This week’s guest bloggers are based in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Peter Rule is an associate professor at the Centre for Higher and Adult Education in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University. Liezel Frick is an associate professor and director of the Centre. Magda Fourie-Malherbe is a professor at the Centre.
By Peter Rule, Liezel Frick & Magda Fourie-Malherbe
Encouraging graduates to publish from their theses, and so share their findings with a wider audience, can be a challenge. While universities encourage such publication, Anthony Paré (2010) notes that the kind of pedagogical work needed to support student (co-)publication is often not well understood or supported within institutions. The challenge is even greater when graduates have left their alma mater and are enjoying the relief and normality of ‘a life after the thesis’.
Some students do manage to publish from their theses, before or after graduation. However, we have also seen many of our graduates’ theses disappear into libraries or repositories, even though we felt they had something to contribute more widely. While graduates might intend to publish from their theses, it often does not happen because of loss of support and momentum, and because life just ‘takes over’. With this in mind, we decided to initiate an online ‘writing bootcamp’ to facilitate the writing and publication of graduates’ work. Here we share research in progress on the writing bootcamp process.
We selected eight participants in the fields of Higher and Adult Education whom we had individually supervised between the three of us, including seven graduates and one PhD student close to completion. The participants were geographically distributed across southern Africa and working in a variety of educational settings. We invited them to join the writing bootcamp focused on writing an article with the person who had supervised their thesis work. To our delight, all eight accepted.
Writing an article can be a daunting and intimidating prospect for a novice author. This we knew from our own experience and from running face-to-face writing for publication workshops for both novice and experienced academic authors. We therefore decided to adopt a process approach to writing which would break it down into achievable steps.
Such a bootcamp could only work if it fitted into the participants’ busy lives. We decided to present the bootcamp online, using simple and easily accessible technology, so that participants could access the material in their own time and at a distance. The bootcamp took the form of seven online sessions which were presented using PowerPoint with voice-over audio. The weekly presentations were uploaded to Dropbox and were supplemented by a variety of other materials such as articles and YouTube video clips.
As co-facilitators, we alternated in taking responsibility for sessions. This involved developing the PowerPoint presentations and incorporating the audio, which we found added a more personal element to the presentations. The materials included a variety of text types. We provided information and guidelines for different sections of the article. We included conceptual tools for understanding the writing process and the journal article as a genre. We also provided examples and analysis of extracts from journal articles.
We did some preliminary work with participants by email in helping them to select a target journal and identify a similar article from the journal to use as a reference point. The sessions were sequenced as follows:
Session 1: Introduction to the world of academic publication (Task: Drafting a Title)
Session 2: Identifying and developing an argument (Task: Drafting an Introduction)
Session 3: Working with literature (Task: Drafting the Body of the article – Literature Review)
Session 4: Writing up your methodology and findings (Task: Drafting the Body of the article – Methodology, Results, Discussion)
Session 5: Concluding your article (Task: Drafting Conclusion and Abstract)
Session 6: Preparing for submission (Task: Revisiting journal selection)
Session 7: Final steps and preparing for feedback (Task: Finalize and submit article)
The participants submitted their work to their assigned mentor after each session. We then read and gave feedback to the participants via email. This enabled them, as lead authors, to initiate and develop ideas for each section of the article. The process affirmed their own agency in a supportive, scaffolded environment. As mentors, we could engage with what they had written and assist them in developing their ideas.
Eight months after the final session, the results are mixed but promising. Three participants have submitted articles, which are now under review or revision. Four are still busy working on their articles and preparing them for submission. One never managed to get going because of personal circumstances. While we would hope that eight articles eventually get published, we recognize that the participants are mainly mid-career professionals with multiple responsibilities. The journal article is just another ball that we are asking them to juggle.
We are planning to interview the participants to explore their perceptions and experiences of the bootcamp. From our own reflections on the process, we feel that the bootcamp has helped them to become more realistic about what writing and publishing an academic article is all about. The iterative rounds of writing and receiving feedback, improving that section and working on the next, have hopefully prepared them to deal with critical comments and maybe even rejections from academic reviewers. It has also helped us to understand more deeply the considerable challenges, many of them affective, that students face in converting theses into publications.
While the journal article is an important vehicle, the journey of development which our participants undergo is our primary concern. If we have been able to develop their capacity and resilience as scholarly writers, we would have achieved our goal. We are interested in how our writing bootcamp approach compares with what others have tried in developing student publications, as well as in the ethics and power dynamics of such processes.
Paré, A. 2010. Slow the presses: concerns about premature publication. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler & A. Lee (eds), Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond. Oxon: Routledge.