Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ponderings on predatory journals

I originally posted this as a response in a post that Paul Prinsloo wrote on facebook (in response to this Chronicle Article on Beall's list and why it died), but it seemed lengthy enough to cross-post as a blog post :-)

So many issues to dissect and analyze is such a (relatively) brief article. It is important to see and analyze predatory journals (and academic publishing) in general systematically with other trends in academia. This includes the fetishization of publish or perish, and the increased research requirements to even get a job in academia (see recent article on daily noos as an example)

One thing that bugged me was this line --"Good journals are not going to come to you and beg you for your articles. That should be your first clue." There are legitimate journals out there that are new, and hence don't have any current readership because they are new, so they can't necessarily rely on the word of mouth to get submissions for review. I am helping a colleague get submissions for for upcoming issues (shameless plug: http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciee/ ), and we certainly solicit submissions from within our social network (and the extended social network). We don't spam people (perhaps that the difference), but the social network is used for such purposes.

I also don't like the idea of categorization of 'high quality' and 'low quality' . Anecdotally I'd say that what passes as high quality tends to (at least) correlate with how long they've been in the market, the readership they've amassed over the years, and the exclusivity they have developed because of this (many submissions, few spots for publication). Exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean high quality, and a high quality journal doesn't necessarily mean that a specific article is high quality (but we tend to view it under that halo effect).

At the end of the day, to me it seems that academics are equally susceptible to corporate interests as other professionals. True freedom to say what you need to say sometimes requires a pseudonym - sort of like the Annoyed Librarian...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Validity...or Trustworhiness?

It's been a crazy few days!  If it weren't for my brother coming down to hangout for a while I probably would have more in common with Nosferatu than a regular human being😹 (having been stuck indoors for most of the weekend).  When I started off this summer I gave myself a deadline to be done with my methods chapter by August 30th (chapter 3 of my proposal).  After reading...and reading...and reading...and re-reading (select articles form EDDE 802), I reached a point of saturation when it comes to methods.  I really wanted to read all of Lincoln & Guba's 1985 book called Naturalistic Inquiry during this round, but it seems like I will just need to focus on specific aspects of the book.

So, in this whirlwind of activity, I went through the preamble to my methods section, my target participant descriptions, my data collection, my data analysis techniques, and any limitations.  I added to these sections, explicated, went more in-depth in each section, I corrected issues that were brought up by Debra in EDDE 805, some outstanding issues and comments from the feedback on the parts I had worked on MDDE 702, and some of the initial comments I got back from my dissertation chair. **phew** That was hard work!  The only parts that I still have left to complete in order to be "done" with my methods section are (1) The ethics section; (2) the validity/reliability/bias section;  (3) a conclusion section for the chapter bringing it all together; (4) an appendix with a sample survey; and (5) an appendix with the participant consent form.  I am considering adding (6) the REB application to an appending as well before I call this section "done".  I am not sure if I will be done by August 30th (as was the original plan) but I think I will be damn close.

That said, there is one thing that is tripping me up, and that has to do with the validity/reliability/bias section.  Bias is actually not that hard.  I think I can write up procedures and things to be on the lookout for in order to avoid bias in both data collection and analysis.  The thing that  is much more concerning is philosophical:  Do I go with Trustworthiness, Credibility, Dependability, and Transferability as what I talk about in this section (coming from the Lincoln and Guba tradition of qualitative research work)?  Or do I choose the more traditional Validity and Reliability and discuss my methods in that frame of reference?  Of course, for qualitative studies the Lincoln & Guba approach makes sense (at least it does to me, and it's references in a variety of other texts I've read on qualitative approaches to research), but at the same time quite a few of the texts that I've read (both on case studies and on qualitative studies in general) still use reliability and validity as terms in qualitative researcher. So, so I "translate" validity and reliability (from the texts) in Lincoln & Guba terms?  Just discuss in the framework of Lincoln & Guba? or try to smash both together?  Perhaps start with Validity & Reliability and transition to L&G terms since they make sense?    I need to re-read Chapter 11 of Naturalistic Inquiry this week to help make up my mind (any thoughts are more than welcome in the comments).

As of this point I am at 23 pages (with 1 paragraph of lorem ipsum text, and quite a few scraps of though patterns for items 1 and 2 above), so I am thinking I should be wrapping this up soon and not getting logorrhea.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The publication emergency

Paul Prinsloo has a wealth of thought provoking posts on his facebook ;-)  I wasn't planning on blogging until tomorrow, but this got my mental gears moving and thinking (not about my dissertation, but it's thinking nevertheless).  This blog started as a continuation of a comment I left on Paul's facebook feed. The article that got me thinking is an article on the Daily Nous titled The Publication Emergency.

In the article a journal editor (in the field of philosophy) opines (although not with his editor hat on) that graduate students (I guess this means doctoral students) should be barred from publishing until they are done with their degree. He says that this is not a barring of people who don't hold a doctorate, but rather of people who are in process of earning their doctorate.  So, in theory, some with an MA, but not pursuing a doctorate would be welcome to publish their stuff.  So, even if an article is good and has merit, if its author is in process of earning a doctorate they'd get an automatic rejection.

It was an interesting read, and a good thought piece - and in all honesty I think that that since the author is a philosopher he is either trolling us or trying to get us to think more deeply about this topic. I certainly hope so at least because I don't think there is a way for me to disagree more with the position expressed (my disagreement has reached 11 😉 ).

The proposal seems to be trying to address the problem of the proliferation of credentials amogst the professoriate, of which I'd argue that publications is one kind of credential.  And, this proliferration of credentials is making it much more competitive for those in the professoriate at a variety of levels.  To deal with this problem the proposal is to arbitrarily eliminate one segment of the population, barring them from publications. It's arbitrary because someone without a doctorate, as mentioned above, is still NOT barred from publication, except if they are in the middle of earning one. So someone like me publishing prior to entering a doctoral program is fine, but if I enter that gray zone it suddenly is not? (not trying to make this about me, I promise 😛 ).

I see the problem as being more systematic, and the credentialing is a symptom of a larger issue (something we see at level beneath the doctoral level as well!)   Doctoral programs have increased and saturated the market.  Doctoral programs have gone from artisanal experiences, where few people applied, fewer were selected, cohorts were smaller and members shared the 'pain' of the experience. Sort of like going through an elite military program, but in academia.  Nowadays doctoral programs have (mostly) morphed to being cash cows for universities. More PhD† students graduating means more competition in the tenure stream job market; that is of course unless your program was thinking ahead and designed doctoral programs whose goals are not just to create new tenure stream faculty, but also work in other facets of society. More programs means more candidates competing for fewer jobs and resources (journals being  one of those resources). Hence, you need additional credentials to make it, such as doing post-docs (which I'd call exploitative labor), other type free work and volunteering, more papers published, etc., in order to get an edge.  It reminds me a lot of high school when people joined as many extracurriculars in order to pad their college application 😒

So, now you have a problem, my friend! You see, more early academics‡ publishing because current professors claim that they don't have the ability to publish as much because the journal market is saturated - with the author of the article citing 500-600 submissions to a journal per year. Add this to the budding market of predatory journals, and you've got a really bad mix.  An invalid argument that was proposed in the article is "well if the argument of a graduate student is good now, imagine how good it will be in the future!"  I don't buy this.  Academia has setup a perverse set of incentives, including keeping track of citations.  If the goal is to write something good and get citations for it, why wait? Ideas don't have a monogenesis, so if you wait someone else will beat you to the punch. Why handicap younger scholars who should actually be apprenticed into this? Another proposal is to not have anything published before you got your current tenure-stream job not count, so that people can see what you can do on the job.  This also made me roll my eyes a bit. 🙄 Why practice selective amnesia? Simply to sour the milk and prevent people from doing something?

I think academia needs to seriously look systematically at the perverse incentives it has provided over the past 40 years♠ and deal with those rather than just dealing with a symptoms in ways that are arbitrary, and at best, a bandaid on a bleeding patient.  Doctoral students should be encouraged to publish, it's good practice for those who want to go into the professoriate.  Why not have the benefit of mentorship while undertaking this?  Furthermore, the publish-or-perish modus operandi for academic units needs to finally be put to rest.  Faculty positions need much more granularity than what the current system allows for.  Faculty hired as lab scientists should be evaluated more on their research and publication performance. Faculty who do mostly teaching should be evaluated more on that.  Tenure and academic freedom should not just the playground of research PhDs, and we shouldn't try to shoehorn everything into a research PhD framework. This to me seems like a vestige of positivism, and our profession needs to think more seriously about a more dynamic, better representative, professoriate.  More holistic means of evaluation will most likely take the pressure of the publication system.

† PhDs is just my short term for any sort of doctorate, I don't really want to get into the whole PhD/EdD thing...
‡ By early academic I don't just mean tenure-track folks, but doctoral students
♠ just an estimate on my part, based on my conversations with others in field more time than I

Friday, July 28, 2017

Campus deadzones, and creepy hallways: where did everyone go?

Found image on Google
(not actually a photo of me)
Happy Friday dear readers! (umm...anyone still there?  I swear! I am alive! 😆)

I've been attempting to write a blog post all week (and trying to do the 10 minutes of writing per day), but I've been failing on that account...I guess Fridays are a better day as things wind down from the week.  In any case, there is an article from the Chronicle that's been on my mind this week titled "Our Hallways are too quiet". Our department chair sent this to us (everyone in the department) as a thought piece, perhaps something to ponder and discuss in the fall - probably because our department is also like the department that is described in the article.

I had a variety of cognitive and emotional processes go off, and get gears grinding while I was reading this.  I actually hadn't noticed that the author was from MIT...who only recently "discovered" online learning (like Columbus discovering the New World).  Yes, I am a little snarky, but I also think that your frame of reference is really important.  If you are a Bricks and Mortar institution what you consider "community" might look different from an institution that is focused on distance education (or at least has a substantial DE component).  But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me just say this:  My job title is "Online Program Manager" - as in the person who runs the online components of a specific MA program.  Having been on campus for close to 20 years now, in a variety of roles, I can see both sides.  I think this particular article is really biased, in ways that their author doesn't even get.

Let's start with this:
Entire departments can seem like dead zones, and whole days can pass with only a glimpse of a faculty member as someone comes to campus to meet a student, attend a meeting, or teach a class. The halls are eerily quiet. Students, having figured this out, are also absent. Only the staff are present.
This excerpt, as well as the rest of the article, is very faculty-centric.  As if the faculty (or this particular faculty member anyway) are the only ones who suffer any consequences from creepy hallways.  In my most recent job (headed into my 6th year soon!), and my first in an academic department, I've experienced the demoralization that comes with absence of colleagues.  In all of my others jobs on campus I've always had colleagues around (with the exception of vacations and such).  Whereas in an academic department I didn't (don't) always see people.  In my induction period (when I was getting the lay of the land and doing a SWOT analysis of the program I was managing so I could be more effective) Mondays through Thursdays I'd at least see my fellow program managers and faculty here and there, but on Fridays it almost felt like being in the movie I Am Legend.  Granted, this didn't bother me back then because there was a lot of paper records to go through and make heads and tails out of everything. Being busy meant that I didn't really mind being alone.  Once all paper was organized, made sense of, and work could be done remotely, the big question that comes to mind is this:  Well, if I can do my work remotely, and I don't have to deal with the x-hour commute, why would I need to go in?  especially for someone who manages a distance learning program.  If one group of employees (faculty) can work remotely (effectively) why not another group whose job duties are conducive to it?  I do agree with one point made above:  students having figured out that faculty aren't there are also not there; but there is a big caveat here:  who are your students? Students in my department are (by and large) working adults, so even if faculty were around it doesn't mean we'd suddenly have students sitting around in semi-circles, drinking their dunkies coffee (local affectionate term for Dunkin' Donuts) and discussing Derrida.  If you think that way, you're living in a fantasy.  Student demographics matter.

Goin' onto the next point. The author writes about faculty avoid the office for a variety of old fashioned reasons, such as not being able to get work done, avoiding feuds, and avoiding time-sinks like watercooler talk, but then she turns her attention to the perennial foe: technology!
A big reason for decreased faculty presence in their campus offices is technology. Networked computers that allow one to write anywhere also allow us to have conversations with students and colleagues that used to take place in person. Creating new course materials and ordering books is easily done online. Cloud software has made pretty much all our work processes easily done from home, a vacation cabin, a foreign conference hotel. For many scholars, this has been a very liberating occurrence, giving them wondrous flexibility.
Pardon me, I don't know you, but I call 💀💢🐄💩😡 on this argument.  Yes.  technology has facilitated certain efficiencies, like not having to fill out a form in triplicate, or not having to wait overnight for a journal article query that only returns title and abstract of potentially relevant articles to you.  Technology has not caused faculty not to want to come to the office.  Other organizational factors play a major role in the day to day decisions on whether or not to work remotely.  When research productivity is sought more, then people will do what they need to do to be more productive in their research.  If community engagement, service, teaching, or other aspects of the professoriate are valued more, than people will gravitate toward those.  I basically comes down to incentives, and when there is little incentive to be on campus to meet those objectives, then you will undertake them at a place that is most convenient for you.  I think a lot has to do with the expectations set forth by the institution, the institutional culture, and by extension the departmental culture.  Sure, you can have a department chair (the head honcho in an academic department) mandate that everyone (yes, including faculty) have to be there 3 days per week, and put in at least 10 hours of  'face time' into the department during regular business hours (9-5).  That's really only 3 hours per day. Does 3 hours per day really build community?  Nope.  Does 3 hours per day guarantee that people will be there on those same days and hours?  Nope.  This is the equivalent of butts in seats, for no good reason.  It's as anachronistic as forcing students to endure a long lecture just because you haven't through of your pedagogies.  First you determine what your root goal is (and no, more face time isn't a worthy goal), and then you hatch a plan to get there, while at the same time taking into consideration the various local variables, norms, and expectations (heck, maybe those need some rethinking too!)

Every time I hear about technology as the "big bad" I am reminded of the rebooted (and cancelled) Thurdecats.  From the fan wiki article (with my own annotations in brackets):
Most citizens [of Thundera] abhorred technology, denying the existance of machinery entirely and leaving thoughts of such things as fairy tales. This belief was a major contributing factor to their destruction as the lizards [their enemy] attacked them with advanced bipedal war machines Warbots while the ThunderCats fought with bows and arrows.
Just an interesting side-trip - take it as you will 😂

Anyway, moving along, finally, I see a conflation of the sense of community with face time, and they are not the same thing.  The author writes:
Some would argue that worrying about departmental community is ridiculous. After all, professors aren’t hired or promoted on the basis of departmental relationships, or civic engagement, and most faculty members desperately need quiet time in which to do research and write. True enough. As my colleague, Sherry Turkle, has argued: Conversation matters. Personal contact matters. It is very hard to build relationships with people we do not see in person, and such relationships are the bedrock of so much else that matters on any campus.
I think community is important.  However just because someone is not in their office at the same time YOU are in your office doesn't mean that you can't have community.  And just because you re not meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't communicating.  And just because you aren't meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't having personal contact! I've had lots of meaningful conversations, and personal contact with my many distance friends, family, and colleagues over the year.  From my doctoral cohort, to vconnecting friends and colleagues (sorry I've been a ghost - dissertation is sucking my mental energy), to colleagues who are geographically dispersed.  Every time I hear of Sherry Turkle I can't help but roll my eyes. Yes, face to face is nice.  Yes, I like face to face sometimes, but face to face ain't the end all be all of conversations, connections, communities, and work.  Yes, we do need community.  Without it we are just a loosely joined confederation of people maybe striving toward a common goal (maybe not), but with community we become stronger, and we get smarter.  But community can be achieved in a different ways (look at vconnecting for example).

To wrap up, I am reminded of a joke, or something that one of my mentors (Pat Fahy) kept saying "It's the parking, stupid!".  This was the response to the question "why do students pursue distance education?".  Of course, this is just one piece of the puzzle; others being things like mobility issues, health issues, childcare, elder-care, working two (or more) jobs, and so on.  I think in an era where we are offering some really great distance education programs (oh yeah...welcome to the party, MIT), and we've seriously considered what makes a good online program for our disciplines in order to get here, it would behoove us to also look at what makes our jobs effective and how we can effectively build communities of various modalities.  Forcing grown human beings to have face time so that they form community is the equivalent of having your kids forced to stay with "weird uncle mike" or grandma, because you feel like your kids need a connection with the rest of your family, but you haven't bothered making them part of your family in the day to day, except only on holidays.  Both kids, and adults, resent such forced actions.  We can do better.  Just sayin'

OK, now that I've ranted on 😏 - what do you think? 😃

Monday, July 17, 2017

University Education, the Workplace, and the learning gray areas in-between

Many years ago, maybe around 16 years ago, I was sitting in the office of my computer science major advisor, getting my academic plan for next semester signed off on.  My computer science program was actually an offshoot of the mathematics department, and until recent years (2003?) they were one and the same.  My advisor, while looking at my transcript, noticed that (on average) I was doing better in language courses rather than my computer science courses; which was technically true, but many courses designated as CS courses (and ones that were required for my degree) were really math courses, so you need to do a deeper dive to see what I was doing better in.

I never really forgot what he said next.  He said I should switch major; and it was odd that he didn't offer any suggestions as to how to improve†...  Being a bit stubborn (and relatively close to graduation) I doubled down and completed my major requirements (ha!).  During this chat I told him that I really wish there were more coursework, required in my degree, in additional programming languages because that is what I was expected to know when I graduated for work. His response was I could learn that on the job... needless to say, my 20-year-old self was thinking "so why am I majoring in this now, anyway?"

Fast forward to the recent(ish) past, flashback brought to your courtesy of of this post on LinkedIn. I had recently completed my last degree (this time in Instructional Design) and I was having coffee with some good friends (and former classmates). We were a year or so out of school. Two of us already had jobs (same institutions as when we were in school) and one was on the hunt. His complaint was that school didn't prepare him for the work environment because he didn't know the software du jour (which at the time were captivate and articulate). I did my best to not roll my eyes because software comes and goes, but theory (for the most part) really underlies what we do as professionals. In class there wasn't a dearth of learning about software, but there were limitations: namely the 30-day trial period of these two eLearning titles.  So we did as much as we could with them in the time we had with them, and we applied what we learned from the theoretical perspective.  No, we didn't spent a ton of time (relatively speaking) on the software because that sort of practice in a graduate program should really be up to the learner, and it would cost them.  Captivate cost $1100 for a full license, while articulate costs $999/year to license. That cost is actually more than double what the course cost! Furthermore, it privileges one modality (self-paced eLearning) and two specific elearning titles. The fact of the matter is that not all instructional designers do self-paced eLearning, enabled by these titles. Not all instructional designers are content developers‡. I find the author's following suggestion a bit ludicrous:

To replace the non-value add courses, decision makers can study current open job descriptions, and ignore academic researchers' further suggestions. Programs can then be revolutionized with relevant course topics. These new courses can include relevant production tools (e.g. Storyline, Captivate, Camptasia, GoAnimate, Premier, etc.) and numerous cycles of deliberate practice, where students develop a course on their own, and receive the feedback they need. This will make hiring managers very happy.
While I do see value in learning specific technologies, that's not the point of a graduate degree, and graduate courses should prepare you to be a self-supporting, internally motivated learner.  Courses should give you the staples that you need to further make sense of your world on your own, and to pickup tools and know-how that you need for specific situations♠.  Focusing a graduate degree on production tool is a sure way to make sure to really ignore the vast majority of what makes instructional design what it is. Practice is important (i.e. building your learning solutions) but it's not the only thing that's important. I also do think that employers need to do a better job when posting instructional designer job descriptions, but that's a whole other blog post.

I do think that if you are new to any field you (as a learner) should be taking advantage of any sorts of internships, where the rubber (theory) meets the road.  In some programs internships are required, and in others they are optional.  I do think that internships are an important component for the newbies in the field.  When I was pursuing my MA in applied linguistics, and being in a program that focused on language acquisition and language teaching, the field experience (aka internship) was a requirement.  People with classroom teaching experience could waive the requirement and take another course instead, but for me it was valuable (as much as I had to be dragged to to kicking and screaming).  In hindsight, it gave me an opportunity to see what happens in different language classrooms, something I wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

So, what are your thoughts? What do you think of the LinkedIn article?

† I guess this must have been a problem with advising in the college in general because years later the college of science and maths put together a student success center.  They were probably hemorrhaging students.

‡ I suspect this is another, brewing, blog post.

♠ So, yeah...Years later I see some of wisdom of my advisor.  I think he was partly right, in that I should be able to pick up what I need once I get the basic blocks, but I think he was wrong to suggest for me to change major, and I do think that less math, more computer science with applied cases would have been better as a curricular package.