My best is 300: What’s yours?

By: Sandford BorinsIn previous blogs, I've written about how IT is transforming politics and government. In this one, I return to the question of transformation in my own work context, namely the university.The essence of academic life, both before the Internet age and now is teaching and research. But there have been substantial changes in how they are done. This week I'll look at some software that has had a considerable impact on research and a well-known piece of hardware that, surprisingly, hasn't.Scholarship is cumulative, and the best way to measure scholarly influence is citations by other scholars. Before the Internet age, massive citation indexes were published annually. Google Scholar killed the hard-copy citation index.Google Scholar's motto “stand on the shoulders of giants,” refers to Isaac Newton's unduly modest assessment of his own accomplishments. Any professor can see how often his, her, or any other professor's work has been cited, by whom, and where.The validity of the counts depends on the breadth of the database, and Google has been rapidly expanding it to include all scholarly journals and books. A second issue of validity concerns comparisons of scholars working in different fields.The Google Scholar count methodology might be improved by normalizing the count by the number of scholars in the field, so that influence is measured relative to the size of the field.Google Scholar counts are increasingly used in tenure decisions, performance reviews, and assessments of grant applications. They are also frequently used in informal comparisons, as suggested by my title. Or I may look up the Google Scholar counts for newly-announced Nobel laureates.The main locus of research is the academic journal, with publication decisions made on the basis of double-blind peer reviews (where the identity of both the author and reviewers are not known to each other). Any up-to-date journal is now available online going back to its first issue.Universities purchase site licences for virtually all journals, so that any professor or student at the university can now view any article online, which frees them from dependency on the library. Online journal availability is likely affecting hard-copy circulation, in that professors are now more likely to restrict their subscriptions to the few journals they find most useful.The major publishers of journals have all put the process of submitting and reviewing articles online. Articles are now submitted online rather than in hard-copy and emailed to reviewers, who submit their reviews online.The software even sends out automatic reminders when reviews are overdue. The peer-reviewing process has become faster and more certain, though the key delay remains the length of time it takes a reviewer to turn his/her attention to a paper.While the university community was an early adopter of e-mail and the Internet, interestingly, the BlackBerry has not penetrated the professoriate. Most of us are set up to work at home as well as at the office.We see our work as requiring calm reflection and continue to want uninterrupted blocks of time to read, think, or write. A delay of several hours getting back to a research collaborator is still considered acceptable.Contrast this with politicians, senior public servants, corporate executives, or bond or currency traders. They must be continuously reacting to new developments, so for them the capacity for immediate 24/7 communication is a must.Next week I'll talk about how the classroom has changed.

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