Getting another perspective

This post is a progress report on the research that we (Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness) have been conducting following our participation in the open course Rhizomatic Learning: The community is the curriculum in January 2014.  This research to date has included an online survey, email interviews and a conversation with the convenor of the course Dave Cormier. It has also resulted in a conference presentation (see

Research approach

If your interest lies solely in the brief report of our conversation with Dave Cormier, go straight to the summary report below.

Jenny and Frances met through the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) CCK08, run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008. In contrast with the huge MOOCs that followed it, CCK08 has been characterised as a connectivist MOOC or cMOOC.  Separately, we undertook research from that MOOC , and though we have come across each other from time to time, we did not work together until January 2014 when we met on a MOOC convened by Dave Cormier, Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum, now commonly called #rhizo14.

Rhizo14 was a diverse and busy MOOC: light on readings and loosely structured around weekly ‘provocative’ questions posed by Dave.  Interaction between participants was lively, spread across a variety of platforms and spaces: the P2PU space, Dave’s and participants’ blogs, #rhizo14 Twitter hashtag, a G+ community, a very active Facebook group and of course the less visible but equally valuable backchannels.  There was evidence of joy, creativity and a few clashes of expectations where participants seemed to expect different things from #rhizo14 and were sometimes disappointed by the actions and behaviours of other participants. That is a scant description of what happened.

We were struck by the contrasts between #rhizo14 and other cMOOCS: there were plenty of learning moments but we also experienced and observed some rather painful interactions. Our curiosity was piqued: we wanted to know what was going on beneath the surface and how a range of participants were experiencing #rhizo14.  This seemed significant, given that MOOCs are an opportunity for learning for people who may not otherwise have access to formal education. This inspired us to undertake some research, starting by recording our participant observations, saving links to significant interactions, and then planning how to get participant views first hand.

Given that our research was, to some extent, precipitated by concerns, we were both conscious of the dangers of finding what we were looking for in our research, as outlined by Stephen Downes in his presentation on MOOC Research.  It seems to be a good thing to strive for objectivity, whilst acknowledging that it is an unachievable goal. In outsider research where the researchers see themselves as outside the researched situation, objectivity is a key element of the traditional science-based approach normally adopted.  However, the emphasis on the rigour of the research method can compromise the relevance of the research.  We were engaged in insider research, we became participant observers in #rhizo14.  We could acknowledge the danger of reduced objectivity (whilst taking measures to counteract it) but we could also benefit from the subjectivity of researchers and other participants who shared their views with us. Subjectivity can bring a significant contribution to research in complex situations involving people and their relations with material things and each other.

Our first steps were to declare that we were conducting research, and to engage with other participants (via a Google doc) on what would be ethical ways of using data in our research.  Having consulted and planned our data collection, we shared this as widely as possible in all the spaces in which rhizo14 was evident

Our research process developed organically – the current (but probably not final) representation of this is shown in the following diagram.

Research processv2
Organic Research Process


As well as being mindful of and explicit about our roles as researchers, we are very conscious of the partial nature of the data we have collected and are trying to analyse.  The distributed nature of the spaces, the mix of public / private, and the number of survey respondents (47) combine to remind us that we must be missing some important perspectives. What does encourage us is that despite this partial view, our decision to allow for confidential and electively anonymous responses to our surveys, has enabled a light to be cast on what people are thnking, and not saying in public and semi-public forums.. We will make a contribution to the hidden MOOC experience.

Having conducted our survey and email interviews,and recorded our observations, we were conscious that we were missing another important perspective, that of Dave Cormier the course convenor. We approached him to engage in a conversation, rather than an interview, loosely based on the issues  and ambiguities that had emerged to date in our research.  Whilst Dave’s natural inclination was towards openness, he graciously conceded the benefits of having a private conversation where we could discuss issues freely.  The outcome was that although we recorded the Skype conversation between Dave and Frances, we agreed that the recording would be shared between Dave, Frances and Jenny, to be used confidentially for research purposes.  Although this blog post is written by Frances and Jenny, it has been agreed by Dave prior to publication.

Summary of conversation

We started by establishing the privacy/ confidentiality arrangements for our conversation and how we would publish it on blogs. We explored the actual ethics of research as compared with formal ethical approval. It is interesting that some of the most interesting parts of the conversation don’t make their way into the following summary. In a way, this vindicates its private nature. The following summary is not in strict chronological order as the conversation took itsown course, returning to topics at different times.

Community – concepts and issues

Dave explained that his conceptions of community owed more to Nancy White than to Etienne Wenger’s Community of Practice. He feels that being able to participate in a community of knowing is the goal of the learning process, and for him community is people caring about each other.

Dave discussed his experiences in EdTechTalk community , that he started in 2005 with Jeff Lebow and the benefits of being part of EdTechTalk. Dave highlighted the impact involvement in EdTechTalk had made on his work at UPEI.

We discussed that while both teachers and learners may form community, teachers may particularly value parallel community experiences to those they are facilitating with their students.


Sustainability of communities and MOOCS proved to be an interesting topic. We discussed examples of more or less sustainable examples of each.

Compatibility of community with rhizomatic thinking

This was an interesting topic.  There seems to be inevitable tension between the two concepts, and we discussed the advantages and disadvantages that can emerge from this tension. Community is the curriculum is a concept that Dave explored in the lead up to his 2008 article. Dave has found the rhizome useful in the cause of getting rid of the ‘content’ in education as he sees that as in opposition to how people, doctors for example, really learn their practice.

De-centring the Leader

Several times we returned to the issue of the centring or otherwise of Dave’s role in the course. We explored the benefits that his leadership brought and also some of the problems in which it played a part. Is it possible to achieve benefits such as seen in EdTechTalks without a leader? We also discussed the effectiveness of some of the tactics that communities employ to take the focus away from a leader’s decisions and actions, including community guidelines, FAQs, distributed moderation.  This was a rich discussion drawing on real incidents from rhizo14, and made more possible in the context of a private conversation.

Inevitably, we ran out of time to discuss everything on our agenda.  It was a challenging, rich and warm discussion that will inform Jenny and Frances’ research and Dave’s planning for rhizo15.

Reflections on community in #rhizo14 – more questions than answers

These are some reflections on community in #rhizo14 inspired by the research that Jenny Mackness and I are doing, and my engagement with Maha Bali’s post and the rich comment stream that followed.  I just wanted to capture my thoughts as they are currently but would be really pleased to engage through comments.

One of the issues that Jenny and I are grappling with is the challenge of gaining multiple perspectives on the ‘experience’ that was/is #rhizo14. How can we know about all of the flowers that bloomed? And some of the ones that failed to thrive or died? Of course, the answer is we can’t but we can try to draw in as many flowers as possible: and acknowledge our partial view. We also have to beware over-interpreting the views of others and making assumptions about their thoughts and opinions.

many flowers

In rhizo14 we had to think about ‘community’ – it was in the title and it was where the curriculum was or should be. So it is not surprising that the topic should attract so much attention.  My own view is that the formation of community (or communities) in rhizo14 deserves close attention.  I am curious about how this links to ‘the community is the curriculum’, and I already identified  that the speed of emergence of community (and the context in which this happened) are particularly worthy of investigation.

Keith Hamon distinguished different experiences in #rhizo14 by proposing that some participants found community whilst others chose to find a social network. I was a bit puzzled by that as Keith suggested that the social network involved a social contract.  I didn’t see the rules that he refers to in #rhizo14 and would not really expect to see them.  As I said in the comments, network for me brings 2 things to mind – socio-technical platforms where we connect , and our own individual networks that map our connections – the ‘performed’ network.. If the people who ‘did’ rhizo14 could map their individual networks and they were overlapped , perhaps the dense areas might be community(ies) in rhizo14 (‘performed’ communities).

Keith went on to contrast his concept of social network with a covenant: a relationship that he characterises as meaning, “I will behave in good faith with you, regardless of what you do. I will not let you damage me, but neither will I abandon my commitment to you.”  He suggests that some in rhizo14 might have achieved community along  those lines. However Rebecca points out that a covenant is a solemn promise built within an intentional community, and although she thinks that Dave proposed activities that could be seen as  ‘intentional community building activities’, she sees thizo14 as more of an organic community.  This is very thought-provoking for me. I am looking at what was circulated prior to rhizo14, and the impact this may have had on people’s expectations.  I can be pretty sure that if a covenant had been part of this, I would have stayed away;)

Also I am thinking about the organic nature of rhizo14 community, and wondering again about the speed of formation. Alan talked about co-evolution of communities – this is an interesting concept and I wonder if it somehow suggests ‘slowness’.   If #rhizo14 was organic, is it now? And will it seem organic or more fixed to newcomers in#rhizo15?

‘Caring’ is identified as a distinguishing feature of community, and certainly in #rhizo14  the proclamation of community is often associated with friendship, even love.  Emotional connection is something I wish to explore in my research.  Like Alan, I have had the well-documented experience, of meeting people that I have hitherto know only online, and found that our friendship was as rich as I thought. I have also learned with and from people with whom I have no deep emotional connection.

A consistent theme in #rhizo14 has been dichotomies or dualisms – theorist/pragmatist ‘divide’, academics/ others (not sure who these others are since many seem to me to be academics).  It is not absent from this post and comment thread. Simon talks about ‘science-bound academics’ (I didn’t recognise them) where” representatives of this ‘dominant’ group were miffed that Dave didn’t reinforce their supremacy by being leader of the (their) pack. I find it interesting to question how people perceived a ‘majority’ in rhizo14. I get the impression it is linked to perceived sanctioning given first by Dave then by people recognised as ‘academic’” I found this to be an astonishing statement, and wonder how/if this has been validated.  One thing that I am wondering is whether the nature of the ‘provocative questions’ posed by Dave might have contributed to a tendency to see ideas/ people as either/or, and community as in/out.

As I say, these are some provisional observations but they have led me to think about a learner who might like to be ‘rhizomatic’ in her (his) learning.  I am thinking of someone who may be keen to learn outside formal educational institutions and processes. They stand tentatively on the brink of a community hoping it might be a place where they might learn with others. Possibly, they might relieved by the lack of structure and the presence of ‘nonsense’.  But what would they think of ideas of solemn promises, open expressions of emotion and love for other participants?  For some this might be attractive and draw them in. For others it could be off-putting and they might wonder why such high level of commitment and emotion are needed for a learning experience.  These could be some of the people who stand to gain most from social learning online. I am just wondering but thinking that such learners may not have received much attention in #rhizo14 (except perhaps by Barry Dyck and others who I may have missed).

Response to Simon Ensor’s comments


Answers by Cavale CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jenny Mackness and I are giving a presentation at the MOOCs – which way now event on Friday 27 June.  To accompany our presentation (aware that we have too much to cover) we have published a series of blog posts.

The first post was – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC 

The second post was – Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

The third post was – Principles of Rhizomatic Thinking

The fourth post was – Emerging Ambiguities and Issues


We received many interesting and useful comments and would welcome more but one keen reader gave very extensive comments, and we thought the best way to respond was via a blog post.  So the rest of this blog post is for Simon Ensor and was created by Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness.

Thanks for your comments Simon. They are useful, even if sometimes it felt as though our essays were being marked 😉

You raise several points that we will address later: initially in a summary response to all the feedback we receive on our presentation, and subsequently in our ongoing research. We have summarised these points as follows:

  • Potential contradiction in terms between ‘rhizomatic learning’ and ‘the community is the curriculum’, and whether or not the rhizome as a network can be a community – this is something we are already working on and it’s useful to know it’s of concern to others.
  • The centredness or otherwise of the course from a variety of participant perspectives (so thanks for your contribution here) – again already in our sights.
  • Discussion on rhizo14 that may be hidden – this is an important point that we are already aware of. We would not wish to be in an omniscient or surveillance role. However, we are finding that our data collection approach has surfaced some of the ‘hidden’ and that encourages us that we can make a contribution.
  • Multiplicity, deterritorialisation, connection and dominance are aspects we will pursue further so thanks for reinforcing that.

There are some comments that we can address now, and a few that we have probably missed/ ignored.

‘new kids on the block’

came from the thoughts of a survey respondent that interested us.

“Ah yes coming back to the rhizome metaphor for teaching and learning (or research) for me the most important contribution of it is to concentrate on complexity, mulitplicity and uncontrollable upshoots.
When we are looking for short-term ‘manageable’ research projects and ‘manageable data sets’ and ‘manageable outcomes’ we are going to look to artificially control ‘education’.”

We are very open to criticism of our research approach, and since our blog posts are informal exchanges to accompany a spoken presentation, we have not written about our methodology. We will post about that quite soon. However we can say that we don’t recognise your characterisation as fitting the research we are doing.

“The only thing worth concerning ourselves with is the essence of our connections.
This work coming from Terry Elliot says pretty much all there is:

These comments are puzzling since we would have thought that D&G were anti-essentialist, and saying one object/utterance says all there is seems against the spirit of rhizomatic thinking.

“I think that are some ‘core issues ‘ here with identifying ‘core’ groups in a rhizome. Do you consider yourself(ves) as ‘core’?”

We used the term ‘core’ as it appeared in a survey response: it was also used (not by any of us) in a recent long thread on FB group.

“A ‘key contributor’ ‘a treasure trove’ – how do you identify ‘key’ what is a ‘contributor’ what do you consider to be ‘treasure’ or a ‘trove’? (Doesn’t sound very scientific all that..)”

That was our interpretation based on our observation. Frances has already directed you to her view of research. Key is a word that you have used yourself (in an interpretive fashion) and ‘treasure trove’ is a phrase unlikely to appear in any formal research publication but hey! What’s wrong with a compliment?

When we refer to the FB group we mean that in Facebook terms see

“‘This discussion around rhizo14 continues albeit in one space’. I imagine that you are not suggesting that your blog is the ‘one space’ so clearly what you are suggesting is demonstrably inexact.”

Yes – that is probably true – the difference being that Jenny does not primarily see her blog as a space for discussion, but more for clarifying and sharing her thinking. If discussion arises here she sometimes welcomes it, sometimes not. This is her space and this is the difference between blogs and forums which John Mak Roy Williams and she wrote a paper about a few years back. (and Frances agrees with all of that).

The Best Laid Plans …

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Robert Burns

Research into complex phenomena such as networks of people and complex, connected technologies will almost certainly involve people working together who have different ways of seeing the world, and different ideas about what and how we humans and non-humans can know. I think that such research is needed to help us make decisions if we are to shape technologies, services, systems, even as they shape us.

On Saturday, I watched a recording of Stephen’s presentation on MOOC Research at Tübingen, Germany. I surprised myself with my very mixed reaction to what he said – agreement, disagreement but it certainly made me think.  I really appreciate that Stephen Downes lays out so clearly what his thinking is even if I don’t always understand what he means; and sometimes when I do understand him, I don’t agree with him. I am glad he is in my learning network, and I think on the whole I probably agree with him more often than I disagree with him.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of thoughts that his presentation provoked for me..

Stephen has had quite a lot to say about theory in this and recent writings, and I was very interested in the idea that theory is already embedded in our interpretation of experience.  I wonder how that relates to our everyday theorising about the world around us that seems to me to be both conscious and unconscious.   For me, theories (from others’ writing and research) can be very useful, and they can help me (re-)evaluate past/current experience. So I do think that many theories are applied in context, especially ones that relate to the complex phenomena that I already mentioned.

I explored the possible use of theories and approaches in research and practice in a paper I wrote for IRRODL that I hope illustrates how what we are trying to achieve and the context in which we are making our efforts can influence both the theory and methodology we might use (see Table 2).


Stephen spoke about research methodology(ies) and proposed a model that was somehow common to research in general, but different to what he does.  I wanted to challenge this as it seemed to me that he was posing the scientific model of research that can be useful, but for me is incomplete on its own in the complex research that is my concern.  So technology-driven services can generate useful ‘big data’ as people use them but the rich picture of people’s experience requires a bit more work to tease out relevant data that can enlighten us about users’/ learners’ experiences and outcomes.  For me, this is part of the tendency of education technology research towards provider-centric (that concentrates on the resources and environments that are provided) rather than learner-centric research (that takes the perspective of the learner, looking across their experiences and use of technology).  In my own home discipline of Information Systems, there is an extensive resource on Qualitative Research that highlights many approaches eg Action Research, Ethnography that can contribute to these richer perspectives. These approaches do not rely on hypotheses, proof or refutation.

A criticism of research that Stephen made was that it tends to find what it is looking for.  This is a very valid potential criticism but I would claim that a combination of planning and flexibility can guard against this. An interesting example is from the PhD of Cristina Costa where in order to deal with the power relations and conflicts that emerged from the first two stages of analysis, she enrolled the theory of Pierre Bourdieu to help understand the data that confronted her.  I think that this is an excellent example of how, with a flexible approach, plans that are useful to guide a research study can be changed to accommodate the unexpected and to generate the richest understanding possible.


In April, I saw a really lovely example of the value of plans that can’t anticipate the context in which they will be completed when I visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, due to be completed in 2026.  Gaudi started his plans for the Basilica in 1893, died in 1926 yet today people are working to complete his vision with the help of technology of which he knew nothing.

3d-printer in crypt workshop of La Sagrada Familia
3d-printer in crypt workshop of La Sagrada Familia


I would really like to tease out what are Stephen’s assumptions in his talk – but of, course I don’t really know what those are, he would have to help me here.  I know it would help me to explore my initial thinking provoked by his talk.  Here are some areas where I wonder what his assumptions might be:

In talking about learning theories, Stephen Downes poses theories as explaining why learning occurs. I wondered if he thinks that a theory can generate the explanation (which feels a bit like prediction) or that some theories might help generate explanations that are more or less plausible depending on the context in which they are applied.

Stephen describes how he conducts his research in MOOCS – I wonder how he works (cooperates?) with others and how their research informs each other’s contributions.

I wonder if Stephen against methodology (flexible and open to change) or just against rigid method.


In between first watching Stephen’s presentation and writing this, I have been fortunate enough to have an exchange with Jenny Mackness and to have watched George Veletsianos’s keynote.  Both were very useful – not implying sameness of views, of course.  So thanks to all three of you.

Reflecting, recollecting, research – Auf wiedersehen #rhizo14

Many flowers blooming (none of them rhizomes;)

I have been enjoying seeing traces of rhizo14ers reflections and recollections over the last few days. Thanks Dave for hosting the longest party I have ever attended and thanks to all the rhizo14 folks from whom I have learned and will learn so much.

All participants will see changes in themselves and their networks as they move on from #rhizo14 and there are traces in many different Internet spaces – text, audio, video – poems, songs, jokes, writing, drawings  and delicious remixes.  A few of us are collecting data, some for research purposes – trying to reify our learning through more traditional avenues. The spaces we have used have generated an abundance of data, including data for network models.

At #rhizo14 we have modelled our ethics by discussing the use of data.  We have collaborated on an end of course survey coordinated by Dave Cormier, due out soon.  If it follows on from the first survey, the submissions will be anonymous but the results will be public.

I know of two pieces of research going on at rhizo14, but there are probably more (please update in comments).

1. There is a collaborative auto-ethnography underway – based on some previous work on MOOCs done by participants.  It’s collaborative and public so that’s a new form of research for me. I can’t wait to see the outcome.

2.  Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell are doing qualitative research on the learner / participant experience in rhizo14 .  The reasons for including qualititative and interpretive research are explained very well by George Veletsianos.  We plan to ask for contributions in the next two weeks – on G+ community, on Facebook group, and on Twitter at #rhizo14.   If you want to be sure of catching the invitation you could (temporarily) follow this blog, as I will be posting  the details here. Your contribution will be completely anonymous, unless you specifically opt to the contrary.  There will be only three four questions/ prompts for your response – the others relating to your confidentiality choices.

All that remains is for me to wish you Auf Wiedersehen: in the way of #rhizo14, in multiple versions. I collected a random set if images from blogs, and annotated them with the words that sprang into my mind when I looked at the picture.  William’s song was a great inspiration.

First, the original Zeega that WordPress won’t allow me to embed in the post – you scroll through this at your own speed.

Second a recorded version that I uploaded to youtube

Here’s the the music without hissing – thanks William for writing and performing this.

And finally, in cheesy, retro, old school fashion

PhD as Time Team Episode

Preface:I was prompted to write this post by my colleague Andrew Basden’s interpretation of my ‘ critique’ of the area in which he researches and supervises PhDs. However, as I approach the end of this phase of my career (I leave Salford in January 2013), I have been reflecting on various activities, PhD supervison being one, and so I cast my response to Andrew in a wider setting.

Spade in soil

Spade in soil by net_efekt

The Time Team is a Channel 4 series where each programme tracks and films short-term dig.  From the footage produced, a programme of approximately 50 minutes is created, designed to inform and entertain the viewers.  We can contrast this with a traditional archaeological research excavation whose goal is to accumulate knowledge over a relatively long period. There are many ways in which a PhD research project is unlike a Time Team project that has a large team, significant resources and an immediate audience but in respect of time limitations and the need for publication we can compare the PhD with the programme.

A UK PhD is intended to take 3 years (including submitting the thesis and the oral viva voce examination).  An additional year can be taken for writing up but lateness is very bad news for the student, incurring additional expense, stress  and delay ; for the supervisor, whose supervision is extended; and for the University who will suffer in HEFCE assessment of their completion rates.

Kearns, Gardiner and Marshall found that “self‐sabotaging behaviours, including overcommitting, procrastination and perfectionism, have a role to play”, an emphasis on student agency .  Leder interprets Mamet’s advice from 1983 but highlights the role of the supervisor.

“…. successful completion of the thesis requires students to remain at university until their thesis is submitted, to become autonomous learners yet heed advice, read widely without losing the focus of the research question chosen, limit the scope of the project, write early enough and in sufficient quantity, and be prepared to polish and refine that writing – but not indefinitely. These steps assume the support and guidance of a supervisor.”

I have no empirical evidence to offer but my reflections from my own supervision, and internal and  external assessments of PhDs supervised by others indicate that a significant factor in student delay is pursuing a topic with too broad a scope. It is part of the ‘work’ of the first stage of a PhD to refine the scope as the student reviews the literature to find out what is, and isn’t, known in the area of interest. The supervisor can both constrain the scope (by emphasising topics of particular interest to them) and collude in inflating the scope (by agreeing aims and objectives or research questions that cannot be achieved within 3 years). Between student and supervisor, the scope should be continually under discussion, particularly because of the costs of late scoping.  The scope is bound to change but I would assert that the earlier focus can be achieved the better.
In a Time Team project, the team will use scanning and other technologies to focus across what might be a fairly broad area but they are under time pressure to identify areas that look promising  to deliver ‘finds’ for broadcasting.  That’s when they will start to dig deep, still doing a professional job but highly selectively.

In a research excavation, the dig may occupy a much longer time period and the knowledge be accumulated over time.

So I am suggesting that the PhD student’s research may be more like a Time Team dig whilst the supervisor’s research is more like a research excavation.

I’d love your comments on this.

Professor Andrew Basden, a leading Dooeyweerdian scholar, suggests that I

“made a critique that is relevant to applying Dooyeweerd, especially his aspects: Dooyeweerd’s aspects are too broad. Her point was that in undertaking realistic research projects, e.g. at PhD or masters level, students who use Dooyeweerd tend to go broad and shallow rather than investigating in depth. So – especially relevant for PhDs, in which researchers are learning to become independent researchers – they do not have a chance to learn and practise the skills needed for in-depth research.”

I was not making a critique of Dooeyeweerd (I don’t know enough about the work to do this), I was merely observing that a framework of analysis that required students to understand then apply 15 aspects might militate against achieving a focus to research to be achieved and written up within 3 years.

Open Access is a piece for cake for Research in Learning Technology

open access cakes

Research in Learning Technology , the journal for the Association for Learning Technology, is going Open Access from January 2012 (with Rhona Sharpe, I am co-editor of the journal).  ALT’s plans for Open Access publishing have developed over several years, and we are very keen that this move can extend the impact of the journal – gaining us more readers, more authors and more citers.  Just today, I came across this blog post from @melissaterras “What happens when you tweet an Open Access Paper” that is very persuasive of the benefits of Open Access publishing married to institutional repositories.

@A_L_T has developed skills in the use of social media integration of its multiple publication and presentation channels, and openness makes that so much easier.  Typically for ALT, the tendering process was done meticulously and fairly around this time last year, and was even written up and published in ALT’s (Open Access) repository.  The winner of the tender was Co-Action and they have been a pleasure to work with so we are very confident  that our journal can develop and go from strength to strength.  The really great news is that even content that is currently closed will be open from January 2012. Watch this space!

When the web site is launched, we will be sure to splash it over all channels, but I wanted to alert you two publishing opportunities with Research in Learning Technology:

1. Although we have not yet got an upload url, we are eagerly awaiting your copy so please keep writing, writing, writing.  Here are the interim arrangements.  Open Access is such good news for authors especially where the scholarly society (and all the volunteer editors, reviewers and editorial board) invests in the publication and does not expect authors to pay.  We already have all of the copy we need for the the first issue, and some in hand for the second issue but we want to fill Issues 2 and 3, especially as we will be having 4 issues (1 more than previously). Of course, you can always contact Rhona and I for informal advice, if you have any questions.

2. The fourth issue of Research in Learning Technology is a Special Issue on Digital Inclusion and Learning, edited by Profs Jane Seale and William Dutton.  The Call for Papers is here.  This will be a seminal issue – please be part of it.

If you want to get news of this exciting venture, you can follow me @francesbell or @A_L_T on Twitter or watch out on the ALT web site.  Please tell your colleagues about our move to Open Access – we are proud and really rather excited by the opportunities it presents.

Be careful what you wish for

Peer Review Monster

Peer Review Monster Gideon Burton




Some say peer review of research articles is broken and needs to be changed, others that peer review needs a killer app that allows readers within a social network to vote a paper up or down. Cameron Neylon says Don’t (peer review) – the risks outweigh the benefits of publication. He says “publishing anything does no harm’ whereas peer review is costly in expert time.

jch Mary Mc Kinnon




Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, let’s think about what’s good about peer review and what could be improved.

Peer review can be good when:

  • it offers blind review when reviewers do not know gender/age/race/status of authors (unless this is revealed by text and context)
  • reviewers offer constructive advice for authors to improve their article/ creative work
  • it winnows submissions to journal (or other publication outlet) to improve quality of what is presented and filters content for readers

Peer review can be bad when;

  • it introduces delay in publication of work (tardy editors/ reviewers, backlog of accepted articles)
  • opinionated reviewers destroy confidence of authors

Alternatives to ‘traditional’ blind (author does not see identity of reviewer) or double-blind (neither author or reviewer see each others’ identity) reviewing include open peer review and the various recommender systems such as reviews on, Facebook ‘likes’, etc.

What are the risks of abandoning peer review ?

Well of course, the short answer to that is “I don’t know” but a search of reveals that it is a topic worthy of discussion.

“The refereed journal literature needs to be freed from both paper and its costs, but not from peer review, whose ‘invisible hand’ is what maintains its quality,” Steven J.Harnad from Peer Review : A critical inquiry by David Shatz.

What concerns me is that abandoning peer review will leave us more exposed to the gender, race and other identity biases that remain with us, and flourish in online communication where identity is key.

What do you think?

Do the benefits of abandoning peer review outweigh the disadvantages, and why?