This year the Educational Developers Conference was held at the University of Victoria, hosting nearly 200 educational developers from across the country. I have been to this conference once before and found it to be an excellent professional development opportunity. This year was no different and the program covered a diversity of topics relevant to educational developers.
I attended the pre-conference session ‘Principles of Good Practice in Publication: The Inside Track for Educational Developers’. The session was led by the current editors from three journals which publish in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) space; Innovations in Education and Teaching International (IETI), International Journal for Academic Development (IJAD), (both Taylor & Francis paid access) and Teaching & Learning Inquiry (TLI) (open access). The goals of the session were to help participants prepare for publishing in these journals, get to know the scope of each journal, explore acceptance criteria, and consider how they might apply this knowledge to one of their own current or future projects.
Participants brought a some additional questions to the session, such as:
- What are the issues in publishing in SoTL specific publications versus discipline specific publications?
- What do we need to know about the SoTL landscape in order to publish?
- How do we efficiently build research into our work in educational development?
It was quite interesting to hear from the journal editors themselves: positioning the scope and aims of the publication; reflecting on working with publishing companies; sharing information on the quantity and quality of articles they receive; and offering insight into how they manage the publication. All of these journals are suitable for SoTL research in higher education from international sites and from studies in any discipline. It is important to read the aims and scope of a journal before submitting to ensure your work meets the intent and audience. While IETI focuses on innovation and change in higher education which may be of interest to a broad audience depending on the innovation, IJAD focuses on articles of interest to academic development or academic developers. TLI encourages SoTL studies which are multidisciplinary. So while a study could meet all of these criteria, the way it is crafted might position it better for publishing in one of these journals over another.
The editors offered interesting reflections on working with publishers or being an open access publication. TLI moved from being closed to open access in 2016, and has had a positive experience since. Members of the publications advisory committee wrote a thoughtful piece documenting the change and rationale. I particularly enjoyed this excerpt:
Change happens slowly in higher education, and innovations must often run parallel with longstanding processes before they truly transform the way we do business. Providing open access to the power of a scholarly approach to teaching and learning will hasten the transformation to new models of scholarship and their representation.
Working with a publisher does offer some advantage, as they promote the journal and provide the publishing infrastructure. However, editors noted they still end up doing the bulk of the work. I had always wondered about the word/page limit on articles, as being digital seems to make this a meaningless restriction. It turns out this is largely a legacy of when journals went to print, yet still imposed by publishers with exorbitant page fees should the editor allow them to be exceeded. Word/page limits can be helpful in guiding writers towards appropriate articles to fit the journal, but should be flexible when warranted. It would seem that open access journals can largely accommodate this without the extra costs.
We scrutinized some existing articles which had been published in these three journals to identify fit for each. This was a useful exercise which exposed how authors could write directly to the aims and scope of the journal. We identified ‘pivot points’ in each article which reinforced the abstract in positioning the research. These are often found in the discussion or conclusion sections of a paper. I will be watching for these in my future reading, and seeking to build them into my writing as well.
We spent some time writing using the ‘shut up and write’ technique. I have been part of a writing group at Vancouver Island University which also uses this strategy. Essentially writers gather in a room and get straight to writing on their own works. Being around others who are feverishly writing can be quite motivating and makes the act of writing more social. Writing time can be interspersed with time for discussion and socializing. We discussed our works and the strengths and weaknesses of the writing. Some were based on quite well established projects, while others were just taking shape. Our facilitators encouraged us to write as often as possible, using emerging thoughts as pieces which could ‘ladder’ into more established works, or writing the ‘sacrificial paper’ which is an exercise in writing itself. It may not be a published piece, but can be used to support your work in other ways.
We finally discussed the practice of writing and scrutinized the myth of the ‘write every day’ mantra. Helen Sword’s work ‘Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write‘ is now on my reading list. This book is a guide for writers aspiring to become more productive and take greater pleasure in their work. Helen offers a diagnostic tool called the Writing BASE which is designed to help you consider the behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional dimensions of your writing practice. She has studied the practices of academic writers and found them to be varied, concluding that no one approach or strategy works for all. It is important to recognize when you are most successful writing and proactively seek to allow time for this to happen.
All in all, a very worthwhile session. While we did not get to cover all the additional questions, I walked away with some solid resources, a sharpened lens on the publishing process, and some ideas for my next writing project. The facilitators also provided a set of great activities we could take back to support writers in our own context.