|Your value from a department Chair's point of view?|
But what if there could be change? What if we are on the doorstep of major unification of RTS into a real, broad and unitary type of contribution that benefits the body of knowledge, the student body, and the body politic all in one? Could this be in the offing?
The social network
If this is possible in a way visible today, that way is in social networking and the online cosmos. Journals are moving to the use of electrons rather than trees to disseminate the research results of the academic professions. Reviewing is becoming more and more real-time, and less and less a way to stifle ideas. We still have a hierarchy--often little more than a snob system driven by the profit motive (Nature and Cell journals, Science, and others from many for-profit publishers). Since more journals are online and not associated with society memberships, access is often free and publishing costs may be coming down.
And then there are blogs and tweets. These spread intellectual contributions faster than an Arizona wildfire. They do this globally. Blogs reach the posters' friends, social community, professional peers across a spectrum of specialties, and the public 'news' (we're tempted to say 'hype') media. Blogs can include simple high-viewership rants and demogoguery, but many (and we hope including this one) are responsible attempts to air and discuss serious and important subjects. Blogs reach audiences instantly and need not wait for perfect literature citation or reviewer approval. Many academics no longer turn first to journal table-of-contents pages to find new articles but instead rely predominantly on these kinds of venues.
And there is online teaching. Online coursework ranges from the purely recreational through the scamworld to the highly academic. Some are currently free, others cost more, but all are cheaper than going to a university and coughing up their tuition bills. Reaching large audiences, local and virtual, this kind of teaching spread thoughts very widely and rapidly.
And, in addition, all of this is instantly recoverable by web-searching.
These newly available ways of communicating influence many people across the spectrum of society, and instantly, and generally free. Because of that they truly combine Research, Teaching, and Service. The are RTS all wrapped up in one package. But there is one little problem....
Getting professional credit
Old sods such as myself have the protection of tenure and at least some respect and audience built up over the years. I don't have to please a Chair or Dean, and I don't have to worry about job security or salary. It's very liberating! But what about the younger generation?
We think that somehow the younger generation (and here we're referring to people in academic careers) need to be given credit for using these new media. In a nutshell, an effective influential presence on the social and online media should not just be something mentioned discretely on a faculty member's CV. It should be an integral part of 'productivity', and an influential presence on these new formats should be a criterion for advancement.
But journal and book publishing have had center stage for centuries, and institutions being as reactionary and conservative as they are, naturally tend to stick to the current status system. This is great for the snob journals, allows them to capitalize by increasing their contents to all sorts of forms, including a lot of things that should be in lesser places, and to play the media for attention (and hence profit) like Heifitz played the violin.
The conventional media still have a strong hold on career snobbery, though at the cost of promoting business as usual while somewhat stifling really new ideas. In addition, one must admit that if there is chaff in the regular journal realm, there is a huge amount of chaff on the internet. There are rant blogs, junk journals, scams, pervasive commercial exploitation, and a blizzard of superficial (if personally edifying) social chatter. But that can be sorted.
Department chairs and deans need new ways to evaluate their faculty in career terms in ways that are not just based on new sorts of bean-counting (blog hit counts, etc). Indeed, because so much discussion of recent publications—and pre-publications--takes place online, in blogs, in blog or sometimes journal comments, on Twitter or arXiv and other pre-publication venues, and so forth, the old reliable publication citation count can no longer adequately serve as a measure of the impact of a given paper, or a scholar’s body of work. Indeed, the fact of publication itself was once considered a measure of a paper’s worth when peer review was the gold standard for separating the chaff from the grain. This is no longer true.
Going beyond the bean-countingBut there are new metrics that aren't like the old bean-counting metrics. Alternative metrics. Altmetric, for example. "Altmetric Explorer. A powerful and intuitive web application that helps you see all of the attention surrounding your papers." It'll track blog posts, Mendeley links, Tweets and more. And, there are multiple analytical tools for tracking blog traffic, including Google Analytics and many others. And there's always the new old standby, Googling a scholar's name. So, really, given that so many academics have Twitter accounts, and more and more are blogging, or migrating to Mendeley or Linkedn and many other social media sites, including those I don't know about, administrators now have every reason to take online scholarly activity into account, and numerous ways to do it.
With enough pressure from below, from the younger faculty whose careers will be affected, perhaps it can happen.