Academia 2.0? Not yet for these mossbacks

Academics are taking their own sweet time adapting to a networked world, at least to judge from two reports that surfaced on the iDC discussion list last week. To judge from Neil Selwyn’s “The Educational Significance of Social Media” and to the UC Berkeley study “Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication,” there are still plenty of professors happily justifying their obsession with inbred subdisciplinary journals while Fox and Facebook steamroll over public discourse.

Of the two reports, I guess I appreciate Selwyn’s more, because he expressed caution more than outright dismissal. Caution about new technologies is fine, though sometimes it’s hard to distinguish from inaction prompted by fear of upsetting the status quo.

I’m more disturbed by the Berkeley crew, who assembled interviews that confirm (surprise!) that junior faculty are still being advised not to publish in blogs, multimedia monographs, or “new, untested open-access journals.” I can’t tell why they saw fit to blow a Mellon grant on this foregone conclusion, but I can tell you the effect of publishing such a study. It will only reinforce the most conservative voices on today’s university committees, which in turn will result in tenure candidates who, to echo the advice parroted in the study, “avoid spending too much time on public engagement.”

Perhaps most telling of all was the study’s conclusion that Web 2.0 platforms, despite their unsavory status as venues for “high stature” erudition, provide a wealth of publicly accessible primary data on which to base that study you’ll publish in the Journal of Obscure Sociology. If poo-pooing peer-reviewed open access journals doesn’t already smack of academic elitism, then how about data-mining participatory media while archiving your findings far from the public’s prying eyes?

It’s time we remembered that tenure was invented to encourage risk-taking. So I really wish academics who are skeptical of existing social networks–count me in, I despise Facebook–would get out of their armchairs and do something about it.

Assemble a team of like-minded folks and roll your own academic network, or suggest improvements to one of the up-and-coming scholarly platforms that already exist (ThoughtMesh, CommentPress, Sophie, Scalar). Or devise and publish promotion and tenure criteria that are more suitable for the digital age, as in “New Criteria for New Media.” This white paper, and its attendant sample guidelines, also happen to be the most downloaded article ever from Leonardo magazine.

So somebody’s listening, even if it’s not the authors of the reports listed above.

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