Academic journals run on the labor of peer-reviewers. That labor, remember, is volunteer. Donated. Free. Free for the journal, perhaps, but anything but free for the reviewer. The labor expended through peer-review takes time and attention that could be directed toward other pursuits. Journals, then, need to offer working environments that justify the investment of time, energy, mental effort, and emotional labor required for the task.
In the case of Hybrid Pedagogy‘s collaborative peer review, the working environment forms anew with each article under consideration. The collaborative team formed by the author and two reviewers interact within and beside the text. It is therefore the text — and the people assigned to it — that journal editors must craft with care to ensure the intended environment takes shape. For it to run smoothly, collaborative peer review requires intimate knowledge of each member of the review team so they can be paired intentionally with the texts and authors who need their specific strengths the most.
The Process of Reviewer Selection
When I select reviewers, I do so using the fuzzy logic of emotion, of gut feeling, of hunches. For those fans of the Myers-Briggs out there (with all its shortcomings), I’m best described as an INFP. That NF combination (iNtuitive and Feeling, for those unfamiliar) means any explanation of my decision-making process involves plentiful circular hand-gesturing. “It’s that… I don’t know… [motions vaguely]… sense of something-or-other that helped me choose.” I acknowledge such descriptions can be less-than-helpful for passers-by. Numerous reviewers have remarked on a great pairing I chose for a particular text and have asked how I knew they’d work well together. I dunno… [gestures vaguely]… It felt right.
So when faced with the need to expand a pool of reviewers, as Hybrid Pedagogy desperately needs to do immediately (if not sooner), the challenge becomes one of finding suitable reviewers and then getting to know them well enough for that hunch process to kick in. I need to understand what kinds of things each reviewer notices, what kind of suggestions they most like to make, what kind of energy they bring to the review process. How does that stuff get phrased on a résumé? Hmm.
What a Reviewer Needs
Certain characteristics make a Hybrid Pedagogy reviewer successful good to work with, and — I cringe at the word — useful for doing the work of the journal. Here’s what I think Hybrid Pedagogy’s reviewers need:
To be kind
We have said on countless occasions that Hybrid Pedagogy eschews gatekeeping. We accept far more than we reject because we aim to make not only better articles but also better writers. That requires a pedagogy of kindness and patience that’s antithetical to the common trope of Reviewer Three.
To have a mission
Reviewers working on a journal that is not idealogically neutral must be “in it for something.” There needs to be a thing that each reviewer champions, fixates on, leans into no matter the subject or style of the article. Yes, this can risk viewing a review board as a form of tool belt, in which only one or two reviewers see all problems as nails, and the rest instead see different issues to address. Knowing what drives each reviewer allows me to lean into their strengths and, frankly, help them have fun. “I have a piece here that you’re going to love because it needs exactly that thing you do so well.”
To make space
Again, we aren’t Reviewer Three. Sure, Hybrid Pedagogy’s reviewers could say “no” to something. But that’s not the goal here. We instead work to push and encourage and help the author draw out their voice as honestly and genuinely as possible. We need to make space for the author, the author’s concerns, and the subject on which the author wishes to preach. The pages of the journal are not filled with our words; we are the custodians of the work of others.
To be what-if imaginative
Reviewers need to see what a piece can be just as clearly as they see what it currently is. The distance between the two is the playground of revision. Reviewers must approach an article and ask what it might be like — what it might accomplish, how it might be read — in a different condition. We need our reviewers to imagine possibilities for the work they help shape.
To have time
Everything listed above creates quite a burden. And to provide those things to a work-in-progress piece of writing requires much, much more than the algorithmic approach of a grammar check. Reshaping articles typically requires about three reads from each reviewer, as different aspects of the text are addressed in turn, and as revisions create new opportunities for further improvements. Reviewers cannot simply read an article, write a brief paragraph of encouragement, and return it to the editor. Collaborative peer review invests in each article, and we ask our reviewers to make that investment.
The Shape of Things to Come
What would an premier review team look like? I will say with humility and gratitude that the collection of reviewers we (well, almost entirely Sean) culled after our last call for editors was quite nearly a model. It wasn’t perfect, in many ways, but it provided the foundation for years of great work and a blueprint we could use as a starting point. An excellent board for double-open peer review should be:
I make no secret of my affinity for fun. People who take themselves too seriously drain my energy and enthusiasm, so I strive to always surround myself with people who are just a little bit uncentered. Theatre, not business. Jazz, not marches. Rebel spies, not imperial agents. We need to be ready to applaud, not chastise.
Collaborative peer review calls for a greater degree of consensus than is usually seen in academic journals. We often have situations where one reviewer comments on a portion of the text only to have the other reviewer respond to that comment with a redirection or a different reading of the same material. Those scenarios, rather than being fraught with tension or frustration, become especially beneficial because they lead authors to make subtle revisions that create consensus. Our reviewers should look for opportunities to agree and extend, rather than to contradict and confound.
Colorful (in terms of perspectives)
A mental list of the strengths, positions, experiences, and perspectives of the reviewers should be neither monolithic nor monochromatic. The review board should be a collection of differences, all gathered to help power the work of the journal. Through the representation of different perspectives, the review board ensures vibrancy.
Diverse (in terms of strengths)
Related to the “have a mission” element for each reviewer, the board must have diverse strengths. Such diversity creates greater opportunity for broad, strategic review assignments. If all reviewers work the same way, selecting the right person for each article becomes meaningless. Only by having varied strengths and skill sets can a review board be ready for the variety of articles we hope to publish.
Vision for a Reboot
Hybrid Pedagogy has a cat-like lifecycle. It’s on its fourth or fifth reincarnation already, and it seems there’s another waiting in the wings. I don’t yet have a complete image for that next incarnation, but it will be more responsive, more flexible, and more dialogic.
In the journal’s early days, many of its authors published multiple titles on its pages within a couple years. That created a consistency of voice and a sense of investment that’s difficult to reproduce with an intentionally broader pool of authors. But those authors who published repeatedly could also write responsively. That responsiveness gave the journal a stronger sense of internal dialogue than it presently has.
A while ago, we made the decision to deactivate comments at the bottom of each article. What started as a way to engage authors and expand ideas turned into a space for mansplaining and platitudes. With the removal of comments — a decision I still support and have no intention to revisit — we lost another opportunity for discussion. But the journal now serves less to host discussion than to incite it. Hybrid Pedagogy should become a platform (with due acknowledgement of Chris Gilliard’s objections) for iterative idea-generation.
I want to see authors responding to articles with articles of their own. I want the yes-and-ness of our editorial board to extend to our contributors. Each new published article becomes a stepping stone formed of new ideas, shaped by collaborative reviewers, placed by intentional editors, and used by readers to move further into the work of deliberative teaching with critical digital pedagogy at its core.