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10
Dec
2013

Collaborative Peer Review: Gathering the Academy’s Orphans

“…revolutionary leaders cannot be falsely generous, nor can they manipulate. Whereas the oppressor elites flourish by trampling the people underfoot, the revolutionary leaders can flourish only in communion with the people.” Paulo Freire

I am the editor of a peer reviewed online journal, and I care little for peer review. I care little for any evaluative, assessment practice. Grades have always been meaningless to me. People who speak about “acceptable” prose versus “unacceptable” prose turn my head like a dog’s, hearing the far-off yip of a mutt who doesn’t know better. Yet, Hybrid Pedagogy employs relentlessly a peer review process with the articles we publish. My resistance to assessment and the journal’s insistence on excellence are reconciled in a pedagogy of publishing that seeks to give any author voice, especially marginalized ones who have been shut out of more traditional academic peer review processes.

Hybrid Pedagogy is an experiment in publishing that could be seen as a digital humanities venture, or a playful approach to new form scholarly publishing; and indeed I’ve talked with Jesse, the journal’s innovator, about our trafficking in those terms. But there’s something else at work within Hybrid Pedagogy. “It was clear to us, from the start,” Jesse has said, “that what we were creating was not a traditional academic publication. What we wanted to build was a network, a community for engaging a discussion of digital pedagogy, critical pedagogy, open education, and online learning.” And to do this, we worked to develop a novel approach, a pedagogy for discussing pedagogy. Building the journal as a forum necessarily meant working with authors in a more than “thumbs-up or thumbs-down” manner.

This means being open to submissions of all shapes and sizes, from academic to editorial, from research-driven exposition to personal narrative. Good dialogue doesn’t discriminate. All voices are welcome; all perspectives are necessary. A journal run by teachers is — or should necessarily be — a classroom. And a journal run by critical pedagogues must work toward “educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help [writers] develop consciousness of freedom […] and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action” (the rascally Henry Giroux). In fact, one of the core missions of Hybrid Pedagogy has been to act as a bridge, bringing previously isolated conversations freely into the same room.

There can be no thumbs-down in critical pedagogy. There can be no thumbs-down in publishing as discourse. Interestingly, there can also never be a thumbs-up. Discernment is different from judgement, valuation a hair’s breadth from evaluation. We offer instead an open hand. Thumbs be damned.

Our editorial process is first and foremost collaborative. When I receive submissions from new authors, my initial consideration is not whether the piece should be published; it’s how can I work with this author to make her work publishable? I never assume a submission is a final draft; instead, every new article is full of potential — potential that I, our other editors, and the author can explore together. Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, “Sometimes the result of these new conversational publishing practices might be productive coauthoring relationships”.

Throughout the collaborative peer review process, the author’s own feelings about his writing are as important as the opinions of the editors. We in the process are a fellowship, all editors, all writers. A typical review process includes discussion about the overall direction of the piece, its voice, as much as the specifics of its rhetorical strategy. This is done with the author in as cooperative and supportive a way as possible, with an insistence not on academic excellence or perfection of prose, but on deliberate choices, discernment, and a care for the work that goes tirelessly until the piece is complete.

This discussion runs sometimes a week, a month, even three or four months, while editors and writer alike hammer, strop, or carefully scrape away to polish the piece. As Kris Shaffer noted, the collaborative peer review process “ensured that my ideas were sound before publication, it made my writing better, and it helped my writing reach a larger audience than I could on my own.” I’ve said many times in correspondence with authors that the goal is to make these articles not only ready for publication, but as good as they can be for their own purposes and life.

Before assuming the role of managing editor at the journal, I had published rarely, and mostly fiction and poetry. As my training is creative writing, I also always believed staunchly in the gatekeeping methodology of the publishing world. One chance, one editor making the decisions. One vote to rule them all. I had never been in this role, nor did I ever expect to be. Now that I am a “gatekeeper”, I find that authority requires generosity.

In many ways, I am an orphan of the academy. Beached on the sand at the M.A., employed only ever as an adjunct instructor at two-year colleges, generally looked at askance in the heady company of academics, I am the horse that didn’t make the derby. Five years ago, I stepped away, my head sore from the brick walls of credentialing, publishing, and otherwise proving that my little engine, indeed, could.

I left my position in the academy because I was put-off by hoop-crazy bureaucrats, the voicelessness forced on adjuncts, and the too-popular notion that students have to be convinced to want to learn. I believed that not only could classrooms benefit from turning more learning over to students, but that colleges would run better if they listened closely to their troops on the ground. I was sure there was knowledge lost at every turn, simply because no one was listening.

And listening is all.

My project at Hybrid Pedagogy is to run a sort of orphanage. To listen for voices that have something to say, but which may not find purchase in traditional academic venues. This is not to say that we’ll always publish every article that comes our way. We are yet a journal with a clear ideological and pedagogical bent, and some authors may find more comfortable roost at another journal. But it will not be genre, voice, prestige, research, or other bureaucratic concern that has us turn an author away. Because I believe there is no such thing as writing that cannot improve, a voice that cannot be made strong, so long as a writer is willing to work with us.

The open, collaborative peer review process results in more than mere publication; a community of discourse and practice arises. As Adam Heidebrink wrote after his first Hybrid Pedagogy article published,

The relationship that Hybrid Pedagogy invites us to participate in is not simply means to an end (the publication) but rather initiation into a lively community of educators who are dedicated to creating open-ended dialogues about a wide variety of pedagogical concerns.

Hybrid Pedagogy believes that a commitment to learners and learning is the prime directive of all education, all pedagogy. People everywhere are educating themselves on the Internet, through MOOCs and other online resources, and in digital communities and networks of all varieties. All this education is taking place all over the place… And yet so many of those trained to teach persist in doing their scholarly work inside the academy, lending their voices only to academic debates and publications. What is needed are rampant teachers, and a rampant education that permeates and infuses itself everywhere.

To foster such a teeming community of teachers requires a pedagogy that stretches beyond the bounds of academic culture, one that is hybrid — both germanely academic, and incessantly human — that encourages vociferous engagement and dialogue, and that offers genuine, productive hospitality.

[Photo by MythicSeabass]

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