By: Meghna Nag Chowdhuri and Charleen Chiong, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
It has come to that time of the year when it is time to pass on the mantle of the Cambridge Open-Review Educational Research e-Journal (CORERJ) to the next editorial team. Cliché as it is, time has flown – it feels like only yesterday that we sat down for a marathon of a hand-over meeting with Siddharth Pandey, the 2015-16 Editor-in-Chief of CORERJ, with our laptops and Dropbox open, exchanging extensive streams of files and folders. As we reflected on in our recently published Editorial, managing a student journal (a first-time experience for both of us) has come with a mixture of challenge and success. In this blogpost, we reflect on four important things we’ve learned from our experience as student editors.
1. Reviewers can make or break a journal
The quality of peer and open-review is central to the core function of a student journal: to develop and disseminate research that is rigorous and boundary-pushing. Having a large enough pool of reviewers from a range of disciplines and research interests was the first challenge. This was true not only for peer-reviewing but in acquiring sufficient reviews through the open-reviewing portal. The second pressing issue we particularly wished to address, as Editors, was improving the quality of critique of some of the reviews that we received.
This led us to realise that we must ask our reviewers to re-think the fundamental questions they are asking themselves. Rather than asking simply: ‘is this a good or bad article?’, reviewers must ask themselves more critical questions with greater analytic power: ‘what is this article actually trying to argue?’, ‘how well does it meet a gap in the literature?’, ‘what are some concrete suggestions I can make?’. As CORERJ is a student journal, many reviewers are first-timers, and as such should be given adequate support.
To that end, we expanded the goals of CORERJ to include student development. We organised workshops and conducted an interview with Professor Susan Robertson, published last month, which offers tips on what makes a high-quality review.
Reviewing gets a bad rap for being an unglamorous job – and because it is anonymous to the public, it is easily done poorly. Yet, we feel the quality of reviews is the life-blood of any journal, and thus, the life-blood of any thriving academic community.
2. An Editor’s role is serve as a good middle-ground, or, Communication is key
The obvious or intuitive role of Editors (to most) is conceptualising a vision or direction for the journal, and leading the execution of this vision. This is true, and it is no small part of the privilege of managing a journal. However, a less intuitive (and more time-consuming) role that we found ourselves engaging in, was that of being the ‘middle-ground’ in facilitating conversation between various parties – chiefly, between article contributors and reviewers, in the peer-review feedback process. We also communicated with academics serving on our advisory board and assisting with CORERJ activities, with The Faculty of Education Research Students’ Association (FERSA), with CORERJ Associates (our regular reviewers) and with each other and members of our editorial team.
Because the process of publishing is long (the publication process typically takes 8-9 months), we learned that it was very important to maintain constant communication with article contributors and peer-reviewers, and to keep publication timelines and procedures clear. In a world where problems only seem to become increasingly complex, learning to communicate and collaborate more effectively and confidently, were unexpected and valuable skills that managing a journal helped us refine.
3. Embrace social media and the Internet
The Internet is an immensely powerful tool, particularly for open-review journals such as CORERJ. Generally, the greater the reach the journal has on the Internet (particularly to educationalists beyond traditional academic communities – e.g. teachers, policy-makers), the more intellectually fruitful potential conversations can be. While we have had a social media plan from the start, we feel we could have tapped more ambitiously into social media and the Internet, in publicising CORERJ activities and encouraging participation in open-reviewing.
We have begun reaping some of the benefits of a greater Internet presence, such as through networking with a larger range of universities and using Facebook and Twitter more regularly. The Internet can be a caustic beast, and to embrace it can be nerve-wracking – but with due diligence exercised by Editors in vetting open-reviewing comments and by promoting ourselves through safe platforms, we feel the profile and usefulness of CORERJ can be amplified many times over.
4. Interdisciplinarity: it’s not a bad word
Finally, we learned a thing or two about the value of an interdisciplinary journal. When we began as Editors, we wondered and worried over the tension that plagues interdisciplinary scholarship: that tension between rigour and creativity. How do you run a journal that seems to leap and bound across multiple hodgepodge fields – from socio-linguistics, to international development, to anthropology – all in one volume?
However, at the end of our year as Editors, having seen the richness of work from various fields – we feel that the question is not so much: ‘Should CORERJ be an interdisciplinary journal?’ as much as this: ‘How do we manage this interdisciplinarity to best showcase and advance educational research?’ What are some ‘framing devices’ we might use to increase the relevance of interdisciplinary work to individual scholars reading CORERJ? For instance, future editorial teams might wish to organise research contributions thematically, using common education-related themes such as ‘Social Justice and Inequalities’ or ‘Race in Education’. Engaging multiple research fields and methodologies is, we feel, not only acceptable but integral to understanding and solving complex, multifaceted, real-life education phenomena.
Overall, it has been an absolute privilege to lead CORERJ in the past year, and we look forward to how future teams will continue to fulfil the journal’s founding vision: ‘to provide high-quality and critical graduate and postgraduate research on issues that matter in education.’
Meghna Nag Chowdhuri is a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education and Fitzwilliam College and a Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Trust scholar. Apart from managing the CORERJ journal as Editor-in-chief in 2016-17, she recently completed her PhD fieldwork in primary schools of Delhi. Her thesis explores how primary school teachers view and use reformed mathematics curriculum materials in India. Her research interests include mathematics education, curriculum development and international education.
Charleen Chiong is a third-year PhD student in the sociolgy of education at the Faculty of Education, a Cambridge Trust scholar, and the 2016-17 Deputy Editor of CORERJ. She is a member of Downing College. Her research explores the policy-practice interplay in the everyday lives of socio-economically disadvantaged families in Singapore. Her research interests include the role of parenting and families in education, poverty, culture, globalisation and neoliberalism in education.