Where is scholarship headed in the digital age?

Two academics sound off on what open access really means in higher-ed today, and where the future of scholarship is headed.

open-access-scholarshipThe tenure system is still built on a publish-or-perish foundation, but what does it mean to “publish” in a digital age? How does an institution appropriately evaluate, and reward, a body of academic work that is collaborative, iterative, and communal in nature?

Two well-placed academics join this month’s eCampus News Symposium to discuss how higher education can adopt open access scholarship to the benefit of the faculty, the institution, and scholarship itself. Both writers argue that for open scholarship to truly take hold, cultural changes have to occur in higher education.

Understanding why scholarly publishing today is a cultural, not technological, issue

Dr. Frank Lowney, projects coordinator for the Digital Innovation Group at Georgia College & State University, argues that traditional academic publishing has been irrevocably disintermediated, and that institutions of higher education have no choice but to look beyond “revenue-driven publishers” to create cross-institutional, collaborative, peer-reviewed assessment systems.

“Even where traditional publishers continue to be involved, open access mandates dilute or negate the validation of academic work in the minds of many who serve on promotion and tenure committees. There are two models of open scholarship involving publishers: gold and green open access. Green OA is where an author publishes with a traditional publisher and then posts a version of that work on the web so that it is freely readable by any and all. Gold OA is where an author publishes with an OA publisher paying an article processing charge (APC) to cover the costs of publication, instead of that cost being covered, for example, by subscription fees to libraries.

The problem here is that Gold OA publishers needn’t exercise the same cautions in deciding to publish since the APC provides all of the income they can legitimately expect. Indeed, a new kind of publisher, one that exercises no cautions whatsoever, is on the rise. Beall’s List of predatory open access publishers shows the number of these organizations growing.

Similarly, Green OA publishers cannot expend as many resources on evaluating submissions as a closed publisher can because many of those who would have paid for access will now read the free open version instead. They simply don’t have the income to sustain a high level of scrutiny. Consequently, promotion and tenure committee members find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between green or gold OA publishing and vanity publishing.

Yet, they must find a way around this dilemma. Failure to find satisfactory procedures to value open scholarship will only serve to disadvantage an institution in the quest to attract and retain top academic talent…” Read the full essay here.

(Next page: How university libraries are making open access headway)