I’m a digital scholar, I hope

So, another week in the Change MOOC. Lack of audio at the time meant I listened in to the live session asynchronously but the fuzemeeting replay allows you to follow the chat etc so a good experience.

Martin Weller ran last week, based largely around his book which I am currently reading on the train, through the open access route. Martin’s challenge for participants was to create a digital artefact answering the question ‘what impact has digital scholarship had on your practice and what difficulties have you encountered?’ I’m going to use this blog post as a response. So stand by for some reflection (which felt relevant to me, not sure about for anyone else).

Some background. I stared life as a molecular biologist, and finished my PhD just before the advent of the web. One of the tasks in my PhD was sequencing unknown genes from Drosophila melanogaster and comparing the sequences to those held in databases located in Switzerland. We used to query these databases by email and the response would take 24hrs to arrive, and would consist of an email about 30 pages long plain text. by the time I had written up (and moved onto my new career in distance learning), the web had come along and you got html formatted results for your queries within seconds of submitting them. Witnessing this step-change in the way research practice could be supported by technology (ultimately there is no point in sequencing a gene unless you can compare it to every other bit of dna ever sequenced) has meant that I have always been very positive about the use of technology in research practice. So that was Web1, When Web2 came along, I wasn’t working as a molecular biologist, but my work with the PLE project allowed me to see how the web could connect an individual not just with data, but with other researchers. Reading the open science/open research ideas from people like Cameron Neylon was really the first time since the mid-90s that I wished I had been a molecular biologist again, doing science in the current technology supported environment must be so stimulating (and yes, I know there are downsides).

Hmm, don’t seem to have answered the question yet. Onto , my current practice. Before moving into a full-time research role, I spent many years on the fringes of research working as an educational developer and on JISC projects. In the same way that availability of software drove the first wave of the web (I remember downloading new versions of browsers almost daily which added new functionality to the web), to me, the second wave was driven by the availability of services such as wiki sites which allowed simple collaborative knowledge building, and of course the blogs of people like Alan Levine (when he was blogging at the Maricopa Learning Exchange) and George Siemens (at eLearnSpace) which allowed me to see other’s practice and ideas up close. Today, RSS feeds of dozens of blogs provide at least as much stimulation for our research as more traditional papers. I see myself as fundamentally a digital scholar. I haven’t myself fostered an active blog etc. and don’t have a strong profile in the community, but I do try to share ideas and contribute back to the personal learning network I find myself in.

But of course there is a tension which for me is two-fold. First, our research is at the fringes of traditional academic research we are trying to address challenges of knowledge worker learning in the workplace. we are not technology focused, we are not traditional educational researchers, yet whilst we (I) can identify with many voices in the blogosphere, it can often be difficult to integrate findings and ideas from blogs into research papers whose referees demand more traditional sources. Secondly, as a developing researcher, contribution to the next REF is critical for my career and the assumption is that success will depend on publishing in impact rated journals. This means that we have to play the game publishing according to conservative rules.