Culture Magazine

Citizen Scholars in the Digital Age

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
In William G. Thomas, III and Elizabeth Lorang, The Other End of the Scale: Rethinking the Digital Experience in Higher Education:
Tufts University Professor Gregory Crane, Editor in Chief of the Perseus Project, has recently drawn attention to the need for "a new culture of learning" not only for the field of classics but also more broadly. According to Crane: "We need to engage our students and fellow citizens as collaborators. We need a laboratory culture where student researchers make tangible contributions and conduct significant research." Crane argues: "The crush of data challenges us to realize higher ideals and to create a global, decentralized intellectual community where experts serve the common understanding of humanity.
Later, toward the end:
At colleges and universities across the world, for example, Wikipedia write-ins and edit-a-thons have introduced students and community members to the assumptions, biases, and absences of one of the most visited websites in existence. In a similar fashion, we might adopt strategies from the open-data and civic-hacking communities and have students evaluate institutional resources both for openness and for the variety of practical factors that can affect a user's access to information.
Librarians and others are also developing innovative campus spaces, including incubators and maker spaces. Infused with the energy of the guild and with the ethos of the commons—in other words, with collaborative, self-reflective, critical, and active "making"—such places have the potential to make visible for many users what has been invisible, including political, social, and material hierarchies.
We must insist on and enact more reciprocal, open, and community-based terms of digital engagement in higher education. The present foregrounding of abundance and connectivity has emphasized volume and scale. The danger in this view of abundance, whether of rich data or of ubiquitous access, is a false sense of completeness and equality. To a surprising degree, we have ceded control and critical perspective in response to the promised potential of volume and the large scale. At the same time, we have accepted use models that exist in a highly commercialized and politicized environment.

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