Good Reads from 2019: Our NIDL Top 10 Open Access Journal Articles

This the fourth year that our NIDL team has produced a list of top 10 “good reads” from open access journal articles published over the course of the year. Even though our list for 2019 is a little later than previous years (see 2016, 2017 & 2018) partly due to the demands of hosting and managing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in November, and because we wanted to include a number of journal issues published quite late in the year, we hope you find our selections both useful and valuable for your professional reading.

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As we have previously mentioned, this exercise originally began as we wanted to share more of our good reads internally amongst our NIDL team, and encourage greater awareness and critical engagement with relevant research and professional literature. The decision to limit our selections to open access journal publications was primarily a reflection of our commitment to openness and more specifically Open Science. Although we decided after the first year that other people might find our list of top reads useful, one of the major benefits of this exercise remains the wider nomination process, which again generated a long list of articles and the internal debates, discussions and disagreements generated as we refine our selections.

It is important to note, therefore, that not everyone’s best read makes the final cut and our selection criteria are biased towards major literature reviews, journal articles reporting new and emerging areas, and papers addressing important gaps in the literature. What really counts as a good [open access] journal article remains fertile area for wider discussion, as putting aside our selection criteria, this depends in many respects on your perspective and particular interests.

Before we share our top reads for 2019 it is important to note a couple of methodological considerations and report a few wider observations about the sample.

Firstly, a number of our final selections (n=2) were made openly available before the article appears in a particular journal issue. This means that in some cases the article may not be formally published until 2020 but we made the decision to still include the work in our 2019 sample. Secondly, there appears to be a growing trend amongst more traditionally closed (restricted) journals to publish selected open access articles or in some cases special open access issues. Irrespective of the “open” status of the journal, if the article was freely available then it was open for nomination. Over 80 articles were originally nominated for consideration before our long-list was refined down to around 40 articles, with a short-list of 25.

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In terms of the final selection, once again our No 1 article for 2019 appears in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.  This is the fourth year running that our overall “best read” has appeared in AJET, which speaks volumes for the quality of the journal and more specifically the work of the Editors and Reviewers. This year AJET is also the only journal to have more than one article (N=2) in the top 10 and notably our 2019 selections reflect a more diverse range of academic and professional journals. In total, 8 journals contribute to the final list of our top reads, with 6 appearing for the first-time; and two articles appear in what are usually considered more restricted publications. There are some notable journal omissions from the final list such as EDUCAUSE Review,  Journal of of Online Learning, Open Praxis, and Research in Learning Technology but all of these publications were represented by very good articles in our short-list. Lastly, 7 articles have more than one author, with 50% of the selections arising from the work of three or more co-authors.

Top 10 Reads from 2019…

Mindful of the above points, we debated this year whether we would single out our selected articles in rank order. While the specific rankings is one of the most contentious aspects of the exercise we decided to continue this practice to maintain consistency with previous years and to give credit to those articles which clearly stood out and were well above the cut-off line, especially given that many excellent reads do not appear in the final top 10 selection. We may share some of those in our longer short-list in a follow up blog post. In the meantime, our selections for 2019 appear below, with a few brief notes to describe each article and help explain our choices.

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No 1  – Harris, J., Foulger, T. S., Huijser, H., & Phillips, M. (2019). Goldilocks and journal publication: Finding a fit that’s “just right.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 1-10. Available from https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5740

This article stood out due to its focus on ‘getting your work published’ and target audience of early career researchers and doctoral and postgraduate students. It provides practical advice about what to consider when developing a research and publication profile and establishing yourself within a research community. The article has a creative title and is valuable reading for anyone seeking to share their research and learning innovations more widely in the journal that’s “just right”.

No 2 – Lambert, S. (2019). Do MOOCs contribute to student equity and social inclusion? A systematic review 2014–18. Computers & Education, 145. Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131519302465

This article was selected as it provides a systematic review of the literature with a timely focus on equity and social inclusion. The size of the sample is impressive and notably in contrast to existing literature, the review found that ‘there was a flourishing of multi-lingual and Languages other than English (LOTE) programs and those addressing regional socio-economic disadvantage’. The blending of MOOCs is another notable feature along with the conclusion ‘MOOCs which aim to widen participation in education are an alternative global practice that exists alongside more commercial MOOC offerings’.

No 3 – Stone, C., & O’Shea, S. (2019). My children … think it’s cool that Mum is a uni student: Women with caring responsibilities studying online. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 97–110. Available from https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5504

This article continues the focus on student equity and widening participation through online learning. It provides a contemporary review of the literature related to the emergence of the female mature-age learner and reports on the gendered nature of university participation. Notably, the article highlights the ‘largely invisible yet emotional and time-consuming additional load that many women are carrying and discusses the importance of this being recognised and accommodated at an institutional level’.  Once again the paper underscores the value of listening to the student voice and developing in partnership with learners more inclusive institutional cultures.

No 4 – Knox, J. (2019). What does the ‘Postdigital’ mean for education? Three critical perspectives on the digital, with implications for educational research and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 357-370. Available from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-019-00045-y

This article examines what the term ‘postdigital’ might mean for education through the discussion of human-technology relationships. It appears in the first issue of a new open access journal that provides another space for a growing number of publications exploring the implications of education and research both in and for the postdigital age. The work offers a very readable analysis of postdigital thinking and related definitions and goes on to provide three different perspectives on shifting relationships with digital technology, with specific relevance for educational concerns. If you are relatively new to postdigital thinking, then this paper offers both a critical as well as accessible starting point.

No 5 – Spilker, M., Prinsen, F., & Kalz, M. (2019): Valuing technology-enhanced academic conferences for continuing professional development. A systematic literature. Professional Development in Education. Available from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19415257.2019.1629614

This article explores a very interesting topic by offering a systematic search for and analysis of the state of the art concerning research (1993–2018) on technology-enhanced conferences for academics’ professional development. It provides good reading, particularly given the high number of conferences in the field and that attending such events is an accepted form of “academic citizenship” and often taken for granted as valuable professional development. The paper builds on Jacobs and McFarlane’s (2005) view that ‘little attention has been paid either to developing a theoretically informed understanding of conference practice as knowledge building, or to assessing the extent to which conferences are successful’. We partly selected this paper as last year it provided uesful food for thought and evidence-based research for our decisions in designing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning.

No 6 – Zawacki-Richter, O., Marin, V., Bond, M., & Gouverneur, F. (2019). Systematic review of research on artificial intelligence applications in higher education – where are the educators? International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16:39, 2-27. Available from https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-019-0171-0

This article offers precisely what the title suggests and was hard to overlook given the current level of hope and hype surrounding the potential of AI in higher education. Notably, the results show that ‘most of the disciplines involved in AIEd papers come from Computer Science and STEM, and that quantitative methods were the most frequently used in empirical studies’. It follows that the paper concludes by reflecting on the lack of critical reflection of challenges and risks of AIEd, the weak connection to theoretical pedagogical perspectives, and the need for further exploration of ethical and educational approaches. A seminal read for educators, computer scienists and those making predictions about the futiure impact of AI on higher education.

No 7 – Selwyn, N. (2019). What’s the problem with learning analytics? Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 11-19. Available from https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/JLA/article/view/6386

This article adopts a sociotechnical perspective (i.e., shaped by a range of social, cultural, political, and economic factors) in summarising a number of emerging concerns about the learning analytics movement as it becomes increasingly implemented and entrenched in both mainstream and educational technology discourse. As one has come to expect from Neil Selwyn, the paper reminds us of the need to be critical and offers a valuable critique of the burgeoning “data economy” in educational research, policy and practice. It concludes that,above all, learning analytics researchers need to talk more openly about the values and politics of data-driven analytics technologies as they are implemented throughout educational contexts.

No 8 – Pozzi, F., Manganello, F., Passarelli, M., Persico, D., Brasher, A., Holmes, W., Whitelock, D., & Sangrà, A. (2019). Ranking meets distance education: Defining relevant criteria and indicators for online universities. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(5), 42-63. Available from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/4391/5232

This article explores a notable gap in current university ranking systems and so-called league tables. In the absence of global rankings for online providers—for better and worse–it offers a participatory approach based on a Delphi study to define a set of criteria and indicators suitable to reflect the specific nature of online distance education. The intention is to help evaluate and rank online higher education institutions more appropriately than in current practice. The paper was selected as we anticipate there will be further developments in this area in the next year or so as the provision of online education increassingly transcends national borders.

No 9 – Bond, M., Zawacki-Richter, O., & Nichols, M. (2019). Revisiting five decades of educational technology research: A content and authorship analysis of the British Journal of Educational Technology. British Journal of Educational Technology. 50 (1), 12-63. Available from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/bjet.12730

This review article appearing in a traditionally closed journal celebrating its 50 years of publication is hard to overlook as it reflects on five decades of educational technology research. What makes the analysis more interesting and arguably useful is a comparison to a previous meta-analysis of articles appearing in Computers & Education. Common themes identified over the past 50 years include the evolution of teaching and learning in distance education, the emergence of instructional design, misunderstanding between practitioners and learning designers, issues of pre and in-service teacher education and technology uptake by educators and students, including the confidence to do so, the technology skills of educators and students, as well as a lack of institutional support to provide space and time for training and integration to occur.

No 10 – Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis. AERA Open, 5(3), 1-20. Available from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2332858419872212

This article builds on a growing body of research investigating the use and development of open textbooks. It particularly stands out for and makes a useful contribution because of its focus on learning performance and course withdrawal rates. Notably, the meta-analysis of the literature found there were no differences in learning efficacy between open textbooks and commercial textbooks. Moreover, the withdrawal rate for postsecondary (higher education) courses with open textbooks was significantly lower than that for commercial textbooks. In many respects the findings raise more questions than answers, which is partly why we selected this article interest in open textbooks continue to grow.

The Top 10 for 2017: Full List of Articles and Additional Reflections

Over the past three weeks we have been sharing via Twitter our top 10 open access journal articles for 2017. The methodology and selection criteria we used to identify these 10 articles were described in a previous blog post earlier in the month. For convenience and for those who missed the individual Twitter posts this follow up blog post provides relevant links and descriptions for all 10 articles.

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However, before we list and briefly comment on each article some additional observations arising from this exercise may be of wider interest. Previously we reported three wider lessons or standout points from our experience of identifying, reviewing and selecting the original long-list of articles:

  • the blurring of boundaries between open and closed publications;
  • the increasing number of systematic literature reviews; and,
  • the question of whether the “best” articles remain in closed journals.

On another level, it is interesting to note that two journals each provide three of the top 10 articles—namely, the Online Learning Journal (Nos. 4, 5, & 8) published in the United States by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (Nos. 2, 3, & 7) published by Athabasca University. Notably, our No. 1 article once again comes from the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, which has two articles in the top 10, published by the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE).

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The two remaining articles come from (i) the traditionally closed “tier 1” journal Distance Education published by the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA), and (ii) the relatively new or at least relaunched Open Springer International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education edited by a team from Spain, Colombia and Australia.

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Most of the articles are co-authored (n=7) with a total of 22 authors. Two authors appear twice in the list. A reasonable geographical spread of authors appears across developed and developing countries but women author less than 40% of the papers. Importantly, six of the top 10 articles are published through the aforementioned professional associations which actively promote an open access publication outlet for members. Although independent from a professional body or association the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning continues to standout as the leading international open access publication in the area.

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While the final list of top 10 articles cover a wide range of topics and would arguably provide a solid foundation for any student undertaking postgraduate study in the area of blended, online and digital (BOLD) education there are some notable gaps. For example, learning analytics, mobile learning, personalised learning, professional development, quality enhancement, micro-credentalising and the unbundling movement, to name a few, are important areas missing from the top 10. Similarly, there are some important open access journals from major professional bodies missing from this year’s list, including Open Praxis, Research in Learning Technology, European Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, which should not be overlooked when catching up on your reading in the New Year. pageHeaderTitleImage_en_US.pngFinally, an unanticipated observation arising from this exercise was the relatively low number of authors who had no or limited presence through Twitter. Wherever possible when tweeting news of the top 10 we tried to include the author’s Twitter handle to alert them to their inclusion in this list. Based on our best efforts to locate the relevant Twitter handles, as notably none of the journals include this information in the contact details for authors, just over half of the 22 contributors appear to have Twitter accounts. More to the point, most of these authors are not particularly active Twitter users, which is a little surprising given (i) the nature of their work in the area, (ii) decision to disseminate their research findings through open access publications, and (iii) what we know about potential for increased citations when academics tweet their work. This apparent disconnection may be worthy of further investigation.

The Top 10 Articles

No. 1: Blended Learning Citation Patterns And Publication Networks Across Seven Worldwide Regions

Authors: Kristian Spring & Charles Graham

Journal: Australasian Journal of Educational Technology

The intention of this article was to report where the most impactful conversations about blended learning worldwide are occurring and how, if at all, are they connected to one another in terms of citations and publications. This line of research is particuarlly relevant to the European funded EMBED project which the NIDL is currently undertaking with a handful of partner universities. The geographical anaylsis and depiction of citations illustrates the predominance of North American publications. Notably, a high proportion of the most cited articles were found to cite Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004) seminal work focusing on the transformative potential of blended learning, although the influence of this publication has not spread as widely to the international community. Overall the authors found a large disparity in citation patterns of bended learning research around the world and discuss the opportunities for more global collaboration.

It should also be noted that some of the results of this study were published in the middle of December in the Journal of Online Learning supported by the Online Learning Consortium. See…

Thematic Patterns in International Blended Learning Literature Research, Practices, and Terminology

No. 2 Review and Content Analysis of International Review of Research in Open and Distance/Distributed Learning (2000–2015)

Authors: Olaf Zawacki-Richte, Uthman Alturki & Ahmed Aldraiweesh

Journal: International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning

This paper offers a review of the literature published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL) over a 15-year period. Notably, over this timeframe based on the location of the first author only two Irish publications have appeared in the Journal, which is widely regarded as the top open access publication in the field. Moreover, IRRODL usually appears in the list of the top five publications overall (open and closed) with the highest impact factor. It follows that the high status of IRRODL was an important factor in selecting this article. In terms of the review findings it is interesting to note that the content and citation analysis revealed many of the most highly cited articles were theoretical in nature. Importantly, the authors conclude that the Journal’s name tells the story as the publication is very international with 580 articles from over 60 countries. For this reason IRRODL continues to be excellent outlet for open scholars to share their research findings internationally in a high impact journal.

No. 3 Trends and Patterns in Massive Open Online Courses: Review and Content Analysis of Research on MOOCs (2008-2015)

Authors: Aras Bozkurt, Ela Akgün-Özbek, & Olaf Zawacki-Richter

Journal: International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning

This article reviews 362 empirical articles published from 2008 to 2015 and finds amongst other things that MOOC research generally does not benefit from being viewed through theoretical or conceptual lenses. Notably, the trend line showing the number of articles published per year suggests that the extent of research on MOOCs is likely to continue to increase in the coming years. Put another way the so-called MOOC bubble has not burst which is one reason why we selected this important review article. Not surprisingly the literature appears to be dominated by research on xMOOCs and using a macro, meso and micro-level framework for analysis the three most studied research areas were found to be “theories and models”, “learner characteristics” and “instructional design”. While the review coded each paper according to whether MOOC discourse was presented in positive, negative, neutral, or critical terms it would have been interesting to see an analysis of the published research by geographical region over the 8-year time period. Nevertheless, this is a valuable article which points to the touchstones of MOOC research from 2008 to 2015 for current and future researchers, policy-makers, and institutional leaders.

No. 4 Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model

Author: Anthony G Picciano

Journal: Online Learning Journal

This article provides a very readable synthesis of theoretical frameworks and models that focus on the pedagogical aspects of online education. It builds on a seminal book chapter by Terry Anderson first published by Athabasca Press in 2008 and presents the case for an integrated multimodal model for online education. A very readable overview of the evolution of thinking about learning is offered and the question is then asked, “can we build a common integrated theory of online education?” The ensuing discussion picks up the challenge of developing a unified theory but in our opinion might have benefited from drawing on the seminal work of Anne Sfard (1998) on the dangers of single metaphor solutions. The major takeaway lesson, especially for disciples of one or more variations of Constructivism, is that learning theory remains a contested scientific field and no single theory has emerged for instruction in general, let alone for online educators. This key point helped in our scoring of the article and is visually illustrated in the Hotel project which offers a comprehensive “learning theories map” of the contested theoretical terrain.

No. 5 A Critical Review of the Use of Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP) Theoretical Framework in Online and Blended Learning Research, 2000-2014

Authors: Sedef Uzuner Smith, Suzanne Hayes & Peter Shea

Journal: Online Learning Journal

This article provides a breif overview of the key elements that underpin Etienne Wenger’s communities of practice (CoP) theoretical framework and then critically reviews extant empirical work grounded in this framework. While the COP Framework is widely cited and has been particularly influential over the past decade the review found more than half the studies in the sample were questionable. Although verification of the various elements of Wenger’s CoP Framework has provided many important insights into online and blended learning processes, the authors conclude there is need to develop a more problematizing approach towards research in this area. Given the theory dependence of our observations the major takeaway is that we need to go beyond verification and offer more complex and nuanced understandings of blended and online learning environments. In this respect the article was chosen in our top 10 for the year as it helps us think more critically about a widely accepted theoretical construct.

No. 6 Refining Success and Dropout in Massive Open Online Courses Based on the Intention–behavior Gap

Authors: Maartje A. Henderikx, Karel Kreijns & Marco Kalz

Journal: Distance Education

This paper presents an alternative typology for determining success and dropout in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The typology gives important insights and offers valuable lessons for our understanding of student completion and success both in and beyond the MOOC environment. More specifically, the findings demonstrate that simply looking at course completion as a measure for success does not suffice in the context of MOOCs, although as already mentioned this point has wider implications. We need to acknowledge that our selection of this article from a highly regarded “tier 1” normally closed journal was also influenced by the authors’ decision to openly publish the work.

No. 7 Special Report on the Role of Open Educational Resources in Supporting the Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education Challenges and Opportunities

Author: Rory McGreal

Journal: International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning

This special report discusses the potential of Open Educational Resources (OER) and their offspring, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as enablers for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education (SDG4). A focus on SDG4, that is, “Ensure Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities for All”, particularly in the context of developing countries and support for promoting Indigenous knowledge, strongly influenced our selection of this article. The author, a UNESCO/COL/ICDE Chair in OER, presents a valuable case study of the leadership shown in Canada and goes on to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges in the wider context of promoting life-long learning and opportunities for all. Perhaps the most valuable lesson to take from the paper, especially for small countries like Ireland, is that ‘Success builds on success’ (p.301).

No. 8 A National Study of Online Learning Leaders in US Higher Education

 Author: Eric Fredericksen

Journal: Online Learning Journal

This article reports the findings of a national survey, a first of its kind, which sheds light on the leadership in the US that is guiding new and emerging online teaching and learning environments. The focus on the important issue of transformative leadership, widely acknowledged as a major challenge in higher education in such uncertain times, helped in our scoring of this article. Although the findings would be enhanced by a number of follow up interviews with a smaller purposive sample to help triangulate some of the emergent themes, and the response rate (31%) is always a limitation of this type of survey research, the study provides a useful benchmark for future researchers—both within and outside of the US. More specifically, the three research questions provide a solid basis for further studies in this area, which coupled with the stories and lived experiences of participants may also help us to better understand how to support more distributed and transformative models of leadership.

No. 9 Bot-teachers in Hybrid Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A post-Humanist Experience

Authors: Aras Bozkurt, Whitney Kilgore & Matt Crosslin

Journal: Australasian Journal of Educational Technology

This article builds on the work of Sian Bayne (2015) in reporting on the use of bot-teachers in promoting interaction in a MOOC environment. The three pillars of MOOCs, Artifical Intelligence (AI) and strong theoretical lenses of a combination of a post-humanist perspective, with teaching presence from the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework, coupled with Actor Network Theory (ANT), make this article a thought-provoking read. The findings also serve to illustrate the opportunties MOOCs continue to provide for innovations in learning and the potential of mass pedagogy. In this respect the authors conclude with some useful pointers for future research directions in what remains a field in its relatiuve infancy.

No. 10 Gamifying Education: What is Known, What is Believed and What Remains Uncertain: A Critical Review

Authors: Christo Dichev and Darina Dicheva

Journal: International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education

 This article probably takes the prize for the best title. It treats the gamifying of education as problematic and in our language attempts to go beyond reliance on small case studies, self-referential literature and the risk of potential Hawthorn Effects. Notably, the review reveals that insufficient evidence exists to support the long-term benefits of gamification in educational contexts. However, it also notes that the practice of gamifying learning has outpaced researchers’ understanding of its mechanisms and methods which raise a number of practical and methodological challenges. Ultimately the paper concludes that knowledge of how to effectively gamify an educational activity in accordance with the requirements of the specific context remains limited.