BERA accused of taking ‘editorial control’ over journal

Dispute over British Journal of Educational Technology prompts resignations among editorial team

December 10, 2015
Young woman playing with puppets
Source: Rex
Controlling hands? BERA’s behaviour was described as ‘unacceptable’

The UK’s learned society of educational researchers has been accused of seeking to take “editorial control” over one of its journals, prompting the resignation of several editorial team members.

However, the British Educational Research Association said that it was concerned that its position on tighter rules on selecting papers proposed by the British Journal of Educational Technology has been “misconstrued”, adding that all editors on its journals “will continue to enjoy full editorial independence”.

The journal’s editor, Nick Rushby, has stepped down, says a letter sent to Times Higher Education by editorial board member Paul Kirschner, distinguished professor at the Open University of the Netherlands. The letter has the support of other editorial team members including Mr Rushby, it says.

Mr Rushby’s decision “lies in a conflict between him as editor (together with much of the BJET editorial board), and BERA’s reactions to a proposed amendment of the journal’s scope”, the letter says.

The journal’s editorial board had been consulted and worked together on amendments to “increase the journal’s quality by fine-tuning its criteria for selection”, the letter adds.


Read more: Editorial control is sacrosanct


“The email exchanges between Nick (along with a number of board members) and Mark Priestley, chair of BERA’s Academic Publications Committee, made it clear that BERA wishes to have editorial control of the selection of content despite the views of the editorial board and the journal's editor, and that this decision is intractable and not open to discussion,” the letter continues.

The letter also says: “In seeking to override the editorial board on a matter that affects quality and suitability for readers, BERA is interfering in editorial content, which is unacceptable.”

It says that along with Mr Rushby, eight corresponding editors and editorial board members have resigned.

BERA says in a statement that Mr Rushby “first stated his intention to stand down as editor of BJET in 2013”.

The association continues that more recently it “received a radically revised and narrowed draft scope statement for the journal”, which it asked the editor to “reconsider” on “two grounds: the timing of the change with a new editorial team about to be appointed and some significant issues and ambiguities in the statement, which appeared to exclude all research carried out in schools, theoretical papers, and certain types of qualitative research regardless of quality”.

BERA adds: “All our editors will continue to enjoy full editorial independence, a principle from which we are not departing.

“At the same time, BERA believes that we have a responsibility to maintain the quality of our journals as well as the reputation and mission of BERA, and have acted in this light.”

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Exodus in wake of journal row

Reader's comments (1)

It's nice that BERA says “All our editors will continue to enjoy full editorial independence, a principle from which we are not departing. At the same time, BERA believes that we have a responsibility to maintain the quality of our journals as well as the reputation and mission of BERA, and have acted in this light.” but they have now installed 2 of their own members in the board to make sure that they get their way (in Dutch we say that the butcher is inspecting his own meat). Further, two comments. The first was sent by Nick Rushby to the Board: I was disappointed to see in the BERA announcement that the revised scope statement agreed by Editorial Board in September "appeared to exclude all research carried out in schools, theoretical papers, studies showing no impact or negative impact of technology use and certain types of qualitative research regardless of quality." This appears to have been written by someone who has not looked at the original and revised scope statements (both of which are attached), I fail to see how the inclusion of the words "The papers are expected to provide substantive evidence of the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the interventions trialled, applied, or adopted. Papers that simply evidence learners,’ teachers’ and other users’ opinions on methods, materials or technologies in instances where objective data is required are no longer acceptable owing to the lack of substantive contribution" can be interpreted in this way. The second is from Colin Latchem to Ian Menter, convenor of the new editorial team with respect to what BERA has put up on its website: [You write] . . . we would also like to clarify the circumstances surrounding the departure of Nick Rushby and some members of his team. Nick Rushby first stated his intention to stand down as editor of BJET in 2013. Since then BERA has been in the process of appointing a new editorial team. However, just as that appointment process was coming to a conclusion, BERA received a radically revised and narrowed draft scope statement for the journal. Two issues were of particular concern: the timing of the change with a new editorial team about to be appointed; and some significant issues and ambiguities in the revised scope statement, which appeared to exclude all research carried out in schools, theoretical papers, studies showing no impact or negative impact of technology use and certain types of qualitative research regardless of quality. Given this, BERA felt it important and entirely appropriate to ask for some constructive dialogue with the current Editor. Unfortunately, this request was treated as interference in editorial matters, leading to the resignations of the Editor and some other members of the Board. [Colin] This is a totally inaccurate account of the circumstances. When you examine the BJET scope statement in full, you will see that in fact we do accept papers from schools and indeed all sectors and that we are indeed keen to receive theoretical as well as research papers. Professor Priestley’s comments on these matters are ill-informed. Some of us who have served on the BJET editorial board have 30-40 years’ experience of educational technology/instructional design, going back to the days of the early theorists such as Gagné, Ely, Ausubel, Bruner et al, and National Council for Educational Technology of the UK. The BJET scope statement has continually evolved as we have become aware of changes and advances in the educational landscape since those early years. We have also sought to mentor, support and advance research in the field, for example by the use of “critical friends” and helping to redefine the research agenda. As the early “platforms of ideas” for the advancement and framing of educational technology, instructional design and open and distance learning advanced by writers such as Romiszowski, Hawkridge, Keegan et al. became less frequent, we emphasised the need more theoretical papers. We reiterated that BJET papers were expected to advance theory or practice in the field and internationally. Seeing technologies come and go and failing to match their promise to transform teaching and learning and contributors focusing on the narrow definition of educational technology (e.g., the tools), we re-emphasised the breadth of the topics that we wished to see represented, such as the theories of change, leadership and quality assurance. Since most of the papers submitted came from higher education and concerned developments in higher education, we also made it clear that we welcomed papers on informal, nonformal and formal learning in all sectors and geographical/cultural contexts. More recently, it appeared that many contributors were less interested in the scholarly exploration of educational technology issues and more interested in publishing for the purposes of graduation, employment, promotion or tenure. We discovered that in certain countries such as Taiwan, publishing internationally was a requirement for being granted advanced degrees. As a consequence, found ourselves faced with an ever-increasing stream of mediocre small-scale one-off “like/dislike studies” that would be of no help to our readers and burdened our reviewers. Professor Priestley suggested that we culled inappropriate papers at the outset – which of course we do – but this still results in a lot of wasted effort on the part of the writers and the reviewers. We have also tried to encourage more collaborative research and aggregation of findings so that the papers published had more validity and generalisability. And aware of the increasing demands for accountability and evidence of the benefits of innovative practices in education, and given that educational technology aims to improve learning, we then added the requirement that papers should evidence learning outputs, outcomes and impact (which is after all what governments, institutions, learners and other stakeholders expect). It was at this point that Professor Priestley intervened, accusing us of scientificism, ignoring schools, theoretical papers, etc., and changing the criteria/scope statement without consulting BERA or the APC. Had more questions been asked regarding our reasons for adding this two-line statement or enlightened academic discussion ensued, this matter could have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. I will leave you to judge whether Professor Priestley’s approach to this matter was in the best interests of BJET and BERA and whether his email s constituted “constructive dialogue”. Certainly, by his intemperate emails he managed to bring down the whole house of cards, undoing the hard work of many people over many years which has resulted in constantly improved rankings for the journal. Instead of a smooth transition over the next 12 months during which time such matters could have been addressed, we now have this break in continuity and loss of goodwill and trust on both sides. A truly saddening experience for those of us committed to improving educational training systems.

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