My abstract for the LLAS 8thannual elearning symposium next January has been accepted, so all begin well I will be speaking about YazikOpen and broader issues surrounding open access there. The symposium will take place in Southampton on 24-25 January 2013.
The effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can be seriously undermined by lack of open access to original academic research. Copyright restrictions and subscription fees mean that most research is completely unavailable to those who are not staff or students at a university, or who work in institutions or countries where financial resources are very limited. At best, those with limited access to original research are forced to rely on the summaries and interpretations of others.
This presentation showcases YazikOpen.org.uk a portal for open access research into the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages. The portal catalogues language teaching research published in open access journals or on open websites. This research is available to anybody, anywhere in the world with access to the internet without viewing or subscription fees.
Those teaching on courses relating to language teaching (e.g. TEFL, Applied Linguistics, Teaching Training etc.), whether face-to-face or online, can search YazikOpen to identify course readings which will be available to all students, irrespective of institution, geographical location or access to financial resources. Open access also means that original research is accessible to practitioners such as schoolteachers, Teachers of English as a Second/ Foreign Language, teachers at language clubs and teachers of languages in the community. Bringing down access barriers also means that practitioners and other interested parties can engage in debates and publish their own research with fewer disadvantages.
The presentation will also explore the wider discussions currently taking place about open access from the ethical as well as the financial and organisational perspectives. Open access to research is also crucial in ensuring that MOOCs are genuinely open and inclusive and do not perpetrate the current privileges of students and staff in well-resourced institutions.
As part of my Fellowship of the Staff and Educational Development Association I have to write an annual review of what I have been doing and what I’ve learnt and what I plan to do for the future. We are then alloated 'triads' of other fellows and we will comment on each other's reports. I wanted to do something a bit different year as we don't have to submit as a written report. I couldn't think how I might do it differently, so I decided to make my report public, crowdsource my professional development I suppose.
This year has been the most challenging of my career so far. Last year the Higher Education Academy took the decision to withdraw funding from its 24 subject centres. The decision focused my mind somewhat. What had we achieved as a team in the lifetime of the subject centre? Where were we going to go from here? More crucially what had I achieved in the eight years I had been part of the team? Where was I going?
Subject centres, LLAS at least, was very much a we organisation. This was great on one level, but I had found it increasingly difficult to distinguish myself from subject centre. I have also learnt a lot about how people see subject centre staff, and I don’t always like it. In 2010 I wrote a short piece for the Teaching in Higher Education about the identity of subject centre staff in the educational development community. The anonymous referee was adamant that subject centre academic coordinators are essentially administrators though one or two do some good pedagogic work (we need adminstrators of course, but I sensed very negative undertones in the reviewer's use of the word). I wanted to raise awareness about the job I did and somebody seemed to be suggesting that I had misinterpreted my own job. The reviewer said that he/she was a member of a subject centre advisory board—my first response was that I hoped they weren’t on our advisory board. I have always wanted to be taken seriously as an academic. I'm not sure that I am.
As the 2010-11 academic year drew to a close my angst increased. Our director did some good work in persuading the powers at be in Southampton that it was worth keeping LLAS work going as an independent unit—another opportunity though painful reflection was involved too. Who were we? Could we continue as we were? (How) would we have to change? The team, which had grown through Routes into Languages and Links into Languages would have to be much smaller. We had to reapply for our jobs. I was fortunate in this process, but lost a day of week of hours. We still had some funding from the HEA, but we needed to start charging for the sorts of activity which used to be free or low cost. And we had to start getting the funding in to keep going.
What have I done this year? What have I learnt?
The LLAS work
One of the challenges with the subject centre goings on has not been the changes which have taken place, but the continuity. As usual I organised and participated in workshops for Heads of Department, a workshop for new academic staff and a workshop on sustainable development in the humanities. I have received funding from the British Academy to produce an online statistics books for humanities students under the Academy’s Languages and Quantitative Skills Programme. I have long been dissatisfied with statistics textbooks. In my opinion they explain too little and assume that the reader will take concepts such as the normal distribution as an article of faith. The book uses the sorts of examples that humanities students will use such as historical and population data. I hope that by providing a more verbal resonating approach the book will help students (and academics) who find quantitative data difficult to deal with.
I edited two further editions of Debut: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies. In the latest issue my editorial reflects on the concept of publishing undergraduate research, how good it needs to be and how undergraduates journals help students to complete the research cycle. I am also part of LLAS’s EU-funded Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality(SPEAQ) project which, in my view at least, seeks to allow students and academics to reclaim ‘quality’ for themselves. I often feel that the term ‘quality’ has become increasingly associated with ‘tick-box’ approach to teaching which has little, if anything to do with the learning experience. We have developed a workshop to enable students, lecturers and quality managers to come together to reflect on the concept of quality.It has been interesting to learn about the experiences of academics from other countries who are our partners in the project.
I also headed up the organisation of the main LLAS biennial conference, the first of the post-HEA era. This year it was called 'Language Futures' and was held in Edinburgh.
One of my first tasks of the 2011-12 academic year was to provide maternity cover for my colleague Lisa who was coordinating the HEA’s Islamic Studies Network. As a non-expert in the field I knew this would be challenging, but with the closure of the subject centres most team members left the project too. Lisa was kind enough to draw up a plan of what had been done and what needed to be done. My main task was to begin the post-Islamic Studies Network (funding is about to end) sustainability plan. I drew up the consultation questionnaire over the Christmas period and we received over 50 responses. Now that Lisa is back this work is her capable hands and it looks likely some sort of scholarly association for Islamic Studies will be formed in the near future. I was fortunate to be able to draw on the wisdom and enthusiasm of the Advisory Board members.
Other University of Southampton work
I have been part of the University of Southampton’s participation in Green Academy, a scheme run by the Higher Education Academy to support institutions in embedding sustainability in the curriculum and overall life of the institution. One of the key achievements of our participation is that we have secured funding for full time programme assistant who is working on embedding sustainability into the CORE (curriculum, operations, research, experience) of the University of Southampton.
I will also be involved in teaching on a new Southampton-wide module: Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment. As in previous years I have also contributed sessions on employability and writing book reviews to the Faculty of Humanities Doctoral Training Programme.
The entrepreneurial John
I have used my 'non-working' time to develop skills in new areas. I have developed a website in Drupal called yazikopen a portal for open access research into learning and teaching modern languages. This has been a steep learning curve on the technical side of things as I do not have a background in web development. I am pleased that the website is functional, but I would like to work out ways to grow the website and see if there is any way enabling the website to generate revenue to cover its costs. I have also been being doing some freelance work and hope to develop further in this area.
Hope (Future plans)
At LLAS I am again organising a workshop for Heads of Department which will focus on the growing sources of public information about teaching in higher education (e.g. National Student Survey, Key Information Set etc.). I will also be putting in bids for various projects. I would like to continue development of the yazikopen website and will look for further freelancing opportunities.
I also hope to have a say in the open access debate. If true open access is to become a reality universities have a greater role to play in academic publishing.
My colleague Angela Gallagher Brett will be chairing a sessions on the Routes into Languages programme. Kate Borthwick will be presenting about FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources- a poject aimed mainly at part-time teachers) and about Open lives which is digitising research resources documenting the migration experiences of Spanish emigrés for open access.
I've spent much of today refreshing the look of my YazikOpen website an online directory of open access research into teaching and learning modern foreign languages. I think that the new revision looks a lot cleaner and less cluttered that my previous effort. In the spirit of sharing and open access the bookcase banner is cropped from a wonderful picture from Flicker user Morgaine under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.
Many colleagues complain that students do not like putting effort into work that does not count towards their degree. Much of the work submitted to Debut is based upon assessed work (I know this because they don’t always remove the lecturer name and course number). In most cases the student will have received a good mark (they often tell me this when they submit) and in some cases their lecturer has suggested they submit their work to Debut.
Their work is then reviewed by an academic in another institution who makes comments and recommends whether or not the work should be published in Debut. Few of these students, if any, will have experienced this double-blind review process. It is daunting enough for those of us with experience but for undergraduate students this is unknown territory. Last year I conducted a small-scale consultation on whether Debut should maintain the review process. I was fairly surprised that those who responded said that the review process should be kept.
After five issues I have the following thoughts and observations on Debut and undergraduate research in general.
Undergraduate research publication completes the research cycle (Walkington and Jenkins) but only a very small number of students seek to get their work published.
The review process not only prevents weak work from publication, but also good work on which the student is not willing or able to put in the necessary work to bring the work up to a publishable standard. In these cases I encourage students to persevere.
What is the standard for publication in an undergraduate journal? This remains the critical question for me. Work on the linguistics of a ‘less-widely taught/ used language which received a first class mark on a general linguistics course often gets a harsh review from experts in the language itself. In retrospect I feel that many articles submitted in the first year of Debut did not make it to publication when they probably should have.
Some reviewers think that certain topics should not be attempted by undergraduates (the subject of my editorial in this issue).
Undergraduates do not necessarily know that multiple submission is not customary. On a couple of occasions it has been revealed by a student that their work has been accepted for publication in another journal and “is this a problem?” I don’t think that this means the student is a bad person—it merely shows that the student has not been told that this not considered the proper etiquette in most disciplines (I now mention this in the ‘Instructions for Authors’ page). It reminds me that undergraduates do not automatically know how academic publishing works, it does not automatically occur to them that this is something they should find out about and I suspect that few academics teach students about how academic work comes to be published.
We allow students to submit up to a year after graduation. Sometimes reviewers suggest additional reading, sometimes from items to which the student no longer has access – another issue about closed access.
As a journal of languages, linguistics and area studies Debut has a very broad remit. As editor I have to rely very heavily on advice from reviewers and it can be difficult to separate reasonable and unreasonable judgements.
I believe that discussions of academic publishing should be included in any undergraduate degree. Detractors might see it as ‘another thing to teach’, but surely an awareness of the process by which the articles and books they read came to be published must be seen as essential. Lecturers often complain about students citing unreliable sources in their essays and teaching them how to identify a good and bad source. However, a better, more detailed understanding of the process of academic publication may be a better way forward than teaching students to use context to discriminate between sources.
Fourteen participants were placed in a brain scanner and shown images of works by 'Rembrandt' -- some were genuine, others were convincing imitations painted by different artists. Neither the participants nor their brain signals could distinguish between genuine and fake paintings. However, advice about whether or not an artwork is authentic alters the brain's response; this advice is equally effective, regardless of whether the artwork is genuine or not.
I wonder if academics’ brains would undergo the same process if told that an article was published in Nature (or whatever the ‘top’ journal in your discipline might be) as opposed to being posted on some random website or published in a low ranking journal (however defined). For the sake of argument I am assuming that the academics would only be looking at work which was good (the imitation Rembrandts were good paintings by all accounts.) I‘m not a scientist, but I know that Nature is good – at least that is where to publish if you want Radio 4 to notice your work.
Last week I attended a workshop for Islamic Studies PhD students in my capacity as Acting Academic for the HEA Network. A business academic told me about the Association for Business Schools’ journal guide. Each journal has been classified as 1 to 4 star (in parallel to the UK’s Research Evaluation Framework). It isn’t my place to comment on the policies of disciplines in which I do not have expertise, but this strikes me as a highly transparent way of assessing the quality of research—if you publish in a 4 star journal the article must be good, if a 3 star not so good etc. etc. No arguments- the publication is the judge.
However this puts some topics off limits to academics wanting to publish in the top journals. I understand the top business journals publish little about Islamic Finance—if this is your topic then you cannot publish in the top journals. A humanities academic from an Eastern European country recently informed me that research impact in his country involved publishing in ‘top journals’, in short journals written in English. Linguistic issues aside, one of the consequences is that he and his fellow academics have to write about the sorts of topic Anglophones (or more accurately Americans) think are important —therefore fewer academics are writing about their own country – they write about the USA.
In science PLOS One is an open access venue which is unrestricted by topic or by what editors think would be expedient to publish (important and popular not being the same thing).
This is one of the great advantages of the internet—we can have peer review, open access research which is not restricted to certain topics.
Under the current system the journal an article is published in is our equivalent of a genuine Rembrandt. It would be interesting if all inputs to the REF had to be submitted as plain text files to see if the efforts of the Rembrandts and artists of lesser reputation can really be distinguished. Brain responses might be the fairest method of evaluation we have available to us.
The question in the title was a friend’s facebook status earlier this week. My friend is a first year undergraduate at a UK university. She is doing research for her essay and is finding some great articles which will help her as she writes her essay. The problem is her university does not subscribe to the journals in question. She knows the information she wants is there. It’s just that she can’t get it. One day she might be your psychologist. Wouldn’t you like to think that had access to the best research and practice in whatever issue it was that had led you to need her services?
Open access has been in the (academic) news a lot in the past few days with the academic boycott of Elsevier gathering pace. This boycott is about a range of issues, but most critically it is about the price of journals to subscribers and also the fees Elsevier charges to make open access possible ($4000 according to one article). Detractors will point out that all journals cost money to run and someone has to pay somewhere. I am editor of the undergraduate journal Debut. There are no submission or access fees or print costs, but my time is paid for by my employer. If it wasn’t the journal might not happen or I might have to run it my ‘spare time’. Alternatively I could hand it over to someone else who would be operating under the same kinds of constraints.
Since I set up the open access language teaching research database YazikOpen I have been thinking more and more about what the right model should be for academic publishing. I have been drawn towards John Rawl’s Theory of Justice as a starting point. Rawls about what he called ‘the veil of ignorance’. The just society would be one which was agreed by people who did not know when or where they would be born, whether they would be black or white, a man or woman, rich or poor, intelligent or not, etc., etc. When applied to access to academic research I think along these lines.
People should have access to research irrespective of where they live, how much money they have or where they work or study etc.
People should be able to publish their research irrespective of where they live, how much money they have or where they work or study etc. (This is big problem I have with author publication fees for open access—I suspect that they are a deterrent to many people who might otherwise submit to them).
People should be able to know, in some way or another, whether the research meets certain standards of good quality. 1 and 2 are no use if the research is not good, or even worse, damaging. This is problem for those who might advocate the abolition of journals (and peer review) in favour of “just publish it on your website”.
Researchers have a duty to ensure that their research reaches the people who might benefit most from it. This may involve writing it up in another form. (As an aside I’ve just finished reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science so I have a heightened sense of concern about the ways in which journalists ‘disseminate’ research findings).
At first glance it appears that these principles are in some degree of conflict. However, I am starting to think that the world’s universities have the resources and infrastructure to provide ‘a free at the point of access or contribution’ system which bypasses the traditional print publishers altogether. This would mean a substantial change in academic culture. You never know it might lead the publishers to rethink their mays. They might start selling my article for £1 for 20 pages instead of £25. It’s not free, but it is much more reasonable—someone might actually buy my work for £1. By the way I would want 20p of that plus a contribution to the editors and reviewers!