In anticipation of Cheryl Ball’s upcoming talk (“Rigorous Peer-Review in OA Publishing Environments”), this post explores the formal, developmental, and technological implications/complications of editorial practice across digital spaces. As Director of the Digital Publishing Collaborative at Wayne State University Libraries, project director for Vega, and editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Ball stands at the forefront of the open-access (OA) movement, offering unique insights into the production, evaluation, and dissemination of webtextual scholarship.
Although principles of transparency and cooperation are ostensible cornerstones of the humanistic tradition, this “ethos of openness” has arguably been obscured and impeded by an outdated and lugubrious infrastructure (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4). Proposing OA not as “radically new” but as potentially restorative, advocates gesture toward a future of cross-disciplinary engagement, collaborative dynamism, and academic diversity (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4).
Amidst this lofty rhetoric, Ball acknowledges the many practical challenges associated with systemic implementation. For example, the prevalence of “voiceovers or headshots” in scholarly multimedia renders “double-blind or anonymous review”—an important part of print-based editorial practice—virtually impossible (Ball and Douglas). Quoting Kuhn, she notes the difficulty of “strik[ing] a balance between convention and innovation” especially in the context of digital proliferation and recombination. Given the ever-shifting nature of the field, there are often terminological or definitional misunderstandings. What characterizes/constitutes “webtext”? Is it dynamic delivery, multimodal augmentation, or something more?
To assist in the cultivation and evaluation of “multimedia-rich, digital, screen-based” artifacts that not only supplement but also enact “an author’s scholarly argument” (Ball and Douglas), Ball suggests the use of flexible assessment frameworks—loose “rubrics” that can be adapted to the needs of the material at hand. On a basic level, she expects online journal submissions to exhibit topical suitability, technological functionality/interoperability, and critical development (“Assessing” 75). Beneath these self-evident criteria, however, lie the fundamental characteristics of all well-formed critical products: a conceptual core, a research component, form/content, creative realization, a clear audience, and timeliness (Ball “Assessing” 75).
Of particular importance here is the matter of form and/as content: “The trick of [this] category is that it cannot be assessed separately from the purpose, or conceptual core, of a piece” (Ball “Assessing” 68). Failing to recognize this connection, newcomers will sometimes attempt to expedite the editorial process by plucking “written content from its design,” and, in doing so, “introduce hundreds of small errors that must be undone” (Ball and Douglas). Digital editors/makers are thus encouraged to approach/articulate “design choices (form=content relationship) as rhetorical, aesthetic, technological, and other choices” (Ball “Assessing” 70).
With the constraints and affordances of digitality in mind, it becomes clear that webtextual scholarship requires a set of individualized, adaptive workflows. The anonymity, asynchronicity, and linearity of the traditional process (submission, independent review, acceptance/rejection, copy-editing, layout, printing/distribution) fails—at points—to accommodate the need for editorial iteration and real-time collaboration. Google Hangouts, Skype, and similar tools may occasionally prove useful here; however, they lack the infrastructural scalability and extensibility that a larger entity like Kairos might demand. How then does one systematize a dynamic process?
Enter Vega, an soon-to-be-released academic publishing system “made from a series of application programming interfaces (APIs)—modular and reusable programming tools that specify how software components should interact when combined” (Ball “Building” 109). With features ranging from development tools to peer review tracking, Vega is designed to “guide authors, editors, and publishers through a set of best-practice processes for publishing scholarly multimedia” (Ball “Building” 110).
Exciting as these new technology-enabled spaces for theorization and application may be, Ball cautions against wholesale adoption of any one methodology, framework, or toolset: “my values system for assessing webtexts may not, cannot, will not necessarily be yours” (“Assessing” 68). One must engage in constant evaluation of “community goals and needs,” maintain awareness of “unintended consequences,” and—of course—strive toward transparency throughout the ongoing process of implementation and remediation (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4; Ansolabehere et al. 4). It is only at this juncture of elasticity and structure, rigor and play, self-reflection and collective action, that editorial practice emerges as truly OA-compliant.
Ansolabehere, Karina; Ball, Cheryl [lead author]; Devare, Medha; Guidotti, Tee; Priedhorsky, Bill; van der Stelt, Wim; Taylor, Mike; Veldsman, Susan; & Willinsky, John. (2016). The moral dimensions of open [access/scholarship/data]. Open Scholarship Initiative Proceedings, Vol. 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.13021/G8SW2G
Ball, Cheryl E. (2012). Assessing scholarly multimedia: A rhetorical genre studies approach. Technical Communication Quarterly, 21 [Special issue: Making the implicit explicit in assessing multimodal composition], 61–77. http://ceball.com/2011/11/26/assessing-scholarly-multimedia/
Ball, Cheryl E. (2017). Building a Scholarly Multimedia Publishing Infrastructure. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 48(2): 99-115. DOI: 10.3138/jsp.48.2.99 [access at FSU]
Ball, Cheryl E., & Eyman, Douglas. (2015). Editorial workflows for multimedia-rich scholarship. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 18(4). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0018.406
Ball, Cheryl E. (2013, January 28). The kairotic nature of online scholarly community building. mediaCommons: a digital scholarly network. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/question/how-do-we-build-digital-cohorts-and-academic-communities/response/kairotic- nature-online-sc
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, & Santo, Avi. (2012). Open Review: A Study of Contexts and Practices [white paper]. https://mellon.org/media/filer_public/20/ff/20ff03e0-17b0-465b-ae82-1ed7c8cef362/mediacommons-open-review-white-paper-final.pdf