levels of higher education, and for both students and instructors.

Explore, Learn, and Share:

While not yet widely accepted in traditional academic settings (i.e., faculty tenure and promotion packets), according to Adeline Koh, assistant professor of literature at Richard Stockton College, "the call to seriously consider forms of new media, such as blogging, YouTube, and Twitter as part of academic scholarship is growing louder and louder."  As you work through your courses and programs you have the opportunity to make a contribution by sharing your perspective and your work. Explore the avenues available and join the conversations that will help shape the future of digital scholarship.

Image credit: cogdogblog, Flickr, CC-BY 

March 26th, 2012 written by (learn more about our authors)

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