Policy Recommendations VII

Virginia Tech Cyberschool

"Rethinking Faculty Rewards and Loads: Net Work"

Len Hatfield and Timothy W. Luke
Coordinators, Cyberschool
September 10, 1997

During the last meeting of the Spring 1997 semester, the Cyberschool faculty briefly revisited the question of faculty rewards and workloads with regard to their various individual activities in the Cyberschool project. Along with the University Self-Study committees that are addressing these same questions, the Cyberschool faculty agreed that further consideration must be given to these issues as the university encourages faculty to use increasingly more sophisticated technology in conducting their professional work as teachers, scholars, and public servants. This policy recommendations paper is meant to start this reconsideration by suggesting that a new conceptual category is needed to classify, compare, and calculate the outcome of our work with technological enhancements here at Virginia Tech, namely, what we will call provisionally for the lack of a better term at this juncture, "Net Work."

The techniques needed to succeed in the industrial and advanced industrial university of the 1880s through the 1980s were grounded in three fields of practice: research, or work devoted to discovering, discussing, and diffusing new scientific, humanistic, technical, or social knowledge; teaching, or work directed at conveying received knowledges and techniques for creating new knowledge to successive generations of students; and, service, or work divided among different bureaucratic institutional settings in scholarly disciplines, academic departments, university colleges, central administrations, or outreach activities. Most universities allocate their material resources every day to perform these three tasks, and they reward their administrative and academic personnel for finding new ways either to diligently continue this good work or to constantly augment its quality. Virginia Tech's mission statement also centers directly on all three of these activities. Different faculties across campus weight these factors with varying formulae to gauge magnitude, scope, or duration, but at the end of the day at this university everything must be forced to fit into one of these three categories.

Arguably, however, things are changing. The revolutionary effects of information technologies are reordering once-closed, industrial nation-states into more open, informational, transnational marketplaces. In turn, an informationalized university is emerging out of the industrial-era university, and its new modes of work do not easily fit into the three categories of research, teaching, and service. An informational university still does shelter an academic community that does research, teaching, and service, but it increasingly finds them doing this work in new computer-mediated, transdisciplinary cyberspaces in new digitized modes of discourse that inform new clients at home and abroad in addition to its traditional 18-to-22 year student body. This work often simultaneously involves research, teaching, and service, often in newly synthesized forms; these activities frequently exceed all existing disciplinary, departmental, college, and university boundaries; and, these practices all add value to the informational university's new collective investment in computer-mediated communication, digital infostructures, and technologically-delivered services. In other words, the net worth of this Net Work exceeds the existing industrial-era standards of judgment used to measure research, teaching, and service. Therefore, the University needs to accept the new reality of such "Net Work," and then define workable criteria for judging its importance, quality, and impact both inside and outside the university.

For the Cyberschool faculty, Net Work is the labor required to remake the traditional research university of the industrial era from the 1880s to 1980s into a more flexible, responsive informational institution. Computer networks are making entirely new, hypertextual digital discourse an everyday reality. Telecommunication connections are effacing time and space, allowing university courses to be taught synchronously and asynchronously anywhere at any time on demand. World Wide Web sites for the new courses are testing all existing conventions of academic calendars, collegiate residency, credit for contact conventions, tuition and fee payment, library use, and required readings. The work of Virginia Tech faculty is behind these changes, and many of our faculty are working to create new adaptive solutions to these challenges. Partly research, occasionally teaching, sometimes service, this new Net Work is all of these traditional activities and much more.

Research, teaching, and service are accepted as legitimate registers for gauging faculty rewards, because faculty practices in these fields of activity are seen as adding value to the university's prestige, products, and processes. The practices of Net Work, then, need to be judged in a similar fashion. Any systematic consideration of the Net Work of Cyberschool faculty, or any other group of technologically innovative faculty at the university, soon will realize the value-adding qualities of their Net Work. Nonetheless, it is difficult to document all of these practices at this time.

To move this process of documentation forward, we urge the university to consider making the following changes.

First, the university might modify the annual Faculty Activities Report (FAR) to include new categories related to Net Work, which might ask individual faculty members to document their annual contributions to the informationalized, on-line, electronically-enhanced, or digitalized activities of the university as scholars, teachers, or service specialists. This could be either a new additional category, or perhaps a defined sub-categorical factor in the fields of effort related to research, teaching, and service.

Second, department chairs and deans should have this new register of evaluation to consider in their annual discussions of pay raises and progress toward promotions. This would permit everyone to define and discuss how much Net Work is suitable in planning any individual faculty member's workload.

Third, promotion and tenure committees need to consider the importance and weight of Net Work in future promotion and tenure proceedings in combination with more traditional research, teaching, and service. Having a factor to measure Net Work in research, teaching, and service, or creating a new overall Net Work category, would help.

Fourth, a new structure of awards, prizes, and perhaps even an Academy of Net Work Excellence should be constructed to recognize and reward truly remarkable innovative efforts at Net Work at the university. These changes would take time and effort, but they would help many get the recognition they deserve.

Finally, discussions ought to begin about modifying the faculty handbook to acknowledge how Net Work is becoming an integral part of many individuals' careers, most departments' collective efforts, and the university's forward-looking plans. Again, these changes should be aimed at enhancing existing handbook regulations by simply giving recognition and weight to Net Work. Once these changes are made in the existing faculty reward structures, it should be much easier to motivate still more faculty to participate actively in these far-reaching institutional changes.

Accepting such reformulations of existing administrative categories used to describe faculty workloads and rewards would, at the same time, lead to several useful outcomes, including,

Better Institutional Accounting: Realizing that the processes of remaking the university as an informational institution are more than just more research, teaching, and service could create more effective categories for counting and measuring the faculty Net Work , which runs outside of these boxes, much more accurately.

Clearer Reward Structures: Stating that Net Work is essential, and then rewarding those who do it a great deal and/or do it well would clarify the very murky criteria used for rewarding or not rewarding these institutional change activities as they have been used up to this point.

New Career Ladders: Admitting that everyone is not going to be a top notch researcher, top level teacher, or top drawer service specialist gives faculty another target for attaining excellence in an area of vital work that the university now claims is central to its mission.

Effective Work Assignments: Declaring that the informational restructuring of the university is a real and permanent goal, rather than another passing rhetorical maneuver, should promote better planning by this administration, would lead to more efficient personnel assignments inside various university units, and could position the university's efforts at redefining faculty rewards and workloads as a new benchmark for other institutions to emulate.

Net Work, however, should not be thought of solely as adopting and applying new technology. This is necessary, but it is not by itself sufficient. Net Work is the increased productivity and effectiveness that comes out of new networks of people and technology working inside and outside of the university across all existing departmental, collegiate, and disciplinary divides to improve the work that we all perform: Net Work, research work, teaching work, and service work. If the university is intent upon remaking itself through such technological innovations, and if it wants to attain a unique position of international excellence with this sort of informational restructuring, then it needs to acknowledge, legitimate, and reward the Net Work of the many innovative Net Workers leading the way into these changes. Such recognition should not displace or eclipse the on-going efforts of talented researchers, inspiring teachers, or service specialists. On the contrary, recognizing and rewarding innovative and important Net Work among the faculty should only add new possibilities to the matrix of possible rewards for individual faculty as they build their careers at Virginia Tech.