initial responses to MediaCommons 07.19.2006, 4:11 AM
posted by ben vershbow
...have been quite encouraging. In addition to a very active and thought-provoking thread here on if:book, much has been blogged around the web over the past 48 hours. I'm glad to see that most of the responses around the web have zeroed in on the most crucial elements of our proposal, namely the reconfiguration of scholarly publishing into an open, process-oriented model, a fundamental re-thinking of peer review, and the goal of forging stronger communication between the academy and the publics it claims to serve. To a great extent, this can be credited to Kathleen's elegant and lucid presentation the various pieces of this complex network we hope to create (several of which will be fleshed out in a post by Avi Santo this coming Monday). Following are selections from some of the particularly thoughtful and/or challenging posts.
Many are excited/intrigued by how MediaCommons will challenge what is traditionally accepted as scholarship:
In Ars Technica, "Breaking paper's stranglehold on the academy":
...what's interesting about MediaCommons is the creators' plan to make the site "count" among other academics. Peer review will be incorporated into most of the projects with the goal of giving the site the same cachet that print journals currently enjoy. [...] While many MediaCommons projects replicate existing academic models, others break new ground. Will contributing to a wiki someday secure a lifetime Harvard professorship? Stranger things have happened. The humanities has been wedded to an individualist research model for centuries; even working on collaborative projects often means going off and working alone on particular sections. Giving credit for collaboratively-constructed wikis, no matter how good they are, might be tricky when there are hundreds of authors. How would a tenure committee judge a person's contributions?
And here's librarian blogger Kris Grice, "Blogging for tenure?":
...the more interesting thrust of the article, in my opinion, is the quite excellent point that open access systems won't work unless the people who might be contributing have some sort of motivation to spend vast amounts of time and energy on publishing to the Web. To this end, the author suggests pushing to have participation in wikis, blogs, and forums count for tenure. [...] If you're out there writing a blog or adding to a library wiki or doing volunteer reference through IRC or chat or IM, I'd strongly suggest you note URLs and take screenshots of your work. I am of the firm opinion that these activities count as "service to the profession" as much as attending conferences do-- especially if you blog the conferences!
A bunch of articles characterize MediaCommons as a scholarly take on Wikipedia, which is interesting/cool/a little scary:
The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus Blog, "Academics Start Their Own Wikipedia For Media Studies":
MediaCommons will try a variety of new ideas to shake up scholarly publishing. One of them is essentially a mini-Wikipedia about aspects of the discipline.
And in ZD Net Education:
The model is somewhat like a Wikipedia for scholars. The hope is that contributions would be made by members which would eventually lead to tenure and promotion lending the project solid academic scholarship.
Now here's Chuck Tryon, at The Chutry Experiment, on connecting scholars to a broader public:
I think I'm most enthusiastic about this project...because it focuses on the possibilities of allowing academics to write for audiences of non-academics and strives to use the network model to connect scholars who might otherwise read each other in isolation. [...] My initial enthusiasm for blogging grew out of a desire to write for audiences wider than my academic colleagues, and I think this is one of many arenas where MediaCommons can provide a valuable service. In addition to writing for this wider audience, I have met a number of media studies scholars, filmmakers, and other friends, and my thinking about film and media has been shaped by our conversations.
(As I've mentioned before, MediaCommons grew out of an initial inquiry into academic blogging as an emergent form of public intellectualism.)
A little more jaded, but still enthusiastic, is Anne Galloway at purse lip square jaw:
I think this is a great idea, although I confess to wishing we were finally beyond the point where we feel compelled to place the burden on academics to prove our worthiness. Don't get me wrong - I believe that academic elitism is problematic and I think that traditional academic publishing is crippled by all sorts of internal and external constraints. I also think that something like MediaCommons offers a brilliant complement and challenge to both these practices. But if we are truly committed to greater reciprocity, then we also need to pay close attention to what is being given and taken. I started blogging in 2001 so that I could participate in exactly these kinds of scholarly/non-scholarly networks, and one of the things I've learned is that the give-and-take has never been equal, and only sometimes has it been equitable. I doubt that this or any other technologically-mediated network will put an end to anti-intellectualism from the right or the left, but I'm all for seeing what kinds of new connections we can forge together.
A few warn of the difficulties of building intellectual communities on the web:
I think the real trick here is going to be how they build the network. I suspect a dedicated community needs to be built before the first ambitious new project starts, and that this community is probably best constructed out of people who already have online scholarly lives to which they're dedicated. Such people are less likely to flake, it seems to me, if they commit. But will they want to experiment with MediaCommons, given they're already happy with their current activity? Or, can their current activity, aggregated, become the foundation of MediaCommons in a way that's both relatively painless and clearly shows benefit? It's an exciting and daunting road the Institute folks have mapped out for themselves, and I'm rooting for their success.
And Charlie Lowe at Kairosnews:
From a theoretical standpoint, this is an exciting collection of ideas for a new scholarly community, and I wish if:book the best in building and promoting MediaCommons.
From a pragmatic standpoint, however, I would offer the following advice.... The "If We Build It, They Will Come" strategy of web community development is laudable, but often doomed to failure. There are many projects around the web which are inspired by great ideas, yet they fail. Installing and configuring a content management system website is the easy part. Creating content for the site and building a community of people who use it is much harder. I feel it is typically better to limit the scope of a project early on and create a smaller community space in which the project can grow, then add more to serve the community's needs over time.
My personal favorite. Jeff Rice (of Wayne State) just posted a lovely little meditation on reading Richard Lanham's The Economics of Attention, which weaves in MediaCommons toward the end. This makes me ask myself: are we trying to bring about a revolution in publishing, or are we trying to catalyze what Lanham calls "a revolution in expressive logic"?
My reading attention, indeed, has been drifting: through blogs and websites, through current events, through ideas for dinner, through reading: through Lanham, Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis, through Wood's The Power of Maps, through Clark's Natural Born Cyborgs, and now even through a novel, Perdido Street Station. I move in and out of these places with ease (hmmmm....interesting) and with difficulty (am I obligated to finish this book??). I move through the texts.
Which is how I am imagining my new project on Detroit - a movement through spaces. Which also could stand for a type of writing model akin to the MediaCommons idea (or within such an idea); a need for something other (not in place of) stand alone writings among academics (i.e. uploaded papers). I'm not attracted to the idea of another clearing house of papers put online - or put online faster than a print publication would allow for. I'd like a space to drift within, adding, reading, thinking about, commenting on as I move through the writings, as I read some and not others, as I sample and frament my way along. "We have been thinking about human communication in an incomplete and inadequate way," Lanham writes. The question is not that we should replicate already existing apparatuses, but invent (or try to invent) new structures based on new logics.
There are also some indications that the MediaCommons concept could prove contagious in other humanities disciplines, specifically history:
Manan Ahmed in Cliopatria:
I cannot, of course, hide my enthusiasm for such a project but I would really urge those who care about academic futures to stop by if:book, read the post, the comments and share your thoughts. Don't be alarmed by the media studies label - it will work just as well for historians.
And this brilliant comment to the above-linked Chronicle blog from Adrian Lopez Denis, a PhD candidate in Latin American history at UCLA, who outlines a highly innovative strategy for student essay-writing assignments, serving up much food for thought w/r/t the pedagogical elements of MediaCommons:
Small teams of students should be the main producers of course material and every class should operate as a workshop for the collective assemblage of copyright-free instructional tools. [...] Each assignment would generate a handful of multimedia modular units that could be used as building blocks to assemble larger teaching resources. Under this principle, each cohort of students would inherit some course material from their predecessors and contribute to it by adding new units or perfecting what is already there. Courses could evolve, expand, or even branch out. Although centered on the modular production of textbooks and anthologies, this concept could be extended to the creation of syllabi, handouts, slideshows, quizzes, webcasts, and much more. Educators would be involved in helping students to improve their writing rather than simply using the essays to gauge their individual performance. Students would be encouraged to collaborate rather than to compete, and could learn valuable lessons regarding the real nature and ultimate purpose of academic writing and scholarly research.
(Networked pedagogies are only briefly alluded to in Kathleen's introductory essay. This, and community outreach, will be the focus of Avi's post on Monday. Stay tuned.)