In this blog post, Alicja Syska, Editor, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education reflects on the experience of producing the Compendium of Innovative Practice: Learning Development in a Time of Disruption, the most recent Special Edition of JLDHE.
A Recipe for a Scrumptious Compendium
With profound gratitude to all our authors, reviewers, and readers, without whom nothing we do would ever make sense.
To paraphrase the unparalleled life philosopher Forrest Gump (while seeking forgiveness for doing so from my fellow Editors), Learning Development practice is like a box of chocolates – you truly never know what you will get! Unsurprisingly then, our original metaphor for the Compendium was a box of chocolates. It wasn’t one you can buy on the High Street though. It was always supposed to be home-grown – gently moulded and lovingly imperfect, a delicious collection of tales from practice, to delight and to inspire. When working on it, we turned into creative chocolatiers – stirring, folding, blending, poking, and watching our community develop one of the most innovative and inspiring publications we have seen in recent years.
Picture: A screenshot of our interactive call for papers, featuring the chocolate box design.
Yields roughly a hundred submissions. Serves the entire LD community.
1 gloomy day of reflecting on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on HE
3 pounds of restless cerebrum and a dash of insanity
4 committed editors and a smattering of meetings
1 proficient technical editor and 2-4 responsive copyeditors
2 inspired calls for papers and a handful of seasoned reminders
1 live session, recorded (optional but recommended)
A bunch of deadlines
A generous helping of peer reviewers
Unlimited cupfuls of contributors
Liberal dollops of calm (add to taste)
Method of preparation:
- Baste in your reflections for 24 hours. Let the thoughts seep onto a page. Set aside.
There is a fascinating phenomenon in Japanese culture called ‘Shikata ga nai’ (‘it cannot be helped’) – and while the historian in me wants to properly contextualise it, suffice it to say, it has been observed as a collective response in different crisis situations (e.g. the Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian internment during WWII). Pondering the impact of this collective mindset on various aspects of Japanese history, I could not resist considering it in the context of our more recent Covid-19 pandemic crisis. It became instantly clear to me that in the face of the emergency pivot to online learning, educators across the world did not accept it as an intrusion that ‘could not be helped’ but used their creativity, ingenuity and agency to respond in ways that could in fact ‘help it’. What I wanted to see was the range of these responses and the practical implications for future practice that could potentially reinvigorate and transform the HE sector.
- Mix the contents of your cerebrum with those of your collaborators; gently fold in a pinch of insanity. Stir softly, do not shake.
We had thought about a community-led writing project for a while but were not inspired by any particular theme so the pandemic context was a perfect and unique opportunity to test our energies and put them into practice. After initial conversations between Cathy Malone and me, Nicola Grayson and Gita Sedghi enthusiastically joined the team and we began exchanging ideas. None of us had any inkling of how much work the project would involve and, frankly, it may have been our very innocence that ended up birthing it into existence.
- Blend all the ideas in a big pot, boil, and drain to extract the gems. Simmer to perfection.
Mindful of the stresses and strains caused by the pandemic, we decided not to seek standard research papers, which require considerable time to produce. Among a range of possibilities regarding what format the contributions would take, we opted for focused and concise reflections, with very practical tips for readers and recommendations for future LD practice. We were interested in short and punchy pieces on themes such as moving teaching and support online; specific adaptations made to teaching practice; issues around student engagement; technological innovations; emotional aspects of online learning, and the challenges of creating a sense of community. The name ‘Compendium’ was born.
Nicola: I really thought it was important that we should try to document some of the ways in which we adapted our teaching, practice and approach in response to the pandemic, but trying to work whilst still dealing with the ongoing stress and challenges the pandemic threw up was a huge challenge in itself. I was torn between trying to solely focus on getting to grips with editing, and wanting to document my own challenge.
- Vigorously whip up enthusiasm until soft deadlines and clear goals form. Add to the mixture.
In order to help authors meet our criteria for the Compendium, we settled on a 3-part format for all submissions: Challenge – Response – Recommendations. Brevity required an unforgiving word count of up to 1,000 words. Our ambition was to create a democratic compendium of knowledge and practice for and by the LD community, to be shared and drawn on for the benefit of the field, while giving new authors an opportunity to shine. We were also interested in what didn’t work, believing that failures and bad decisions can be as valuable as successes, as more experimentation means more results and more growth.
Gita: Editing the Compendium pieces was challenging, enjoyable, time consuming and DIFFERENT. The experience was unique; I felt like being part of a community of like-minded colleagues doing their best to share their experiences and support each other; I was not alone during the challenges of the pandemic anymore. Although everything was about learning and teaching during the pandemic, every piece was distinctive. I wanted to read every sentence and word, not only the pieces I was editing. I enjoyed every minute of it and learned a lot; indeed, it became my hobby and what I liked to spend my breaks on.
- Divide the mixture equally and pour it into two different moulds for calls for papers: one visual and one textual. Place it in the hot LDHEN oven.
Naturally, our chocolate metaphor found its way into the design of the Call For Papers. We used thinglink to create an interactive experience (reaching way over a thousand views), alongside a standard call for submissions, which we distributed on the LDHEN mail list. The visual announcement was peppered with Forrest Gump’s maxims – admittedly, not something all editors were keen on! It did, however, allow us to maintain a light-hearted, upbeat, and inviting atmosphere.
Picture: A screenshot of our interactive call for papers, with a chocolate link highlighted.
- Wait for submissions to bubble up.
Submissions trickled in steadily until the June deadline, and for much longer after. There were dry days when we wondered if anyone would respond to our call and days when email notifications from the system pinged one after another. As we got closer to the deadline, submissions were coming in droves and as we started looking at them closely we began to realise the magnitude of the task ahead of us.
Cathy: It was quite intense – a lot of the pieces were very raw (it felt as if the ink was still wet) and so it was quite touching, the lived experience was so vivid, reading about teams wondering how they could help their students cope with death and bereavement – I came away from my laptop as if I could hear the Bow bells tolling.
- Poke it at least twice during the baking process to check the temperature. If you feel particularly inspired, sprinkle with a live transmission.
We sent reminders and reposted the call to other mailing lists (SEDA and EATAW). As colleagues passed the news about our call to other colleagues, the initiative spread to the far and wide corners of global academia. Following multiple inquiries from prospective authors, we decided to hold a live session on how to write a Compendium piece. It was part of the LD@3 series and not only generated good discussions but also clarified our mission for ourselves.
Picture: A screenshot of our LD@3 session.
- Butter up peer reviewers.
We sent out multiple calls for reviewers, promising a quick read and a no-fuss reviewing process. Many peer reviewers were so fascinated by the collection that they offered to comment on multiple pieces, which ensured a much stronger sense of consistency among the submissions (we will be forever grateful to them!). Similarly, many authors themselves offered to be reviewers for other papers, as having the experience with their own submission gave them valuable insight and context for the Compendium. This had a very unique effect on the final result.
Cathy: The texts themselves and the process of writing, reviewing and redrafting felt like a large group autoethnography project – where the writing was the sense making, for us all. It was a lovely conversation to be part of. For me there was a tremendous sense of community and connection, and it genuinely made my lockdown easier, as it reaffirmed the feeling of being part of a community.
- Knead the authors, do not crush.
Some submissions came almost oven-ready (apologies, this term is very loaded!) while others required a lot of gentle guidance and clear direction. Some heightened for us the importance of theorising what we do while others made us deeply reflect and re-live difficult experiences.
Nicola: One of the papers that stopped me in my tracks and made me feel quite emotional was Honouring loved ones who have passed by Farrukh Akhtar. I just had to stop because the distance I had cultivated to focus on editing the papers was suddenly overcome. I couldn’t disentangle myself from the emotional weight of the pandemic that was documented here with the challenge of how to give students space to grieve for lost loved ones, how to support staff to have the strength to work with them to co-create and facilitate this and how to find space in the institution to honour this grief. It moved me to tears and it made me take stock of the real rationale behind our desire to document and remember what we did and how we coped. I just wanted to share the impact this paper had on me as it really reminded me of the sadness we were working within, how much we needed to face the challenges as a community and the resilience and strength of will it took to work in a role where others look to you for support and guidance.
- When the desired mass is reached, take out of the oven, set aside to cool, then glaze.
Our copyeditors’ hands had been full since the summer! Proofreading, formatting and communicating with both authors and us editors must not have been easy when requests for copyediting arrived almost daily; and all this in the face of the changing expectations influenced by our dialogic work. But they prevailed. And our technical editor and guardian of quality, Andy Hagyard, kept at bay all impending technical crises that threatened to undermine our Compendium dream.
- Arrange on the OJS platter.
The final 102 submissions had both clear and less clear themes; they often merged, blurred, and overlapped, resisting easy classifications. After much experimentation and a bit of rather pointless pontificating about consistency, we settled on 11 sections to organise the articles (I explain the process in more detail in my Editorial). Suffice it to say, if the submissions truly were a box of chocolates, you’d see them in all shapes and sizes, textures and colours, flavours and varieties – a real chocolate extravaganza.
- Serve and delight.
Pressing the ‘Publish’ button was an emotional moment. It made me realise just how much work went into this venture, how thoroughly invested we were in it, and how much it dominated our professional and personal lives for the better part of the year. Finalising the Compendium brought a combination of joy and relief, but also a distinctive sense of achievement and impact. It made us all feel proud of our service in the Journal and honoured to produce a volume that seems to be a perfect reflection of our creative, playful, generous, and innovative LD community.
Serve one article daily, with tea, in no particular order.
It will only take around four months to read them all.
It is only fitting that I finish this post in my brilliant team’s words:
Nicola: Putting the Compendium together was both a challenge and a joy for me.
Cathy: The take away for me was how it underlined how much care is central to what we do – as teachers, developers, writers. It was a privilege to read these authors’ work.
Gita: Thanks to everyone who contributed to this collection. You made one of the best periods of my role as a JLDHE editor.
Picture: The four editors who worked together to ‘cook’ the Compendium: Alicja Syska, Gita Sedghi, Cathy Malone, Nicola Grayson
Dr Alicja Syska is Co-Lead Editor at the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and a member of the ALDinHE Steering Group. She works at the University of Plymouth where she provides Learning Development support for students while lecturing in Education and History.