Making Online Labor "Count" for the Tenure Case

Participating actively in sharing our work online is often not only something we want to do, but something we feel compelled to do if we want to keep up with the steady stream of scholarly engagement.  We may meet face-to-face at conferences, but the internet allows us to keep conversations going, to make acquaintances, to test out ideas, and to become an active part of scholarly communities.

But as this survey question suggests, this type of online engagement carries with it the potential for particular professional, personal, and legal consequences.  One important professional consequence to consider is the perceived value of the work we do online as it pertains to our case for tenure.  As junior faculty members, the allure of joining scholarly communities online is often clouded with concern that our labor in these spaces won’t be considered suitable for inclusion in a tenure file, leaving us questioning whether such participation is a good use of our (limited) time.  I’ve spoken with many junior faculty colleagues about this tension--the belief that work online is enjoyable, valuable, productive, and important contrasting with worries over whether senior colleagues judging our cases down the line will agree.

I admit that this winter, when I submitted my end of year report to my dean, I was unsure how he would respond to some items I included under “Scholarly Engagement”: I started up a (vibrant at over 350 members) Facebook group for those interested in discussing teaching media, I co-edited an online dossier of materials on teaching (with) social media for Cinema Journal, I posted two pieces at Antenna.  Would he agree that this was compelling and sufficient scholarly engagement for my first semester at the college?  In my case, he did.  I feel very fortunate that my institution, my dean, and my senior media studies colleague are all committed to encouraging and rewarding work in the digital sphere.  I feel supported in doing the work I feel passionately about, and have gotten confirmation that activities related to digital pedagogy are worthwhile at Austin College.  Nonetheless, I think it’s useful to consider some strategies for making the case for online work compelling to administrators and colleagues.

  • Weave a narrative around the work that you do online.  Explain why you think such work is important and significant to you and your research goals.  For example, in my report I explained that I use Antenna posts as a method of testing out new research before engaging in it more fully.
  • Make a case for the impact such work has on your teaching.  I pointed to specific queries I had made and suggestions I had encountered on the Facebook group that directly affected my work in the classroom.
  • Demonstrate the way online scholarship parallels traditional scholarship.  The co-edited dossier I worked on was essentially the same as a printed dossier, but the online publishing format allowed for easy embedding of links and materials, which actually enriched the finished product.  Make the similarities (and advantages!) clear for colleagues who may be unfamiliar with new publishing possibilities.
  • Document, document, document!  If your blog posts have received a large number of pageviews or trackbacks, if you know that your work online has been used by others in their classes or research, or if far-flung colleagues mention your work in their work--document it and include it as part of your case.  In my report, I mentioned that Amanda Ann Klein included my Facebook group as part of her end-of-year roundup of favorite uses of social media.  It’s not an official award, but it demonstrates that other media scholars see value in the work.
  • As a corollary to the last point, help one another out by informing colleagues if you’re using their work in the classroom or praising it publicly.  Be outspoken and vocal about the value of work in the online sphere, and help to improve the profile of work of this type at your institution and beyond.

Image on front page by the Italian voice


As someone who invests in digital publications, it is great to hear that institutions are beginning to count digital work and digital publishing towards work for tenure. Looking at a few CVs today, as I work on my own, I am, still, very much aware that those who often work in digital publishing will still list digital publishing towards the bottom of their CVs, near service to community, school, and department. This is especially true with work like this survey, where the end product is as much the collaborative effort of multiple scholars and the product is open source. So, while digital is starting to count, it is not yet something to rest one's career on. Overall, though, with several mentions of this on MediaCommons and at conferences, it seems that a shift in the reception of work shared online is happening.

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