Saturday, October 20, 2007

John Willinsky Keynote

This post will probably not be of interest to you, unless you are an academic publisher. But, the topic certainly has implications for anyone interested in acquiring knowledge. John Willinsky is Professor of Education at Stanford University and Pacific Press Professor of Literacy and Technology at the University of British Columbia. He titled his talk, Get a Mitt and Get in the Game, playing on the conference theme of Let's Play. Throughout the past three days, we have discussed the varied implications of user-generated content and open access. But, in the world of academic publishing, different rules are in place.

For those of you unfamiliar, you might not be aware that a large and often the main responsibility of your college professors is academic publishing. They won't get tenure without it, and that means they will get fired. Usually, a university department gives you 5-7 years to establish a publishing record, and at the end of the process, tenure is evaluated.

Academic publishing consists of writing research papers and submitting them to journals. The journal has an editor (an unpaid position), and the editor does a cursory review of the paper to determine its applicability to the journal. It is then assigned to reviewers (also unpaid). This is called peer review, and usually 2-3 people review a paper to help the editor decide whether or not to publish your article and if it needs revisions, changes. The review process has taken, in my experience 3-18 months. If it gets accepted, it might take another 12 months before it makes to an issue of the journal. If it doesn't get accepted, you have to start all over again, maybe making changes based on the rejection feedback. All this time, your tenure clock is ticking. It is a stressful process, one in which the author has very little control, and one that is not necessarily efficient. By the way, if your article gets published, you don't get any money. So, this is very much like the free content we are all creating making News Corp (MySpace), Facebook, and Google (YouTube) rich.

So, who makes money in the academic publishing system? Publishing companies do. They charge for subscriptions, usually hundreds of dollars a year, and can be thousands. Libraries are the typical subscriber audience, but individuals may also subscribe. So, that means that once you leave the comforts and pleasures of the university environment, your access to knowledge is severely limited. So, learn while you can folks....

Now, to Willinsky's talk. The theme should be obvious. If everyone in the academic chain is unpaid, then why should we use a publishing system that is based in print, is closed in terms of access, and supports very poor processes. I mean, if the public is contributing content on social spaces, and fans are having this big impact via blogs and social networks, why aren't academics using the same methods? One big sticking point is the ways that universities value certain publications over another in the tenure process. Traditionally, online journals were not considered very prestigious, but that is changing. Willinsky encouraged AoIR, who has and is still considering a journal association with the group, to consider some options.

-Make archiving policies clear - I had no idea that it was legal to post on a Web site a pre-print of an article under review at a journal, as long as you identify it as such. And, then there are rules regarding post-print, that you can post a copy of an article (not a pdf of the print version) as long as it complies with the publishers pre-print timeframes
-Become politically aware of mandates associated with granting organizations, like NIH.
-If going with a publisher, argue the archiving timeframes and definitely use delayed access (make actual articles available online after a certain embargo timeframe).
-Create an online journal using free and available sofware (his Open Access project).

These are really good suggestions and just a starting point for having the academy reconsider how we value certain types of publications. We need to engage the potential of the Internet. As Willinsky said as he ended his presentation, "the role of participation and engagement are critical to the academy and scholarship."

It is still raining, and when I say raining, I mean pouring. There are two more panel sessions this afternoon. I will be attending one on blogging research methods and one relating to gender issues.


Darla said...

Good post.

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