Public Scholarship, Digital Scholarship, and Open Access

There is presently a Faculty Leaning Community developing a working definition of Public Scholarship for IUPUI.  Despite someone else telling me I regularly participated in public scholarship, I had a hard time suggesting a complete definition.  My first inclination was, “it’s scholarship about civic engagement,” and while that can be public scholarship it’s not the most powerful version. 

The Faculty Learning Community’s current working definition:

IUPUI defines public scholarship as an intellectually and methodologically rigorous and trustworthy endeavor that is responsive to public audiences. It is scholarly work that advances one or more academic disciplines by emphasizing co-production of knowledge with community stakeholders. Contrasted with one-way applications of faculty expertise to community problems, public scholarship frames and addresses issues in ways that result in meaningful public application, or transformation, and promotes community-engaged methods of discovery and dissemination of gained knowledge.

Public Scholarship includes:

a. A scholarly agenda that incorporates: work jointly planned and carried out by university and community partners;

b. Intellectual work that produces an evidential public good through relevant and meaningful research, teaching, or service;

c. Artistic, critical, and historical work that contributes to public debates;

d. Work can include development of new programs and research on impact of such efforts. Efforts to expand the place of public scholarship in higher education, including the development of new programs and research on the successes of such efforts. Research on impact is collaborative and deemed meaningful by community partners. 

The big ah ha moment for me was coming to understand that public scholarship is not just about the outcome of a project but the process itself, the back and forth between academy and community with a predetermined, codified path and goal. 

 Within the academy one must show proof of scholarly accomplishments for promotion and tenure purposes.  For traditional research this typically manifests in published print articles and books and live or reprinted conference presentations. More recently digital scholarship has opened the door for all of the aforementioned being available in a digital form as well as new output formats such as informational websites, interactive digital humanities and digital science sites, digital storytelling, podcasts, videos, etc.  Because public scholarship is process oriented, documentation in traditional article formats, while certainly possible, is less interesting and certainly not as easily iterative.  It occurs after the fact, telling the story of process rather than attempting to capture the process as it occurs.  Digital scholarship provides a better format for capturing the occurrence.   

 Consider even something as simple as a project blog.  One can assist in capturing the progress of a collaboration from a variety of participants (the academic, the community leader, the neighborhood individuals). All can post comments, share photos, etc. about the progress of the work.  The blog serves as note keeper, reflective diary, potentially data collector, and information distributor.  As a project management tool it organizes the process from start to finish, including evaluation of the public scholarship process by a promotion and tenure committee.  Add CommentPress, an interactive commenting tool that allows a variety of stake holders including the general public to make paragraph-by-paragraph comments upon a post and the iterative process is enhanced without losing the documentation, the evidence of process for a variety of purposes including post project evaluation.  See the IUPUI Public Scholarship Faculty Learning Community site for an example CommentPress site.

Public scholarship by its nature calls for open access.  Public scholarship requires community collaboration and benefit.  It makes sense that the information gathered should be freely available to all participant members rather than locked away in expensive, limitedly accessible scholarly journals.  Open access scholarship is by definition digital; Digital scholarship tools enhance process documentation; Public scholarship is the process of the academy and community planning, completing, and sharing community benefiting projects; and Open access scholarship allows the community to access the information they created.

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Updated Nov 05, 2015 by Herbert Simon Family Dean