Katz declares that digital technologies “are liberating scholars and scholarships from many traditional bounds of culture, community and practice” (2010, p.47) and creating as a result the new paradigm of digital scholarship. It almost sounds like a revolution is happening. But is it?  Instead perhaps, what we are seeing is a slow evolution? (Muller, 2014) where change has been happening around the edges (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). Educational institutions still bear a structural resemblance to their historical counterparts, while the impact of digital technologies with its ‘untapped potential’ (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012) has not been as widespread or as transformative as anticipated (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh, 2010). Research reveals the dichotomy between the optimistic view of the ‘promise’ of technology use in education and the ‘messy realities’ of actual practice (Selwyn, 2011; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012).

This interpretive discussion paper endeavours to explore the literature and concepts surrounding, what Goodfellow (2013) sees as the ‘impossible triangle’ of scholarship (and scholars), digitality and openness. This paper briefly examines the historical context of knowledge and scholarship. Then moves to consider the varying concepts of first briefly, scholarship in general, then secondly, who is a scholar and by extension, who is a ‘digital scholar’ (Weller, 2011), and thirdly, the concept of ‘openness’  entangled as it is with digital technologies and scholar/ship.

impossible triangle digital scholarship goodfellow

Source: Goodfellow (2013)

Historical context

To return to Katz’s call of ‘liberation’, requires one to also consider the historical context – what are the traditional bounds of culture, community and practice which still exist and impact scholarship and digital scholarship?  Goodfellow (2013) discusses the hierarchies and elitism of traditional academia. Literature recounts tenure considerations and the conservative value and reward systems which prioritises ‘traditional outputs’ within higher institutions (Borgman, 2007; Pearce et al., 2010; Stewart, 2015; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). Katz reflects on the ‘gatekeeping’ aspect of traditional institutions whereby artificial barriers are designed “to keep outsiders out of the ivory tower” (2010, p.50). Scholars’ perceptions of social media and publishing their work openly promotes (Veletsianos & Kimmons, October, 2012; Goodfellow, 2013) a culture of “possessive individualism” (Rosenzweig, 2007 in Pearce et. al, 2010, p.36). Bailey (20 August 2016) plays devil’s advocate, reminding us for scholarship “to be transformative it also need to be heretical” and similarly alongside Veletsianos & Kimmons (October 2012) questions who profits and who is excluded. Veletsianos & Kimmons recognise institutional obstacles and the matter of corporate interests which impact in positive and negative ways (October 2012).  Indeed universities are creating their own international footprint and making a mark as multinational corporations through investment in online education and the purchase of colleges in multiple countries (Lane & Kinser, 2015).

The ‘dominant culture’ lies within traditional academia. However,  Veletsianos & Kimmons believe that technological innovation and the way digital technologies are used, such as in the emergence of social networking practices, “might very well reflect aspects of the dominant culture, which then gains power, via the tool, to influence scholarly cultures” (2012, p. 770). Veletsianos & Kimmons also noted that “as with every emerging technology used in education, it takes time for these tools to be evaluated, adopted and appropriated into wide practice” (2012, p.174). It does raise the question of how long social networking or digital scholarship are considered as emergent phenomena rather than mainstream practice in education. These questions are particularly pertinent, when scholarly work (and digital technologies) do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are bound by social, political, economic, cultural and historical contexts (Selwyn, 2010; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). The internet has changed the world, and how we live in the world. As Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robinson (2009) state we live in a participatory culture or society where active creation of information has become the norm.

It is this participatory culture and the use of digital technologies that have seen scholars questioning “what knowledge is, how it is gained, how it is verified, how it is shared and how it should be valued” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p. 770). Katz (referencing Clifford Lynch), declares that digital technologies and evolving social norms have seen  the “building of a body of knowledge that is constantly being reinterpreted, reintegrated, reorganized, and re-expressed in ways that extend the original ideas” (in 2010, p.49). One can recognise the significance of digital technologies for ‘opening up’ knowledge and scholarship, however, “remixing has always been a part of human culture”.

Knowledge, scholarship and digitality

Veletsianos & Kimmons acknowledge that “the relationship between technology and scholarship has not attracted much empirical attention” (2012, p.767).  Yet digital technologies have been a significant part in the cultural shifts of learning paradigms in education.

Boyer’s 1990 model of scholarship, focusing on both teaching and research activities, is one theoretical approach often referenced “to re-envision the multi-faceted scholarship practices impacted by new technologies” (Greenhow & Gleason, 2015; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012; Stewart, 2015; Pearce,2010) with its emphasis on discovery of new knowledge, integrating knowledge across disciplines in order to bring new insights, application of knowledge within authentic environments and teaching practice (Boyer, 1990, chpt.2) .

Digital technologies  have been drivers for change enhancing the collaborative construction of knowledge and shared meanings within groups  (social constructivism) and have promoted the distribution of knowledge across a network of connections to people and information (connectivism) (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009; Millwood, 2013). The paradigms of  participatory and connected  learning continue to gain momentum, incorporating the use of digital technologies to participate in virtual communities, where scholars can network, collaborate and co-create with myriad people (who can remain anonymous – which can change the concept of authorship) (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p.12-18).  However, Veletsianos & Kimmons caution that “though such embodied practice is present in some aspects of academe, it [still] does not represent the dominant academic culture” (2012, p.770).

Scholarship, scholars and digitality

Goodfellow acknowledges there is consensus that “all scholarship values critical reflection, the systematic and cumulative aggregation of knowledge and understanding over time, distinct modes of operation relating to the gathering of evidence and the warranting of its reliability, and the ethic of enquiry as a primary motivation” (2013, pp. 3-4). However conversely, it appears too that there are varying interpretations dependent upon the “different disciplinary fields and subject communities [which] …give rise to distinctly different forms of scholarly practice” (Goodfellow, 2013, p. 4) including digital scholarship where knowledge is positioned around social connections rather than content (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p. 771).

From scholarship to scholars… so who is a scholar? Esposito (2013) includes six fields which epitomize a scholar – involvement in research, authoring, teaching, administration, networking and celebrity (the latter being management of personal branding). However, that seems to imply that one has to be a member of a higher institution to qualify?   Yet, scholars may also work outside of ‘institutionally ordained authority’ to collaborate and seek ongoing feedback with others whose institutional status and credentials may be unknown (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p.16-17), which implies an informal network of scholars.  The notion of the amateur scholar in history, is therefore seeing a resurgence due to the influence of digital technologies (Katz, 2010). Wikipedia is one of the obvious projects where amateur scholars are involved in open knowledge construction (Goodfellow, 2013, p.8) and scholarship such as the Wikipedia Visiting Scholars program.  Bailey (20 August 2016) questions the conundrum of who is a scholar, within her research blog:

“And when you leave formal education, when you graduate and lose access to all that body of formal knowledge, lose your writing on fora and institutional blogs, when the gates to the ivory towers slam shut? Are you no longer a scholar? Are you an ex-scholar? A practitioner?”

So there are varying connotations of who is a scholar, including the advent of the digital (open or social) scholar.  It is recognised that not all scholars are digital or open scholars even if there is a growing expectation by institutions for scholars to use digital technologies to research, teach and collaborate (Tusting, MuCulloch & Hamilton, 2016, p. 423-424). Rather, the digital scholar embraces open values and the democratization of knowledge creation and dissemination by opening up their intellectual projects and processes in digitally visible ways (Burton, 2009 in Weller 2011a, p.51; Veletsianos & Kimmons, Oct 2012). Thus the digital scholar is engaged with social media and digital spaces as part of a networked participatory scholarship (Greenhow & Gleason, 2015; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p. 767). This scholarship is furthered through formal and informal knowledge practices, the development of relationships, building of community and cultivation of online identity as scholars through the processes of sharing, reflection and critique (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012; October 2012).

Openness, scholarship and digitality

Openness, the third point of Goodfellow’s triangle, is evident everywhere in education and daily life, and has consequently undergone many interpretations and adaptations (Weller, 2014). Weller notes “one needs only consider the variety of ways in which the term ‘open’ has been used…open courses, open pedagogy, open educational resources, open access, open data, open scholarship –  it seems every aspect of educational practice is subject to being ‘open’ now” (2014, p. 27).  Openness has become an accepted part of the educational paradigm. Yet, even as little as three years ago, Price was considering ‘openness’ as a disruptive force (2013, chpt. 2, n.p.). Goodfellow views ‘openness’ within the lens of accessibility and ‘amenability to participation and appropriation’ and as both a philosophy and a set of practices (2013, p.3). Greenhow & Gleason (2015, p. 279) include openness within both formal and informal means of knowledge distribution and like Veletsianos & Kimmons (2012, p.168) take a broader, inclusive approach where ‘openness’ for scholarship exemplifies the elements of access, open publishing, open education (resources and teaching), networked participation, and public engagement.

These paradigm shifts above are elements of the open access movement (OAM) or open source education which seeks to address the issue of the ‘digital divide’. It may not, as Davidson and Goldberg admit, erase the gap but it does “provides a more collective model of capital to promote interchange” (2009, p.31). The OAM has as its foundation, concepts of human rights, justice, transparency and accountability, of which “openness and sharing in scholarship are seen as fundamentally ethical behaviours” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, October 2012, p.172).

Digital technologies have contributed towards a democratisation of knowledge and a de-centred pedagogy (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 28) in order to enhance  knowledge and scholarship for the wider benefit of the global society  (Pearce et al, 2010) . This is exemplified in the development of projects like  the Khan Academy and the opening of massively open online courses (MOOCS); open universities, and other open, collective and collaborative projects such as the Wikimedia Foundation, Project Gutenberg and Creative Commons (Veletsianos & Kimmons. October 2012). Other open authentic informal learning environments are self-organised (SOLE) projects such as peeragogy and the development of  communities of practice to improve scholarly practice through utilizing connections via social network sites (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012).

While ‘openness’ has become part of the mainstream vernacular, there are also concerns about future directions.  Veletsianos & Kimmons (October 2012) caution about possibilities of abuse and exploitation while Weller remarks on how ‘openness’ is being used as a marketing tool for commercial interests (2014).  Goodfellow concedes that it is unclear to what extent “new practices of open publishing and data sharing are actually being taken up across academic disciplines and scholarly communities” (2013, p.7).  It is problematic when, the OAM challenges the gate-keeping and dissemination of knowledge by traditional institutions and journal publications through such controls as digital rights management technologies (Goodfellow, 2013; Veletsianos & Kimmons, October 2012).  The direction of massively open online courses (MOOCS) from their origins as flexible alternatives to traditional higher education to a more commodified, business-oriented model has been another emerging trend which has seen cause for concern. As Bailey (20 August 2016) adhorts always follow the money. Bates (2015, 5.6.4) also cautions:

“We do need to be careful that the open education movement in general, and MOOCs in particular, are not used as a stick by those …who are deliberately trying to undermine public education for ideological and commercial reasons. Open content, OERs and MOOCs do not automatically lead to open access to high quality credentials for everyone.”

Selwyn acknowledges too that technology is developing so rapidly, that we barely have time to keep up and therefore need to pay closer attention to the ‘messy realities’ of “how digital technologies are being used … in ‘real-world’ educational settings” (2010, p.65-66).

He advises us to “recognize – and work within – the current and historical limitations of educational technology rather than its imagined limitless potential” (Selwyn, 2011, p. 715, 717). Davidson & Goldberg similarly state that it is a matter of piecemeal transformation where “remixed learning institutions may well be the model of the future” (2009, p.40). We need to continue to work around the edges, remain critical of the systems we are creating (Veletsianos & Kimmons, October 2012) and keep asking questions. As Wiley and Green state, “only time will tell whether practices of open scholarship will transform education or whether the movement will go down in the history books as just another fad that couldn’t live up to its press” (in Veletsianos & Kimmons, October 2012, p. 167).

This paper has attempted to weave and weft between some of the various factors that are part of the ‘impossible triangles and tensions’ of scholarship, digital technologies and ‘openness’. To conclude, Ivan Illich predicted in 1971 that learners of the future would find each other and use information technologies to form decentralized “learning webs” and “networks”. Illich was certainly prescient with the emergence and continuing development of participatory networked scholarship. However, it is still also a timely reminder of how much further to go.

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” (Illich in Redesign Education blog, 26 March 2015)


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