How progressive is Progressive Academic Publishing?

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I recently read a paper by two academics on the governance of lifelong learning – an important topic, that has been widely debated in western nations but not nearly so widely studied in the very different African context. The authors are academics from Botswana, and their paper examines the challenges and potential of promoting a complex field like lifelong learning in their own country.

I enjoyed the paper, and tweeted a link to it. I was, though, concerned about the journal in which it appeared, and about the pricing practices of its publisher, Progressive Academic Publishing. The journal is called the European Journal of Research and Reflection in Educational Sciences, and a glance at its content suggests that the papers appear in a very basic format. It is hard to see what value is added, other than giving the papers a volume and issue number for the journal.

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All journals published by Progressive Academic Publishing are open access, meaning that the contents can be read for free online. And the website claims that they are peer reviewed, though I’m not sure what that actually means. You won’t be surprised to learn that EJRRES, like all other journals from the same publisher, charges an author processing fee of $90 or over per paper, which for African academics is a hefty sum.

I wouldn’t mind knowing more about this journal and the high quality standards it claims to maintain. The editor-in-chief is said to be a Dr. Elizabeth Kilbride from the UK; I’ve tried a Google search, and found no academics with that name in the UK, though there is one lab technician at a Scottish university. One other UK person, from Coventry University, is said to be on the editorial board, but finding him on Coventry’s website proved beyond my abilities. The company’s postal address is on a business park just off the M42. It was included by Jeffrey Beall in his list of predatory publishers.

Of course, none of this necessarily tells us anything about the quality of individual papers appearing in Progressive Academic Publishing’s journals. But it does help me answer one of my own questions about this type of journal: who writes for them? And if it is academics from Africa who choose this way of reaching an audience, what does this tell us about the opportunities they have for publishing in more established and – frankly – reputable journals?

 

Lifelong learning and social mobility in Europe – a blank page?

 

One of the European Commission’s agencies has just published a very interesting and informative report on social mobility in the EU. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) has drawn on existing studies and surveys to provide an overview and comparison of the EU member states. It finds that European societies have generally converged in this area, with marked changes in gender patterns; it also suggests that recent trends in social mobility vary considerably by country and gender.

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I found this a valuable contribution, and as you would expect with a state agency it concludes with a series of policy recommendations. It rightly calls for further research to help shed light on national differences in recent trends, as well as for further debate over which indicators might best help us understand patterns of social mobility.

Its call to prioritise men in Generation X is likely to be controversial, but is based on evidence showing decreasing life chances among men born after 1964. It identifies early selection in education and residential segregation as major causes of  social closure, issues of particular concern in the UK.

This is all well and good. But I was shocked to see that lifelong education appears precisely twice in the report, both times in respect of policies for opening up labour market opportunities. There is no mention of evidence on the social mobility benefits of family learning or adult retraining or second-chance entry to higher education. Some of the findings around family learning interventions were summarised in our recent report for the UK Government’s Foresight project on the future of skills and lifelong learning, so it isn’t exactly inaccessible.

I suspect that the authors of the Eurofound study – and their distinguished advisory panel – simply didn’t see lifelong learning as much of an issue. They should have done, but I also think we can and should do much more to make sure that the benefits of adult learning are much more widely acknowledged. In this case, “we” comprises both the adult learning research community and the large number of reflective practitioners in our field, both of whom need to engage much more systematically with (a) policy-makers and (b) researchers in cognate disciplines. Insularity does none of us any favours.

 

The Times are Out of Joint: Chrononormativity and the normal age of learning

The word ‘chrononormativity’ refers to the way in which our experiences follow patterns over time in conformity with normative frameworks. Some of these patterns are pretty obvious: for example, there are age-defined periods of compulsory education, and the right to vote or marry, as well as responsibility for one’s own crimes, are defined by age. So, if it is that obvious, why bother to call it ‘chrononormativity’?
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Apprentices at Hornsey Rail Depot, by Lynne Featherstone

I’ve been thinking about this question since reading a new paper on older workers in the apprenticeship system. It’s a great paper which uses the idea of chrononormativity to show how oft-unexamined assumptions about age shape the everyday experiences and understandings of older workers, their trainers, and their managers, in ways that are not always helpful for the intended goals of the training programme.
The authors conclude that the concept of chrononromativity helped reveal the complex ways in which the age-training relationship works out, with older apprentices having to take the initiative in disrupting normalising assumptions, in order to negotiate relationships with (younger) peers and trainers. This is a familiar idea to those who have studied the lives of mature students in higher education, or in other age-bound educational settings such as schools. But if the idea is familiar, the word itself is relatively new.
The authors of the paper on older apprentices acknowledge its origins in queer theory, where Elizabeth Freeman used it in a 2010 book to explore the noncontinuously gendered life narratives of transsexuals. For Freeman, though, the term also has a wider relevance: people are controlled through the regulation of time. She defines chrononormativity as ‘the use of time to organize human bodies toward maximum productivity’. More broadly, ‘chronobiopolitics’ underpins various forms of social solidarity: ‘people are bound to one another, engrouped, made to feel coherently collective, through particular orchestrations of time’.
And this is where I think the concept might be helpful in understanding adult learning. It doesn’t point to anything particularly novel, as we have known for many years that most people see learning in adult life as a deviation from the norm: that is why advocates constantly remind people that learning isn’t just for the young. But it does draw attention to the way that our ideas of the ‘normal right time’ for things is patterned, and is tied in to other socio-cultural (and economic) patterns.
Less attractive, to me at any rate, is the way that Freeman uses the passive voice to describe chrononormativity and its effects. She talks about the way in which ‘people are made to feel’ something – and thus rules out the idea of anyone actually doing the making. The talks about ‘the use of time’ to enforce productivity – and not about who is doing the using, and in whose interests. This is also connected, I believe, to a tendency to ignore or underplay the agency of those involved – yet plenty of people do kick against the constraints of chrononormativity, adult learners included.
Stripped of these limitations, I see this idea as potentially relevant for our understanding of what it means to be ‘learning out of joint with the times’. When three of us wrote a paper drawing on our study of learning biographies, we found it useful to distinguish three representations in people’s accounts of time: chronological time, narrative time, and generational time.
I can see with hindsight that, athough the idea of chrononormativity was present in some of what we were saying, an explicit focus on the norms and practices associated with the concept might have sharpened our discussion of all three representations. Or perhaps it would have annoyed readers without adding anything new.
Potentially, I think the concept is worth exploring as we try to understand people’s experiences of learning ‘out of joint’, as well as improving the ways in which learning and its provision are managed. Whether it brings any novel insights, or simply underlines and helps clarify what we already know, remains to be seen.

Refugee integration and rugby

Living in Cologne didn’t exactly at put me the centre of the rugby world, but I found it easy enough to satisfy my cravings. Six Nations matches were shown in several bars (none of which were worth visiting on any other grounds) and at the local clubhouse of ASV Köln. And I also watched ASV Köln, not that my support them much good: they finished bottom of the 2. Bundesliga West. In fact, in recent years the men’s team has done rather poorly, while the women’s team has been relatively successful.

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Cologne’s Rugby United participants

Last week, though, ASV Köln won a prize. Three women players launched a project last year under the name of Rugby United with the aim of exploiting rugby’s reliance on team building to bring people together, and foster what they described as the game’s ‘central values’ of ‘Disziplin, Respekt und Fairplay’. They also used what in Germany is called ‘the third forty minutes’, and in the UK is an opportunity for a pint, as a time for discussion and interaction.

The project took time to get under way. Unsurprisingly, the idea of rugby itself isn’t exactly familiar to many people living in the refugee hostels (which range from old barracks to sports halls), let alone rugby involving girls as well as boys. The project’s supporters have to raise money for playing kit, and for the shared meal after sessions.

Thirty people, between the ages of 3 and 46, turned up to the first training session. The project’s mid-term goal is to integrate the refugees gradually into the standard club training sessions, with a view to eventually recruiting the best players into ASV’s teams. The prospects look reasonably good, with 20-30 refugees turning up to sessions. And as well as attracting the attention of the city’s mayor and sporting community locally, three of the younger refugees were selected as mascots for the German national side.

I have no idea what Cologne’s wider refugee communities make of this development. Parents must be slightly bothered when their children come home with bumps and bruises and tales of on-pitch arguments, and I imagine that not all communities welcome the very idea of women’s rugby. On the other hand, children’s lives in the refugee homes can be mind-numbingly boring, with few facilities and a high turnover of social work staff. And as in many German towns and cities, the rugby club is part of a wider sporting association – in this case Athletik Sportverein Köln – with a history of community engagement (including participation in Cologne’s gay pride celebrations).

Of course this is a relatively small project. With the best will in the world, an amateur rugby club cannot involve more than a handful of the estimated 12,000 refugees living in Cologne. And you could argue that the recruitment of potential players, along with the accompanying publicity, is very much in ASV’s interests (interestingly, some village soccer clubs in Germany are able to field a team mainly thanks to their connections with refugee communities).

All the same, hats off to the Athletik Sportverein Köln, and high respect to the three players who made this project possible. And to the rest of the rugby community, especially in the cash-rich Six Nations: more of the same, please. Meanwhile, I wish ASV Köln Rugby every success this season, on and off the pitch.

Save Ruskin’s BA and MA Courses

Britain’s residential colleges have a long tradition of support for worker education. Obviously much has changed over that time, including a steady decline in trade union membership levels, and an even steeper fall in active trade union participation. Yet worker education is thriving, and the successes of UnionLearn and of the network of Union Learning Representatives have been one of the most important developments in UK adult learning in recent decades. So I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Ruskin College was withdrawing its historic provision in this area, and am reblogging this post from the Friends of Ruskin blog.

Friends Of Ruskin

Below is the text of a letter which we are going to send to the Guardian for publication. If you would like to be a signatory to this letter, please leave your name and title/position in the ‘Leave A Reply’ section below. Please also feel free to distribute this further amongst your union branches and networks.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.

As academics, working-class educationalists, labour movement practitioners, politicians, and alumni, we are shocked and angered by the decision taken by Ruskin College, Oxford to effectively close the International Labour and Trade Union Studies BA and MA courses by making all academic staff in this department redundant. The decision removes from the UK the only remaining institution providing labour and trade union studies.

Ruskin College was established in 1899 to provide education to working class people who couldn’t have otherwise gone to university, and since then the institution…

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Confessions of a grammar school boy

The current debate in England over school selection at 11 is an important one. The outcome will affect the shape of English society, and not just its secondary school system, for decades to come. I find the debate parochial (the German Länder, for example, offer a natural experiment in early secondary selection: some have comprehensive systems, others have teacher-based selection at 10, but unlike Britain all share a strong vocational pathway).

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Sturry Secondary Modern – image by Artcyprus, from Wikipedia

Part of that parochialism is a tendency for individuals to tell their own stories, which of course prove little. My own experiences were even less typical than  most: my father was a professional soldier, so my primary and pre-school education was peripatetic, and my parents decided to send me to the boarding section of a  grammar school.

I found it a brutal place, at least in my first years. By the third year I was too large to bully physically without risk; verbal cruelty was less risky. Bullying was not only rife, but was built into the school’s discipline structure, and complaining about the prefects would have been (a) pointless and (b) taken as a sign of weakness.Teachers regularly used public humilation as a way of controlling their adolescent charges.

Later on, reading William Horwood’s autobiography (he attended the same school four years ahead of me), I discovered that this culture of cruelty aruled among the day pupils as well. I don’t know why that came as a surprise, and I should have known, but I’d assumed that the boarders – most of whom had parents in the armed forces or expatriate professions – were unique. While I hope I didn’t bully others, I fear that at least once I did.

Academically I thrived into the fifth year, when I passed 10 O-Levels (11 if you include General Studies), then lost interest in the sixth year, passing two A-levels. I loved many of the extra-curricular activities, particularly rugby, the chess club, the debating society. As a person I learned to hide pain and defend myself verbally and physically. I also got up to the usual adolescent male stuff: making good friends, listening to records, puzzling over women (the school later became co-ed), stretching the school’s dress code.

Ah, that dress code. We were banned from wearing CND badges, so we all got one and wore it behind our blazer lapel. As a result I started to question other aspects of ‘normality’, and became a supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, and briefly joined Peter Hain’s Young Liberals. And I learned to despise and fear boys who went to the secondary modern down the road.

I feared them because we heard stories of secondary boys setting upon our fellow pupils, highly visible as we all were thanks to the school dress code. We despised them of course, because they were ‘thick’ and had failed their 11+ exam, because they played different (inferior) sports, because their school buildings were tatty, and because they were and would remain ‘proles’ for all their days. Not quite Oxbridge levels of contempt, but contempt all the same, which took a few years of working life to erase.

Most of today’s debate focuses on whether grammar schools are a good thing. We tend to forget that grammar schools are for a minority, and that their introduction means that the majority will go to non-grammars. Or, as they used to be known, secondary moderns. Arguing for grammar schools inextricably means arguing also for secondary moderns, and we need to face up to what that means.

Beware of the International Journal of Education

I receive so many emails from dubious journals that I usually just mark them as spam. Occasionally, though, one comes along from a journal that sounds reasonable enough to take in less experienced or less cynical colleagues. Then I blog about it.

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The latest email comes from someone called Amy Li on behalf of the plausibly-named International Journal of Education, addressed to me by name and asking me to submit my own research, encourage my colleagues to do likewise, serve as a reviewer, and join their editorial board. This sort of scatter-gun aproach is enough to start my alarm bells ringing.

The International Journal of Education publishes on an open access basis, as Ms Li’s email says. What she does not mention is that it charges its authors fees, at a rate of $200 an article. And it is part of a stable of journals published by an organisation calling itself the Macrothink Institute, one of whose journals accepted for publication a spoof paper concocted as part of a sting by the journal Science. You won’t be surprised to learn that Macrothink was listed by Jeffrey Beall as a ‘predatory publisher’.

Interestingly, and for me surprisingly, their editorial team seems to include some genuine academics. Among those listed from the UK are a principal lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, two lecturers at Ulster University, a senior lecturer at Glasgow, and a Reader at Northumbria (listed under her previous university). Some of these academics don’t list any publications on their departmental web pages, which prompts a couple of obvious questions, but others – including two whom I know personally – seem to be decent scholars.

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An extract from Amy Li’s email

Assuming that these colleagues are aware that they are listed as members of an unusually large editorial advisory board, I wonder what they think their purpose is? Are they genuinely contributing to scholarship in this way, or are they providing an academic fig-leaf for a less than ethical activity, which may well succeed in relieving some less experienced researchers of their money? And why would you allow your name and your institution’s to be associated with such a dubious enterprise?

I’m starting to think that there may be a role here for the learned societies. After all, societies like the British Educational Research Association are fond of proclaiming their concern for early careers researchers. So in the case of the UK academics mentioned above, shouldn’t BERA take an interest?