Getting Your Digital Work to Count

A plush doll of The Count from Sesame Street

Here at ProfHacker, we regularly write about the stages of professional life in academia. One of the most important–and therefore the most stressful–is preparing for promotion and tenure. George wrote about this subject last week; Anastasia has had advice about starting a tenure box; Nels has covered writing annual reviews; and Natalie recently featured a list of our posts on annual reviews and CVs.

Of course, ProfHackers also tend to like digital tools, both in our teaching and research, and such digital scholarship ends up being a challenge when it comes time for the tenure and promotion process. How do you talk about blogging in your tenure documents? Will the committee accept your co-authored essay in a open access journal? What about the code that you shared on GitHub? These are important questions but hard to answer–both for individual faculty and the departments who hire them.

Last week, however, saw the appearance of something that might help us all out. The Modern Language Association released a set of Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media. These guidelines are a revision and update of those originally released 12 years ago and come from the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. (Full disclaimer: I serve on the Committee, as does Bethany Nowviskie, friend of ProfHacker and occasional guest author.) You can find other coverage of the Guidelines from The Chronicle‘s Jennifer Howard and Inside Higher Ed‘s Scott Jaschik.

The guidelines represent the MLA’s awareness that the evaluation of digital work is problematic at present and will hopefully help departments and individuals know what their responsibilities are when engaging with this work. Specifically, departments are encouraged to make clear how digital work will be counted; to engage qualified reviewers during the tenure and promotion process; examine digital scholarship in its original form; and remain aware of accessibility affordances.

It’s not just the institutions that need to accommodate new digital work, however. According to these guidelines, individual faculty members should ask about and negotiate for clear guidelines for how their work will be evaluated; understand what support they will have from the department; and be prepared to document and explain their work and their role within collaborations to T&P committees. It falls on the faculty member, then, to “sho[w] the relevance of their work in terms of the traditional areas of teaching, research, and service.”

The MLA naturally has no power to enforce these guidelines on different departments. Still, these guidelines will hopefully assist departments looking for assistance in crafting policies to better count the digital work done by their faculty. And even if you don’t belong to a field that studies modern languages or literatures, you might be able to start a conversation in your own discipline by referring to this work.

Will the MLA’s Guidelines help as you prepare for promotion and tenure? Do you think they go too far or not far enough? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: Count / Fernando de Sousa /

Return to Top