In a class conversation on what is/isn’t research, one aspect that emerged time again was that research requires reliable sources of information. This typically implies scholarly sources such as a peer-reviewed article, and to a lesser degree, articles from reputed periodicals and newspapers. The emphasis of course, is on “reliability”.
However, we now live in an era of digital creation and consumption, where learning societies exist on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, TED talks, et al. The question therefore becomes, how do we decide what is a reliable source. Would a presentation on the Barefoot Colleges of India by Bunker Roy on TED be a reliable source? What if you are conducting research in the use of social media by and for business, and the subject matter expertise in that realm is available via a blog post or tweet, not in the Journal of… Would it still be a reliable source, worth incorporating for analysis and synthesis?
Also, who decides what is a reliable source? Is it the promotion and tenure process in the case of tenure track professorships? Is it the faculty member teaching the course in the case of students? Is it the students themselves who need to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff? Is it the search engines who drive page rankings based on who many times a page is accessed and linked to? In principle, aren’t the people responding to a blog post or tweet conducting a peer review of sorts? Is it less reliable if it is not academic?
For the record, I am not debunking the value of scholarly publications deriving from a formal education system. I am however, suggesting that it may be time to widen the horizon to include all the sources of information available to us today. To understand that seminal work might just as easily be found on a blog or in a TED presentation as in a journal article in today’s world. And find ways to incorporate them all into the research process. Who knows, but in the years to come, a thesis might just as easily be a series of blog posts, podcasts, or video, as it might be a bound leather volume gathering dust in a library somewhere ;).