I have been reading Professor Martin Weller’s very interesting recent blog posts about academic reputation and online engagement. He raises interesting questions about the nature of scholarly activity, the factors that have traditionally lead to recognition and promotion and whether or not these are changing in an increasingly socially networked world.
These questions are important for institutions and individual academics in higher education. For both they, potentially, provide a wider set of criteria by which to identify academic performance rather than rely on an often unsophisticated count of research quantum through the allocation of points to various types of publications.
Interestingly the availability of publishing at virtually no cost to all members of the academy begs the question why are only a few academics actively publishing using web (or indeed engaging with social networks). Well, of course, there is no immediate benefit in terms of promotion or recognition by the institution. Although an academic staff member’s reputation amongst his or her discipline peers may be enhanced through active web publishing and engagement in social networks this is generally not recognized by the employer. I am reminded of the adage that it is easier to get promotion in academia by moving institution than through internal promotion. This may well change in the future if alternative methods of evaluating academic reputation are developed. The New Media Department at the University of Maine have introduced revised Tenure and Promotion guidelines that include nine alternatives to the standard peer reviewed journal model. These are described in a blog post by Eric Schnell. The actual guidelines are available here and a paper in MIT’s Leonardo journal that describes the guidelines as part of an argument for redefining evaluation criteria for faculty working in new media is available here as a PDF document.
It will be interesting to see if these criteria are adopted by other disciplines within institutions. It may well come about by default as online tools become available for ranking social engagement and web publishing become more available and well known. Already there are tools that will ‘grade’ an individuals engagement in social networks such as Twitter and similarly ‘grade’ a blog. What may be required is a unified application that will measure an individuals ‘reputation’ across a range of different types of social network engagement and publishing activity. The most likely developer of such an application would have to be Google. Alternatively we may see a situation in which an academic maintains an online portfolio that links to a number of tools that measure their online ‘reputation’ in distinct areas of social engagement and publishing.