Peer Review in Public

This afternoon, partially as a way to procrastinate from my own writing and partially because I was genuinely interested in the invitation, I participated in an “open review” of Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia‘s forthcoming manuscript, Annotation. Their open review process will continue through August 23, 2019, so jump in! They request that commentary adhere to the following, all good advice for any scholarly dialogue:

Civil. We can disagree. And when we do so, let’s also respect one another.

Constructive. Share what you know. And build upon ideas that are relevant and informative.

Curious. Ask honest questions and listen openly to responses.

Creative. Model generative dialogue. Have fun. Contribute to and learn from the process.

Having read hundreds of academic articles in the past 20 years, as well as offering blind peer review for dozens more, as well as blind reviews of probably two dozen academic books, I thought that this would be interesting. (And, again, I was procrastinating on my own writing, so an engaging intellectual task that can carry me away and still feel like I am getting work done is always welcome). Here are a few things I learned while reviewing their book which, again, you, too, can contribute to through August 23rd.

My Stance as a Reviewer

When I offer peer review to academic articles and books, I am typically using the “track changes” and commentary features in Word or, in some instances, by offering comments and edits on a PDF (my favorite tool for doing that is the iOS app Good Reader). I typically frame these comments as direct suggestions to the author(s) of the article/manuscript I am reading, and I engage in a professional, yet conversational tone.

With my review of Annotation today, I think that I maintained some of that approach, yet I knew that my comments would be captured, in perpetuity, in Kalir and Garcia’s public version of the document. While I didn’t hold back with questions and concerns, I did realize that I changed my tone. Whereas I would try to be explicitly clear in comments and questions (perhaps even providing examples of what I was aiming for with unclear writing) in blind review, I didn’t want that to be part of the public record.

For instance, in the example below, I offered a comment that could spark further dialogue amongst others reading the text, pushing toward some broader implications for teaching and learning. At other points, I was replying to the comments already made by others, and I would specifically say something like “I agree” or “Along these lines.” Also, at points, I directly wrote to Kalir and Garcia in ways that I could do so with colleagues I know, and would be comfortable saying in front of a group of others.

Screenshot of Specific Comment on

My Commenting Style in an Open Setting

Yet, still, it felt strange. In the first few chapters, there were some other annotations/ors, yet they fell away. Even those that remained were offering suggestions for links, not the generative kinds of peer review that (I hope) I have always aimed to offer in the peer reviews that I complete. For instance, I would describe problems and ask questions like:

  • I may simply not be reading this right, but making the comparison of submitting an expense report in relation to the openly annotated future just didn’t ring for me here. Sorry, but perhaps you could find a different example?
  • This is an interesting example, but I don’t know that it fully draws out all the ideas that you mentioned above related to “shifting social norms, changing financial and organizational incentives, and evolving scholarly practices.” Perhaps you could reorganize around — and particularly elaborate upon — these three ideas in relation to SciBot?
  • This is an important, if technical, point, and deserves some elaboration. Why is it important that some are built into the browser, whereas others stand alone. And, for that matter, why have you not mentioned OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep, or SimpleNote anywhere in the text, and especially here before you launch into the important questions you pose below?

By the end of the process — which took me just as long as any other book review — I began to wonder/wander, leading me to other directions.

Reflecting While Reviewing

Of course, during a normal review, the kinds of internal dialogue that I have with myself may make it into the first draft of my comments, but I usually do some editing before a final draft heads off to the editor. Here, I figured that Kalir and Garcia’s invitation to be civil, constructive, curious, and creative would welcome some of these thoughts.

As I went through the process, and saw fewer and fewer reviewers in subsequent chapters, I got discouraged. While this is no fault of the authors, and I know that they have extensively shared their open manuscript, welcoming reviews, it does make me worry a bit about the hive mind, and whether the power of collaboration and collective intelligence is, perhaps, not as powerful as we might hope. A few of my musings, especially as they relate to why scholars may choose not to participate in an open review:

  • This [vision of social annotation and scholarship] is aspirational, and I appreciate it. Yet, I think that you can elaborate more on what actual changes would need to happen to make it a reality. Be specific, and talk about faculty workloads, department/college T&P requirements, and the ways in which “open” is still perceived as subpar.
  • And, yet, there still seems to be reluctance, or at least lack of widespread acceptance [of open review]. For instance, in your attempts to make this manuscript open and accessible (which I applaud), I am still wondering how many total scholars will participate. Even for those of us who saw the invitation to begin with, a gentle nudge was in order for us to participate. And, in the end, I don’t know that my review of this manuscript will “count” on par with doing a review for an established journal or publisher when (and if) I include it in my promotion materials. Of course, for me at least, this doesn’t matter as much as it would to a junior faculty member who needs to decide whether to spend a few hours trying to write her own work, or to participate in a “normal” editorial review board/process as a blind reviewer for an established press/journal. Both of those actions are rewarded in the academy. As much as I respect Remi and Antero (and that’s why I am doing this annotated review), the simple fact of the matter is that I am doing this because I care, not because it will “count.” These are part of the material reality of academe, and I don’t know how we will change that, even with open annotation and peer review. At the end, there is only so much time in the day…
  • So, I have held off until now, but I have to ask… and only partially in a cynical manner… Like the tree falling in the forest, does an annotation really make a sound (ripple, impact, effect, etc)? That is, I appreciate your utopian vision, yet I wonder if you might want to reign it in a bit here. Sorry… not trying to pop the bubble, especially after nearly two hours of reviewing and annotating your manuscript, but I am just being realistic. The first few chapters had a few annotators. Now, here at the end, it is just me. And you two, as the authors. Are we really connected to a “robust information infrastructure?” Or, are the three of us walking alone in the woods?

In the end, I appreciate the opportunity to do this review, and to pause here to reflect on the process. I struggle both with how to structure class discussions in digital spaces as well as how to be a social scholar, so reading Kalir and Garcia’s manuscript was serving many more purposes for me than merely procrastinating on my writing. I am hopeful that the ideas I have offered to them (and those who might continue to annotate over the next month) are helpful. And, of course, I will continue to think about practices of annotation in my own scholarship and teaching.


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Prepping for DMAC 2018

Photo by Christopher Gower on UnsplashToday, I made my way to Columbus in preparation for the Digital Media and Composition Institute, also known as DMAC. In more than one way, this has been a career aspiration of mine for well over a decade, and I’m very much looking forward to the immersive, sustained experience of working with colleagues over the next 10 days.

I first learned about DMAC, then CIWIC, when Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher were still at Michigan Tech, from my mentor and dissertation director, (and, eventually, co-author on Because Digital Writing Matters), Danielle Nicole DeVoss, as she had pursued her own graduate studies there. To make a long story short, I feel like part of my academic heritage is deeply rooted with CIWIC/DMAC, and in many ways I feel like I am returning “home” though I have never actually attended the workshop.

At another level, this spring is also quite important for me as a moment to pause, reflect, and refocus. Since 2003, I have had the incredibly good fortune of leading countless conference sessions, day-long workshops, and multi-day or even multi-week institutes. This has come about from my long and productive relationship with the National Writing Project. I’ve been humbled and honored to have started the Chippewa River Writing Project at CMU, and to have been invited to dozens of writing project sites – as well as other school districts and professional organization events – over the past decade.

However, one of the things that I miss is simply being a participant in a workshop, to be fully immersed so I can soak up ideas and wisdom from other participants and facilitators. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy opportunities for leadership, because I certainly do, and I’m looking forward to at least half a dozen different opportunities this summer, not least of which is facilitating our own weeklong CRWP leadership institute, returning to Rhode Island to help facilitate the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, and also coordinating our Beaver Island Institute for science and literacy. I look forward to all of these, and to my time at ISTE and NWP Midwest, among other conference events. All this will be wonderful, too.

Still, there’s something to be said for just having one’s mind in a state of “being.” DMAC will allow me that time and space. And, I will get to meet other like-minded scholars, reconnect to my writing roots, and think critically and creatively about digital composition. In short, it will be intellectually engaging and fun.

And, I’m at a point in my career where, not needing to “pivot” or “redefine” entirely, what I really need to do over the next ten days is get refocused. I have a number of specific projects that I want to work on over the next 10 days, many of which are connected to my teaching, scholarship, and service.

With teaching, in particular, I’m trying to imagine the possibilities for a class I am teaching this fall, a seminar class for honors freshman, that I have entitled “Our Digital Selves.” There’s quite a bit of work that I need to do this summer in order to figure out exactly how I want to teach the course. First, I’m looking to a colleague and leader in the field of digital badging for composition, Stephanie West-Puckett, and the work that she has begun at URI with Writing 104. Titled MakerComp, she helps her students move toward self guided inquiry and significant projects, bundled in a system of badging.

Additionally, I’ve been “away” from writing for a significant amount of time. I have certainly been busy with some smaller projects this year, I have not gotten refocused on a book-length project since the publication of Argument in the Real World, From Texting to Teaching, and Coaching Teacher-Writers in 2017. I have a number of writing opportunities ahead of me, as well as potential collaborators with whom I would like to work, and so these next few days will give me lots of time to consider possibilities and develop project proposals.

Finally, of course, I am interested in learning how other people design professional development experiences for their peers and colleagues. I’ve been struggling to try to figure out how, exactly, to help re-invigorate our own writing project site’s work, connect to our masters in educational technology program, and consider new possibilities for CMU’s education program at large. I hope that watching the DMAC team in action as facilitators will be good for me, too.

In short, I need DMAC.

I am deeply fortunate to have a patient and flexible wife who is managing the chaos at home, as well as an employer in CMU who has given me significant financial support to attend this DMAC Institute. I am thankful for these blessings in my life.

And, I’m looking forward to the work ahead.


Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

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My New Metaphor: Being the (Hyper)Link

Image from Oregon Writing Project Facebook PageYesterday, I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop for teacher consultants at the Oregon Writing Project at SOU. Fall in Oregon is beautiful, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be here.

Like all the workshops I do, it was a unique experience in the sense that I begin with some idea of a plan and, as I interact with the teachers, I make moves from one topic and activity to the next based on their needs and interests. I’ve used this model for nearly all of the workshops that I have done in the past ten years. Call it flexibility, call it intuition. I am not sure. I just can’t plan out, minute-by-minute, a workshop that will be “delivered” to an unwitting audience. I want to be a professor who teaches, not just one who professes.

At any rate, their site director, Margaret Perrow, and I had time to talk on Thursday night, and I had shared my strategy for leading workshops. We talked about flexibility, especially as it relates to using digital tools. She then told me how each teacher in their summer institute will often choose a guiding metaphor to describe themselves, and how they will carry their metaphor throughout the SI and into their writing.

Her metaphor, for me, became “the hyperlink.”

In all the best ways, that gave me pause to think. And I kept thinking about it all day yesterday and into this morning.

Unlike many workshops that I do, this one (on the west coast) didn’t require me to rush off yesterday afternoon to catch a plane (because the flights home didn’t go that late!), so I was able to stay another day. I’ve had some time to think, and I have continued to ponder this guiding metaphor over the past 24 hours.

Immediately, I thought of Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” which has been a seminal piece in my thinking about what it means to teach and learn digital writing, and I am spending my few minutes at the airport to reread his work and think about it even more.

Despite Bud’s concern that he is aging (hey, aren’t we all), I think that his post has, indeed, aged well. Written in 2010 as a summary of ideas about blogging (and hyperlinking) from 2005 forward, here are some of the relevant quotes for me as I reflect on what occurred in yesterday’s workshop and, metaphorically, think of myself as the hyperlink.

Blogging is that set of skills that he [Will Richardson] talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.

Bud’s point here — that students need to experience how we, as writers, use blogs — resonates with the broader philosophy of the National Writing Project: teachers must be writers themselves. In this case, he is talking about how teachers can be digital writers and think about using links in strategic ways. In turn, when I lead a workshop, I want teachers to see me model the kinds of teaching that I want them to do. Without being trite, I want to be the change in the world (of teaching with digital writing tools). When teachers can see a model for digital writing and learning in my workshops, my hope is that they, like students, will begin to build their own skills. Linking requires us to stretch in these new directions.

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

This is a quote that I’ve cited before, and I agree with Bud’s hunch. Reading and writing (in a digital space) has the potential to make you a better reader and writer overall. As the news media and some sensationalist scholars would have us believe, it has the potential to make things (much) worse, too. I suppose that the jury is still out on that.

Anyway, during my workshops, I am usually faced with a question. Many versions of the question abound, but one teacher I worked with yesterday asked it pretty bluntly: why should we be asking our students to do this (digital reading and writing) work?

I am not entirely sure how I answered: modeling and mentoring are important, it’s the world in which we live, it’s part of the standards and digital literacies. Something along those lines.

But, at the core, I want teachers and students to be smarter, more productive readers and writers. Being the hyperlink — connecting them to new visions for teaching practice — is, indeed, what I hope I am doing.

Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.

Experimenting is risky, and doing so in front of an audience is even more so. I want the teachers with whom I work to experience risk by trying out new tools and practices, so I need to risk, too. Without a doubt, there will be a link that doesn’t work, a question I can’t answer, or a tool that won’t load on someone’s machine. That is risky, and it causes many teachers to feel (at least) a small degree of panic. I want to model for them how I handle that stress, how I problem solve, how I adapt and move on. Hyperlinks take us from one place to the next. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.

Again, being the metaphorical hyperlink is something that I can aspire to. Thank you to Margaret for the metaphor, to Bud for your reflections, and to the entire NWP network for continued opportunities that amaze and enlighten me.


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