In private industry, successful use of new media technology is evaluated by the subsequent effect on revenue, with recognition, pay increases, and promotion the payoff. In contrast, Higher Education is slow—some say glacially slow– to adopt new media, and is ill equipped to reward individuals when they do incorporate new technologies in their research, education, and outreach strategies. Let’s take a quick look behind the glacier.
In higher education, peer-review is the Holy Grail for gaining acceptance and receiving credit for scholarly work. This means that creative work is scrutinized by other experts in the field in an impartial manner for accuracy and quality of thought. This process is considered an essential part of academic life; with the traditional peer-reviewed print journal article the final result.

Ironically, many University faculty—especially those with Extension responsibilities–are under increasing pressure to move away from focusing solely on print publications, and begin to use all available media sources, and incorporate a variety of educational strategies in their education and outreach efforts. In a presentation to a group of educators at a recent Extension national conference, Robert Hughes, Jr., Professor in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana outlined this radical shift in educational focus, including “from one-to-many” strategies of short messages broadcasted through Web sites, email newsletters, tweets, videos, and “many-to-many” strategies, including blogs, wikis, and social media.

However, few if any of these strategies are represented in the peer review process, or in the evaluation of scholarly activity, otherwise known in the academic world as promotion and tenure (P&T). P&T drives innovation in the system, and Hughes challenged the audience with a proposal for developing guidelines to include new media technologies in that process. Otherwise we continue to be faced with a dilemma:

  • How can the development of new media be encouraged if those products don’t even appear on the radar screen for evaluation of scholarly success?
  • How can the wheels of peer-review navigate down new media roads if those who do the peer review are not familiar with this new terrain?
  • How do promotion and tenure committees apply metrics that don’t exist in typical faculty P&T guidelines?

In a preview of its 2010 Horizon Report, the New Media Consortium observed:

“New scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching continue to emerge but appropriate metrics for evaluating them increasingly lag behind or fail to appear. Citation-based metrics are no longer indicative of the relative importance of a given piece of scholarly work; new forms of peer review and approval, such as reader ratings, inclusion in and mention by influential blogs, tagging, incoming links, and retweeting, are arising from the natural actions of the glob community of educators. These forms of approval are not yet recognized as significant.”

Here at Oregon State University, we have been struggling with this issue of how to support and implement the scholarly acceptance of new media in a process traditionally dominated by print journal publications. To that end we have identified the need for two levels of peer-review: a review by the content experts (where the buck stopped before), and a simultaneous review by media/instructional design specialists, who can judge the choice of media and its design, and recognize the look and feel of a successful learning product. We have identified several pilot new media projects to shepherd through what we hope will become a model for scholarly peer review.

We’ll be entering new territory and will face numerous challenges, including–as Professor Hughes pointed out–documenting impact, identifying metrics, and translating new media citations to a format that is compatible with traditional P&T citations.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to get buy-in on a new model from administrators, and particularly those who hold the cards in the P&T process. We have to look at an evolution—or perhaps a revolution—in evaluation to endorse new media as scholarly activity, and really begin to meet the rapidly changing needs of our clients.

You can view an Adobe Connect archive of Dr. Hughes presentation here.

Filed Under (Science publishing) by Mark A.-W. on 13-03-2009

In future postings on this blog, I will talk about new frontiers in science education publishing. But today I’d like to take you back to an earlier era to celebrate a previous revolution in thinking made possible by science publishing.

This year marks the 200-year anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the famous English naturalist.

Charles Darwin (photo in public domain).
Charles Darwin (photo in public domain).

I’m not talking about On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s breakthrough work on natural selection.

Instead, I draw your attention to a lesser known work, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. In this, his final book, Darwin presented his observations on the role earthworms play in forming fertile topsoil.

The book on such a small subject met with a large reception in 1881. Thousands of copies were sold.

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