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Open access journals

February 26th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am ever more excited by the possibilities of ebook and emedia readers linked to open access publications. I think we are on the cusp of a big change in access to learning. Recently I produced a short consultancy report on the potential for a new journal. The major technical considerations in the publication of a journal, I said, was if it was to be open or closed and what media should the journal deploy? Below is an excerpt from the report.

Open or Closed Acces
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There has been much recent discussion about Open Access journals. Much of this stems from the Budapest Open Access Initiative launched by the  Open Society Institute (OSI)  to accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet. The  Budapest Open Access Initiative is intended as a statement of principle, a statement of strategy, and a statement of commitment and has been signed by a growing number of individuals and organizations from around the world who represent researchers, universities, laboratories, libraries, foundations, journals, publishers, learned societies. Signatories include the University of Hamburg.

Open access journals are scholarly journals that are available to the reader “without financial or other barrier other than access to the internet itself.” Some are subsidized, and some require payment on behalf of the author. Subsidized journals are financed by an academic institution or a government information centre; those requiring payment are typically financed by money made available to researchers for the purpose from a public or private funding agency, as part of a research grant. There have also been several modifications of open access journals that have considerably different natures: hybrid open access journals and delayed open access journals.

Open access journals may be considered to be:

  • Journals entirely open access
  • Journals with research articles open access (hybrid open access journals)
  • Journals with some research articles open access (hybrid open access journals)
  • Journals with some articles open access and the other delayed access
  • Journals with delayed open access (delayed open access journals)
  • Journals permitting self-archiving of articles

It should be noted that many of the hybrid journals maintain both an open access or delayed access online version alongside a paid for print version.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (http://www.doaj.org/), maintained by the University of Malmo, and  which covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals and aims to cover all subjects and languages currently lists 3786 journals in the directory. 1330 journals are searchable at article level and at the time of writing 240714 articles are included in the DOAJ service. 258 of the journals are in the field of education and 50 in technology. A list of these education related journals is included in Appendix 2. it should be noted few, if any are in the filed of vocational education and training.

Th advantages of open access journals is obviously their accessibility. A number of extensive studies have shown that articles in open access journals are much more likely to be cited than those in closed access journals.

It has also been argued that open access journal will promote innovation, facilitate collaboration between researchers and that the results of research funded by public money should be published in the public domain. It is interesting to note that there appears no difference in status or scholarly reputation of journals between those with open and those with closed access.

Open Access on-line journals are particularly popular for allowing access to doctoral research. For example Educate (http://www.educatejournal.org/index.php?journal=educate) is published twice a year in June and December under the auspices of the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London. The journal aims to provide:

  • opportunities for the dissemination of the work of current post-graduate researchers at any stage of their research, and recent doctoral graduates, on any aspect of education or related areas
  • opportunities for the dissemination of “work in progress” to the academic community
  • a resource for professionals involved in educational enquiry and research

Educate articles are peer reviewed by both an established academic and a current post-graduate researcher. Articles are further reviewed by the editorial board as a whole.

The obvious argument against is financial. Doubts have been raised over the viability of the journal publishers if Open Access becomes the norm (although these questions are also raised by the move to online journals). There is a further issue that payments by researchers for publishing will disadvantage those without access to substantial research grants.

Media – print, online or both and what about publishers?

There is a growing trend towards on-line journals. Indeed, all journals today would appear to have some form of web presence.

However there is a basic divide between those journals which are only available online and those which are also available through a print edition. For those which also maintain a print edition, varying levels of access may be provided to the online content as noted above. It should also be noted that those journals with restricted public access to online content, may often allow that access if the researchers institution has a subscription to the journal. This is under the so called Athens Access Management System. There is also a growing number of online journals that require a subscription for access to full articles.

Many of the major journal publishers – for instance Blackwells – are currently launching enhanced on-line platforms. Additional a number of university libraries are exploring providing only online access to journals. This is likely to be accelerated by the move to digitalise texts and by developments in mobile devices and book readers able to access the internet.

There are obviously advantages for on-line publications in terms of accessibility.

If a publication is only available through the internet there are major advantages in terms of cost. Put quite simply, it is possible to by-pass publishers who represent a considerable hurdle in launching any new journal. Publishers want to be sure there will be a financially viable market for a journal and in a relatively small research area such as VET are understandably cautious. Furthermore, the long lead in time in negotiating with publishers can dissipate effort and lessen initial enthusiasm. In addition there is access to relatively powerful Open Source journal software such as Open Journal Systems (http://pkp.sfu.ca/?q=ojs) which claims to be running 1400 journals in ten languages in March 2008. There is some evidence to suggest it may be possible to shorten submission to publication turn around times using online journals.

So what are the disadvantages? Put quite simply, it  is one of prestige. Articles published by renowned academic journals have been seen as having higher prestige than those that are published online. This is not just a matter of prejudice. Many countries, including the Netherlands and UK, have a rating system for journals. And be it online or print, those backed by publishers have tended to have a higher research rating. Individual researchers may also feel that more traditional and often older professors do not value online publications.

This may be about to change. In the field of Technology Enhanced Learning, an area which would be expected to be in the forefront of any move to online publications, there are increasingly prestigious publications which are only available on line. Examples include the long established, peer review journal, First Monday, focused on the Internet, which since its launch in May 1996 has published 953 papers in 150 issues; these papers were written by 1,195 different authors. Equally prestigious is Innovate (http://www.innovateonline.info/?view=about), an open-access, peer-reviewed, online periodical  published bimonthly by the Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University in Canada. The journal focuses on the creative use of information technology to enhance education and training in academic, commercial, and governmental settings.

It should also be noted that the  LOCKSS system (http://www.lockss.org/lockss/Home) allows a distributed archiving system among participating libraries and permits those libraries to create permanent archives of a journal for purposes of preservation and restoration.

One probable future trend is the merger of different media. Video is increasingly of importance with many educational projects and initiatives publishing videos on public access sites such as Youtube (http://www.youtube.com). Blogging is an increasingly important way of publishing on work in progress. Online seminars are now freely available on all manner of topics. It is likely that journals will increasingly embrace such media with text publications accompanied by video material, slidecasts (audio and slide presentations) and by online seminars to present papers and discuss issues arising from the work.

There is another option between the idea of an online ‘self published’ journal and a print journal provided by a publisher. Some universities have themselves published journals. This is not particularly technically difficult. The major problem is distribution. Most university published journals tend to come from those universities with an associated publishing house, like the University of London Press or the University of Oxford Press, who in effect operate in little different a way than commercial publishers. Recently technical innovation has led to the development of printing on demand. Although there are different financial models, typically printers charge a flat fee per print edition and an extra fee per copy. The cover price is determined by those commissioning the printing. The printers will often distribute copies themselves. Individuals can order online and the book or journal will be printed when ordered and despatched by post. It is then possible to offer both an online version for free or a hard copy for those who would prefer to have
a print volume. The economic of this require further exploration but it is a rapidly growing market. It is interesting to note that in addition to a number of commercial printers in north Germany, Hamburg University Press (http://cmslib.rrz.uni-hamburg.de/hamburg-up/content/home.xml) is now offering printing on demand. There are also technical developments in machines which allow printing of books or newspapers on demand in a bookshop or kiosk.

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