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)

Why going Open is critical for the future of the university

Salwa Ismail, department head of library information tech at Georgetown University, sees collaboration as the lodestar for future academic publishing, where scholarly sharing will only advance faculty scholarship and research.

“Academic culture that endorses and supports an open and free exchange of information, ideas, and output has the potential to not just increase research, but transform the scholarship that is an outcome of that research. Open Access, which provides unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed research, has been touted as a model that will reform the scholarly publications of the world, or at least of our country, since 2002[1].

Yet, despite this grassroots movement to promote Open Access by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) to build unprecedented opportunities to create an Open Access environment, promotion and tenure committees have been slow to adopt (if at all) the output of scholarship in Open Access models over the traditional monograph publishing. A survey led by information scientists [6] found that 60 percent of the faculty respondents felt that publishing via Open Access would damage their chances of tenure and promotion.

From my own experiences, observations and discussions with faculty colleagues, this issue becomes more profound in disciplines such as humanities and even some social sciences where the research output has traditionally been a monographic print publication…” Read the full essay here.

These essays may also be read online at ecampusnews.com/symposium. There we also welcome your thoughts on this important topic.

Submit in-depth responses, and inquire about upcoming Symposium topics, to Editor Meris Stansbury at mstansbury@ecampusnews.com.

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