We have collectively created the equivalent of an academic monsoon over the past three decades, with no change in the forecast for the coming years. Without a major reconsideration of how we share and use information, how we keep up with the field, and how we recognize academic accomplishment, we will continue to add to the floodwaters, all the while spending less attention on whether or not anyone reads our work, listens to our presentations, or appreciates our professional contributions. Academe 2.0 offers tools to build more effective dikes and even to regulate the flow. But we need to realize that the lakes at the end of the bloated academic rivers – our faculty, researchers and students – have finite capacity, in terms of time and ability to assimilate information. Controlling the scholarly input is crucial to ensuring that we actually learn from and about each other, and ensuring that our academic work truly makes a difference.
Hill Taylor notes that the University of Michigan Press is moving away from monograph publishing and towards a digital approach, and that
uses and practices of literacy will change because of this too. Preferences for consumption and organization of such information will drive these new literacies. Of course, policy and pedagogy must recognize this change, driven by digital literacy, and accommodate accordingly.
While I’m not sure if this is a generalizable example, research into online activities does point out one way that we might square these circles. In my current research into tagging and folksonomies, many of the seminal piece of research and commentary – including the coining of the term “folksonomy” itself – occurred not in the pages of a peer-reviewed journal but in self-published and mediated online discussion: blogs, forums, mailing lists. Most of this was inherently dispensible, but some of it has stood the test of time, and what distinguishes the memorable from the forgettable is not the imprimatur of a journal’s nameplate but the usefulness of the information and analysis.
This is not a plea to abandon the peer-reviewed journal process – for the highest quality research, I believe it can and should serve a valuable purpose in disseminating knowledge. Rather, I would suggest that digital monographs and online self-publishing present a potentially better model for the actual exchange and construction of knowledge than a massive conference with an unreadable proceedings – the program referenced in the first piece above ran to 180 pages, never mind any of the papers presented. I am more likely to read, cite, and comment on a piece of scholarship if it’s actually available to me, and pushing out digital monographs via non-DRM’d .pdfs is a better model of accessibility than far-flung conferences with dozens or hundreds of unattendable sessions.