Wim Van Petegem, JP Bosman, Miné De Klerk, and Sonja Strydom | Evolving As a Digital Scholar

9th November, 2021 in Author’s corner

 “Teachers and researchers need to develop or grow in their competences to adapt to the quick changes and demands of our digital society.”

As the world keeps evolving towards a digitised future, developing technologies are also finding their way into the higher education institutions and the need to design courses by incorporating necessary educational tools and materials is more present than ever. In this book, scholars Wim Van Petegem, JP Bosman, Miné De Klerk and Sonja Strydom aim to provide both a framework and a guide to help scholars acquire the necessary skills and qualifications to curate a digital approach to their work.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about. 

Teachers and researchers need to develop or grow in their competences to adapt to the rapid changes and demands of our digital society. This book presents a framework and guidelines to evolve as a digital scholar in this new world.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?

This book draws on our experiences in many workshops in which we have been involved, as individual instructors/academic developers but also as a team, which have brought a more global perspective into our workshops, courses or individual consultations. It is worth mentioning that there are mainly two initiatives that form the basis of this book. On the one hand, there is the AVLM-training at KU Leuven. AVLM stands for Audio-Visual Learning Materials, as the training was originally aimed at the production of audio-visual learning materials. Later on, the scope was extended, and the title and acronym no longer corresponded to the content of the training, but it is known by this name and we keep it as such. This training was funded by VLIR-UOS. It is an intensive eight-week programme in Flanders (Belgium) that enhances the skills and competences of academic and educational support staff of institutions in the Global South in the field of new educational technologies. Since the early 2000s, more than 10 editions have been organised at KU Leuven, each time with between 12 and 18 participants from all continents of the Global South. The second series of workshops we are building upon is The Digital Scholar course. This is a one-week professional learning opportunity in the ADA (African Doctoral Academy) at Stellenbosch University. Since 2017, this workshop has been organised twice a year for groups of between 8 and 15 participants, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, also in a virtual format. Other learning opportunities offered by us in different countries further enrich the book and add to its intercultural flavour.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?

The book includes an extensive list of resources to further explore aspects of digital scholarship. And of course it befits a digital scholar to easily find her or his way in the ample literature available online; hopefully the book gives enough pointers how to do this.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?

It was during my [Wim Van Petegem] first visit to Stellenbosch University in 2014 that the idea popped up to work together on something, an article, a massive open online course (MOOC), or maybe something totally different. It ended up coming our way quite unexpectedly. Sometime later, on the occasion of a reciprocal exchange of JP Bosman to KU Leuven, we sat together trying to design a course that incorporates digital technologies into the world of the higher education practitioner. It was towards the end of the staff mobility exchange, and we were worried that our time together was almost up. We intuitively knew what we wanted to do as experienced digitally fluent practitioners, but the why, what and how still eluded us. Sitting across our desks we talked in circles, until we started taking notes and making drawings on the notepad on the table between us. “JP, what we need is a framework!” The notes and ideas started flowing and then, suddenly, the puzzle pieces started making sense. It was quite a euphoric feeling when a meaningful structure emerged which became the core idea for the later The Digital Scholar course. Together with Sonja Strydom and Miné De Klerk we improved the framework through iterative editions of the course (and both colleagues also managed to visit KU Leuven in the meantime – a great source of inspiration here, for sure). That is how this book was born!

From the first idea for a book to the final publication of this first edition was a long but rewarding journey. With four authors from two universities, we were lucky to have collaborated in the workshops before. That gave us enough common background about the content we wanted to cover in this book, but also, and most importantly, the confidence we needed to work together as a team of authors. We decided from the beginning that each of us would take full responsibility for two chapters in the book, and we would allow a personal approach in these chapters, so no final editing was intended to streamline the style or approach taken by the individual authors in their chapters. However, we did discuss draft versions of our chapters in several (virtual and face to face) meetings, as critical friends. In iterative rounds, we read the work of the others, to adhere to the chosen common structure, to make the book comprehensive and avoid overlap, and to align our own personal writing style as much as possible with a spontaneously emerged writing style of the team. Finally, we received feedback from two particular critical friends, our peer reviewers. We are most thankful for their valuable comments and suggestions for improving the manuscript. All this has led to the book you are holding in your hands now or reading on your screen.

What would you like readers to remember about your book? 

After reading the book, all that remains for a future digital scholar is to take the final step, and really “Go DIGITAL!”, i.e. Dare, Ignite, Grow, Interact, Try, Appeal and Learn! And this can be translated into active verbs, such as:

  • Dare! Don’t wait, don’t hesitate, take your chance, don’t have cold feet, jump or dive into the deep, take the risk, be adventurous, go for it!
  • Ignite! Start right away, enlighten your environment, inspire your peers, encourage colleagues, spark new ideas, light the fire!
  • Grow! Broaden your scope, rise to the top, push your limits, expand beyond borders, mature and become wiser, increase your impact!
  • Interact! Don’t hide, network with partners, build a community, participate and communicate, connect with like-minded people, nurture relationships!
  • Try! Experiment and explore new things, practise, give it a chance, don’t give up, back off to rebound stronger, don’t reinvent the wheel!
  • Appeal! Fascinate, attract, charm, please, invite, engage, be stunning, show your best (digital) side!
  • Learn! Treasure your successes, turn mistakes into learning opportunities, stand on the shoulders of giants, integrate new knowledge, be wise, keep smiling!

Your book is published open access thanks to the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access. How did the open access publication process go? What makes open access so attractive for you/your book? Have you thus far noticed that your book reaches a wider audience?

From the beginning, it was our intention to make our book easily accessible and available to a large readership all over the world, including and especially for our colleagues in the developing world. I [Wim Van Petegem] was lucky to meet Mirjam Truwant by accident in a grocery shop on a Friday evening. She is a former colleague of mine at the dean’s office of my faculty at KU Leuven. We started talking, small talk, but the conversation quickly turned to ‘work’ and in particular her work now as a publisher at Leuven University Press. No wonder we ended up talking about the quest that I and my colleagues from Stellenbosch were on to produce something tangible that we could offer to the participants of our trainings and workshops. It was Mirjam that pointed me towards the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access. I cannot remember what was in my shopping cart when I left the store, but I do know in my head was the plan to publish this book with Leuven UP in open access. The rest is history…

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about? Would you consider publishing the book open access?

We have no new plans for a subsequent publication yet, but never say no. For now, we invite the readers of this book to become our critical friends. We welcome all constructive comments to improve this book and yes, we intend to update it whenever the time calls for it. New versions (especially of the e-book) will be made available as soon as there is a need.

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