Digital Projects and Tenure: How Has ProfHacker Been Valuable to You?

Summary: Has ProfHacker helped you become a better teacher? Has it helped you improve your research? Has it given you a better sense of how higher ed works? Has it been valuable in other ways? If so, would you be willing to write up a short letter or email about the ways in which ProfHacker has been valuable to you? Doing so would be very helpful to those of us who work on the site.

Read on for details…

Main Content: I’m going up for tenure this year, and along with all of the other evidence of my productivity I’m going to be including ProfHacker. (I’m not the only ProfHacker going up for tenure, however, nor am I the only one who would benefit from evidence of the project’s value, so this post is relevant to more of us than just me.) One of the challenges of a digital project like ProfHacker is that it doesn’t really fit established models of scholarly productivity. As Jen Howard writes in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “The biggest challenge for humanities scholars in the digital age isn’t how to rework traditional forms of scholarship. It’s how to get their work recognized in a publishing-and-reward system not fully equipped to handle it, and how to change that system as digital scholarship becomes more mainstream.”

Fortunately for me, my department has specific language about the value of digital projects in its criteria for evaluating scholarship and creative activity:

Within some fields, proceedings and abstracts may be included, as can translations, awarded grants, encyclopedia entries, academic digital resources, and other scholarly and creative works. (emphasis added)

This isn’t exactly what Stéfan Sinclair has in mind when he advised digital humanities scholars to “get it in writing,” but it’s close.

ProfHacker is arguably somewhat hard to categorize, but I feel strongly that we should be at least recognized as an excellent source of the scholarship of teaching and learning, although there’s much, much more to what we do.

How to provide evidence of value? One quantitative metric is to report the number of “followers” we have in social media venues: as I write this ProfHacker has over 5,200 followers on Twitter and over 1,100 on Facebook. I would argue that just as a traditional print journal’s subscription number is a measure of influence, so are these numbers a measure of ProfHacker‘s influence. Another quantitative metric would be pageviews, but we don’t have access to that information from our publisher, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

As to qualitative metrics, we frequently receive praise on Twitter, such as this shout out from the University of Virginia’s Siva Vaidhyanathan:

May 14, 2010

We definitely appreciate feedback like this. A solitary Tweet, however, is probably not going to count for much in a tenure case.

If, however, you were inclined to write a relatively brief email or letter explaining how ProfHacker has been valuable to you, that would be a very helpful addition to an individual ProfHacker’s annual review or tenure packet.

Are you willing and able to do so? Then please send an email to for more information.

Below is an excerpt from a draft of what I’ll be submitting with my tenure packet, and I welcome any feedback you might have:

In collaboration with Jason B. Jones, I am a co-creator and co-­editor of ProfHacker, an online publication featuring 15 writers and providing tips, tutorials, and commentary about pedagogy, productivity, and technology in higher education.

Our goal is to help students, faculty, and staff in academia by making visible the often otherwise invisible rules and traditions of higher education through an open, welcoming, and civil online space for discussions.

We began as an independent website in July of 2009 but were soon approached by a number of commercial entities interested in publishing us. We decided to join the Chronicle of Higher Education because of their wide readership and their offer of complete editorial independence. We went live on their site in April of 2010. We have published 1,500 articles, and our influence is significant. We have amassed over 5,200 followers on Twitter and over 1,100 followers on Facebook. In 2010, the journal Kairos awarded ProfHacker the John Lovas Memorial Weblog award for Best Academic Weblog. At least three online academic projects—Hack Library School, Play the Past, and GradHacker—explicitly cite ProfHacker as an inspiration for their creation.

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