Tenure and Technology: New Values, New Guidelines

Origins of this CoverWeb

The seeds of this CoverWeb were sown in a discussion on RHETNT-L that ran for a week in September, 1996. Several threads spun out of the original forwarding post from Marcy Bauman, titled, "Tenure at Minnesota." The various threads focused on tenure and technology, eventually evolving into: "Tenure Devolution, Victor's New Nomadic TechnoRhetorical Circus, & the seeds of . . .inter*versity". Not only was this thread responsible for the new inter*versity site, a place where folks can continue to examine and discuss these issues of tenure and technology, but the thread and its resulting Websites also served as a starting place for this Kairos CoverWeb. As the thread wound down, Mike Salvo proposed the whole discussion as a possible focus for a future Kairos edition in his post, "Re: Epublishing and tenure"

i'm curious to know if, in response to and hopefully adding important voices to, there is enough interest in this topic among folks on this list (and anywhere else online) to create a _Kairos_ CoverWeb on the place of Electronic Publishing in the academy. i think our entire staff would love to work with the issue, and as an academic electronic journal, it concerns the staff, the editorial board, and all the authors -- and our readers.
In the hypertexts that make up this CoverWeb, each author examines some of the possibilites for enacting change in the ways work with technology is evaluated--the kinds of changes that Salvo calls for above. The hypertexts look at the issues of where, when and how that change can come about; and they look at what we know about changes that have already occurred in how online academic work is valued and evaluated. For those who wish to cut to the chase, the CoverWeb coordinators have summarized the CoverWeb authors' conclusions and their Recommended Strategies for Evaluating Online Work.

Soon after the discussion of technology on RHETNT-L, ACW-L was also the site of a discussion of how we value our online work for hiring, tenure and promotion. In a query titled "Rambling" posted to the ACW-L list, Janice Walker, a graduate student in the PhD. program at University of South Florida, Tampa, said:

My prof wants papers "targeted to specific publications"--so when I told him that my publication was an online one, he responded that was not a good idea. Hiring committees . . . , he said, look at the publications, and they don't value online ones.
Most of those responding to Walker's query seemed to feel that more and more hiring committees (and so, by extension, tenure and promotion committees) are considering the value of online publications along with print ones; however, having one's work appear in a presitigious print publication still carries more weight than does publishing online. Additionally, most believed that one must work from the inside to change what the academy values. This seems to imply that online publication will not become valued unless it is validated in contexts that the academy already values, such as print articles that reference online sources. Those who responded to Walker's query would argue that, by publishing print articles that reference online sources, the authors can also attain the position in the academy that will allow them to sit on the committees that determine what is valued, and how it is evaluated.

While this is, indeed, a valid argument, it is one with which many of us take issue. We cannot rely on print publication to validate online publication; rather, for online publication to attain validity, we need to publish valid scholarship and research that is primarily, even exclusively, maintained online. In the process, we must negotiate what determine and constitutes "valid online scholarship." Is it the same as traditional print scholarship? Or does a new medium require new criteria for what constitutes "valid scholarship"?

Other discussions of how to define and value online scholarship

There are a number of other important contexts in which people are discussing how we should value--and define--online scholarship. These discussions have (and will have) tremendous import for all of us: those who use technology in their academic work, and those who do not. Technology is changing, and will continue to change, the very nature and form of the university itself. In their "issue brief" Survival of Traditional Institutions of Higher Education, Richard Froeschle and Marc Anderberg make clear the call for higher education to become more "nimble" and responsive to the needs of students and the community, while, in an editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education , Kenneth H. Ashworth warns that Virtual Universities Could Produce Only Virtual Learning: Ashworth cautions that if the application of online technology to teaching is directed by TOO much input from the "corporate" world, then technology-based education will just lead to a narrowing of what is viewed as "real learning": colleges and universities will no longer offer a liberal education that helps students develop habits of critical thought; rather, curricula will become more and more "drills and skills" oriented. The question of how computer-related work is valued in tenure and promotion thus becomes not just a question of who gets tenure, but a question of who will define the academy itself.

There have been several important discussions focusing on how we value online work and how we can make what we do online fit our vitae, fit our departments, fit our institutions, and fit our academy's definition of "valuable" scholarship. Traci Gardner and Rebecca Rickly have put together "Promotion, Tenure and Academic Recognition Guidelines, a web site which brings together several recent online and f2f discussions of computer-related work and tenure and promotion including a discussion from Rhetnet-L (8 June to 30 June 1995). Most recently, Eric Crump has created a web site, "Recognition: New Technologies New Environments New Scholarship and the Academic Work Value System" written for and sponsored by The Conference on College Composition and Communication Computers Committee. Crump's site offers, "a rare opportunity to help shape the values and standards that will inform our futures as teachers and scholars." Such a website does indeed offer an unparalled opportunity to face the challenge before us. Those who cannot attend the CCCC's conference will still have the opportunity to guide the discussion. Since these websites provide background context and opportunites for all to contribute to the discussion, the coordinators of this CoverWeb have written A Precis of Previous Work, a digest of and commentary on some of the discussions included in Gardner and Rickly's "Promotion, Tenure and Academic Recognition Guidelines web site.

This Issue's CoverWeb

In this issue of Kairos, the CoverWeb authors take various positions in their attempts to explore the question of how to define and evaluate online work for tenure and promotion. The authors have carried on their explorations within two venues: their hypertext articles, and an ongoing discussion on a HyperNews Forum. The discussion started out as a series of personal introductions, progress reports, and responses to each other's article drafts. However, it quickly became an intensive discussion of how the process-oriented work that we do online should be evaluated. We came to the idea that some form of discursive evaluation would be the fairest way to represent the worth of online work--work whose process is its primary product. In reaching this notion, our discussion brought together the various positions that the authors have taken in their articles.

In their hypertexts, the authors of this Kairos CoverWeb have taken a range of positions on the question of how computer-related work should and will be evaluated in the tenure and promotion process. Seth Katz looks at how one university, Bradley University, has revised its tenure and promotion guidelines, based on the MLA Guidelines for Evaluating Computer-Related Work, in order to incorporate evaluation of electronic work. He argues that, as long as the current tenure and promotion system is in place, changes in the system will only occur gradually: we will have to work persistently for the incremental development of adequate evaluation criteria for computer-related work. For some time to come, it will be incumbent on the candidate in negotiation with his or her department to make the case for the particular value of new work in new fields and with new media within the traditional categories of Research, Teaching, and Service. Departments will need to recognize that, to adequately accommodate computer-related work, T&P guidelines will need to undergo regular revision: Katz's department has already accepted that it will be no more than five years before they will have to revise their guidelines again.

In discussing what we should do to evaluate online work, Janice Walker identifies and explores three possible positions:

We can change what we're doing to somehow make it [online work] fit existing criteria--mirroring traditional scholarship online; we can continue to do as we've been doing--exploring new ideas and new forms of writing in cyberspace--and not have it count for purposes of tenure and promotion; or we can attempt to change the definitions of those criteria within the academy.

Walker critiques Katz's account of how his department has attempted to extend the existing criteria to encompass online work; Walker espouses the third position, arguing that we need to break out of the traditional categories of Publication, Teaching, and Service, and to create new criteria that will allow us to adequately evaluate new forms of work.

Janet Cross and Kristian Fuglevik argue that change "works from the bottom up. While the vision may come from on high, that vision is a starting place which gets re-worked and played out through the collaboration of teachers, technologists, and students across departments." MOO administrators, teachers, and programmers spend hours developing, learning, and "playing" with the database and the possibilities in order to understand it, in order to conceptualize it and theorize about it, and in order to discover its potential. But unless this work is adequately documented, in ways that the academy can understand--ways that fit into existing categories--much of the work that these people do goes unvalued.

Cindy Nahrwold also proposes that we redefine the categories on which we base evaluation. However, she focuses her argument on redefining what we think of as "scholarship." She takes a

postmodern view of scholarship -- a view that sees scholarship as collaborative inquiry, as a dynamic process, as opposed to what I call the traditional modernist view of scholarship, which supports notions of the individual transcendent writer publishing in print-bound publications.

She argues particularly for valuing "prototypical electronic scholarship": work that reveals the process of the creation of ideas--that process that we spend so much time trying to teach our students to practice and value. Nahrwold argues that "[e]-publishing forums such as The PreText Conversations: REINVW and Kairos' CoverWeb better illustrate the theory of social construction of knowledge"; such forums are places in which our "professional practice reflects and enacts our pedagogical theory."

Through various approaches and interconnections, and through the constellation of surrounding texts, the articles in this CoverWeb offer a rich vision of a good portion of the state of theory about and practice in evaluating computer-related work for tenure and promotion. It appears that several things are happening and must happen at the same time in order for the academy to reach a concensus on how to evaluate the new kinds of work we are doing with computers: we must work towards ways of describing computer-related work within the existing categories of Research, Teaching, and Service, even as we work to change the definitions, bounds, and nature of those categories; we must break down the distinctions between computer-related and traditional kinds of work, by referring to computer-based work in print articles (and vice-versa), by pointing out the equivalencies and differences between computer-related and traditional activities, and by any other means possible; we must continue to educate our tradition-rooted colleagues about what we do and what can be done with computers; we must determine what it is that we who use computers consider most valuable about computer-related work; and, above all, we must continue to do work of the highest quality and of the highest value to ourselves: only by showing what is best about what we do will we be able to show its worth to all of our colleagues.

The CoverWeb Coordinators' Recommended Strategies for Evaluating Online Work

- "One Department's Guidelines for Evaluating Computer-Related Work" by Seth R. Katz

- "Fanning the Flames: Tenure and Promotion and Other Role-Playing Games" by Janice R. Walker

- "Jesters Get Serious" by Janet Cross and Kristian Fuglevik

- "'Just' Professing: A Call for the Valuation of Prototypical Electronic Scholarship" by Cindy Nahrwold

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Email the CoverWeb Coordinators:
Seth KatzJanice WalkerJanet Cross