What counts as Academic Writing? (Blog One: The Ethics of Technology Series)
I am less than a month away from finishing my first year as full-time faculty member. Even though I have been teaching in seminaries for the past five years as an adjunct and lecturer, stepping onto the tenure treadmill has raised new questions about scholarship and teaching for me. On most days, I have resisted the urge (or pressure) to use the tenure measuring stick to determine the value of my daily intellectual activities. Like an impossible to reach itch, one issue in particular seems to be completely unresolved. Is blogging an intellectual activity that can, should, or will one day count toward tenure?
In a recent unit of Christian Ethics, I assigned the topic of Technology and Ethics. We discussed questions of professional ethics relating to communication, boundaries, and standards. As part of that discussion, we addressed how technology as “means” can reinforce current oppressions and how we use it to live into moral obligations to be anti-racist for example, without falsely claiming we are already there. We had a good discussion. But it was more difficult for the students to engage how technology itself is maybe reshaping us and our theology. In other words, it might be generating new theologies and ethics of its own. For this we used some articles from the latest Yale Divinity School Reflections Magazine.
After class, I began to wonder not only if blogging counts as tenure quality writing; but, whether it is reshaping what we consider knowledge production and dissemination. Much more tech savvy folks have written extensively on the latter question. Yet, I would wager that many in the academic world, primarily my liberal arts counterparts, are still quite tradition in their response to on-line writing. They ask questions like: what is the review process? How can you make a well-crafted argument in 600 words? Is a link really a citation? And, so on. I’m not the first to point out the need to shift thinking related to technological writing and skill development. Mark C. Taylor published in the New York Times a few years ago, heralding the End of the University as We Know It (see #4 and 5 in particular). His inquiry leads to questions I will take up in other parts of this blog series: such as, what happens to authorship standards or discipline specificity when we produce knowledge in an open source format? How will recognition of multiple contributing authors to a single theoretical argument change our academic values (and evaluation) of collaboration, hierarchy, and ownership of ideas? My hope, of course is that my own field of feminist ethics already offers resources to navigating these questions of value and new structures of knowledge production (more on that next time).
As more journals go to on-line, open access formats and networks of people join together for the sole purpose of producing knowledge, the liberal arts will have to step outside its peer-reviewed print journal standards and single author book requirements that are high-priced with low print-run contracts. This requires criteria for accessing on-line publishing, service, and teaching. The impulse will be to use the same criteria we have with little tweaks to fit a new medium. That will be a mistake. We need to stop trying to fit the square peg (or cloud) of on-line knowledge production and dissemination into the round hole (or paper copy) of current academic standards. Only then, can we imagine the possibilities of how knowledge itself is and will be different in the future. There are certainly positive benefits and negative outcomes to these changes. I do not hold technology up as a cure all for any issue. What I’m asking is: how will we engage critically rather than idling ignoring the inevitable?
Topics and questions to come in the Ethics of Technology blog series:
How methods of technology transform methods of scholarship
Benefits and drawbacks to online networks
Using technology in the classroom (assignments, teaching, laptops constantly open, etc)
Please feel free to submit others you might find interesting and join the conversation by contacting us at fir[at]fsrinc.org.