The Reading Room at the British Museum

Recently Read (31 March – 6 April)

This week’s selection of news and comments brings together an initiative by England’s top research funding body to promote open access, some concerns about the way the impact of Higher Education is often reduced to “quantifiable outcomes”, a cautionary tale about sloppy note-taking and plagiarism, and a reminder that not all research is created equal.

Changing the rules of the game

Earlier this week, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced a revised policy on how research quality will be measured in the next Research Excellence Framework or REF (the five-year assessment cycle used for appraising research outputs). Here’s the gist of the new policy:

The requirements state that peer-reviewed manuscripts must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. The title and author of these deposits, and other descriptive information must be discoverable straight away by anyone with a search engine. The manuscripts must then be accessible for anyone to read and download once any embargo period has elapsed.

Since everybody wants their articles to be included in the REF, what this practically means is that, from April 2016 onwards, every article produced by academics in England should be published under an Open Access arrangement. There may be waiting period of 12-24 months during which the articles are only available through a journal (an embargo), but after that they should be freely available to the public.

More to read: The new policy has been made available as a PowerPoint presentation. Anna Swan offers some great insights into the implications of the new policy in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. 

Impact is more than what can be counted

Although the previous story provided an interesting example of how research assessment activities, like the REF, can be used to drive policy forward, there is a need to keep in mind that Higher Education should extend beyond bibliometrics. In an op-ed published in Times Higher Education, we are reminded that “activities such as teaching, administration and public engagement” must be valued at least as much as the production of research that is frequently cited. Here’s one of many highlights of the article:

My view is that any academic unit that bases its decisions entirely on “quantifiable outcomes” is doomed always to be following fashions. While the Owl of Minerva may fly only at dusk, the great bustard of specific, quantifiable outcomes is just getting airborne at five to midnight. Even in the subset of fields where they are viable, metrics such as grant income and citations tell you only that someone’s work is popular with their peers. A genuinely thriving research community must also nurture people who have the potential to see the importance of things before their peers do, setting the agendas for others to follow. Judging such rare, vital people in their early careers according to metrics would probably lead to their being sifted out at the first pass.

Monkey business

Jane Goodall is a scientist who hardly needs introduction: she’s a revered primatologist, who has often appeared in the media to discuss her pioneering work with chimpanzees. Her reputation is such that I, for one, was shocked to read that her latest book, Seeds of Hope, contained multiple instances of plagiarism. In a recent interview, Goodall offers an explanation:

Goodall accounts for these lapses by citing her hectic work schedule and her chaotic method of note-taking: “I am not methodical enough, I guess,” she says. “In some cases, you look at my notebooks, there’s no way you can tell whether this is from talking to somebody or whether it was something I read on the internet.” I ask if there was any naivety on her part. “Yes, there must be… I have learned. In the future, I shall be more organised even if I don’t have time,” she says. “I shall certainly make sure I know who said something or what I read or where I read it.”

IATEFL & pseudoscience

The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) held their annual meeting last week. Steve Brown offers a great roundup of the event and insightful comments from the perspective of a seasoned IATEFLer. Here’s an excerpt, pertaining to Russell Mayne’s talk, which was provocatively titled “A guide to pseudoscience in ELT”:

[T]his title alone attracted more than enough people to fill the small room he was in. Russell, known online as the TEFL Skeptic, has a problem with a few established ideas and theories in ELT, specifically those that have no scientific evidence to back them up. He started his talk by naming and shaming the organisations, and then the individuals (drawing audible gasps from around the room) who support or acknowledge theories such as NLP, multiple intelligences and learning styles. This was followed by a concise yet thorough debunking of these theories, achieved simply by quoting research findings to demonstrate that there is no scientific underpinning behind any of them, despite claims that there are.

More to read: Many of the IATEFL talks are available online. Yesterday, I blogged about the ELT J debate, where the the pros and cons of teaching English in primary schools were discussed. I’ve also created a Storify narrative of Sugata Mitra’s keynote address, where it was suggested that the future of education need not involve teachers. 


Image credit: © ceridwen [CC BY-SA]

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