June 06, 2012
This report represents NITLE’s ongoing effort to engage in deep dialogue with senior leaders from its member network as well as from other agencies and organizations invested in building a vibrant future for liberal education. By making discussion at the Summit more transparent, we seek to engage the broader NITLE community in that dialogue. We encourage you to share this report widely with colleagues at your campus or organization and to contact us with your ideas and feedback.
Digital scholarship, open educational resources, scholarly communication, and shared academics are issues of strategic importance for liberal arts colleges.
The digital humanities open new possibilities for research and teaching. Research universities have attracted most of the funding and attention in this area while most liberal arts colleges have yet to commit to sustained engagement. Liberal arts colleges can contribute much to the digital humanities, particularly through their focus on undergraduate teaching and learning. Fostering digital literacy in students is critically important, and the digital humanities can play a key role. Faculty support, infrastructure development, and collaboration will be important elements for liberal arts colleges looking to engage their faculties in the digital humanities.
Open educational resources (OER) promise to transform how instructors convey knowledge and how students interact with content, but liberal arts colleges face crucial—and as yet murky—choices in determining how institutionally to integrate them. OER have positive potential; whether they can support the curriculum and what impact they will have on learning is unclear. Definitional questions persist regarding what constitutes “open education,” yet liberal arts colleges are experimenting with OER. Patterns of use are mixed and indicate an early-adopter profile. Identity is a key issue for liberal arts colleges in the process of experimentation and adoption, and skepticism and resistance remain part of the landscape. OER can be seen as a drain on faculty time or an effective strategy for emphasizing teaching over content development.
Scholarly communication is turning inexorably digital and the transition from traditional print to electronic media and new forms of academic discourse is in a crisis stage. Anvil Academic, a publisher of born and born-again digital scholarship, is in early planning stages. The essential problem facing academia is the profound disconnect between the kind of work increasingly being undertaken in the humanities and the metric for evaluating scholars for purposes of tenure and promotion. At the same time, scholarly publishers and their primary customers are financially challenged. Next steps for Anvil include setting up an editorial apparatus based on peer review, cultivating strategic partnerships, reaching out to scholars and college leaders, taking steps toward a stellar first publication, and researching revenue models that lead to a sustainable, open-access publishing model.
Shared academics can connect liberal arts colleges around common academic goals and offer a tool for developing the curriculum, engaging students with diverse perspectives, and competing with large institutions. Colleges can use digital technologies to scale shared academics to national or global levels; however, inter-campus collaboration brings challenges in establishing common goals, strategies, responsibilities, and budgetary approaches. Preserving academic distinctiveness on the institutional level presents another challenge. Institutional-level partnerships and clear communication are required. Nevertheless, colleges are motivated to share by both financial pressures and strategic or mission-based reasons. Where a critical mass of students or faculty, global connections, expertise, or communities of practice are needed, shared academics makes sense and can lead to successful outcomes.
Liberal arts colleges must focus on defining their institutional and collaborative visions for advancing undergraduate liberal education in each of these strategic areas, understanding that they overlap and interact in various ways. One way to support the visioning process is by demonstrating that work can be and is being achieved within the liberal arts college context. In executing on vision, inter-institutional collaboration and capacity development are important components for planning and implementation.