Monday, 7 June 2010

Auditing our scholarly outputs

I was at a meeting today where OU colleagues were discussing a proposed 'audit of scholarly outputs' to be carried out in our university towards the end of the year.

We are evidently serious about this scholarship business. The purpose is to build on our institutional experience of evaluating the outputs of individual researchers in the last RAE, to develop a way of identifying indicators of excellence in scholarly work which is not necessarily 'REF-able'. This would be to our benefit in terms of professional development (possible promotion based on it) and to the University's in that it would bring this, normally hidden, excellent work to the public gaze. The OU would like to be a sector leader in this enterprise., although we have apparently already been beaten to it in the production of statements of scholarly excellence by UCL .

We had a very interesting discussion about the kinds of things that individual academics might include in a submission that detailed their scholarly outputs (or outcomes -- another interesting discussion) over a four or five-year period. Suggestions included the kinds of contribution that people routinely make to the outputs (or outcomes) of others: critical reading, mentoring, organising reading groups and seminars, chairing meetings, reviewing, lending each other books. They also included digital activities of sometimes more doubtful scholarly provenance: blogging about one's personal research interests, contributions to e-mail lists, uploading mediocre work to institutional repositories etc.

Perhaps equally interesting were the suggestions for activities that might not be regarded as scholarship: ordinary teaching (as opposed to, for example, developing new curriculum areas), external examining, writing teaching material (unless it contains more than 60% 'new' knowledge), research administration!

To my mind, it is no surprise that the sample headings for such an audit that we were given to discuss were very strongly oriented towards what we already know as research. Scholarship in the literature is strongly associated with research in established disciplines. However, if this exercise is to throw any light on the role of the scholar in the knowledge age, then I think we have to move out of the familiar zone of research, research excellence, the RAE/REF etc, and think about the ways that teaching, and the production of teaching materials, and the development of pedagogies, are also scholarship, and their authors scholars.

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