Modern Times: A Quick Note on Editorial and Peer Review Work in Accelerated Publish-or-Perish Academic Cultures

Les temps modernes, by Pierre Metivier.  CC BY-NC
Les temps modernes, by Pierre Metivier. CC BY-NC

As the Editor-in-Chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship I receive via email the author queries sent via the journal’s contact form. The most frequent query is about the time it takes to get a decision and get published. It is quite telling about current academic publishing cultures that the how-soon-can-I-expect-to-get-published query outnumbers by far any queries seeking clarifications on the journal’s scope, peer review processes or journal guidelines.

Given that only today I received three different queries on the same subject, I’ve decided to document here a summary of my own personal editorial position on article processing times, and therefore on what I believe should ideally motivate authors to submit to the journal.

At The ComicsGrid, the estimated processing times information is publicly available in the relevant section in the journal at https://www.comicsgrid.com/about/submissions/. Hopefully that section provides enough information.

It’s worth saying again that processing times depend on a variety of factors (quality of the submission, adherence to guidelines, availability of peer reviewers, availability of editors, availability of authors to do revisions, copyediting, proofing; workload of typesetters and manuscript layout complexity, etc). These factors play out on an ad hoc basis and cannot be easily predicted nor guaranteed.

In my own editorial experience, the submissions to The Comics Grid that are more likely to get accepted relatively more quickly tend to be those that are submitted to the journal motivated by an interest in contributing relevant content to the journal, rather than those that are submitted under pressure or somehow motivated by an expectation of faster processing times.

As a researcher myself I totally understand and empathise with the pressures imposed by a publish-or-perish academic culture. Also as a researcher, I do fully understand the frustration that review and editorial decision waiting times can cause.

As both researchers and editors, the editorial team and pool of reviewers always-already aim for a professional, efficient, fair and relatively rapid peer review process, but this ‘rapidity’ is indeed relative and variable. However, we at The Comics Grid do seek to collaboratively develop a peer-reviewed journal where articles can be carefully, expertly and fairly considered. Apart from the required expertise, the main necessary resource to achieve that goal successfully is, I’m afraid, time.

We are very grateful to all authors who have considered The Comics Grid for a future submission.

Tweeting in an Age of Overwhelming Information Overload and Increased Workloads

tl;dr

Twitter is no longer niche as it once was. How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics? In this post I bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter. You can scroll down and skim if you want.


 [PhD Comics, August 21 2014]
[PhD Comics, August 21 2014]
Motivation for this post

I‘ve been asked to become a “social media champion” for my school. I think it’s cool there’s an interest in embracing social media more widely, organically and effectively.

The past

Things have changed significantly since Sarah and I started touring the UK in 2011 giving social media workshops for academics with Networked Researcher (RIP), and, indeed my own personal and professional views on Twitter have evolved along the way- what we call “social media” is no longer a niche, defined region of the Internet and the Web, but as mainstream as it can possibly get, reaching a relevance and centrality in today’s information and technological sphere that is yet to be surpassed.

I wrote dozens of blog posts for a variety of international platforms (some long extinct) in the distant past (2011-2013) on academic Twitter use, including the following pieces that got published by the Guardian Higher Education Network.

If you click on the links and read the articles, please do take them with a grain of salt and historical perspective as things have evolved significantly since. I would write them differently today (also; headlines were the Guardian’s, not mine).

This tour down memory lane has also reminded of this blog post that I wrote for Altmetric in 2013 on “Strategies to Get your Research Mentioned Online“. It needs rewriting now.

(By the way, remember this LSE Impact Blog November 2013 post by Alan Cann on academic blogging going mainstream?)

Sharing these links here again as context and in case it’s of historical interest.

Those were the days. We were young. We thought everything was possible. (It still is, albeit in a completely different way!).

The present moment

How to think of academic tweeting in an age of overwhelming information overload and increased workloads? How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics?

I cannot go in great detail here, but I thought I’d try to bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter.

  • Twitter needs to be taken seriously. In spite of its ill-repute, it is an influential public platform for the dissemination of information. Precisely what information we disseminate on it is each user’s responsibility.
  • No one uses Twitter in the exact same way. Twitter is always-already experienced differently by each and every user. There are therefore no straight-forward rules. Most users learn along the way. An experienced Twitter user is more likely to use Twitter better than an inexperienced Twitter user who has read all the social media policies, terms and conditions and ethical guidelines available. An experienced Twitter user who has read all those documents will be an even better user, but that’s a personal view.
  • The default Twitter web client and the Twitter mobile app are not the right tools for busy people who are expected to author “content”. If you are busy, are already doubtful Twitter can deliver quality information, and feel being asked to tweet as an annoying imposition or a waste of time, there are no worse tools to start doing it than those.
  • For new users it may look daunting, but I totally recommended using TweetDeck to those academics being asked to manage a work account and/or wishing to be more effective locating and monitoring relevant accounts and content. TweetDeck is a free web-based application owned by Twitter. There is no mobile version. To use TweetDeck you will need a Twitter account. How to use TweetDeck guidance here.
  • In general, I think tweeting from your mobile phone for work is a bad idea- unless there’s no other choice, you are at a conference without space to place or plug your laptop, etc.
  • Before you start tweeting for work it helps to have clarity of purpose. Do not think of Twitter as an instant messaging service; think of it as a public publishing platform. What is it you need to communciate? To whom? Why? When? How?
  • Everyone and their dog is on Twitter. (And yet… so many aren’t so far). How will you become visible? Before joining Twitter, make a list of people and organisations you want to be visible to. Think of it as your Twitter contact list or address book.
  • Search for your stakeholders on Twitter via TweetDeck and create a list with a descriptive name. The more specific the list the better. You can have different lists. On Tweetdeck, you can get a column per list, where you will only see, if desired, tweets by those accounts you have added in your list. Think of it as an email folder for which you have created rules.
  • You don’t have to have a column for your timeline, where you would see everyone you follow. These days, to use your main Twitter timeline as your main way of monitoring Twitter is frankly inefficient, also because regardless of what your settings are the algorithm will prioritise some content over others and it will not be first posted first. We need to try to beat the relevance algorithm and curate our own dedicated timelines.
  • If your goal is to use Twitter to communicate the work you or your organisation does, you can schedule tweets in advance on TweetDeck. This means you don’t need to be on Twitter all the time. You don’t have to tweet in real time.
  • If you blog, make sure you add a social media sharing widget so that your posts get tweeted automatically when you publish. Make sure your site’s readers can share your posts on social media easily- customise the sharing widgets so the share text generated includes a mention of your username (e.g. “[Post title] [URL] via @ernestopriego“).
  • Systematically share what you publish or deposit in your open access institutional or data repository. If you don’t share your own work, who will?
  • Twitter is social, so it won’t work well if you only broadcast your own content. Even if your intention is to mainly broadcast what you or your organisation does, having columns of your stakeholders will allow you to check those columns at an appropriate time and see fewer tweets (more manageable) but potentially they will be more relevant because you have more carefully/strictly curated the sources in that timeline in advance.
  • Have a column for your notifications, and acknowledge positive feedback whenever you can. Often there’s no need to reply, ‘liking’ a reply suffices these days a an acknowledgement and it can go a long way. You are busy and others know it because they are busy too, but still appreciate a nudge of appreciation.
  • No user is an island. Create continents and archipielagos, build bridges.
  • Retweet what you find interesting or useful, support causes or themes you advocate, but avoid amplifying discord or bad vibes (those are, I’m aware, relative).
  • Include the disclaimers “RTs and likes are not endorsements” in your bio, to be safe. Avoid/do not RT tweets you wouldn’t have tweeted originally yourself (ask yourself: would I have published this for the world to see? By retweeting it, you are doing just that), including those tweets with links to content you have not checked before. Check and read links before retweeting/tweeting them.

In a way these same strategies have already been in practice for a while. They are not new. If anything, the pressing realities of employment in a digital age mean we need to be more drastically pragmatic and strategic.

I realise there’s way more I have to say about this, but I have surpassed the 1000 word count so I will have to leave it there. Thanks for reading, if you did.

This was January-August 2019 at The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship

Comics Grid logo

Here’s a listing of the articles we have published so far in 2019 in the journal (our 9th volume!) until the 30th of August 2019.

Research

Lipenga, K.J., 2019. The New Normal: Enfreakment in Saga. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.2. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.161

Davies, P.F., 2019. New Choices of the Comics Creator. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.3. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.153

Grant, P., 2019. The Board and the Body: Material Constraints and Style in Graphic Narrative. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.4. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.145

del Rey Cabero, E., 2019. Beyond Linearity: Holistic, Multidirectional, Multilinear and Translinear Reading in Comics. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.5. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.137

McGovern, M. and Eve, M.P., 2019. Information Labour and Shame in Farmer and Chevli’s Abortion Eve. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.6. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.158

Hornsby, I., 2019. …Comic Books, Möbius Strips, Philosophy and…. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.7. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.151

Pickering, T., 2019. Diabetes Year One. Drawing my Pathography: Comics, Poetry and the Medical Self. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.8. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.147

Hagan, R.J., 2019. Touch Me/Don’t Touch Me: Representations of Female Archetypes in Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.9. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.148

Misemer, L., 2019. A Historical Approach to Webcomics: Digital Authorship in the Early 2000s. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.10. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.162

Tan, X., 2019. Guoxue Comics: Visualising Philosophical Concepts and Cultural Values through Sequential Narratives. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.149

Austin, H.J., 2019. “That Old Black Magic”: Noir and Music in Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.12. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.156

Kottas, L. and Schwarzenbacher, M., 2019. The Comic at the Crossroads: The Semiotics of ‘Voodoo Storytelling’ in The Hole: Consumer Culture Vol. 1. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.13. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.150 

Dodds, N., 2019. The Practice of Authentication: Adapting Pilgrimage from Nenthead into a Graphic Memoir. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.14. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.154

Review

Evans, J., 2019. Challenging Adaptation Studies: A Review of Comics and Adaptation. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.159

Commentary

Christmas, S., 2019. The Citi Exhibition Manga マンガ (British Museum, 2019). The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1), p.15. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.181

Creating Comics, Creative Comics

As you can see from the list above for us in the journal this year has had a strong focus on the Special Collection: Creating Comics, Creative Comics.

The collection expands on the themes of the symposium held in June 2018 at the University of South Wales, Cardiff.

Edited by Geraint D’Arcy (University of South Wales),  Brian Fagence (University of South Wales) and Yours Truly (City, University of London), this collection seeks to explore the dilemmas and potentials of construction and creation, ideology and authorship, philosophies and embodiment, histories and practices. It’s been both a pleasure and an honour to collaborate with Geraint and Brian and all the authors and reviewers.

Articles published in this collection are listed at https://www.comicsgrid.com/collections/special/creating-comics-creative-comics/ .

More articles to come!

Please note that we are currently closed for submissions until 1st November 2019. Please keep an eye on Twitter and our journal web site for news. We are currently working in drafting our new Call for Papers with revised guidelines.

If you are interested in submitting work for review or you just want to find out more about the journal, or catch up with all our previous volumes, please do click on https://www.comicsgrid.com/!

We always need academic reviewers. If you would like to become a peer reviewer, please register, including enough details of your areas of expertise, at https://www.comicsgrid.com/author/register/reviewer/.

 

Oligopolies of Knowledge, {Digital Humanities} and Open Access: Looking at Scopus from the Global South… [form the North]

Oligopolies of Knowledge, {Digital Humanities} and Open Access: Looking at Scopus from the Global South… [form the North]

 

To download and cite the slides: Priego, Ernesto (2019): Oligopolies of Knowledge, {Digital Humanities} and Open Access: Looking at Scopus from the Global South… [form the North]. figshare. Presentation. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8850863

Presentation for P-11: Society, Media, Politics, Engagement Time: Wednesday, 10/Jul/2019: 4:00pm – 5:30pm Session Chair: Amelia Sanz DH2019 Conference, Utrecht, the Netherlands. Location: Pandora Zaal Part of the panel: Twining Digital Humanities and Humanidades Digitales: A set of actual experiences from the South.

All the slides from the panel can be viewed and/or downloaded and cited from:

Fiormonte, Domenico; Numerico, Teresa; Priego, Ernesto; Rodríguez-ortega, Nuria; Sanz, Amelia; Sapiera, Eugenia (2019): Twining Digital Humanities and Humanidades Digitales: A Set of Actual Experiences from the South [Slides]. figshare. Presentation. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8874998

Thoughts on University Module Evaluation

Update: I have now deposited a slightly revised version of this text (that has already gone various versions since its original publication) at figshare as

Priego, Ernesto (2019): Recommendations for University Module Evaluation Policies. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8236607

Also available at City Research Online: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/22318/

[Frequent readers will know I have a long-standing interest in scholarly communications, metrics and research assessment. The post below fits within my academic research practice, this time focusing on teaching evaluation (“module evaluation” in UK parlance). For an older post on metrics and research asssessment, for example, see this post from June 30 2014. As all of my work here this post is shared in a personal capacity and it does not represent in any way the views of colleagues or employers. I share these ideas here as a means to contribute publicly to a larger scholarly dialogue which is not only inter-disciplinary but inter-institutional and international].

 

tl; dr

This post discusses the limitations of University Module Evaluation processes and shares a series of  recommendations that could improve their design and implementation. The post concludes that regardless of staff gender, age, academic position or ethnic background, no metric or quantitative indicator should be used without thoughtful, qualitative social and organisational context awareness and unconscious bias awareness. The post concludes there is a need to eliminate the use of Module Evaluation metrics in appointment and promotion considerations.

 

Module Evaluation

“Module evaluation” refers to the process in which students feedback, assess and rate their academic studies and the quality of teaching on the module (in other countries “modules” might be known as courses or subjects). Below I  discuss the limitations of Module Evaluation processes and sharesa series of recommendations that I hope could improve their design and implementation.

On “Potential Bias”

Research has shown how internationally “potential bias” against gender and ethnic minorities is real. Holland has described how

“different treatment of male and female staff is increasingly well evidenced: some studies have found that students may rate the same online educators significantly higher if perceived as male compared to female (MacNell, Driscoll, and Hunt 2015), while other studies have shown that students can make more requests of and expect a greater level of nurturing behaviour from females compared to males, penalising those who do not comply (El-Alayli, Hansen-Brown, and Ceynar 2018)” (Holland 2019).

Research has also suggested “that bias may decrease with better representation of minority groups in the university workforce” (Shepherd et al 2019). However, even if an institution, school or department has good staff representation of (some) minority groups in some areas, it would be important that a policy went beyond mandating support for staff from minority groups to prepare for promotion. The way to tackle bias is not necessarily by giving more guidance and support to minority staff, but by re-addressing the data collection tools and the assessment of the resulting indicators and its practical professional and psychological consequences for staff.

As discussed above the cause for lower scores might be related to the bias implicit in the evaluation exercise itself. Arguably, lower scores can in many cases be explained not by the lecturer’s lack of skills or opportunities, but by other highly influential circumstances beyond the lecturer’s control, such as cultural attitudes to specific minority groups, demographic composition of specific student cohorts, class size, state of facilities where staff teach, etc.

In my view Universities need policies that clearly state that ME scores should not to be used as unequivocal indicators of a member of staff’s performance. The fact that the scores are often perceived by staff (correctly or incorrectly) to be used as evidence of one’s performance, that those indicators will be used as evidence in promotion processes, can indeed be a deterrent for those members of staff to apply for promotion. It can also play a role in the demoralisation of staff.

 

On Student Staff Ratios (SSR), Increased Workloads and Context Awareness

University Module Evaluation policies could be improved by acknowledging that workload and Student Staff Ratios are perceived to have an effect on the student experience and therefore on ME scores.

Though there is a need for more recent and UK-based research regarding the impact of class size and SSR on ME, higher education scholars such as McDonald are clear that

“research testifies to the fact that student satisfaction is not entirely dependent on small class sizes, a view particularly popular in the 1970s and late twentieth century (Kokkelenberg et al.,2008). Having said that, recent literature (post-2000) on the issue is focused heavily on the detrimental impact raised SSRs has on students, teachers and teaching and learning in general. The Bradley Review of higher education in Australia was just one ‘voice’ amongst many in the international arena, arguing that raised SSRs are seriously damaging to students and teachers alike” (McDonald 2013).

Module Evaluation policies should take into account current settings in Higher Education in relation to student attitudes to educational practices, including expectations of students today, communication expectations established by VLEs, mobile Internet, email and social media.

Raised SSRs do create higher workload for lecturers and have required new workload models. Raised SSRs imply that lecturers may not be able to meet those expectations and demands, or be forced to stretch their personal resources to the maximum, endangering their wellbeing beyond all reasonable sustainability. As I discussed in my previous post (Priego 2019) the recent HEPI Report on Mental Health in Higher Education shows “a big increase in the number of university staff accessing counselling and occupational health services”, with “new workload models” and “more directive approaches to performance management” as the two main factors behind this rise (Morish 2019).

Module Evaluation policies could do well to recognise that time is a finite resource, and that raised SSRs mean that a single lecturer will not be able to allocate the same amount of time to each student if there were lower SSRs. Raised SSRs also mean that institutions struggle to find enough appropriate rooms for lectures, which can also lead to lower scores as they impact negatively the student experience.

 

Who is being evaluated in multi-lecturer modules?

As part of context awareness, it is essential any interpretation of ME scores takes into account that various modules are delivered by a team of lecturers and often TAs and visiting lecturers. However, in practice the ME questionnaires are standardised and often outsourced and designed with individual session leaders in mind and generic settings that may not apply to the institution, school, department, module or session which is the setting and objective of the evaluation.

Regardless of clarification in the contrary, students often evaluate the lecturer they have in front of them that specific day in which they complete the questionnaires, not necessarily the whole team, and if they do the questionnaire’s data collection design does not allow for distinguishing what member of staff students had in mind.

Hence module leaders of large modules can arguably be penalised doubly at least, first by leading complex modules taught to many students, and second by being assessed for the performance of a group of peers, not themselves alone. Any truly effective ME Policy would need to address the urgent need to periodically revise and update MEQ’s design in consultation with the academic staff that would be evaluated with those instruments. Given who mandates the evaluations and their role in other assessment exercises such as rankings or league tables, a user-centred approach to designing module evaluation questionnaires/surveys seems sadly unlikely, but who knows.

 

Module Evaluation scores are more than just about staff performance

As we all know teaching is never disconnected from its infrastructural context. Room design, location, temperature, state of the equipment, illumination, level of comfort of the seats and tables, and importantly, the timing (stage in the teaching term, day of the week, time of the day, how many MEQs students have completed before, whether examinations or coursework deadlines are imminent or not) have a potential effect on the feedback given by students. ME policies would be more effective by acknowledging that academic staff do not teach in a vacuum and that many factors that might affect negatively the evaluation scores may have in fact very little to do with a member of staff’s actual professional performance.

Module Evaluation assessment done well

Members of staff potentially benefit from discussing their evaluation scores during appraisal sessions, where they can provide qualitative self-assessments of their own performance in relation to their academic practice teaching a module, get peer review and co-design strategies for professional development with their appraiser.

When done well, module evaluation scores and their discussion can help academics learn from what went well, what could go even better, what did not go as well (or went badly), interrogate the causes, and co-design strategies for improvement.

However, any assessment of module evaluation scores should be done in a way that takes into consideration a whole set of contextual issues around the way the data is collected. How to address this issue? Better designed data collection tools could address it, but it  would also be much welcome if module evaluation policies stated that scores should never be taken verbatim as unequivocal indicators of an academic’s performance.

In Conclusion…

University Module Evaluation policies should acknowledge module evaluation scores can be potentially useful for staff personal professional development, particularly if the the data collection mechanisms have been co-designed with staff with experience in the evaluated practice within the context of a specific institution, and the discussion takes place within productive, respectful, and sensitive appraisal sessions.

Policies should acknowledge that, as indicators, the evaluation scores never tell the whole story and, depending on the way the data is collected and quantified, the numbers can present an unreliable and potentially toxic picture. The objective of the evaluation should be to be a means to improve what can be improved within a specific context, not a measure of surveillance and repression that can potentially affect more negatively those who are already more likely to be victims of both conscious and unconscious bias or working within already-difficult circumstances.

Regardless of staff gender, age, academic position or ethnic background, no metric or quantitative indicator should be used without social and organisational context awareness and unconscious bias awareness.

To paraphrase the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, I would argue there is a “need to eliminate the use of [Module Evaluation] metrics in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations” [DORA 2012-2018].

 

References

Fan Y, Shepherd LJ, Slavich E, Waters D, Stone M, et al. (2019) Gender and cultural bias in student evaluations: Why representation matters. PLOS ONE 14(2): e0209749.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209749

Holland, E. P. (2019) Making sense of module feedback: accounting for individual behaviours in student evaluations of teaching, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:6, 961-972, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1556777

McDonald, G. (2013). “Does size matter? The impact of student-staff ratios”. Journal of higher education policy and management (1360-080X), 35 (6), p. 652. http://0-www.tandfonline.com.wam.city.ac.uk/loi/cjhe20

Morish, L. (23 May 2019). Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff , HEPI Occasional Paper 20. Available from https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2019/05/23/new-report-shows-big-increase-in-demand-for-mental-health-support-among-higher-education-staff/ [Accessed 6 June 2019].

Priego, E. (30/05/2019) Awareness, Engagement and Overload – The Roles We All Play. Available at https://epriego.blog/2019/05/30/awareness-engagement-and-overload-the-roles-we-play/ [Accessed 6 June 2019]

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (2012-2018) https://sfdora.org/ [Accessed 6 June 2019]

 


[This post is shared in a personal capacity and does not represent in any way the views of colleagues or employers. I share these ideas here as a means to contribute publicly to a larger scholarly dialogue which is not only inter-disciplinary but inter-institutional and international].

[…and yes, if you noticed the typo in the URL, thank you, we noticed it belatedly too but cannot change it now as the link had already been publicly shared.]

 

Openness, Transparency, Accountability: On New Ways of Being Scholarly

 

Mural para la promoción de la transparencia en una escuela pública de La Ceiba (Honduras). David Puig
Public School in La Ceiba, Honduras. Photo by David Puig

 

“Universities are what Foucault [1986] called heterotopias -spaces where a better future can be represented. (Heterotopia is the nice word for “not the real world”). One might be to take the heterotopia of the university as a desirable model for an equitable society rather than a laughable site of cloistered privilege.”

-Toby Miller (2012: 118)

 

I first read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) in Spanish, as an English literature undergraduate student in Mexico City. It was at the university library that I stumbled upon it. I left the blue Oxford Anthology of English Literature volume II to one side and started reading.

I now own a second-hand copy of the 1996 English edition, published by Penguin Education in paperback. The back cover reads:

In this landmark account, first published over twenty years ago, Paulo Freire argues that the ignorance and lethargy of the poor are the direct result of the whole situation of economic, social and political domination. By beint kept in a situation in which is practically impossible to achieve critical awareness and response the disadvantaged are kept ‘submerged’. In some countries, the oppressors use the system of education to maintain this ‘culture of silence’, while in others the advance of technology has condemned  many people, particularly the less well off, to a rigid comformity. […]”

This blurb, written in the early 1990s for a book first published in 1970, refers to some of the key issues that sum up both the background and the consequences of the situation I’d like to briefly address today:

  • ignorance and lethargy of the disadvantaged
  • a situation of economic and social domination
  • practical impossibility of achieving critical awareness and response
  • the disadvantaged are kept submerged
  • the system of education as a means to maintain a ‘culture of silence’
  • the advance of technology condemining many to a rigid comformity

The issues above are still pretty much in full effect today, not only at the most basic levels of education or in developing countries, but in Higher Education and around the globe, including what we call ‘developed countries’ of the Global North. The huge disparities with scholarly systems both foster and perpetuate a system that seems to resist more tranformative, equitable change. This is perhaps best exemplified by the challenges faced by scholarly associations as key components of how Higher Education operates.

I have been an on-and-off member of academic email listservs and professional and scholarly associations for more than 20 years now. I still remember clearly the first time I ‘surfed’ the World Wide Web, and the first time, before that, that I sent an email. I remember the excitement of feeling empowered- for me and to many others, the Internet and the World Wide Web represented the possibility of doing things yourself in a more efficient and more global manner. For those of us who developed a political identity aided by punk and other subcultures, Doing It Yourself was an ethos that seemed naturally amplified by the Web. If you had made and posted (mailed out) fanzines before the Internet, message boards, listservs and blogging were a dream made true.

It wasn’t only the feasibility of nearly-immediate global communication, the Web was not merely a new channel, but an invitation to do things differently. In science and research, Open Access was a logical consequence to the freedom that online publishing could mean– what seemed like a more direct access to the means of scholarly publishing was an invitation to not only publish scholarly content differently (i.e., disseminate it differently), but to do research differently.

That initial enthusiasm was somewhat naïve. We hadn’t counted with how disruptive new technologies would be to previous ways of being and doing, and particularly to established ways to maintain privilege and make money. It soon became clear that projects could not rely only on volunteer labour, and that there was sheer inequality embedded in platforms that relied on user generated content- some provided the work for free, others, often almost invisibly, profitted from it. Working for free -or for a delayed financial reward, as an investment- is a privilege, one whose foundations lie in many others who are disadvantaged.

This leads me to scholarly associations. One of their biggest challenges lies in the structural inequality that academia is made of. Individuals may have an interest in common, but this does not mean they share the same context, and this includes both privileges and disadvantages. Scholarly societies, like academic journals, have been often brilliant examples of academic self-organisation, but this self-organisation has traditionally relied on volunteer labour.

This free or volunteer scholarly labour (many times of the much-dreaded administrative-but-essential type) takes time in real time and place, and what is at stake for each individual can be significantly different. Differences in seniority within scholarly groups also mean that not everyone is equally empowered to participate in the same ways. So it’s not only a question of who can afford the time and space to volunteer work for scholarly associations (for example doing peer review, or as an acting officer within the association’s struture), but of who is encouraged and empowered enough to participate actively and critically, in order to contribute to the association’s growth. Structural differences re: who has power and who doesn’t determines who participates in which ways, who remains merely ‘submerged’, as numbers to justify and metricate others’ power, and do create and postergate cultures of fear and silence.

It is difficult and time consuming to implement, but in any organisation that aspires to call itself ‘fair’ members should have a voice and that voice should be not only heard but recognised and addressed transparently and respectfully. When associations charge a membership fee, whether we like it or not the stakes are higher:  there has to be not only the right for members to voice concerns, but for them to ask questions and to expect transparency and accountability from those leading or taking key decisions on behalf of stakeholders.

Often, members pay their fees at great personal expense, and deserve to contribute to (and yes, even disagree with) any decision-making that affects the association, even if they are not part of committees. In the context of widely spread precarious labour in academia, paying a fee is perhaps one of the most essential ways of contributing to an association, and a paying member’s feedback should be taken seriously and respectfully.

The way in which it’s done will vary depending on the size of the organisations, but some issues in which paying members of organisations should be transparently informed of and consulted about in a timely manner (that is, when there’s still time to change anything) include, but are not limited to:

  • Wording and application of bylaws
  • All financial matters, how and when funds are allocated for what; who receives how much when and what for
  • Partnerships with other organisations
  • Conference matters, from CFPs drafting to practical matters of location, registration costs, keynote speakers, etc.
  • Scholarly communication strategies, including choice of publishers, journals, dissemination models, licensing, pricing, social media policies, etc.

All the important decisions cannot be taken while the majority is busy doing other work. And sometimes everyone is so busy that there’s no time to even engage after decisions are taken. It is easier to just go with the flow because engagement takes time and energy, both highly valuable resources that have been systemically made scarce. Toby Miller explained how in academia it is workers with minimal agency what “permits the top to exist.” Their labour, Miller argued, “comprises the conditions of possibility for research academia to flourish: almost invisible, casualized employees allow the institutions where they work to be concrete” (Miller 2015). This is indeed also the case for scholarly or professional associations.

Scholarly associations often depend on members coming forward and making themselves available to perform specific duties, but we must never forget that being able to participate ‘actively’ in one of those roles requires from specific preconditions. To be able to participate in a role is a privilege, and it is also an honour, and a responsibility. Because playing an active role in an association can be a poisoned chalice, not everyone is willing to come forward and participate more directly as part of committees. But there are more complex reasons why  fewer colleagues volunteer to participate in leading organisational structures. Sometimes it is a question of honest lack of time, sometimes it’s lack of experience, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes there is a glass ceiling.

In a democracy, a key duty as citizens is to observe the law and vote for our representatives. It is not acceptable for someone in government to respond to citizen feedback with a “you should have run for councilor/representative/governor/president!”. In a scholarly association, we need to understand that some members will not be able to participate as, say, treasurers but still be able to keep an eye on the finances by asking questions and expecting responses from those in charge, particularly (but not only) if those in charge were elected by the membership.

If there is not a lot of active participation from the membership in terms of helping shape an organisation’s scholarly culture, policies, practices, we must look into the reasons for this perceived passivity, and try to foster more engagement through strategies that recognise the diversity of the membership’s contexts. The lack of more active engagement in procedural matters cannot be an excuse for opaque decision-making and the concentration of authority in a limited group.

It is an embarrassment that bullying keeps on being a mode of engagement in Higher Education (Devlin and Marsh 2018). Bullying becomes structural both because and when there are cultures of silence, and when those in power are effectively unaccountable. Bullying thrives when authority is unaccountable and when decision-making takes place behind closed doors. The diversity of ages, roles and levels of seniority in Higher Education does not have to be an excuse to keep those who are more disadvantaged or junior for different reasons to remain ‘submerged’ and to tacitly force them to accept a ‘rigid comformity’ that only benefits those already in power and authority. We need to start by acknowledging the importance of conducting ourselves transparently and with accountability. This means not ignoring critical feedback from colleagues, no matter how junior, and this includes truly acknowledging issues and sincerely addressing them honestly and as directly and publicly as possible.

I belong to a generation that grew up reacting against political corruption, censorship and dictatorial policies. The concentration of privilege in a happy few who insist on remaining unaccountable by strictly discretional, opaque decision-making should be undesirable to all of us today as it was then. Why would we accept in scholarly circles what we do not accept in politics?

Long gone should be the days (did they ever really exist as such?) in which it was acceptable to quietly sit back and let others steer the ship. Everyone on board has a role to play, and everyone should have a right to voice concerns respectfully– for this there should be appropriate, transparent guidelines and channels. If we aspire to work towards a fairer academia, we need to work harder at learning to listen to feedback, and to address it accordingly.

This has been said again and again (if you’ve been listening), but we still need o learn to interrogate our own privilege, and the cost that privilege has, and who is currently paying that cost. If you are in a position of power within an scholarly association, and a member asks you a question publicly, do not ignore it: do not take personal offense and address the question publicly. It’s the least we can do. We can only achieve critical self-awareness if we don’t close ourselves to questions. We need other, newer ways of being scholarly.

Toby Miller’s vision for the university of an heterotopia as a model for an equitable society requires the transparency and openness we expect from other organsiations today. Sadly, as we continue seeing on various fronts (perhaps most poignantly in a case like this), transparency and publicness are not yet enough to elicit true accountability. But it’s a start.

It’s 2018, but there is evidence that situations denounced by the likes of Freire in the early 1970s still take place today.  Many will find all this about a different way of doing things laughable, impractical and unrealistic. But it seems doable to many of us; at least trying is the ethical thing to do. All of us who work in education -this includes me too- must avoid at all cost becoming those oppressors that we read about as bright-eyed young students once upon a time.

 

References

Foucault, M. 1986. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics 16 (1): 22-27. DOI: 10.2307/464648. https://www.jstor.org/stable/464648.

Miller, T. 2012. Blow Up The Humanities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Miller, T. 2015. “Humanities bottom to top: The cognitariat and publishing.” Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy, 5. Available open access from Loughborough University’s Institutional Repository: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/23241.

Freire, P. 1996. [1970]. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Devlin, H. and Marsh, S. 2018. “Hundreds of academics at top UK universities accused of bullying”. Friday 28 September 2018. The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/28/academics-uk-universities-accused-bullying-students-colleagues. [Accessed 9 October 2018].

Documentary Film Screening: Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (2018)

Paywall documentary film promotional poster

 

In anticipation of Open Access Week 2018 (October 22-28 2018), we’d like to invite you to a free and public screening of the documentary film Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (dir. and prod. Jason Schmitt, 2018) at City, University of London, on Wednesday 17 October 2018 from 17:30.

This event is public and free but requires registration: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/documentary-film-screening-paywall-the-business-of-scholarship-2018-tickets-49845449080

Map: https://www.city.ac.uk/visit#9541=1

Trailer 1 for Paywall: The Business of Scholarship embedded below:

Watch this and other trailers for the film at https://paywallthemovie.com/trailers.

The screening will be introduced by Yours Truly and hopefully followed by discussion, either there or at the pub.

For other screenings at universities worldwide, keep an eye on the listings at https://paywallthemovie.com/screenings.

On Elsevier and the Open Science Monitor

European Commission Logo

A formal complaint to the European Ombudsman has been submitted about the recent announcement that Elsevier has been subcontracted to monitor the future progress of Open Science in Europe.

The published version of the complaint is available open access on Zenodo: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1305847

The signed complaint was submitted on 5th July 2018, but a second (and third, and possibly fourth?) set of signatures is to be submitted.

More than 1000 colleagues from a variety of countries have signed so far.

Please read the full document and if you agree with the complaint please consider adding your signature to the end of the document here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WQAFUebPx5TNvgUKuIaUFPa80cdBuJhDbhwlh15EHz0/edit?usp=sharing

We need this information to circulate outside the usual scholarly communications circles, and even within them it would be good to have some more engagement or discussion with these issues. Please help us spread the word.

We are all so busy with work that issues relating to scholarly communications infrastructure (which define the whole academic workflow, including the frameworks and standards for employment and promotion) have been generally outsourced to third-parties or a few expert organisations.

In my opinion this alienation of researchers from the means of scholarly production and assessment works to the full advantage to those who profit from unfair market dominance and opaque decision-making.

In my view signing this complaint may not do much to change things directly, but expressing our legitimate concerns publicly, and leaving relevant documentation of our views in the scholarly record, is the least we can do as responsible scholars.

Reference

Jonathan Tennant. (2018, July 5). Complaint to the European Ombudsman about Elsevier and the Open Science Monitor. Zenodo http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1317961

Presenting at Open Access in the Humanities, University of Ljubljana

Open Access in the Humanities, : University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts

I will be presenting at the event Open Access in the Humanities event that will take place at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana on 22 May 2018.

I will be participating in a panel discussion titled “How to establish open access in Slovenian academic publishing and researching?”.

The information and programme in English is available at http://www.ff.uni-lj.si/an/books/open_access_humanities.

Video streaming will also be available at the web page for the event (link above).

I would like to thank the Open Library of Humanities and the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana for making it possible for me to attend this event.

Open Library of Humanities logo

 

#ELPUB2018: Deadline Extended to 31 January

elpub

Deadline for submission of extended abstracts for full papers and other
presentations is being extended to 31 January 2018.

International Conference on Electronic Publishing 2018 (ELPUB)
Connecting the Knowledge Commons: From Projects to Sustainable
Infrastructure
June 22-24, 2018
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
http://elpub.net

Full disclosure: I am a member of the programme committee.

ELPUB 2018 marks the 22nd edition of the International Conference in ELectronic PUBlishing and the 10th anniversary of the meeting being held in Toronto.

For over two decades, ELPUB has featured research and innovations in digital publishing, with a focus on transforming the nature of scholarly communication. The conference has attracted a diverse international community of librarians, developers, publishers, entrepreneurs, administrators and researchers across the disciplines in the sciences and the humanities.

The theme for ELPUB 2018 is Connecting the Knowledge Commons: From Projects to Sustainable Infrastructure. The question of sustainability in the open access movement has been widely debated, but satisfactory answers and long term solutions have yet to be generated.

Market-driven versions of open access and open science are growing in prevalence, as well as a growing dependence on commercial publishers for the infrastructures needed to openly and democratically create and communicate knowledge.

This year¹s theme challenges us to collaborate on the design and implementation of a sustainable community-driven research communication infrastructure that is also inclusive of diverse forms of knowledge making and sharing.

The conference program committee invites contributions from members of the community whose research and experiments are focused on sustainability models for community based open infrastructure, trust and governance of the Knowledge Commons, and transforming the nature of scholarly communications.

If you are interested in sharing your research, ideas, and tools that contribute to the theme or just join in the discussion, please consider participating!

Learn more about the scope of the conference at:
http://epress.utsc.utoronto.ca/elpub2018/call-for-papers/

Sign up for our e-newsletter to stay up to date on the latest conference
news: goo.gl/memGLc or Follow us on Twitter @elpub_conf.

Conference Co-chairs
Leslie Chan <chan@utsc.utoronto.ca>
Pierre Mounier <pierre.mounier@openedition.org>