Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

too much research

I couldn't agree more with this call to reduce the amount of published academic research. Too much of what is published is of poor quality, and most published research is ignored by the scholars' peers. (We can only hope that it's the poor quality work that's being ignored.)
All of us in academia have colleagues who enjoy teaching but who have little or no interest in scholarly publication — and yet are forced to pursue scholarly publication by the tenure system. How good is work likely to be that is done, not for the love of it or out of passionate curiosity, but at metaphorical gunpoint?
The primary valid reason for mandating such published research, I think, is to ensure that the teachers in our classrooms actually know what's going on in their fields. (To be sure, that's not the reason that university administrations mandate publications, but it ought to be.) Without publish-or-perish, there's some danger that teachers will spend their careers placidly recycling what they learned in graduate school, without ever having to reckon with new knowledge and new approaches.
But is publish-or-perish the only, or even the best, solution to this problem? I tend to think that digital technologies — and especially technologies for sifting the web — offer all sorts of new ways for teachers to show their command of their disciplines, and to do so in ways that are more accessible to their students than traditional scholarly articles. A really well-curated wiki, for instance, would be useful to administrators trying to evaluate their faculty and to students taking that teacher's course. The sooner we abandon the current models and encourage professors to explore those new technologies, the sooner we are likely to find a lively alternative to the current cycle of scholarly futility.
I will try to give more examples of how this might work in future posts.

3 comments:

  • Verily, verily. The "demand" for more journals and more publications is exacerbated over here by outlandish rules for the RAE/REF; the hyperactive market is not by any means driven by scholars actually wanting more publications, but by academics who must place X number of scholarly publications within each quinquennium (or whatever). As one of my colleagues was observing this afternoon, it militates powerfully against deliberative scholarship (such as would devote five to seven years to meditating over an idea, developing it carefully); such a scholar would be undermining the interests of her department, which are served best if she publishes each thought right away.

    Not that I'm entirely complaining, since some circumstances in the USA militate against publishing at all. At least in the UK, the institution knows it has to make it possible for you to read and write.

  • Absolutely right on target. Frankly, it's a lot more interesting to publish somewhere like TNA. One has a better chance of being read and starting a discussion.

  • Frankly, I've never met a good, college-level teacher who wasn't actively researching, writing, and publishing to some extent in his or her field. I'd be happy to entertain your idea, but only once I meet at least a handful of professors who have chosen not to participate in traditional publication venues and have still remained good teachers with active involvement in their disciplinary conversations.

    (I have met several professors who were brilliant writers but dreadful teachers; that's perhaps another topic for another blog post.)

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