Imagining a more open review process

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When we started this project, we were aiming for a much clearer process, call for chapters, find reviewers, accept or decline and move smartly along. We have realised though that if we want to honour the idea of the perspectives from a diversity of spaces, a “clean” book process was inherently exclusionary. But one of the things that was important to us from the outset, was reflecting the rich work done by the broad community of people who do learning design work in a diversity of spaces. Prompted by our copy editor, Michelle Wilmers who asked how our commitment to openness in the content of the book was playing out in the process of the book, we quickly realised that simply creating a space for voices from a diversity of spaces was not in itself sufficient. The process of bringing authors’ writing and reviewers’ contributions together in Learning Design Voices needed to create some sense of community around and throughout all the processes in the project – from call to publication. 

The community of authors contributing to this volume is diverse. We have authors who do research work focusing on learning and teaching, or learning design; authors who teach in courses of their own; authors who don’t teach directly in courses but support staff who do; authors who work primarily in staff development and professional learning. From the outset we knew that working with this diverse group of people would require an approach based on appreciation of the different perspectives, among others geographical, professional and disciplinary, that our authors bring to Learning Design Voices. We hoped that Learning Design Voices would be something of a hybrid text – reflecting the richness of perspectives in its author community, and speaking not just about learning design practices, but also about how we study, examine and feel about our practices. Neither the text nor the project have been strictly or solely an academic research exercise. Instead we hoped very much to make it into an opportunity to help learning designers and those doing learning design work to connect across dimensions of difference. 

As a result of this commitment to support the possibility of diversity and community, the peer review process for Learning Design Voices has been different to that of a traditional journal and sometimes tricky to manage. During the chapter proposal phase, as an editorial team, we invited engagement from authors. Some authors took this up through “scoping calls” – quick, informal chats to float an idea, and orient it to the book project. Other authors sent us comprehensive proposals and asked for feedback before submitting a “final” version for consideration for the book. Initially, we had imagined this as a “support” for less experienced authors, or for contributors in non-academic roles. What was most surprising to us, in some ways, was that even the most experienced academic writers wanted to chat with someone about their work, or wanted to talk through how to orient their work to the idea of learning design from the “periphery”.  

The project had both internal reviewers, drawn from the author pool, and external reviewers, drawn from the wider pool of researchers, writers and practitioners contributing to knowledge about a topic. We wanted our reviewers to represent a wide variety of contexts and perspectives, from academic to practitioner orientations. Finding a diverse group of reviewers was not always easy –  we went through the depths of Google Scholar and Linkedin to find individuals with relevant interests to the chapters, suggesting the importance of having a public facing profile. As is common practice, all reviewers were selected based on their expertise in relation to chapter. The review process sought to build connections among people doing learning design work. We approached this in two key ways. However, we also selected reviewers based on strengthening connections between authors and reviewers who might share contexts, or, through the review process, experience an alternative perspective on similar issues. 

We consciously, and with some trepidation, chose a fully open peer review process – the authors of the chapter were known to the reviewer and  the reviewers of the chapter, both internal and external, were known to the authors. We imagined a review process, through being primarily transparent and open, foregrounded the possibilities of conversation. Knowing whose work you’re reviewing and who has reviewed your work creates a network of relationship to each other, and while this is often looked at as a potentially risky relationality, we would argue that a mutual commitment to contributing together to the work of our field is critical. In practice what this has meant is that in some instances, authors and reviewers have had extended engagements around texts. Authors have expressed to us the value they have found in these conversations. In instances, as an editorial team, we’ve jumped into the writing-reviewing process. In the earliest phases, this has involved joining authors in getting text ready for review by offering a first round of “critical friend” type readings.  Post review, this “jumping in” has involved working with authors to interpret reviewers, and where reviewers have been brief, to supplement these. 

We tried also, to develop a review process underpinned by a commitment to active kindness.  We understood, in painfully personal ways, that everyone had been affected by the pandemic. Many of the authors and reviewers in this volume, particularly learning designers and staff called on to move face to face courses online, have been working under extraordinarily difficult and pressured conditions in the last two years – initially, emergency remote teaching and lockdowns, and then an extended socially distanced teaching and learning experience. But while the experience of the pandemic is a globally shared experience, it was not experienced in precisely the same way by all the authors and reviewers in this community. Factors including geography, job title,conditions of employment, gender and age have all impacted in a variety of ways in how authors and reviewers experienced the last two years. It should have come as no surprise that some authors needed more time than we originally planned for as the pandemic stretched already lean systems to their absolute limits. What that has meant for the review process and for the book as a whole is that we have moved deadlines, and ultimately shifted towards a slow-release model, to try to honour what has felt  “right” in terms of how much to push our authors, reviewers and, frankly, ourselves. 

Ultimately, the process of bringing this book closer to publication has been grounded in the ideas of review as a conversational contribution to knowledge creation, in the idea of the editorial role as a journeying alongside, and in a deeply personal awareness of the costs of writing during a pandemic. 

Shanali is a lecturer within the Academic Staff Development unit at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. Her particular brief in the staff development team is to support part-time and non-permanent teaching staff. She currently teaches on the Postgraduate diploma in educational technologies, co-convening the Online Learning Design module. She has designed several online staff development short courses, and teaches two academic staff development online courses, Core Concepts in Learning and Teaching and An online introduction to Assessment. Shanali also has strong interests in relation to inclusivity and education, working largely in the practice space with colleagues to create more inclusive teaching and learning environments.

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