This is a working copy. Please do not edit until March 2. Authored by Diane Deluca (2009)
Cyberscholarship, also referred to as e-scholarship or digital scholarship, is the new direction of traditional academic scholarship. The increase in use of digital technologies in higher education is transforming how scientific and scholarly information is generated and presented. New digital tools and mediums, like digital libraries and online datasets, are available that are changing the form of academic research.
Our Cultural Commonwealth Report states that Cyberscholarship fulfills the following functions:
- Building a digital collection of information for further study and analysis
- Creating appropriate tools for collection-building
- Creating appropriate tools for the analysis and study of collections
- Using digital collections and analytical tools to generate new intellectual products
- Creating authoring tools for these new intellectual products, either in traditional forms or in digital form
Cyberscholarship relies on the digital libraries, electronic research tools, collaborative tools and presentation and publishing tools available because of an institution’s cyberinfrastructure. A computer can scan and analyze far more documents than a researcher can read. Research data as well as text can be analyzed by computer software. Researchers can communicate and collaborate independent of geography with online collaboration tools. Research findings and academic material can be presented in whole new ways with audio, visual and text presentation tools. This new form of research is what is called cyberscholarship (Arms, 2008).
In terms of cyberscholarship, simply creating huge databases and aligning them with very powerful computers and software to mine, sort and analyze the data, while useful, is not enough. Humans create meaning, not computers; computers can only help facilitate the meaning-making process (Murray, 2007). Cybersholarship enables academics to participate in shared knowledge creation, so if academics are to utilize technological tools to take their research to the next level then those technological tools need to be up to the task.
Web-based social networking and collaboration tools that have the ability to understand knowledge and users and intelligently link them together are integral in cyberscholarship. These tools are designed to understand what user’s, in this case academic’s, areas and interests of knowledge are, and relate them across different communities and disciplines to other users who may be involved in similar activities (Green and Roy, 2008). The goal is to create an environment where researchers in different locations, cultures and disciplines might work together in ways they never before conceived of where new knowledge and ideas could evolve.
Cybersholarhip requires a technological infrastructure in place to support it, and this infrastructure is known as cyberinfrastructure. Cyberinfrastructure refers to the technologies that connect people with data and software applications on campuses. These technologies allow for the sharing of tools and data, as well as the sharing of expertise and infrastructure (Bottum, 2008). IT departments on campuses create cyberinfratructure by setting up and managing widespread availability of digital content, high performance computers, sophisticated network systems and improved electronic communication tools to support academic activities (Arms, 2008). Although data analysis itself is not a new scholarly process, an effective cyberinfrastructure enhances the process because it can formalize traditional interpretive research activities like data-mining, pattern-matching simulation by using algorithms representing large and complex sets of data. Multiple features and variables in the data can be tested, analyzed, replicated and changed at a much greater scale and speed than before (Waters, 2005). Institutions and scholarly organizations are beginning to pay attention to cyberinfrastructure because it will enhance the research capabilities of an institution, thereby enhancing teaching and learning, which in turn positively effects the institution’s enrollment and reputation.
Cyberinfrastructure innovations integrate technologies in a way that will allow digital scholarship to be cumulative, collaborative and cooperative (Our Cultural Commonwealth). Once integrated, researchers can collaborate and this will allow them to expand and enhance research efforts and results. This in turn could attract more research money to an institution, to a group of researchers across institutions, or to a discipline in general (Sheehan, 2008). Evidence suggests that scholarly materials available in digital form will speed up the pace of research and therefore increase the number of contributions to that research. But, a significant amount of the material needs to be in digital form first and must also be available, usually through digital libraries. This digital content needs to be rigorously collected, managed and preserved (Larsen, 2008).
Computers provide a new medium for the representation of scholarly or scientific information but to be effective tools for cyberscholarship a cyberinfrastructure must also contain a human element. Computers can amass huge quantities of digital content, but only humans can create meaning and knowledge from that information. How we, as humans, organize the data reflects our values and culture (Murray, 2007). So, the human skills and traditions that go into creating cyberinfrastructure also shape the knowledge base created (Murray, 2007). The large digital collections and high-performance computing combine to create opportunities for new kinds of scholarship, but these opportunities need new approaches to how collections are organized and how they are used (Arms, 2008). Cyberscholarship is possible by combining the inhuman side of technology with the human side of data organization.
Intellectual Property and Copyright
In the United States intellectual property laws are a huge concern for authors and collectors of academic material. According to Section 108 of the U.S. Constitution authors have exclusive rights to their writings and discoveries . These rights come with limits – anything before 1920 can be digitized without permission. Conflict occurs when people and organizations running digitization projects argue that resistance to digitizing the items interfere with the intellectual and educational progress that encompasses their project’s goals (Our Cultural Commonwealth, 2003).
Even out of print books are expensive to obtain the rights to in order to digitize them. Other artifacts like films and drawings are even more difficult to digitize as often the copyright owner is difficult or impossible to find. In cases like that the copyright rights are automatically extended! (Our Cultural Commonwealth, 2003).
Libraries and archives have certain provisions to allow them to digitize items to preserve their intellectual content, but that is for preservation purposes only, not for access. Section 108 needs to be recast as it was developed for the print and not for digital replication. Changing the laws around copyright is essential to creating cost-effective and reliable digital resources that serve to preserve cultural content (Our Cultural Commonwealth, 2003), and this content is essential for cyberscholarship to succeed.
Change can also take place within higher education institutions. Open access to intellectual property can be encouraged as scholars can certainly see the benefit of having as complete a library as possible. Issues around copyright and fair use of materials could be dealt with as a matter of policy and open access publishing could be encouraged (Green and Roy, 2008).
Funding and Organization
Building a cyberinfrastructure to handle the demands of cyberscholarship is an expensive undertaking for any post-secondary institution; the costs of hardware, software, licensing, staffing, development of digital libraries and archives, and publication are significant. Most institutions, as non-profit entities, often face tight budgets, and in this climate of declining enrollment budgets will get even tighter. Ironically, this makes investment in an efficient, scalable and sustainable cyberinfrastucture even more crucial as it will ultimately be the key in the advancement of research and academics as the world moves into the digital age.
Funding for the development of a cyberinfrastucture needs to become an institutional priority for research universities. Partnerships and consortiums could provide opportunities for various organizations and institutions to come together and share resources and costs. For the most part, institutions do not create their own applications and technologies but purchase them, so they should be more involved with their private sector suppliers for a few reasons:
- Involvement in the design and development of these products means that their needs are heard and the company producing the products can create something that fits their needs (Green and Roy, 2008).
- Commercial vendors understand the markets, business models and product development and so they better understand how to sell the product to those with the funding to pay for it (Our Cultural Commonwealth, 2003).
Institutional leadership needs to become educated in cyberinfrastructure and cyberscholarship in order to make plans and decisions (Green and Roy, 2008). As well, faculty members need motivation and incentives to take advantage of the possibilities of cyberscholarhsip. They require access to the data and the tools as well as the support available, through staff and/or documentation, to help them with the technologies. Tenure processes also need to be reviewed to include cyberscholarship, otherwise, if tenure rests on traditional forms of research and presentation then there will be no room for innovation. Grants and award system could be developed for faculty members who experiment and innovate with the new forms and mediums made possible with cyberscholarship (Green and Roy, 2008).
American Council of Learned Societies. (2006). Our Cultural Commonwealth: A Repot of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2008 from http://www.acls.org/cyberinfrastructure/OurCulturalCommonwealth.pdf
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Murry, J. (2007, December 16). Cyberinfratructure as Cognitive Scaffolding: The Role of Genre Creation in Knowledge Making. Message posted to: Academic Commons http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/cyberinfrastructure-murray
National Science Foundation (2003). Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure. Retrieved July 25, 2008 from http://www.nsf.gov/od/oci/reports/toc.jsp
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Waters, D. J. (2007). “Doing Much More Than We Have So Far Attempted”. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 42, no. 5 (September/October 2007):8-9. Retrieved July 20, 2008 from http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/DoingMuchMoreThanWeHaveSo/44997