Digital Scholarship and Permanent Beta
This website has been, is, and continues to be an experiment. But when I use that word, "experiment," either here or in conversation, I'm increasingly conscious of how everything I do is an experiment. In fact, I can't think of anything that I do or could do that wouldn't be in some ways experimental, either in research or in teaching. To some extent, this experimental sense could owe something to my teaching field, New Media, or it could also relate to my relative youth as a teacher/scholar. In reference to the former, what I teach is a constantly moving target (hopefully), and relatedly, in reference to the latter, there are very few classes I've taught or concepts I've written about more than once. Each semester is a fresh start, necessarily, because so far, at least one of my courses has been entirely new to me.
So these things may be factors, but I prefer lately to think of experimentation as a nicer version of "permanent beta." By saying what I do is experimental, I qualify it in the same way that Google (and lots of other software produces in the Web 2.0 market) lowers expectations for its new products: by releasing it in Beta mode, users don't expect as much stability, but they might get excited about seeing a work in progress before its ready for widespread use. For example, if Google Wave doesn't seem all that great yet, keep in mind, it's still in Beta!
Scholarship and pedagogy in permanent beta also makes for a more qualified and circumscribed authority position, and while I'm OK with that philosophically (I'm all for student-centered learning, for example), the lowering of expectations might also just be a way of expressing a lack of confidence in myself.
Anyway, what I'm interested in here is coming clean with the beta-ness of this present experiment, and reflecting on and assessing how well it's currently going.
The purpose of this website is supposed to be three-fold: Blog, Serialized Dissertation, Book Proposal. The idea is to acquire and (en)ga(u)ge an audience for the text so that the Proposal can use what knowledge I gain about that audience to make my argument for the book's viability. So far, I've really only worked on the second function, the dissertation, and while it has indeed gained some attention, it hasn't exactly gained a huge audience just yet.
This could be for any number of reasons, related to the content itself or the format I'm publishing it in. The topic is, after all, somewhat esoteric, and the text is also written in dissertation-ese -- couched in overly careful and broad language and targeted to the very specific audience of my dissertation committee. It could also be that I haven't publicized it well enough, so that's something I can think about doing differently. What may hold me back from doing more of that is, to go back to the permanent beta idea, that this dissertation something I invested a huge amount of energy in, but now that I look back on it, I find some parts of it, well, not that good.
I think this is a sentiment shared by many: the dissertation is a rite of passage, but the content itself is something we're embarrassed to show anyone else. Maybe that's why the default at many institutions is to "publish" dissertations by locking them up in bound, printed volumes residing in a dark corner of the library's stacks?
This project is supposed to be an alternative, so going forward, I'm going to be less apologetic (at least mentally) about this content. As I do so, I acknowledge there's a risk. By releasing this thing gradually, I'm inviting readers to really pore over my words -- words that were in some cases written in late-night bursts of manic energy and that I now can look on with nothing but mortification.
So! If you're reading this far into my blog entry, then you've got some interest in either me or my topic. Look around, and please comment.
And if you see something that's written poorly or presents an idea ill-conceived or presented, keep in mind, it's all an experiment!
By the way, is an idea I'm marinating for a couple of upcoming (un)conferences (THATCamp and/or Faculty Academy), so if you're interested in this idea, I'd love to hear your thoughts, either here or there.