Evolution of the Scholarly Journal: An Interview with Tim Pasch

Next week is the University of North Dakota School of Graduate Studies Scholarly Forum. My lovely wife coordinates all the festivities surrounding this annual academic smorgasbord. Among them are the two dean’s lectures. The second dean’s lecture will be next Wednesday at noon in the Lecture Bowl on the University of North Dakota campus. It is free and open to the public. It will be by my good buddy Tim Pasch who’ll speak on the evolution of the scholarly journal. As the interview below indicates, Prof. Pasch’s remarks are particularly timely considering the recent policy shifts by the U.S. Government and here.

Since this is a topic that I’ve blogged about here (and here), I thought it might be nice to include my wife’s pre game interview with Tim published at the School of Graduate Studies blog. Come and hear his talk! Or catch it on the lifestream! And, if you’re in town, do check out the scholarly forum.

Here’s the interview:

Dr. Timothy Pasch of the Communication Program will share some exciting insights into the future of scholarly publishing. Dr. Pasch is one of our two Dean’s Lecture Series presenters during the annual Scholarly Forum. I sat down with Dr. Pasch to learn more about his research in this area.

Susan Caraher: Can you talk a little about your Dean’s Lecture Series presentation, The Evolution of the Scholarly Journal: Digital Convergence and Broader Impacts?

Tim Pasch: Granting agencies such as the NSF and others require, as part of their proposal process, explanation of how the grant recipient will disseminate the knowledge they will glean from their research. It’s no longer enough to simply gather research and create the knowledge, for after you have accomplished this, you are required to “share the wealth”, or disseminate that knowledge. This (in part), is what is referred to as Broader Impacts. Grants and journals serve a purpose closely related to (but not exactly) this.

Modern research is still embedded in the paradigm of the printed word on paper (journals). Digital journals, for their part, offer us convenience as they can be read on computers, tablets, and other mobile devices. Even still, the trend is still static – there’s printed text and there is some rudimentary video, but it’s primarily still simply text and image. We’re entering an era where this is no longer sufficient for granting agencies – they are looking for innovative New Media approaches for the dissemination of that knowledge. So artists and other digitally creative individuals have a very important role in creatively disseminating the knowledge of STEM and other researchers – there are exciting collaborative possibilities there.

There’s also a burgeoning opportunity for creative, immersive, convergent journals; so you are simultaneously engaging audio, video, interactivity. For example, you can “visit” a new discovery and engage with it in three dimensions, manipulate it, delve right into it. If you are a musician, for example you can do so much more than simply describe the music – you can have a waveform available for immediate interaction. These are living journals.

S: Part of your research is looking at communication in marginalized communities. How might the digitization of scholarly journals impact communities that might not have ready access to new technologies?

T: When you try to use technologies to assist individuals without technology, or those who don’t know how to use it, I’m sometimes asked, “How can it be accessible if you need to buy into the hardware in order to access it?”

One of the arguments we can make is the decreasing cost of getting into a computer or a tablet. When tablets first emerged their cost was close to $2000, however they are available for much less now. And there are a number of initiatives that aim to deliver technology to underprivileged individuals. It’s also becoming easier to say that it is less expensive to purchase a tablet than to subscribe to a scholarly journal. And with an increasing move toward open source publishing, all of these factors may help to make knowledge much more accessible; although I will discuss models that strive to keep knowledge very closed as well.

S: What do you think is driving agencies to expect such Broader Impacts?

T: Funding is becoming more difficult to acquire based on the economy and other factors. When a grant is being evaluated, agencies are less likely to fund projects that don’t demonstrate a direct impact on the communities that this kind of work is designed to empower, or those projects that do not disseminate the knowledge as widely as possible to the target audience.

It is no longer sufficient to solely publish findings in a journal or “just make a website” as the primary vehicle for outreach. There is a greater expectation to have a detailed plan to market and distribute knowledge in a very compelling way. It needs to be engaging and inspiring.

S: With a greater emphasis on Broader Impacts by granting agencies, do you think this could influence the way in which academics will design their research?

T: The best proposals will be built around Broader Impacts and will incorporate these aspects from the beginning, rather than having them added as an afterthought, or attachment to the proposal itself.

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