November 14, 2019

Building a Better Journal Workshop

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of contributing to the Institute of Advanced Study’s (IAS) Accolade researcher development programme once again. Last year, I contributed a session to the programme on Exchanges and related scholar-led publishing topics which lasted around 90 minutes; although this year due to room availability my slot was regretfully cut back to an hour [1]. I’d originally been planning something a bit different for this year, as after reflection on the previous session I concluded that it contained too much ‘chalk and talk’ and insufficient discussion and interaction. Before I heard about the session’s length, and with my own kinaesthetic learning tendencies in mind, I’d outlined a healthy 90 minute workshop deconstructing scholar-led publishing in a series of interlinked exercises. Yes, a healthy dose of gamification was included in the outline too.

Faced with my ‘reduced Shakespeare’ session, I reconfigured the workshop into roughly 20% talk and 80% activities for the research fellows. It was, thankfully, a highly energised session which engendered plenty of questions and group discussion during the guided activities. As with any lectrure, seminar or workshop there were still elements I’d tweak for a future performance, but nevertheless it was a clearly workable format that I’ll be able to reuse elsewhere [2]. Additionally, the input, questions and insights from the fellows were extremely useful in helping to clarify various issues.

Given the appropriately spooky date for the session, I posed a question asking people to talk about and share their publishing horror stories. Every academic has them, and some may even keep people awake at night! I captured a few of them here, and I’m sure it’s a rare scjholar with whom these don’t resonate on some level.

Publishing fears


I also ran the prototype of an exercise which challenged attendees to prioritise editorial and process elements to construct for their ‘perfect’ journal. Once again there were some key learning outcomes from this. Firstly, for the timescale I gave people too many options, and a re-run would likely need to introduce a prior winnowing technique or utilise fewer options. I might also need to introduce some clearer rules or criteria for assigning items to each category, although given the point of the exercise was to leave as much decision making in the hands of the delegates, that aspect may remain as it is. For example, here’s one of the six group’s final grids [3] showing one possible configuration using about 20% of the possible options.

Process Document

Practically, I also learned that if you’re printing paper props off give yourself plenty of time, as I spent my entire lunch break cutting out strips of paper. Obviously, as this was the inaugural run for this session it was difficult to realise how it would work under-fire, but I’m confident with some slight tweaks it’ll produce a series highly stimulating and reflective exercises. I might also enhance the ‘playing pieces’ somewhat to make them clearer. Failing to realise that not everyone speaks fluent editor terminology was a very apposite point of feedback.

So in conclusion: what did I learn? Well, aside from the comments on the efficacy of running the session, I gained some insightful feedback on running a journal like Exchanges, and the perceptions of people within our potential contributor community. I’ll be using this feedback to help shape my planned focus groups, where I want to explore some related issues with groups of post-graduates and early career researchers alike. Naturally, I’ll talk about the results of these here.

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[1] Rumours of a second slot in term 3 abide, but have yet to be confirmed! I'll worry about that in 2020.

[2] Possibly in my other teaching and workshop commitments over this academic year

[3] Image credit Hsiao Lie, to whom I note my thanks!


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