It was during my second year of my doctoral study that I thought, if I were going to be in a career that involved publishing scholarly work, I would choose open access journals over traditional publication avenues. There was an allure to the idea of open scholarship. As a new researcher in the field of education, open scholarship would be a great way to reach practitioners and make my work relevant. The readership numbers were unbelievable in a peer-reviewed open access journal that I followed. Soon enough though, at that particular moment I was filling out publishing rights for my dissertation on ProQuest, I was exhausted and reflecting on the incredible amount of effort it had taken to complete the dissertation, and it made me angry I had to pay a fee to make my work open access. (Points to Ponder: Do all open access venues charge a fee? Should funders or institutions pick up the tab for open access dissemination?) I picked the radio button that gave me momentary victory but denied my work to the public. It was a decision I made on impulse. Thankfully, since it is also published in VCU Scholars Compass, the dissertation is accessible to a wide audience and enabled me to reach readers in 29 countries in a span of 5 months. That is pretty amazing, or maybe not. That a work of scholarship has such a wide reach is amazing, but whether it is truly impactful is harder to measure and ahead of institutional tenure and promotion policies. I ask the question – who would read my dissertation if it were not open access and available digitally? – The answer (probably no one) settles the debate in my head about the relevance and impact of my work using open scholarship.
Even so, for my current work I have been reviewing and synthesizing literature on how teachers use assessment data to improve instruction and support learning. An earlier project and the resulting report with MERC which is highly relevant and freely available has not reached other researchers (most of them working with non-academic partners) publishing on the topic. Why? Perhaps because it is a technical report and not peer-reviewed or maybe it did not show up in typical keyword based searches. What does this mean for the study’s impact? In community engaged partnerships, open access reporting of results is a great way to demonstrate transparency and allow the public to access to collaborative work that is relevant and meaningful. But what is the scholarly worth of this reporting? While it may not count in formal measures of scholarly work, there is much to be gained for the scholar. In combination with maintaining a web presence, public scholarship can help build a reputation and network, a form of capital that can be capitalized for traditional scholarly work. As Tressie M Cottom points out in her blog post, this comes with unintended consequences of becoming vulnerable to negative or unwarranted attacks. If that is the reality of 21st century scholarship, she also points out the role of institutions in supporting their scholars as they stand to gain from this new form of capital.