From education to employment

Unlocking knowledge for anyone to use and re-use – ALT does its bit

Seb Schmoller, Vice-Chair of the Governing Body of The Sheffield College

Technology brings change to educational practice. Every college in the UK is or ought to be grappling with this, using the results of research to inform decision-making. The same goes for teachers and for those who design learning materials and systems.

Traditionally peer-reviewed research – much of it funded through the public purse – was exclusively in the hands of academe: where there is traditionally relatively generous funding to cover the high – some would say “gouging” – costs of subscriptions to research journals.

But where do practitioners away from academia go for advice, examples of good research methodology and case studies around effective pedagogy? If they are to succeed, they must have not only fast and unlimited access to such information and data but also be drawn into debate with minimum undue effort. Even for those not directly involved in research, if we want teachers and managers to have research inform their practice, that research has to be accessible to them. This is where Open Access publishing comes in.

Last year, ALT’s Trustees decided to switch from traditional publishing of the Association’s peer-reviewed journal Research in Learning Technology, for which non-ALT member organisations had to pay upwards of £200 a year. Instead, from January this year in partnership with the Swedish company Co-Action Publishing, ALT decided to make Research in Learning Technology freely available on the web – right back to the journal’s first Issue in 1993.

Why desert the “certainties” and security of a paid route? Three reasons underpinned the decision. First, our charitable objective is “to advance education through increasing, exploring and disseminating knowledge in the field of learning technology for the benefit of the general public”. How could we do this fully if the general public could not freely access our journal? Second, ALT’s service ethos is to help drive up standards of teaching and learning, which is crucially dependent on the application of research by teachers and managers. Third, the world of scholarly publishing is changing fast: with Open Access becoming more of the norm, especially in STEM, we want to be “out in front”.

Through Open Access publishing ALT is better placed to take advantage of social networks, blogs and services such as Twitter & Google+. We are encouraging and developing interest and conversation around the journal’s articles, thereby promoting their use and impact. And of course ALT is observing this impact, initially through ‘retweets’ and ‘Google +1s’, and subsequently through increased downloads of and citations to articles. (You can read more about this in Matthew Lingard’s piece in Maximizing the Impact of the Social Sciences, from the LSE).[1]

This brings me to the point I raised above about the effectiveness of research into best learning technology practices. A just-published paper in Research in Learning Technology, Linking theory to practice in learning technology research by Cathy Gunn and Caroline Steel [2], focuses on a clear need “to raise the profile of learning technology research and improve educational outcomes”. The authors conclude that all is far from well in the state of such research.

An analysis of current research by the authors shows “well-grounded designs and systematic evaluation approaches reported side by side with poorly conceived or poorly applied methodologies, limited reference to theory, weak results, incomplete descriptions, uneven presentation of data and overblown and unsupported claims of impact and importance”.

This paper illustrates a clear need for wider debate and involvement, to promote greater synergy between researcher and practitioner, and we at ALT are doing all we can to assist in the process. ALT has had an interest in the Open Access movement for a number of years.

The model adopted for Research in Learning Technology provides free-of-charge online access to articles to readers. Neither individuals nor libraries are charged a penny. In the case of Research in Learning Technology, the production costs are spread across ALT’s whole membership. And not only this, we’ve changed the license under which Research in Learning Technology is published. Previously authors had to assign the copyright in their work to ALT, with ALT then licensing the publisher to exploit the content commercially. Now authors retain copyright in their work, but license it for use, reuse, distribution and transmission, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, as I have done below both for Matt Lingard’s and for Cathy Gunn’s and Caroline Steel’s articles. The advantage of this open approach – and I am choosing my words carefully here – is that knowledge, on which civilization depends, can be freely spread.

[1] Citation: London School of Economics Social Science Impact Blog, 13 March, 2012:

[2] Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 16148 – 10.3402/rlt.v20i0.16148

Seb Schmoller – [email protected] – will stand down in May as chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed. Seb is also Vice-Chair of the Governing Body of The Sheffield College 

Read other FE News articles by Seb Schmoller:

How can technology enhance and improve learning in schools, and why does this matter for FE?


Filling an important gap in next year’s Common Inspection Framework

What can we learn from Stanford University’s free online computer science courses?


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