Wanted: digital, networked, open researchers

While Martin Weller’s seminar in #Change11 was ‘on air’ two days ago, I was editing the last draft of my MRes dissertation, a small interview project…looking for ‘digital researchers’ in an Italian university. No doubt that the preparation of this work benefited in every part of the process by my networks of contacts and the ‘joys of openness’: just to mention the month of September, I was able to access relevant publications, such as Garnett and Ecclesfield‘s ALT-C paper on ‘A Framework to Co-creating open scholarship’, White and Le Cornu‘s article on Visitor/Resident typologies of online engagement and the open access version of Weller’s book on The Digital Scholar before receiving the printed copy. What a blast! 🙂 ! In turn, I made comments in some blogs, shared rough materials and links of empirical studies and aggregated essays, conferences’ recordings and blog posts on the topic. What next? Certainly now I have something to say and I will be able to blog about that. Moreover, I will opt for an open access submission of my dissertation, when approved. For sure, given the topic being researched, I drew obvious advantages by my permanence online, even if only any accepted papers that I will be able to formally publish for conferences and journals will be all that will really count for my resume to be enriched.

But what if I was a classicist? I talked with a brilliant young researcher in Humanities that is far more ‘digital-as-networked’ than me. However, her colleagues (also abroad) are not used to share any content (e.g. references) in social media: how could it make sense to be a networked researcher if you are in fact a ‘Lone Ranger’ in your field? So, she prefers to curate a digital identity in an intellectual field that has nothing to do with her academic commitment.

What if I was a researcher in Medicine, under pressure due to the competitive environment? Probably I would also be suspicious towards blogging as a viable means to practice scientific discourse. Or would believe that there are more efficient means to communicate among peers and have impact on a wider context (e.g. traditional media).

What if was a young researcher in Physics, whose digital interaction are rigorously channelled within the ‘boundaries’ of a large international community of a funded project? Maybe I would find it difficult to practice other forms of openness beyond the well-established conventions to share pre-print (in fact finished papers) in renowned subject-based online repositories. Perhaps I would wander whether there are modes to illustrate to layman the meanings of highly specialized (and costly) research threads.

What about any possible champions of digital, networked, open researchers? All that I could observe from my narrow perspective is related to two cases of ‘digital researcher’:

1) a well-established researcher – a social scientist – working in a discipline and from a research perspective that can be nurtured by a networked discourse: he has an exploratory approach towards new technologies and a well-established academic reputation. So, he can afford to curate a (parallel) academic digital identity even if his own academic context does not acknowledge that. Moreover, he endorses an idea of democratisation of the researcher’s reputation and the moral responsibility of a scholar as a public intellectual;
2) a doctoral researcher – a ‘digital’ archeologist – that undertakes her scholarly apprenticeship within a discipline in transition from a traditional to a still uncharted asset. Her networking activities is closely linked to the collective and collaborative endeavors to define methods and create digital instruments. Open collaboration is an efficient way to do all that. For sure she personally has an exploratory attitude towards new tools, but she works in an enabling disciplinary context, that makes her ‘naturally’ digital, networked and open. It is also true that she currently live in a sort of ‘limbo’ constituted by her doctoral journey. The scholarly system that can acknowledge her digital profile as a prospective young researcher is all to be thought and constructed.

I find it particularly fascinating Weller’s idea that “a well-respected digital scholar may well be someone who has no institutional affiliation”, because s/he is more defined by networks and online identity s/he establishes than by the institution which he/she belongs to. The autonomy of a ‘disintermediated’ scholar with respect to institutional and traditional scholarly constraints can even be considered as an advantage in some disciplinary contexts, but it is worth exploring to what extent this perspective can be generalized across disciplines. Otherwise, how this idea is likely to be inflected in different subject areas and discliplinary conventions of work practices and ICTs appropriation In this sense, the ‘digital scholarship resilience matrix‘ can help to situate the digital scholar’s emergent profile within the macro and micro contexts and according to individual attitudes and motivations.

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2 Responses to Wanted: digital, networked, open researchers

  1. “A well respected digital scholar may be more defined by networks and online identity s/he establishes than by the institution which he/she belongs to” This led me to think about the value of network as an affiliation of one’s digital identity. There are certain underlying assumptions here, where scholars are defined outside the institutional affiliation, and so are they still classified under (1) & (2) as you have elaborated? I am not doing research for a PhD, and so it’s the interests and curiosity to learn that motivate me to research through networks. I tend to believe that there are certain values which go beyond in exceeding the “traditional” self esteem and actualization needs, when learning as an open digital scholar. I think it also relates to the passion of individual scholar, rather than just about careers opportunities or research publication. It is also about how one would “shape” and influence the world, whilst also adapting to an ever changing environment – with a micro and macro- approach towards learning. John

  2. Hi John,
    apologise for my late reply. Thanks for yor comments, they are really appreciated.

    These topics are fascinating but mine are early attempts to describe first and then to grasp the phenomenon. I think that here it deals with the interplay among values, practices and legitimation of modes of knowledge production and distribution.
    A researcher in my small interview project reminded me: “It is worth investigating practices, not values”. I agree with this statement, that actually guided my study. I prefer to speak in terms of motivations and contextual factors that can drive or inhibit certain practices, raher than about values, especially aiming to investigate researchers’ behaviours across disciplines.
    Moreover, I feel the need to avoid to be trapped in the “ed tech bubble” (as Neil Selwyn warns us), that is to attribute to every scholar some digital behaviours, beliefs, motivations belonging to niches of researchers (e.g. ed tech, media studies, open source scholars) scattered all over the world. We all could agree when Christine Borgmann refers to a ‘gift exchange culture’ that has always underlied researcher’s work: however, it is equally important to remind that usually researchers rely on scholarly communication system’ rules and that (always according to Borgman) “tenure and promotion are stronger factors than technology”.

    New tools provide new opportunities to interpret researcher’s role, between researchers’ (new?) ethos and constraints of the scholarly system. But – referring to what I have found (and interpreted) to date – only a few researchers are able to harness them. This may be due to a number of factors: for instance to their own propensity towards a certain type of online engagement and related attitude towards learning, but it also depends on the nature and status of their disciplines, and on the prevalent kind of ICT appropriation of the diverse subject areas.
    Personally I can tell you that I share with you similar interests and values that prompt me to explore the opportunities of networks and to assume a ‘natural’ culture of sharing. But I acknowledge that in my field this attitude and practice is aligned with the object of my observation: so, my motivation towards networking and openness is inherent to my research interests. Moreover, currently I am in a ‘privileged’ condition as an apprentice researcher: someone told me that my tentative effort of sharing draft materials and references is indeed somewhat rewarding and without actual risks, since it makes me visibile in the research community.
    This leads me to think of a sort of ‘return on investment’ in certain practices as a ‘digital scholar’ that might be a key motivation in a prospective rapid uptake of some new digital and open practices. Martin Weller underlines this when he talks about ‘impact’ and I think this is a key issue both a a personal level and considering a system view. But I would like to discuss this in a further post).
    However, I often wander how much of the digital behaviours I am currently experimenting will be integral part of my future academic identity (if ever I will be able to have one ;-)!). It comes to mind what Rebecca Ferguson probed about blogging activity by three doctoral students during and after their doctoral journeys: formal constraints and contextual work practices of ‘real life’ research projects diverted these young researchers from their blogging activity.

    I mean, lacking acknowledgement of such emergent behaviours, new practices of sharing are likely to be assumed as a personal habitus that prescinds from the research community legitimation because all that is allowed by the academic freedom individual researchers are provided with. But under this respect such new behaviours make the landscape more nuanced, but we need to furtherly inflect the notion of digital scholar in real research contexts in order to envision in which ways researchers’ work is likely to change. Of course, to be continued…:-)

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