A new way to do peer review

I recently published two articles with Hybrid Pedagogy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the peer-review process. I hope their model will be picked up by other academic journals, because it did exactly what I think peer-reviewed academic publishing should do: it 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.

The process began with my submission. Per HP’s instructions, I wrote my essay, put it on Google Drive, and shared it with HP. Immediately, I received an email, stating:

Thank you for submitting your work to Hybrid Pedagogy for consideration.

. . .

Pete Rorabaugh, the managing editor, will notify you within 2-3 business days whether your article has been accepted. If your article is accepted for publication, our goal is to work with you to have your article peer reviewed, revised, and in the publication queue within 14 business days of submission.

Warm regards,
Robin Wharton, Production Editor

(I know it’s not practical for many scholarly situations (longer-form articles, need for highly specialized reviewers, etc.), but I wish every journal responded in this way! More on that later.)

Two days later, I received an email from one of the editors stating that both of my submissions had been accepted. This email contained projected dates of publication (within two weeks of the submissions), and a provisional schedule for review.

What followed over the next few days was some back-and-forth in the comments of the Google documents. As I received comments from the reviewers, I responded and/or edited the articles. This was followed by a Google Hangout (video chat) with the two reviewers. The video chat was the most enjoyable part of the process. It involved resolving some remaining issues in the Google document comments, fine tuning the text, and adding hyperlinks to the articles in order to facilitate deeper exploration of the issues from interested readers. We even tossed around some ideas for future articles (one of which being a potential collaboration between myself and one of my reviewers). The last stage involved a final review from Robin Wharton, the production editor, in the Google documents (no video chat), followed by my final revisions in light of those comments.

From submission to publication, the entire process took less than two weeks! It was also entirely transparent—I knew who the reviewers were, they knew me, and we even tweeted publicly about the project during the review process.

I’ve been involved in the traditional peer-review process only twice before—once as an author, and once as a reviewer. The main differences were time (the traditional process is much slower) and transparency (the traditional review process was either single- or double-blind). I wish that more academic peer review functioned like Hybrid Pedagogy’s review process.

As I mentioned above, it’s not always possible (or desirable) for an academic journal to move this fast. Long-form articles on specialized topics require more time—to write, to find qualified reviewers, to review, and to revise. But do academic journals need to focus so nearly exclusively on long-form articles? We are no longer bound to paper, printing presses, shipping costs and schedules, etc. Perhaps more academic journals could focus on shorter-form articles (or a greater diversity of publication types), in order to speed the publication process—with an added side-benefit that we could address timely issues within the peer-review framework. (Some new journals are doing this, of course. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and the various publications using the PressForward platform are good examples.)

I also think that we would do well as scholars to have more journals that encouraged less specialized submissions. If an article is worth publishing, it should be able to be read critically by the bulk of the journal’s readership. Shouldn’t that mean that hyper-specialists are not required to review it? Conversely, if less than a dozen scholars are qualified to critically review an article in detail, what is the audience for such an article? Should it be published at all, regardless of its quality, with so small an audience? There are times when such specialization is appropriate. Likewise, there are specialized articles that are accessible to anyone within a discipline, but which can be reviewed much more easily or quickly by scholar with the same specific specialized focus. However, I think that we in the humanities would do well to make the highly specialized articles more of the exception than the rule.

The issue of hyper-specialization in research and publishing is a larger matter for another time. However, I would love to see more academic journals focus on shorter-form articles that are capable of review by any member of their editorial board at the very least. That would lead to a faster, more pleasurable experience for the authors, and likely a larger audience capable of reading the article critically and taking value from it.

All in all, this was a great experience. If you have ideas that are fit for Hybrid Pedagogy, I strongly encourage you to write them up and submit them. And if you are in position to influence the publication process of a journal (or to put together a new one), I recommend that you explore Hybrid Pedagogy’s review process and consider implementing elements of it in other scholarly journals.