Monday, July 27

editing work and so-called "educational technologies"

it's not the most important volunteer gig in the world, but I am on the official Board of Copy Editors for a scholarly journal in the field of social work.

see? (I still need to have them update my institutional affiliation, I know. soon.)

the article I'm editing now is about perceptions of social work and advocacy organizations in Ireland. it's pretty interesting. part of the fun of this position is getting to dip my brain into current scholarship from another field, from lots of other perspectives. one of the pieces I previously edited was all about volunteerism-- something not unrelated to my own scholarship.

today I've been combing through this forthcoming article's reference list, checking for completeness and formatting. like most social science journals, this one uses APA style, which I'm thankfully pretty familiar with.

my editing process can be a little haphazard for a project like this. but generally it follows these broad strokes:

1. read through the piece once and make notes about persistent issues or anything else that stands out, tidying up a few of the easy things (commas, spelling, other punctuation) along the way
2. check that everything listed in the references is actually cited in the text, and vice versa (this is something I learned from Dr. Hawkins as part of her teaching in Bibliography & Research Methods many years ago)
3. attend to citation formatting (all the periods in the right spots, capitalization as APA dictates, and so on)
4. make sure all the headings and subheadings are styled properly (and I'd usually check tables and figures here too, but this particular article doesn't have any)
5. draft a makeshift style sheet for any judgement calls I get to make about hyphenation or capitalization of terms (these are always really informal sticky-note things, if that)
6. go through again, adding queries for the author where needed, making decisions and changes for the major issues previously noted, watching for consistency and fluency at the word- and sentence-level.
7. spot check one last time for the things on the style sheet, review the queries and comments to make sure they make sense, and then send the whole thing off after appending my initials to the filename.

if it's work for hire, I'll prep an invoice and send that along with my edits. I've done a huge amount of editing for hire this summer, it seems like. dissertation proposals, articles about orthodontics, computer graphics, and GPS, and even several book chapters about analytic software programs. but for this particular job I'm only getting paid in collegial respect and academic clout. it makes a nice line on my CV and boosts my ethos as a person with practical, ongoing experience editing. plus, I enjoy it.

there's about a day or two more of work left on the piece. the references and headings are sorted, so all that's left, roughly, are steps 5 through 7. from this point on, I shouldn't need to keep opening and closing the section on APA style at the Purdue OWL. it's down to the less tedious part of the job now. I could, I know, be a lot more meticulous about how I approach the work and how I track the time I spend on it. for now, this is what works for me.

the tedium of citation-tidying, I'll add, is pretty pleasant tedium. actually one of my favourite things about editing scholarly work like this is replacing all the default hyphens with en-dashes in all the page ranges of the references that have them. APA doesn't strictly care about that detail, but the beautiful differences between hyphens and dashes were irrevocably drilled into me back when I worked with the more comprehensive Chicago style at Texas Tech University Press.

style guides like Chicago and APA and resources like the OWL that grow up around them all count as educational technology, don't they? sure, the term is burdened with connotations of electronics, computers, digital connectivity, and such, but books are technologies too. I'd count these guides' paper-based versions as technologies just as much as I'd count their websites at and

the Purdue OWL has always been a website, though its offline home, the regular Purdue Writing Lab, predates it by almost twenty years.

educational technologies. any technology that serves a process of education, right? well, one would hope.

about a year and a half ago, the dear Purdue OWL entered into a partnership with a purveyor of so-called educational technologies called Chegg. shortly thereafter, citation generator banners appeared all over every page of the OWL, offering quick and easy auto-citations in MLA or APA style. I reacted with great disappointment and irritation at the time. and so did plenty of other people.

since then, the powers-that-be over at the OWL have toned it down a bit. the citation generation tools are still there, but not on every single page. still, it feels odd. one tool, the OWL, gives students valuable reference information and examples and helps them learn to apply that knowledge in their writing. the other just black-boxes it all away and says, more or less, "trust us, we'll handle it, you don't have to think too hard. or at all."

I guess there are probably times when not having to think too hard about some process or technology is perfectly okay, but in academia? it seems thoroughly wrong. this kind of thing doesn't really serve education. does it?

such over-reliance on technology goes beyond students, too. a related "educational technology" here is plagiarism-detection software like Turnitin and other such tools. these companies give lip service to academic integrity and education, but their true goal is profit. they're invested in manufacturing some kind of vague ethical crisis so they can sell software subscriptions.

using software to catch students "cheating" is not education. it's barely relevant to education by any stretch of the imagination. and if you have to rely on such tools to figure out if your students are cheating on their writing assignments or not, then you haven't given your students or their writing enough of your attention, and you haven't designed very good writing assignments.

what has bugged me most about Turnitin and the like is the fact that it copies piles and piles of student work for its own databases and uses those copies as a core part of its function. and I suppose they think that because their terms of service say this is all perfectly fine to do, it is.

I say not. if students had any real choice in the matter, then maybe. but given the power dynamics of your typical college classroom, they don't. if their professor says upload your work via this tool, then students are more or less forced to do so, whether or not they care about the implications.

copyright is a whole mess in itself, but any logical understanding of intellectual property should acknowledge that students own their creative work, even within the relatively convoluted confines of formal education. for a third-party technology company to copy that work and profit from its application is pretty clearly unfair. unjust. messed up. all because some teachers are so worried about cheating they're willing to outsource part of their job to a for-profit company rather than design more robust assignments and trust their students half an inch.

for further reading:

No comments: