Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Digital Communication for Scholars and Students

From a publishing and communication standpoint, technology is created and used primarily to achieve products faster and more efficiently, but they are still the same end products which we have had for centuries. Word processing software, for example, makes it possible to edit text, adjust fonts and margins, and annotate documents, but typically the final result of such work is a static, printed hard copy.

It will be interesting to see if we will get to a point where our digital files never leave their initial digital state. For scholarly writing this could mean the end of print journals and the evolution of a world of scholarly publication that lives entirely in digital form, in electronic journals or institutional repositories. For academic work, the solution could be courses with no "print" requirements, where readings, assignment submission, and maybe even forms of class discussion are handled through online websites built for these purposes, such as Sakai or Black Board. (I have one class like this this semester.)

John Leggett and Frank Shipman wrote an article in 2004 titled "Directions for Hypertext Research: Exploring the Design Space for Interactive Scholarly Communication." A lot of change happens in seven years, so I feel like some of what Leggett and Shipman propose is a bit outdated, but they make some good predictions about the intersections of scholarship and advances in communication. They feel that instead of moving forward and using technology to create new forms of artifacts and materials,
"we are restructuring old media or media that have undergone a point-to point conversion from the physical world to the digital world... Currently, we seem consumed with this point-to-point translation from the static physical world to a part of the digital world which is also static. Our scientific communication, our scholarly factual storytelling, remains almost entirely in the static physical world even though our research may be carried out entirely in the interactive digital world."
I think that it's an interesting idea that scholars tend to use digital and online resources for research and the early stages of projects and papers (maybe initial idea exchange or some form of peer consultation or review), but then the benefits of digital environments are not taken advantage of when it comes to the end result of all their hard work. People are very comfortable with written products as we know them today, so I think it will take a pretty big step for us to reach the climax of the digital "revolution."

Leggett, J.J. and Shipman, F.M. III (2004). Directions for hypertext research: exploring the design space for interactive scholarly communication. HT'04, August 9-13, 2004, Santa Cruz, CA.

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