Grants/Scholarship and the Commons: Best Practices in Creating and Defending Digital Dissertations

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Scholarship and the Commons: Best Practices in Creating and Defending Digital Dissertations

Applicants: Virginia Kuhn, PhD, Associate Director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, University of Southern California
Affiliation: Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML)
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Virginia Kuhn
Coordinator: Virginia Kuhn
Project Start: 2010/08/05
Project End: 2011/08/05
Download budget Discussion

Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

This project will establish a set of best practices for creating and defending digital dissertations by examining several case studies, and detailing my own 2005 dissertation, Ways of Composing: Visual Literacy in the Digital Age, a Creative Commons licensed media-rich, digital dissertation which I successfully defended in 2005, before waging a 7 month battle to retain my doctoral award, a battle whose resolution was facilitated by coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Although there have been other digital dissertations before and since, they have been few and far between, and in the current climate of risk management and academic job scarcity, the situation is even more onerous today. My own dissertation is important because its subject is the digital expression and why digital scholarship is vitally important in academia if intellectual inquiry is to be fully realized in the 21st century. The goal of this project is to provide a precedent for other doctoral students, their committees and their graduate administrators who are attempting to create and defend a digital dissertation. Graduate students are among the most vulnerable constituencies in academia and this project will provide them with a resource to battle institutional resistance and, in so doing, invigorate their work.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

Specifically, the project will produce a website (including text, image and video) with a persistent url which will: define various forms of a digital dissertation; excerpt relevant portions of my dissertation research regarding the progression of oral culture, literate culture and digital culture; survey and index several other such efforts (beginning with Christine Boese’s 1998 digital dissertation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, through Bulbul Tiwari’s 2008 thesis from the University of Chicago and ending with the those underway in the iMAP (interdivisional media arts and practices—at the University of Southern California; and, finally, detail the resistance to digital scholarship and ways to satisfy institutional opposition.

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

The immediate target community are doctoral students who are interested in producing a digital dissertation but it will also serve their academic advisors and their graduate schools. The recently released "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication" (by the Center for Social Media) notes the value of community practice since it influences judicial decisions. Issues of IP, copyright and fair use are among the most thorny and misunderstood obstacles to digital dissertations since universities are wont to litigate and thus intellectual freedom often gives way to risk management. As such, this site will benefit the community by providing the resources needed to answer these />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

I am enmeshed in the academic community across several fronts and have served as an informal advisor on several digital dissertation committees, both at USC and beyond. Yet these efforts have remained largely disconnected. This 2006 blog post from the Institute for the Future of the Book, with whom I've worked closely, details the subject of digital dissertations in general and my own in particular: Please also see this article done by USC:

Although I am most closely affiliated with the humanities, my work spans disciplines, as does the larger work of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, where I serve as Associate Director. I have been integrally involved with the development of Sophie, the Mellon-funded multimedia authoring software which is open source and free for scholars to use.

I am also closely affiliated with media advocacy efforts such as Critical Commons ( and the iMAP doctoral program ( students are beginning to launch digital dissertations. I publish in digital and print journals, as well as serve on the editorial boards of several e-journals.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

Measuring the impact and effectiveness of this project will take place on two fronts: 1. I will measure site traffic using both Google analytics and by tracking simply page hits and 2. I will invite those who have made use of the site as a resource to contribute their own experiences. The site will grow within the community based on its needs. I will maintain the site indefinitely so long as it is useful.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

The first order of business is to organize and index the work done to date and this I can do with the help of a programmer and research assistant. I will then mobilize the various networks available to me both individually and via the IML including the tech/rhet list, Digital Media and Learning's DML central, HASTAC (Humanities, Arts Sciences and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, ICHASS (Institute for Computing in the Arts, Humanities and Social Science), the Sophie network and the Center for Social Media, to name a few, to call for participation.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

This project is vital to the future of academic scholarship and will benefit the larger community by ensuring that scholarly efforts are not stifled due to institutional concerns that no longer serve it.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

The project will use an open source wiki that is customized to provide a template for participants. It will potentially piggyback on efforts of the NEH funded Vectors Institute project called Scaler (an interface that allows a nuanced relationship between text and moving image) which is due to be completed by August, 2010). I am adept at video editing, and html and will direct the interface accordingly.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

The main challenge is one of time: I am busy with scholarship, teaching and curricular administration duties. However, I also have access to a wealth of talent in programmers and potential research assistants in the form of both graduate and undergraduate students. It is from this pool that I will select the two positions to help me on the project.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

My hope would be that this project obsoletes itself by helping to nurture media-rich, natively digital dissertations. However, I've been hoping for this since about 1998 when the first was created, when the IML was founded and when I first taught university level classes with emergent technologies in an English department. Until then, however, this project will be community-based, will be maintained by me and by the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. I hope to fold this effort into a larger project on which I am working for digital infrastructure for the humanities with the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

Although this will begin as a grass roots effort, the project has unlimited scalability as doctoral students use it. There are several projects going on to study assessment protocols for digital work, as well as to gauge the impact of digital scholarship on academe. This project can easily integrate with those efforts.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

The main value of Creative Commons is its legal advisory board, its reputation and its reach. Project with the Creative Commons imprint will carry weight.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

The IML communicates with its community through active participation in scholarly conferences, as well as through its blog, publications and social networking tools including, Twitter, Facbook and the like.