#MLA15 Presentation

Tales from a Silver Medalist: Publishing an Interactive, Collaborative Article in JITP

The following post contains the slides and transcript from my presentation at the Modern Language Association convention held in Vancouver in January 2015. This presentation was accepted as part of a panel on scholarly communication, here is the call:

What Does It Mean to Publish? New Forms of Scholarly Communication   

Combining the immediacy of a blog post with the rigor of a refereed journal, “middle state” publishing is gaining ground in the humanities. How does middle-state publishing — also known as “grey literature” — challenge our notions of what makes something “published”? Scholars wrestle with the import of this question for hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, while librarians, archivists, and the MLA International Bibliography struggle to document and preserve emerging forms of scholarly communication. This session seeks papers that will engage with the question of what it means to publish. How might institutional repositories constitute a form of publication? How do new tools and methodologies suggest new categories for indexing and analysis? How do new categories of scholarly publication challenge and change how we keep the scholarly record? How do we archive emerging material?

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After a brief introduction and series of thank yous that accompanied my first slide, here is the text that accompanied my visuals:

First, a little about the journal in general. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (JITP) is open access and entirely online, built on a customized site on the CUNY Academic Commons – which may be a familiar form to many of you since it is the same platform as the MLA Commons. JITP was founded at the Graduate Center, CUNY as a potential space to showcase the work of doctoral students in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program, and as a student in that program I was invited to be a member of the editorial collective before the first issue launched. The conversations that we, the editorial collective, have had over the past three years have challenged and expanded my conception of scholarly production. Theses issues range from philosophical and ethical, to practical and structural: for example, we grapple with questions of copyright, permission, archiving, and indexing, but also issues concerning what types of media to accept, how to stipulate “article length” in new media submissions, what citation style to maintain, and how to mentor authors whose submissions show potential but don’t quiet meet our criteria. As a new journal in the relatively new world of open access publishing, many of these questions have very few or no examples to provide precedence. The journals we do look to include Kairos, whose editor Cheryl Ball as been very generous in her mentorship.

JITP is working to remix the scholarly journal in a myriad of ways, concentrating on enacting a publication model in which both the form and process adapt to meet new modes of composition. The image here is the JITP mission statement – itself an evolving text – and you can see here, as in our title and twitter handle, our emphasis is on pedagogy. Focusing on a transparent and collaborative peer-review process, this presentation will chronicle the production of the article “Digital Literary Pedagogy” as an example of how editors of online academic journals can work with contributors to expand the definition of publication in innovative ways.

Let’s start with the way our Editorial Collective works. We maintain a balance of students, faculty members, and staff (including librarians, deans, and administrators). We also strive to have two members edit each issue, with one student and one full-time faculty or alt-ac member paired together. This isn’t as easy as it seems considering many of our students have landed excellent jobs across higher education. Which is wonderful! However, this goal remains central to our mission because it is through these relationships that we model the mentorship we hope to extend to our authors.

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As you can see from this graphic, authors are brought into our process as fully as can be expected considering the many layers of labor that occur behind the scenes. Each submission goes through a minimum of three stages of review – all of which are as transparent and open as possible – starting with a double “not-blind” review. The authors receive letters from their reviewers that suggest changes, and then many are assigned to a specific collective member that works with the author to enact those revisions. This is followed by copy-editing and style and structure reviews, which is a subject for another talk. This talk is about a project inspired by the relationship between authors and editors. Roger Whitson, an assistant professor of English at Washington State University, (coincidentally presenting at this same time in another session) wrote to JITP asking if we would like to collaborate with him on a semester-long undergraduate course he was teaching on technologies of reading in the nineteenth century. Roger’s original pitch was grandiose but exciting, and really appealed to our desire to be innovative in both form and process. Along with Kimon Kerimidas, Assistant Professor and Director of the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center, I volunteered to be a part of this experiment.

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The timeline you see here is actually the active navigation for the resulting webtext – and will help me provide a narrative for this presentation. You can go to the live site on your own to see this in action. In the first week of class Roger introduced the assignment: the students were to create a collaborative digital project based on the course content as a mock submission to our journal. Then Kimon and I used Google Hangout to speak with the class about the basics of academic publishing, digital scholarship, and JITP. The class then went to work reading, writing, and building webtexts to showcase their work. At the end of the term Roger shared the student’s projects with us (they are publicly available on the course website), and Kimon and I critiqued them as if we were reviewing them for our journal. The students then presented their projects to us live over Google Hangout, and we then explained our feedback to the class in response. Meanwhile Roger, Kimon, and I documented this entire process in a co-authored text done via Google Docs. Although these are essential three single authored sections reflecting our individual experience and expertise, you can see how significantly we influenced each other’s writing through the comments and revision history on our Google Doc drafts – all of which are available as part of the final product. The conglomeration of these elements – the course site, videos, student projects, drafts, and article text – was reviewed by the issue editors and members of the JITP review board in the same way all other submissions are treated.

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Subsequent to publication, “Digital Literary Pedagogy” was nominated for a Digital Humanities (DH) Award. The nominations and votes are all crowdsourced through social media – meaning anyone can nominate a submission and anyone can vote, but it is anonymous. I do not know who nominated or voted for our article.

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To give you some perspective, in 2012 there were three winners in the category our article was nominated for – which is “Best DH blog post or short publication.” You can see that even in the category title there is ambiguity in the amalgamation of form that for me represents the shift in scholarly production that is happening in the digital humanities. All three of the 2012 winners were very innovate in their form – continuously evolving, interactive, public sites of scholarship. As you can see in the example I provide here, Will Self and his collaborators created an interactive network visualization as the navigation for this webtext, which also includes social media integration and other interesting features that explore the affordances of the digital space.

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In 2013, the year we were nominated, there were far more texts featured on the DH Awards site, and the winners represent a much very different view of digital humanities production. Almost all of these do meet the requirement of being short – they are either blog posts or brief articles in journals, and as is necessitated by the process of the choosing a winner – they are all accessible online. Also, all but two include some kind of multimedia, and some are very mutli-modal such as the “Songs of the Victorians” project which incorporates images, sound, and text in novel ways . However, the winner is a 43 page pdf of a book chapter. It is not interactive or mutlimodal in any way. That isn’t to discount the smart, engaging content, which is well-researched and written. But I do question what its inclusion and eventually winning says about the state of the digital humanities.

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And this brings me to the crux of this presentation. In my research I have found convincing scholarship calling for a revolution in academic publishing dating back to 1996, with a huge spike in the early 2000’s when the “crisis” seemed to peak under economic pressures just as the blogosphere gained momentum. However, despite the many grant-funded investigations that have reached the same conclusions regarding the unsustainable trajectory of scholarly monographs in both book and journal form – we still return to these forms as our primary measure of evaluation in the humanities. Why? Because of the three points made by Risam:

Three principle differences between digital and print scholarship in the humanities require a radical revision to how we review and assess scholarly production and to how scholarly work accrues value: digital scholarship is often collaborative, digital scholarship is rarely finished, and digital scholarship is frequently “public.” (“Rethinking Peer Review in the Age of Digital Humanities,” Roopika Risam.)

It is difficult to evaluate scholarship that is collaborative, public, and perpetually in beta. But I want to take this one step further. What can we, as academics producing digital work, offer that the consumer-driven world of publishing, technology, and new media aren’t? It is difficult to compete with the sleek, user-friendly products made by tech conglomerates – but what they aren’t offering is transparency.

And this brings me back to our article. Roger, Kimon, and I did not include the videos and drafts just for the sake of adding technology. Our intention was to show our process so that other instructors could learn from this experience. This goal extends across the journal – which is particularly evident in our short-form sections – Teaching Fails, Assignments, Tool Tips, and Reviews. These sections are meant to be instructive, show process, and focus on pedagogy. I believe this is what we, in higher education, should aim for in the future of scholarly communication, because now we can achieve this goal at a deeper level. We can make our work open access and open source, allowing audiences to reuse, remix, and rebuild our work for educational purposes. We can engage with process at a meta-level, through text and code.

Just this week, Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library, was quoted in Harvard Magazine as saying, “We are still in the Wild West of sorting out how we will communicate our academic developments effectively.”

The digital disruption of the print world is transforming both commercial publishing and scholarly books and journals—and is changing structures for teaching, research, and hiring and promoting professors. Obviously, Roger Whitson assigned that project to his students because he believed it to be a valuable scholarly engagement that would help his students build the skills they need to succeed both within and without the academy. Many of us engage in similar practices in our classrooms everyday. But what are we preparing students for if two decades of discussion, research, and calls for change have yielded such incremental impact on our own methods of reward in the academy? What can we do to make these forms of scholarly production count? Well, as many others have called for – notably John Unsworth – we can pledge to only publish in open access journals, we can work on publications like JITP and Kairos, we can negotiate within our institutions to change hiring and tenure practices, and we can continue to teach multimodal, collaborative composition across the disciplines. But we also need to start talking about all of the issues I mentioned at the start of this presentation. The nitty-gritty details of digital production that need to be addressed and adopted on a large-scale in order to ensure the reliability and longevity of our work.

Screenshot 2014-12-28 14.48.41So let’s chat! Tweet, post comments, email, post on list-servs or facebook! Let’s continue this conversation, and work together to find sustainable solutions.

I want to thank everyone who attended our panel and for the provocative conversation that occurred in the question and answer portion. I’d also like the thank Dawn Childress for her excellent organization and moderation, and Harriet Green and Barbara Chen for their presentations in this panel.

Overall, this was a truly wonderful conference. Vancouver is simply breathtaking, and the location of the convention center allowed us to take full advantage of the natural splendor of British Columbia.

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Also, I really feel that the panels I attended were some of the most inspiring of all five MLA conventions I have attended. I saw a great attention to pedagogy and innovation that excites me and holds tremendous potential for the future. I am also thankful for my friends and mentors who took the time to offer guidance and support at #MLA15. You know who you are, and it means the world to me.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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