To kick off Open Access Week 2023, we are pleased to interview with one of the open access journals in McGill Library’s scholarly publishing program: McGill Journal of Education. Keep an eye out for more interviews to come!
Why do you think it’s important for your journal to be open access?
Scholarship is public knowledge, typically funded by government grants to researchers and universities: monies that come from taxpayers. The knowledge that is produced therefore ought to be accessible to a wide audience. Too, as far as is possible—and this is something that the McGill Journal of Education, being a generalist journal of education, has been committed to since its inception almost sixty years ago—such knowledge ought to be expressed in a form and a language that can reach that wider audience. As a journal, our content reaches out nationally and internationally. Our authors—French and English—come from Quebec, Canada and various places around the world, including: Belgium, China, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Malaysia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States; our international editorial board (which migrated in 2012 from being in-house to being international) is likewise diverse. Since the journal’s inception, we have cultivated a bilingual (English/French) identity (to which the contributions of partnerships with French editors in neighbouring universities over the past decade have been key). Being open access has allowed us to retain that identity and moniker. When we first moved from being subscription-based towards being open access and online, we approached (and were approached by) larger publishers, however would have had to relinquish that dual language status had we not elected to be an open access and OJS (online journal system) journal. Being open access has therefore mapped very well onto our identity and values as a journal, even as we hope that our open access (including our almost 60-year archive) is of use to readers.
Scholarship is public knowledge, typically funded by government grants to researchers and universities: monies that come from taxpayers. The knowledge that is produced therefore ought to be accessible to a wide audience.
What are some of the challenges in running an open access journal?
Many assume that open access means ‘free’ and also unlimited, viz., that we can publish as many articles as we want, without great expense. However, the process of managing and publishing a journal entails having people on hand to support the work of the editors, manage the everyday operations of the journal—and publish, which is a time-intensive endeavour. People need to be paid for their labour, knowledge and expertise. In addition to two managing editors (part-time), we have several (part-time) English and French copyeditors—as well as two translators (English to French; French to English). We are grateful for SSHRC’s support of Canadian scholarly journal publishing, through its Aid to Scholarly Journals funding program—and generally, for its wide endorsement of and firm commitment to scholarly knowledge that is made available through open access means. We have also been fortunate at the MJE to be supported materially as well as in kind by McGill’s Faculty of Education and the Department of Integrated Studies in Education as well as by McGill Library’s digital scholarship librarians and too by partnerships with distribution platforms, notably the Érudit Consortium.
We are also grateful to our editors and reviewers. Editors, who are often academics themselves, devote precious time to helping others’ work be published. One of the challenges journals face is to recruit editors who are willing to take on such roles. University departments can vary in the degree to which they recognize and support editors, acknowledging (and factoring in) the workload involved. Reviewers, too, devote their precious time. While reviewing is an expected part of scholarly work, it is not as highly valued as more remunerative undertakings (like securing grants), this despite the fact that publication of scholars’ work benefits from and often depends on a peer review process!
It is common knowledge that securing reviewers is among the most challenging tasks that journals face—and some have looked to creative yet plausible alternatives to the peer review process. We continue to abide by a double-blind process, as we believe it is the best one for our purposes, however it does mean that we can face challenges in securing reviewers. We are very grateful to those reviewers who step up and are able to devote the time, which we recognize can be significant. We are often taken aback by the generosity of reviewers, in terms of the quality of feedback given, in written comments, sometimes accompanied by track-changes.
While reviewing is an expected part of scholarly work, it is not as highly valued as more remunerative undertakings (like securing grants), this despite the fact that publication of scholars’ work benefits from and often depends on a peer review process!
Can you highlight any articles/issues published in your journal that you think made an important contribution to the field?
McGill Journal of Education has been around for a very long time—57 years, and counting. Our archives include articles by widely recognized names like Marshall McLuhan on life in the then emerging technological “jet age,” surpassing the view from, as his piece was titled, “The Crack in the Rear-view Mirror” ). Celebrated Canadian authors both, Robertson Davies ruminated on “Delusions of Literacy”  while Hugh MacLennan, taking off his writer hat to put on his teacher one, contemplated the “Author as Teacher” . Leading educational scholar Jerome Bruner (on the “reality of fiction”) returned to the subject of why “Narrative Matters” (in a 2005 special issue; 40:1). The journal stands as a historical archive of the various phases in Quebec’s educational/curricular reform; the articles and special issues would be too many to itemize. It also features important debates, like the animated conversation that editor Margaret Gillet had with A.S. Neill, the originator of the Summerhill school; the school still stands at the centre of the alternative school movement—a movement gaining renewed attention (e.g., De Cock writing on alternative schools, and notably Summerhill, in Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2023: “Les pédagogies alternatives sauveront-elles l’école?”). Gillet followed up her exchange by publishing a special issue (9:1, 1974) on the subject. We were among the first education journals in Canada to host (in 2002; 37:3) a special issue foregrounding Indigenous voices (“Indigenous Education: Ways of knowing, thinking and doing”), an interest and a commitment that has continued to inform and shape the journal—including a recent special issue (in 2018, 53:2) on truth and reconciliation. Special issues that tapped into important conversations happening in society at large were the French issue on “vivre ensemble” (48:1; 2013) and a bilingual issue on historical thinking in history and citizenship education (50: 2/3, 2015).
Threaded throughout the journal is support for artful ways of thinking and knowing—drawings, paintings, poems and images have been a staple—culminating most recently in a special issue on creative pedagogues (55:3, 2020). As a generalist journal in education, we led the way opening the conversation on multimedia in/as scholarship, in a special issue (49:3, 2014) featuring a podcast as the leading article. The issue was also distinctive from a peer review perspective in including the author’s conversation with the two reviewers. One reviewer had recognized the author’s voice and proposed an open conversation, which they did in person at UBC. Their conversation (recorded and transcribed) stands as a fascinating ‘live’ MJE Forum ‘round table’ discussion on changing trends in scholarship. The MJE publication that (to our knowledge) garnered the all-time ‘greatest hits’ (over 30,000 reads) was a MJE Forum piece, published originally in French (in 2016), then by popular demand, rendered into English (2017), on the legitimate uses (and misuses) of statistics in educational research: ‘pseudoscience’ (as the Forum was called; now, perhaps: ‘fake news’) being a perennial question and concern for all.
–Teresa Strong-Wilson, Kevin Peloquin, Isabel Meadowcroft & Emma Dollery, on behalf of the McGill Journal of Education