Kenneth W. Mentor, J.D., Ph.D.
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Link to HomeLink to CoursesLink to WebsitesLink to ScholarshipLink to Contact information The Potential for Internet Scholarship

Kenneth W. Mentor, J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Criminology
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Published in The Critical Criminologist, 12(3).

The Division's website ( continues to grow, but has struggled to reach its full potential. Our hope is that the site will become a valuable tool in our efforts to educate students and policymakers about alternative ways of looking at justice. The site is currently being rebuilt, providing an opportunity for improvement. This essay includes ideas about the direction of the site, a discussion of the philosophy of the site, and an invitation to become involved.

The site has been active for three years. The site builds on the vision of Jim Thomas, who founded and built the original site and served as the first webmaster. The site currently averages over 4000 unique visitors per month. Some visitors stay for an extended period, the majority stay for just a few minutes. It is not unusual for visitors who find the site through a web search to quickly leave. However, we hope to create a site that engages visitors who are willing to take the time to learn more about the issues raised throughout the site.

Internet Scholarship

The redesign of the site is more than a rearrangement of material. Many websites, even those claiming to be educational, accomplish little more than information transfer. "Content" is often limited to a list of links. From the beginning, the Division's website has included full text articles and other relatively rich content. In rebuilding the site we have the opportunity to continue to provide valuable material while looking for ways to encouraging interaction, critical thinking, and active learning.

"Scholarship Revisited," by Ernest Boyer (1990), serves as a guide in our efforts to reconceptualize the website. Boyer encouraged academics to consider a range of activities in their definitions of "scholarship." His recommendations resulted in alterations, at least on paper, of the criteria used to determine faculty merit. Boyer's definition of scholarship includes four overlapping activities. These activities include: Discovery, which is the creation and sharing of knowledge; Integration, which provides meaning by placing knowledge into context; Application, which includes active engagement with society, and; Teaching, which includes efforts to help others gain understanding.

The internet provides an opportunity to integrate these scholarly activities through the building of a learning community centered on a vision of faculty, students, and policymakers working together to reach shared goals. Participants in this community would take on new roles. The faculty member's primary role shifts from delivering content to designing learning environments and experiences. The student changes from a passive observer to a learner who experiences active exploration and engagement. The policymaker shifts from a consumer of information to an active knowledge builder who understands the context, and consequences, of policy choices.

Theorists have debated whether the internet allows users a greater ability to participate in, and influence, society. Arguably, this level of participation would enable users to create online communities in which users have relatively high levels of control over the activity of the community (Barlow, 1995; Rheingold, 1993; and Talbot 1996). We see this idea being played out as we examine the amount of activist activity being coordinated through the internet.

It seems safe to assume that critical criminologists would be quick to adopt an empowering and egalitarian tool in their efforts to work collectively to alter the justice system. To date, we have not been particularly successful at building our online community. A few extended online discussions, and the adoption of site materials for a few classes, provide glimmers of hope. However, in most cases our efforts have been restricted to information transfer.

Building a Learning Community

The following list includes suggestions for content and activity that could lead to the development of an active learning community. Boyer's categories are used to help organize the ideas.


-          Publication of working papers

-          Online collaboration and editing of works in progress

-          Publication of pieces in which copyright allows online publication

-          Data collection through online surveys or other processes

-          Development of collaborative work groups who would use the site for virtual meetings and the collection and organization of materials

-          Development of a peer reviewed online journal


-          Praxis

-          Policy analysis

-          Examples of policies that "work"

-          Discussion of the interaction of policy and race, gender, and other factors

-          Discussion and web activities that highlight the policy implications of research

-          Data regarding impacts and consequences of policy choices


-          Community organizing

-          Research assistance

-          Expand division involvement beyond academic borders

-          Collaboration with other groups


-          Course outlines

-          Collections of essays that serve as replacements for supplementary (and expensive) course materials

-          Online activities that may be freely adopted by others

-          Collaborative teaching

-          Guest lectures

-          Teaching Forum

-          Online teaching portfolios

This is clearly not an exhaustive list. The redesign of the site provides a chance to "brainstorm" about various ideas. Let me know if you have suggestions. The mechanics of site design are not especially difficult - the problem is content. The site continues to include requests for content. These requests are being reduced as I fill the page or find "page editors" who take responsibility for a small section of the site. Ideally, the site would feature the work of, and be used by, many division members.


The site is one of the Division's primary tools for providing information that engages students and others. Unlike the journal, newsletter, and listserv, this site reaches people who stumble upon the site. There are ways to increase the chance that people will find the site and stick around once they get there. However, without content, it is difficult to build a site that will educate and enlighten site visitors. Division members are encouraged to develop pages, offer essays, class activities, websites that result from student assignments, and use the site for their classes.

Finally, what kind of activities would define us as a community of online scholars? I hope you will help us examine this question as the Division's site is rebuilt. Please visit the site, reflect on the potential, and provide feedback.


Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


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