Workshop on Evaluating Digital Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion

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    Kathleen Fitzpatrick

    The MLA Office of Programs sponsored a pre-convention workshop on the morning of Thursday, 3 January, in order to facilitate a discussion about evaluating work in digital media (e.g., scholarly editions, databases, digital mapping projects, born-digital creative or scholarly work). Designed for both creators of digital materials and administrators or colleagues who evaluate those materials, the workshop asked participants to think about strategies for and challenges in documenting, presenting, and evaluating such work as part of a review dossier.

    Jason Mittell presented his project Complex TV, Rachel Buurma presented her work on the Early Novel Database, and Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman presented the many components of Sounding Out! Groups of workshop participants then discussed the issues and challenges presented by these projects for the review process, asking what a candidate, an external reviewer, a department committee, a chair, or an administrator would need to know or do in creating a successful review

    In the end, the group put many questions about such review processes on the table. We present this list to you here for further discussion; we hope to enlist this group in thinking about the next steps forward — how we might, working together in MLA Commons, create the kinds of resources and discussions that might help us tease out further such questions and develop answers to them.

    Please do add your questions, comments, thoughts, suggestions, and possible directions!

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    If you have a dual portfolio, and you only have a limited set of reviewers, do we divide them between our DH and our traditional portfolios? Is that a negative? IS it a problem that the reviewer is then asked to weigh in on tenurability based on just a fraction of a work?

    How do we lay the groundwork OUTSIDE of particular cases? So that particular cases don’t have to bear the burden of moving a field forward, educating a community, all on its own. Are there best practices for this that can be emulated across campuses? DH Centers, Office for DH – that can help frame turns in a field, provide language native to the home institution…

    What constitutes an important scholarly claim or argument or intervention at this moment? Does a scholarly intervention have to take the form of an original argument? What is a scholarly intervention and how is that changing. Boyer: “Scholarship Reconsidered.” Four categories of value: discovery, integration, application in teaching, public engagement. When something straddles two categories it always gets put in the lower bucket – how can we redress that conservative pattern in review committees to appreciate the multidimensionality of any of these projects.

    What can we learn from the prior emergence of new fields – what can we extrapolate, to apply to the situation that we are in right now?

    What will a digital humanities project that will carry a tenure case alone, and that could not be translated into a monograph, look like: what do we actually expect as scholars of that, how long is that knowledge going to take to emerge?

    How do you evaluate and reward folks who bring a lot of money to the dept in grants – since that’s pretty new to literary studies? How do you count grants in reappointments?

    How do we evaluate projects for which the timelines do not necessarily conform to the timelines of reappointment? When is the thing done? When does that get marked into the career? Use the regular job-assessment processes to set milestones for a project, so that assessments occur in relation to those milestones, rather than prior ones.

    What metrics and reflection protocols can humanists add to our traditional processes for time and labor accounting? How do we hold onto what we value now of older modes of work?

    What is the research portion of your dossier for? What is the goal of your research for the candidate, the field, the institution?

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