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Posted by on Dec 12, 2011

My response (and general agreement with) “Engaging Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship”


(Ezra Pound’s edits to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as an example of acknowledging collaboration and process. From the T.S. Eliot iPad app). 

I just finished a good article that pragmatically laid out certain elements that could potentially be used to critique multimedia scholarship. Hence the title of the article.  I find this article articulate and timely and, in my opinion, a good indication that the period of raw experimentation in multimedia scholarship (and just plain old knowledge representation) is drawing to a close. I say this as a good thing. We will always have our shiny new things in scholarship and we will all be perpetually drawn to raw creativity. However, originality isn’t the inherent goal. Accuracy is. 

Before I go too far without qualifying this statement, let me stress that I think experimentation is a wonderful thing and I am feeling fairly confident that attempts are being made to engineer experimentation directly into the scholarship process. Promoting (fast) failure and dabbling with interdisciplinary projects and activities. And if universities aren’t trying to engineer experimentation into their processes, they are being foolish. The good ones, and the good academics (like Anderson and McPherson) are already moving on to the long tail aspects of scholarship, assessing multimedia works for quality, form, and accuracy (as faculty would for their graduate or undergraduate students). 

So the long tail of process, assessment, instruction (and publishing as referred to in Vectors) feeds off the bleeding edge of experimentation and that middle ground where the grunt work is carried out represents this translation of experimentation into notions of quality and accuracy. In short, its pretty, but is it any good? I don’t think Anderson and McPherson would agree with my simplistic analysis here (not of their work, but rather of my own thoughts), but there you have it. So what are we supposed to be looking for?

Respect Experimentation and Emerging Genres

While digital scholarship in its simplest form might simply mean publishing traditional work online, we should encourage a variety of approaches and nascent forms that better take advantage of the affordances of computation and allow us to ask new research questions. The experimental projects produced for Vectors have explored many nascent genres: the animated archive, the experiential argument, the interactive documentary, and the spatialized essay, as well as various forms of simulation or visualization.

Agreed here in its entirety. I do not feel there is any danger in terms of eroding quality of scholarship through the incorporation of emerging genres. One would be foolish to disregard programming code & platform studies as a genre of socio-political power dynamics, mobility (as in mlearning) as a contextual element for pursuing experiential arguments, etc. I see no danger here in terms of quality or even ontology and epistemology. There are questions that can be answered that we, aside from disparate individuals and nascent communities, are simply not asking. What does it mean to be, what does knowledge look like, and how can one answer that question as if technology and these new constructs didn’t exist. I see this mention as a gentle reminder to all would be assessment mechanisms that they need to evolve to keep pace with the questions being asked. 

Understand Process

…multimedia scholarship often involves a long research process. This length of time reflects the need to acquire expanded research methodologies but also reflects the labor involved in making new forms of research. At Vectors, we have come to realize that our process is what scholars find most transformative and intellectually compelling. It is time to shift our notions of humanities scholarship away from a fixation on product and even publication toward a new understanding of process. The affordances of digital media for process—for the understanding born of doing—are tremendous.

I do believe that engineering a healthy respect for process (and iteration) into the scholarly workflow is essential to understanding that creativity takes time. I agree with all of that. I also see (this) process effecting the very notion of ontology and epistemology as fixed points. With a focus on process, the questions we ask and the the truth statements we derive from answering these questions are in flux based on the stages of a process. We must acknowledge and give some output mechanism for failure in this process. That is, my original research question was X but at Point C in this process of proof, I discovered X was wrong but Y has a decent chance of being valid. Without the process interruption of Point C, Y wouldn’t have revealed itself. With a focus on process we can see assumptions being cast off and replaced with iterations. A healthy and ultimately transparent process.

Documenting process is another matter altogether, but something that must be considered answered as well. We need to give process visibility to have it gain traction and one way to do that is make iterations (of research) available as well. To see knowledge constructs at each stage of the process in question. Like an author’s writings, editing, notes, marginalia, etc. All of it. (Ideally as removable filters over top the finished work-like layers on Google Maps). 

My only caveat for this section (which the authors do address later) is that while we might want to avoid product (the research article, essay, etc.), we shouldn’t wander too far from knowledge construction. In short, regardless of process, did the research answer the truth questions at hand (accurately) and did the representation put forth by the scholar (multimedia or otherwise) demonstrate a utility (creativity can, in some cases, be utility) of form and design? Acknowledge the evolving effect that process will have on the questions that stimulate knowledge construction, but keep a close eye on what is being answered. 

Appreciate Transdisciplinary and Collaborative Approaches & Adapt Current Models of Citation and Peer Review

I put these points together as I am really not able to articulate them any better than McPherson and Anderson. Further, I agree with them (almost entirely). We should appreciate collaboration and based on some of my experiences with the MobiMOOC Research Team, I think it is almost time to acknowledge co-authored (a nod to product there) collaborative works as the norm, the de facto setting for scholarship going forward. I have written about this before. Academia will need to find mechanisms for acknowledging the power of collaboration professionally (another instance when exposing process would flesh out how much collaboration was going on and who was doing it) at a broader level than just the institution (as much of this collaboration will take place within communities of practice regardless of where the institutions are located. This, in my opinion, will and should be the norm for scholarly practice in the near future.

As for the current models of citation and peer review, I agree that it won’t work considering the expanding genre scope to be researched as well as the increasing complexity of what constitutes academic work (away from the tyranny of the printed word). Further, how would double blind peer review work in these circumstances? To use a bad analogy here, that is like judging the worth of a Van Gogh painting by the first two guys who walked in to Van Gogh’s studio, saw it, asked to remain nameless, and decided not to buy it. The evaluation of multimedia scholarship is much like this. Double blind doesn’t work (in any interval) and therefore we need, and are starting to see experimentation with, massive and open models for peer review. It will come, but it will need some time to focus itself. These are the long tail bits. 

I tried to steer clear from any specific mentions of mlearning here (aside from one), but I am anxious to see the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable scholarship expand and become more nuanced as I think the type of knowledge construction made possible through mobile learning can fall outside the traditional scope of scholarship. 

A very good article and well worth a read. 


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