New-Media Scholars' Place in 'the Pool' Could Lead to Tenure
By ANDREA L. FOSTER
[snip] Re:Poste is one of 600 creative works — games, art, and more — by new-media students and faculty members, most of them on the [University of Maine ] Orono campus, described in the Pool,
which also contains about 2,000 reviews of those works. Starting in June, the Pool will have a much wider reach, as people in general will be invited to add material to the site, rate others' projects, build on their ideas, and find collaborators for their own projects.
The Pool, as yet little known, could provide a new avenue for new-media scholars to do their jobs. Eventually it could play a role in their tenure and promotion as well. The numbers and influence of such scholars in academe are growing, and they are looking for new ways for their institutions to evaluate them. Books and journal articles alone are a flawed measure of their productivity, new-media professors say, because many of their accomplishments exist only as Web sites, interactive games, or multimedia presentations. The Pool, they suggest, can be one measure for judging their work.
"What we're trying to do is find alternative metrics," says Mr. Ippolito, who conceived of the Pool with Joline J. Blais, an associate professor of new media at Orono. "Sometimes it's not even the quality of what you do, it's how much influence it has."
Here's how the Pool works:
Titles of new-media projects are plotted on a two-dimensional graph. People log in and post the reviews of projects, rating their appearance, function, and concept on a scale from 1 to 10. As works garner more reviews, they move from left to right on the graph. If reviews become more positive, the works move toward the top.
Accordingly, the most highly regarded and widely reviewed works migrate to the upper right corner of the graph. The program calculates the ratings and takes into account the credibility of the reviewers. If a reviewer receives a low appearance rating for his own projects, then his assessment of how others' projects look will not be given much weight.
The Pool also allows visitors to bore deep into a project via hyperlinks, in many cases viewing its evolution from conception to finish. They can see its creator or creators and read how others rated the project. They can see the works that inspired it and the works it inspired. Basic information about a project is posted by the developers.
Mr. Ippolito and Ms. Blais plan to divide the site according to content. The current database is largely in the Art Pool. A Code Pool is for software code, and a Text Pool will be for written works.
No college is yet using the site as a way to evaluate professors. But Gerard McKiernan, a science-and-technology librarian at Iowa State University, says the Pool, once open to the public, could be a good barometer of a scholar's influence.
"Five hundred heads ... [are] better than two in assessing the value of a work," says Mr. McKiernan, who runs the blog Scholarship 2.0, on alternative Web-based methods for scholarly publishing.
Connecting With Colleagues
Even if the Pool won't be used for decisions on tenure and promotion, Mr. Ippolito says, it will encourage collaboration among scholars.
"Instead of people toiling away at their own lab bench or scholarly archive," he says, "people begin to share ideas and work from each other."
One feature of the Pool allows users to view scholarly connections schematically. By clicking on the name of one scholar, a visitor can view all of the people in the Pool with whom he or she has collaborated, their projects, and, in turn, all of those with whom the collaborators have worked. The data are added by project developers. The visual effect is a computer screen filled with a dizzying array of crisscrossing lines and scholars' names, which becomes difficult to follow as the number of connections multiply.
Even so, the notion of sharing is what attracted Richard J. Rinehart, digital-media director and adjunct curator at the University of California at Berkeley Art Museum, to the Pool. He and his Berkeley colleagues tested and helped to refine the Web site.
The Pool is one of two projects to promote scholarly collaboration that Mr. Ippolito has created with colleagues at Still Water, a research arm of Maine's new-media department.
His other project, ThoughtMesh, was created with Craig Dietrich, a new-media researcher and artist who just earned a master's degree in "intermedia" at the University of Iowa.
ThoughtMesh is a Web site that tags open-access scholarly papers with key words. Visitors can jump to passages in papers that contain those words. And they can see others' papers, throughout academe, tagged with the same words. A "cloud" of tagged words hovers above each paper.
Mr. Ippolito says the goal of ThoughtMesh is for scholars to get their work out quickly and identify others who might be able to help them in their research.