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Picture more flexibility in our views about scholarship

March 4, 2014

One of the best decisions I made this year was to purposefully visit as many academic departments as I could fit into my schedule during the academic year. I have delighted in the conversations and getting to know many of the incredibly hard-working and dedicated faculty and staff we have here at RIT. Much of the conversation has centered on the semester conversion but there have been great discussions on topics such as promotion, bureaucratic paperwork, work overload, and scholarship.

I found the discussions on scholarship particularly enlightening and they forced me to think about whether we have enough flexibility to acknowledge the various forms of research, creative work, and scholarship that faculty are doing. The fact of the matter is that faculty are not just writing papers - they are doing so much more. They're performing music or dance, creating exhibitions, writing software code, building medical devices, designing and crafting furniture and glass works of art, and so much more.

Take for example Professor Liz Lawley's 2009 interactive game entitled "Picture the Impossible". A community-based game that was jointly developed by the Liz's Lab for Social Computing and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, “Picture the Impossible” attracted over 5,000 participants from the Rochester region. The thrust of the game was to explore the City of Rochester and encourage creativity and charitable giving. It was a huge success in so many ways and experts, ranging from traditional newspaper reporters to professional game critics, gave it outstanding reviews (Hint: external validation). And it was all documented and disseminated by the website which you can still visit at I think you see where I'm headed with all this: “Picture the Impossible” was documented, disseminated, and peer-reviewed. Here the documentation was not a paper but a website, the dissemination included over 5,000 people from the Rochester area, and the peers were not academic peers necessarily but experts in their own way. It is an excellent example of Boyer's Scholarship of Application. Of course, not content with just the experience, Liz has since given a number of presentations about the game at both academic and industry events. 

The point of this example is that faculty are doing some amazing things and we need to have the flexibility to judge it accordingly. So after months of discussions with faculty, chairs and deans, I have drafted a thought paper on scholarship for the campus to consider, discuss, and reflect. You can find the thought paper on my website under Priorities/Research and Innovation. The paper serves many objectives but mostly it is intended to provoke a discussion with the hopes that we calibrate our approach to scholarship with maximal flexibility in mind. I hope you will take a moment to give it a read.