Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

More on Distance Education Journal Rankings

Both academics and administrators love to argue about the value (impact) of their academic work.  The old adage of “Publish or Perish” still has currency. Despite the many distribution opportunities besides and beyond publishing in scholarly journals, the bean counters (myself included) love citation indexes. The basic idea is that the more your work is cited or used by other scholars, the more impact it has had on the field.  Especially since the onslote of predatory open-access journals that support themselves through publishing fees with minimal peer -review, the decision as to where to send one’s work and the prestige, value and exposure involved in its publication, depends a great deal on the Journal. Work published in prestigious journals is distributed more widely – but of course, these journals also get more submissions, so acceptance is usually more difficult.

Thus, the better authors, submit better work, to better journals – creating a lockin of prestige that favours the older and more established journals.  Given this landscape, how does a new journal both attract quality submissions and then see that the work is widely distributed, such that it is cited by other researchers?

In this post I highlight some of the factors that lead to the success of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL)

In our case, it was helpful that the discipline is relatively new and expanding – certainly the context of distance, open and online education has expanded since 2001 when IRRODL was founded. It turns out that being an early adopter of online (only) and open access were also critical decisions. Being online only, meant that our distribution and production costs were significantly lower than paper only or dual media publications. Secondly, by allowing free and open access, we allowed scholars from around the world to read our publications, without needing subscription purchases, going to physical libraries or finding our work through proprietary indexes or scholarly database systems. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had a sponsor (in our case Athabasca University) who felt that the focus of the journal matched well and supported the strategic mission of this relatively new and totally online university.

During the ten years that I served as Editor, we fought many battles with funders, authors, software systems and ourselves!, but we managed to attract a growing numbers of subscribers, authors and reviewers.  A very significant move was as early adopters of Canada’s Open Journal System (OJS), that coordinates review and publication processes. OJS has come to be, by a  wide margin, the world’s most widely used journal publication system – offering open access systems for free in many languages.

So, where are in 2018?

The major commercial journal publishers (notably Scopus and Social Science Citation Index) provide listings of the citation metrics from major scholarly journals in all fields.  These are used as a numeric indicator quality of the journal and the articles published. These ratings are calculated using a variety of metrics but basically they count the average number of times an article published in a journal is referenced or cited by others (now including automated systems). These indexes can be modified to discount self publications, to include a measure of the annual number of publications and the prestige of the journals in which the work is cited and other factors designed to enhance the validity of the count – thus the different column headings in the table below.

The current co-editor of IRRODL Rory McGreal has gathered recent (2017) data from Scopius to produce the table below see .

Journal Title


Cite Score




Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Educational Technology Research and Development
British Journal of Educational Technology
International Review of Open and Distributed Learning
Open Access
Educational Technology and Society
Distance Education
Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
Technology Pedagogy and Education
International Journal of Technology in Higher Education
Open Access
American Journal of Distance Education
Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education
Open Access
International Journal of Distance Education Technologies
Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology
Open Access

At one time, is was useful to discount comparison with educational technology journals as the focus of learning design, technology used and delivery was quite distinct between campus and distributed contexts. Today, in an era of blended and extensive technology use both on and off campus, these distinctions are much less meaningful.  By this old distinction, IROODL (followed closely by Australia’s Distance Education) is the most widely cited (of about 20 – not listed here) distance education journals.  The table shows that IRRODL continues to gain ground on the older and more established educational technology journals.

Also of interest is to note that 3 of the 14 journals offer their products freely to all. – giving evidence that publication in an open journal does not result in lower citations.

However it isn’t all that simple. Rory McGreal has informed me that TOJET is not open access in that their freely READABLE articles carry an “all rights reserved” tag.  This of course begs the question of how ‘open’ does ‘open’ have to be?

The gold seal that is supported by the DOAJ  calls for journal articles to “using Creative Commons Attribute (CCA) only.  Adding restrictions such as Non Commercial (CCNC) or non derivative (CCND) means that anyone can still read and cite the work but they can’t change or sell it and there may be other restrictions on re-use.  David Wiley argues that we need to clarify the definition of OER to allow for “free access to the resource” which at least from an end user’s perspective amounts to open access – though it may NOT allow for reuse, re-sale or other purposes. However,  Stephen Downs notes “It’s a clever argument but has the unpalatable consequence that a resource might not be available to anyone and yet still, by this definition, be classified as an OER.”

I’ll not resolve this issue in this post, but I’ve always favoured the rights and convenience to use a product over those seeking to re-use or benefit commercially. From my pragmatic perspective and much as I think that re-use and repurposing of digital media is a major problem in education, serving the needs of end users (students, actual teachers) shouldn’t be compromised by endless debates over ownership. However, I’ve been in enough useless arguments over software ownership by academic developers to know that CC licensing is a game changer for collaborative production. That is why there are a number of licences. Let’s not limit the right for anyone to benefit from the work in order to protect all possible rights of the creator.

Finally, let me address the now old argument  (first made to me by my PhD supervisor) that publishing only online, will limit the distribution of the work.  Open publication results in the work being more widely distributed- especially to practitioners and research audiences from developing worlds or in industry or K12 schools where journal access is often restricted due to costs.

Finally, It should be noted that a growing number of the proprietary journals publishers  (some in the table above) allow individual authors to “free” their work by submitting a publication fee – often around $2,000. This isn’t of too much value to educational researchers who rarely have an extra $2,000 lying around – or needing to be spent from a research grant!

So congrats again to IRRODL, to OJS and to Athabasca University for helping open quality scholarship to the world!

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