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Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick and MediaCommons Awarded Mellon Grant to Assess Peer-to-Peer Review

Pomona College Professor of Media Studies Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, has been a pioneer in developing ways that digital technology can contribute to scholarly research and new forms of publishing. As a co-founder of MediaCommons, she has been instrumental in creating a digital scholarly network promoting the exploration of new forms of publishing within media studies. The goal is to refocus media studies scholarship on the communication and discussion of new ideas.

Last week, MediaCommons and New York University Press received a $50,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of a year-long study of peer-to-peer (P2P) review. The outcome will be a published white paper that will assess the value and shortcomings of P2P review for the evaluation of scholarship; articulate flexible criteria and protocols for P2P review across disciplines; identify the technical functionalities necessary; and assess existing tools and platforms for online P2P review. The white paper will, of course, be made available for open peer review as part of its publication process.

MediaCommons, founded in 2007, has been a leading site for experimenting with and evaluating peer review in open scholarly networks. In 2009, MediaCommons and NYUP posted Fitzpatrick’s book Planned Obsolescence: Publishing Technology, and the Future of the Academy (forthcoming 2011) for open review. At the same time, NYUP sent the work to its traditional peer reviewers. In 2010, MediaCommons hosted an open peer review for the Shakespeare Quarterly that went so well, the journal conducted an open review for a second issues that concluded last month.

“My experience [with the book] was extremely positive,” says Fitzpatrick. “I got a lot of feedback from a lot of different perspectives. Many more responses than I would have gotten from a traditional process. There was real back and forth between me and the reviewers, and amongst the reviewers, who responded to one another and disagreed with one another with how they were reading different parts of the manuscript.

“The thing that the traditional review process can do, that the process I used didn't, is provide a holistic picture of how the structure of the entire book is working.... Though many reviewers took on the book as a whole, it was less common for them to take on the overall questions of structure. That’s one of the things we’ll be thinking about, in the Mellon-funded study.”

Fitzpatrick will help lead the investigation, along with MediaCommons co-founder Avi Santo, an assistant professor of communication and theatre arts at Old Dominion University; Eric Zinner, assistant director and editor in chief of NYU Press; and Monica McCormick, of the NYU Libraries’ Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing. They plan to convene an advisory board of six scholars, who, over the next year, will meet several times and write a report on their conclusions.

“It’s been a long process to get open review taken seriously,” says Fitzpatrick. “That the way scholars can best conduct review processes in the open is now on the radar of such an important national foundation, demonstrates the profound changes that have taken place in the area of online scholarship.”