Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Real Reach of Student Research: Four Outlets

image credit: creative commons 2.0 license by Jesper Rønn-Jensen
Undergraduates learning to write and research are handicapped by the artificially isolated environment of the traditional classroom. With two billion humans a few keystrokes away, many audiences are there for students to address. The real reach of student research should be those authentic audiences and not just a teacher.

Students can find, interact with, and know various interested audiences while researching and writing. Peers, enthusiasts, and experts can and do give feedback to students who seek them out. In the process, students get social proof for their ideas that inspires them to advance and complete their work.

As students formalize their research findings, there is no reason for them not to take their intellectual work to authentic audiences and online communities. This is why I require my students to do more than submit a completed research paper for grading. If they know that they are actually going to submit their work for permanent archiving and access; for formal presentation at a conference, or for publication of some variety; if they know that their work will be circulating beyond the classroom and beyond the present grading period; if they know their research can in fact be a catalyst for ongoing discussion or that it can be content that others will respond to or act upon -- then they will take their own ideas more seriously; they will research better; and they will turn their academic writing into a form of professionalizing.

But students need to have some idea of where they can take their academic work. This post is meant to provide four concrete suggestions:
  1. Academic Archives
  2. Conference Presentations
  3. Scholarly Journals
  4. Guest Blogging

creative commons 2.0 license by blprnt_van

1. Academic Archives

Students can submit their academic research to an academic archive. Such archives (sometimes called "institutional repositories") collect academic work, add appropriate metadata so that search engines can find it, and then keep this scholarship permanently and publicly accessible. These archives collect traditional, peer-reviewed scholarship that's been published in academic journals. However, they also collect academic work of value that does not get published in that way. This includes student work. Depending on the policy of the repository, students can submit their research papers so that they can be part of the general record of academic work at their institution. In this way, that research can be kept safe, readily referenced, and available to be built upon in the future.

Here at Brigham Young University, our repository is called the "ScholarsArchive" and it accepts student research -- not only theses or dissertations, but undergraduate work. For example, here is a paper written by one of my former students, Janelle Frossard, on the topic of using graphic novels in secondary schools to teach Shakespeare. She wrote this for a Shakespeare course I taught in 2012.

To submit something to the ScholarsArchive, follow this link. A tutorial video is also available.

Student presenters Jessica Lees, Ellis Dyck, and Joshua McKinney
presenting about digital badges at the Mormon Media Studies 2012 Symposium

2. Conference Presentations

Students can formalize their work by publicly presenting it at various kinds of conferences. I have found that even when students are not accepted (or have been accepted but cannot attend), that going through the experience of submitting a proposal "gets them in the game" -- they begin to see it is possible, and not that difficult, to bring one's ideas into larger circulation. Submitting that very first proposal is the hardest of all. 

There are several types of conferences to which students can submit their work.
  • Undergraduate conferences
  • Academic conferences
  • Online / Virtual conferences
Undergraduate Conferences
Many undergrad conferences happen each year. Some of these are of a very general nature, and others are specific to a given field or restricted to a given institution or geographical region.
  • The National Conference on Undergraduate Research occurs annually and welcomes undergraduates from all fields and in a variety of formats. The upcoming NCUR conference will take place in Kentucky on April 3-5, 2014, with abstracts due by December 6, 2013. Submissions are peer-reviewed and application is competitive. 
  • The National Undergraduate Literature Conference is sponsored by Weber State University in Utah. Their next conference will take place April 3-5, 2014. 
  • Butler University's Undergraduate Research Conference is a multidisciplinary national conference that draws 500 students form over 40 colleges annually. Their next conference will take place April 11, 2014 with submissions open through Feb 12, 2014.
  • Re:Humanities: An Undergraduate Symposium on Digital Media is sponsored by the Tri-Co Digital Humanities (a group from Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College "committed to media change in a liberal arts context, discovering and promoting digital literacy and sophistication, and innovating through humanities-based inquiry using new technology"). Their upcoming conference will be held at Haverford College, outside of Philadelphia, April 3-4, 2014, with a submission deadline of December 1, 2013. See their call for papers or browse past years' events at their site.
  • The Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature is sponsored by the University of Portland and takes place next on April 5, 2014 (submissions accepted from Dec 1, 2013 - Jan 20, 2014).
  • The BYU English Symposium is an annual undergraduate conference in which BYU students can showcase their work (though there is no restriction for non-BYU presenters). The next symposium will happen March 28, 2014 (with abstracts due Jan 15, 2014). Follow the BYU English Society for general updates.
General Academic Conferences
Undergraduates don't realize that many academic conferences geared to professionals are open to students. Paul Bills, a BYU undergraduate student, dared to submit his paper about Shakespeare and video games for the 2013 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association's meeting in Vancouver, Washington. Any student who thinks they just are not legit enough to play in the big leagues should read about his experience: his proposal experience and then his enthusiastic report about the highly successful event. Here's the video of him giving the paper:
Now, it is possible that some conferences are closed to undergraduates, or that they require a mentor or faculty sponsor. But it is often the case that the organizers of conference are more interested in serving the topic than they are in restricting access, and if someone has good material and approaches the organizers in the right way (as Paul did), it is likely that an undergraduate can find himself or herself being taken very seriously indeed.

Searching for Academic Conferences
Rather than listing specific academic conferences (of which there are so many), I will give some recommendations for finding them.

Online / Virtual Conferences
Undergraduate students have a harder time traveling to academic conferences, and that is one reason to consider presenting at a conference virtually. Doing so would also make you a digital hipster, and who doesn't want that?

creative commons 2.0 license by orionpozo
An online or virtual conference doesn't have to be in an immersive virtual world, as pictured here, but it can be! Check out the SLanguages Annual Symposium (going on its 7th year of being a fully virtual conference being held in Second Life. It's focus is on language teaching and learning in virtual worlds. It offers some very innovative, born-digital kinds of scholarly presentations (such as machinima, or a tour of a virtual space). The upcoming conference will take place in Second Life from Feb 28 - March 2, 2014 with a proposal deadline of Jan 10, 2014. The call for papers asks you to submit your avatar name along with your real one!

EDUCAUSE, a large national organization dedicated to higher education's use of technology, has for many years conducted virtual conferences synchronously with its live national conferences. In its recent call for proposals for its Fall, 2014 event, it offers presenters the option of presenting in person or off-site, virtually.  The "virtual" part means using Adobe Connect's webinar technology (using a webcam at one's desk computer). Virtual participants are not avatars or in an immersive environment; they are at a computer somewhere, watching sessions through live streaming and in some cases interacting with the presenters as in a webinar format. 

The journal Inquiry is an outlet for undergraduate researchers at BYU doing field studies and cross-cultural work.

3. Scholarly Journals

Like academic conferences, scholarly journals are open to student work either via dedicated undergraduate outlets (some local or regional; others national or international); or via traditional scholarly journals (which may require a mentor or co-author). I will highlight examples of all of these, emphasizing journals that are either multidisciplinary, or that focus on the humanities or on digital culture:

Local or regional journals may serve a specific institution, but these are often willing to consider submissions from outsiders. One such journal is Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism, hosted by BYU. Its current call for papers requests manuscripts by January 17, 2014.

National or international undergraduate journals: 
  • Student Pulse: The International Student Journal is "an online open-access academic journal focused on publishing the work of university students from around the world in a wide range of academic disciplines." Submissions are ongoing.
  • Agora is a national journal of undergraduate academic writing whose aim is to integrate classical ideas and issues with contemporary ones. This is an online publication of Lynchburg College with a submission cycle ending December 15th annually.
  • Digital America is a new online journal whose philosophy aligns with the digital emphasis of this blog and its accompanying class: "We are a new endeavor interested in pushing the boundaries of online publishing. We are soliciting critical essays, film, artwork, design, and process pieces that question, analyze, and/or hack the tools of digital culture....We believe that Millennials have a unique perspective as they engage digital culture socially, professionally, creatively, and theoretically. The tools of digitization and the subsequent culture erupting from those tools are fueled by young thinkers and creators, and many of their decisions will impact all of our lives." See their submission guidelines.
  • The Valley Humanities Review, from Lebanon Valley College, is a peer-reviewed online journal "dedicated to the publication of excellent undergraduate research in the fields of the humanities. We believe that undergraduates are capable of exemplary research, so our goal is to showcase the best research in the humanities going on at colleges across the globe." See their submission guidelines. They accept submissions through December 15 annually.
  • Discussions, from Case Western Reserve University, "accepts research papers written by current undergraduate students from accredited colleges and universities around the globe." Research can be on any topic.
  • Elon Journal, an attractively produced journal published by The School of Communications at Elon University, North Carolina, has a focus "on undergraduate research in journalism, media and communications." A unique feature is having a short video of each student author introducing and explaining his or her research.
Students should also consult this aggregator, the WebGURU Guide for Undergraduate Research, for further resources.

Regarding more general scholarly journals, one may search for these following the same pattern described above for searching for conferences. What follows is a short list of a few general journals that cater to the digital humanities:
  • Digital Humanities Quarterly is an "open-access, peer-reviewed, digital journal covering all aspects of digital media in the humanities." This journal is open both to "text-centric" and "media-centric" submissions.
  • Literary and Linguistic Computing is "an international journal which publishes material on all aspects of computing and information technology applied to literature and language research and teaching. Papers include results of research projects, description and evaluation of techniques and methodologies, and reports on work in progress."  
  • Digital Studies / Le champ numérique "invites contributions relating to work carried out in the digital humanities, broadly construed." Submission guidelines.
  • Digital Humanities Now
    This is not a journal, but serves as the gateway for the Journal of Digital Humanities as described here. Editors select digital humanities content to be featured on the Digital Humanities Now website, which in turn qualifies work to be considered for further review in the Journal of Digital Humanities. If you launch a DH project, submit your information to DH Now for possible inclusion in the site or submission to the journal. (You should have your own blog or site from which to do this, and should not simply enter the URL of a given post or a group blog).

4. Guest Blogging

Why Guest Blog?
Writing a guest blog post as a student may be less intimidating than submitting something for formal presentation or publication. It might also be published sooner. Plus, blog posts have the advantage of being connected (often) with online communities. In short, guest posting is a way of bootstrapping one's reputation by getting one's intellectual work broader exposure than one can get through one's personal blog.

What about Peer Review?
Blogs actually vary considerably on whether or how submitted content is peer reviewed. There may be a less formal layer of review by volunteer editors (as is the case with Digital Humanities Now blog, mentioned above). Or, there may be an editor or editorial board. So, depending on the case, a blog may function a lot more like a casual blog ("You've got some content for me? Great!") or more like an academic journal ("Let's get some good eyeballs on this before it hits the pixels"). 

In general, though, blogs are more likely to go through informal levels of review and even active dialogue with an editor. Unlike a formal publication (where it's usually a thumbs up or a thumbs down after a long wait), with a blog post you might get a sign of interest immediately from an editor, who might help you shape your content to get it acceptable and posted soon. This is nicely exemplified in by the blog Sound Out!, a blog "following an open, developmental model fostered by digital humanities, in which editors and advisors are known to our writers, and provide several rounds of feedback, commentary, and collaboration before publication."

Finding Appropriate Blogs
Students wishing to guest post should not select blogs written by undergraduates (though many grad students keep very substantial blogs and could be considered). The safest bet are blogs affiliated with some kind of academic institution, organization, or journal, though there are often star academic bloggers (like danah boyd) or reputable group blogs (such as A Motley Vision: Mormon Literature and Culture) without such affiliations. In most cases, one would shy away from commercially-oriented blogs. However, they can be appropriate if they clearly service the education sector and are a genuine destination point for their niche.

Although a commercial website, No Sweat Shakespeare has curated substantial
content and become a community hub for educators and students studying Shakespeare
In evaluating a prospective blog, a student should look for ones that are established--as evidenced by the presence of a decent history of posts reflecting many months or years of serious treatment of a topic; and often indicated by the presence of solid curated resources embedded within or linked to from the blog. Another good sign is if the blog is connected to an online community or some kind of organization that uses that blog as part of maintaining its community.

While the most obvious thing to do is to search for blogs that have calls for guest bloggers (in the ways modeled above for searching conferences and publications), you might have luck writing for a blog that never extended an invitation. It is often the case that blog owners or editors will consider guest posts, provided that the content genuinely serves the purpose and audience for that blog. In other words, it doesn't hurt to ask someone who runs a blog whether or not they would consider a guest post -- especially if you've done your homework and made sure that you're offering content that clearly aligns with that blog's content and tone.

Writing Appropriately for an Academic Blog
Obviously if one is serious about guest posting on someone's academic blog, one ought to read and study the blog in order to adjust one's length, tone, use of media, etc. to what's customary for that blog. That said, there are some good general guidelines for the rhetorical approach to be used in an academic blog post. These ideas have been summarized in standards offered by Dan Cohen in "The Blessay" (slightly abbreviated here):
  1. Mid-length: more ambitious than a blog post, less comprehensive than an academic article. Around 1,000-3,000 words.
  2. Informed by academic knowledge and analysis, but doesn’t rub your nose in it.
  3. Uses the apparatus of the web more than the apparatus of the journal, e.g., links rather than footnotes. Where helpful, uses supplementary evidence from images, audio, and video—elements that are often missing or flattened in print.
  4. Expresses expertise but also curiosity. Conclusive but also suggestive.
  5. Written for both specialists and an intelligent general audience. Avoids academic jargon—not to be populist, but rather out of a feeling that avoiding jargon is part of writing well.
Students who have already been blogging may have met most of these criteria, though they will of course need to check their writing to be sure they are addressing the new audience, and not a classroom one.

Some examples of guest blogging:
A few open calls for guest bloggers:
  • Call for Guest Bloggers - PURM: Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (asking for a dozen guest posts over the course of a year).
  • Sounding Out! call for guest posts: "So you want to be a Sounding Out! Guest Writer?" (asking for those interested only in the topic of sound, but offering lots of specific advice and help)
  • No Sweat Shakespeare (asking for posts only about Shakespeare and closely related topics).
  • Interesting Literature: A Library of Literary Interestingness "We’re now seeking academics, scholars, and bloggers to contribute to our new ‘guest blog’ section. Is this you? Can you distill the interestingness of your research into a short piece of c. 500-1,000 words, or is there a text or writer you want to wax interesting about? If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact our website’s creator at"
  • LearnEgg: Global Education Coverage. "Want to share your education ideas, news, products, and opinions with the world? We’re building an online education community and this is your chance to reach a growing audience of educators, innovators, and many others. Just use the form below and we’ll review your post for potential publication" (See also a similar call for posts on EduBloggery).
Other possibilities
The reach of student research is being extended by the diversity of media through which academic work can be channeled, and these are not limited to traditional formats and publications, or even to blogging. Students might formalize their academic research in a number of ways. Past students of mine have furthered the reach of their research by doing the following:
  • producing an event (live and simulcast over the internet via a service like Justin.TV)
  • conducting a webinar (live or recorded, with fellow students or invited guests)
  • creating an ebook
  • curating an academic wiki 
  • creating a film adaptation of an essay
  • curating playlist of videos, either expository or creative, to get one's academic ideas communicated to new audiences 
The possibilities for teaching media are especially rich. One could also try:
It works!
I realize this post has gotten long, and all the detail may actually seem to intimidate students rather than give them hope that they could succeed. So I thought I'd close with a brief testimonial from a student who did nothing more than send a query letter to a blog. This isn't that hard. Once students have done the heavy lifting of some serious research and writing, there's a world of ways to further the reach of their work.