November 17, 2007

Needed: a model of peer-reviewing interactive projects

One of the sessions at the Social Science History Association was organized by several members of the H-Net Council about Web 2.0 and the teaching of history. I was the chair and had a marvelous time listening to others and serving as traffic cop an identifier of speakers. (I also got my two cents' worth in, too.)

One general point of agreement was the need to figure out how to make work in this way recognized in a professional sense. It's not too hard to add an open-access model of publication to older models of publication—get a grant or other set of resources and do work in return for that work's being available to the world, and one program officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities confirmed that NEH is moving more towards giving preferences to projects with open-access outcomes.

The problem is how faculty who work on such projects can gain professional respect and reward for such work. As one colleague in the room noted, administrators will often support externally-funded projects, but if peers will not value a project, faculty will not have a great incentive to engage in such work, especially tenure-track faculty, even in primarily teaching institutions.

The key lever is how to provide peer judgment on such work. Faculty are reasonably comfortable with the work of peers in new realms if there is some method of peer review, ... But how is an interactive activity reviewable? I can imagine how technology can be used to engage in all sorts of reviews (that's how a growing proportion of journal manuscript reviews happen, electronically), but what if you don't control all of the material? That's a problem even with reviews of primary document collections: selecting, editing, and annotating primary documents is hard work, but the recognition and evaluation of that work is different from the review of original writing.

Maybe librarians and archivists can help think about reviewing work that is interactive. They have to become engaged in that collaboration with existing documents and imagining what other people will do (users!) all the time, and they have to evaluate such projects.

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Posted in History on November 17, 2007 11:07 AM |