As an untenured professor at a major research university, of necessity I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about 'writing' and 'publication.' I've blogged about some of this before. I'm essentially caught between two worlds: the dynamic, interactive, freewheeling, rough-and-tumble, unmoderated cosmos of Web 2.0 and the slower-moving, calmer, peer-reviewed realm of traditional academic publishing. It's often a difficult tension, particularly for those of us who are using these new communication and collaboration tools but whose tenure decisions are being made by peers that are not active technology users. Recently several higher education organizations have explicitly noted the strain and advocated for some reconsiderations of what it means to write, to publish, and to reach an audience.

  • MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion: Departments and institutions should recognize the legitimacy of scholarship produced in new media, whether by individuals or in collaboration, and create procedures for evaluating these forms of scholarship. (p. 5)
  • 2007 Horizon Report: Academic review and faculty rewards are increasingly out of sync with new forms of scholarship. The trends toward digital expressions of scholarship and more interdisciplinary and collaborative work continue to move away from the standards of traditional peer-reviewed paper publication. New forms of peer review are emerging, but existing academic practices of specialization and long-honored notions of academic status are persistent barriers to the adoption of new approaches. Given the pace of change, the academy will grow more out of step with how scholarship is actually conducted until constraints imposed by traditional tenure and promotion processes are eased. (p. 4) 

George Siemens has noted that

The central filtering agent is no longer the teacher or institution. It's the learner. Think about what that means to our education system as we know it today. It changes everything . . . . [A]s educators, we are not grasping (or prepared for) the depth of the change that is occurring under our feet. If it's happened (breaking apart the center) in every other industry - movies, music, software, business - what makes us think that our educational structures are immune? And what does it mean to us? What should we be doing now to prepare our institutions? Ourselves? Our learners?

He also notes that

Information validity is increasingly determined by the views of many individuals, not the select domain of a few [e.g., Amazon book reviews or Digg or Technorati rankings] . . . . [E]xpert-bases systems have value, but their value diminishes simply because no single person can keep up with today's information. A network, however, can.

Of course this has major implications for the academic concept of peer review (which is under fire on some fronts). I wonder when the egg is going to crack in academia. Two years? Five? Ten? And how do we retain our hedgehog concepts of research and scholarship while simultaneously adapting to the realities of a new era?

FYI, I highly recommend the Horizon Report, which highlights six technologies that will have major impacts on higher education in the next one to five years.