Are recent developments in scholarly communication relevant to undergraduates?
On a weekly basis, a new article or editorial comes out discussing the shifting paradigm of how scientists communicate with one another. According to many, the journal article – the mainstay of scientific communication – is about to undergo a major metamorphosis as blogs and new journal concepts affect how science is done. A recent report from the Science Online London 2009 conference exemplifies this.
I am very excited about these changes, and I spend some of my time checking out real-time science blogs like Useful Chemistry, participating on online science networks like Nature Network, and exploring what PLOS ONE has to offer.
But how relevant are all of these new changes to the average undergraduate? Do they need to know about them? If they don’t need to know now, will they in the near future?
Most of the writing assignments I’m seeing are still asking students to find traditional scholarly articles as the only sources for their papers. Most of the faculty at my small undergraduate institution are still very traditional with regard to scholarly communication. A (very) few faculty still have to be convinced that an online journal is acceptable, and I wrote an email a few months ago explaining that PLOS Medicine is a highly regarded journal.
Until a consensus develops around what is scholarly and what isn’t in the online world, how are undergraduate students (who still need help telling apart a review article and a piece of original research) supposed to navigate these on-going changes?
In the short term, I don’t think that undergraduates need to know a lot about these developments, beyond their own personal interest in science blogs or online science news. For the time being, a science student can successfully navigate his or her undergraduate education without an awareness of the scientific blogosphere or the concept of open science.
As much as I would love to share my excitement of all of these fascinating changes, I don’t think students need to know about them. At the moment, I teach students about the basic differences between review articles, primary research articles and news articles.
In the future I will probably talk about blogs and social networks and how to access primary data sets – I’m looking forward to it.